The Queen’s Gambit series brings on new inspiration for chess team

Hayden Hunter and Gabrielle Yap

The Queen’s Gambit, a Netflix series, has brought attention to the chess community, including South’s chess team. Despite the challenges of being online, the influence of entertainment, along with the pandemic, have allowed South’s teamto overcome the numerous shifts that have been made throughout the year.

The chess team took fifth place at the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) State Chess Championship on Feb. 13, their highest ranking since 2002. Sophomore Nicky Ladan, a member of the chess team, started playing chess in second grade and is now ranked first on the South team’s leader board. He co-hosts the online practice sessions for the club and led the team playing at board one; the highest-ranked chess board at state. Ladan was reminded of the atmosphere created while playing chess in person upon watching Queen’s Gambit.                  

“I binge-watched [Queen’s Gambit],” Ladan said. “One thing that it made me really miss was playing in person because you see a lot of the shots of the intense staring and there’s a lot of attention there that I really miss from online chess.”     

The Queen’s Gambit follows an orphan girl’s career in chess after discovering that she is a chess prodigy. She finds solace in the game during a time in which she is facing numerous obstacles, such as battling addiction. The series isn’t too far off in portraying the game junior Ben Steenbergen, chess team member, said.

“I think [The Queen’s Gambit] helped bring a lot of popularity to chess because although it was a fictional story, the grand scale it portrayed chess in is very much a real thing,” Steenbergen said.

Entertainment has not been the only influence on the chess team. Steven Szpisjak, chess team sponsor, has been pushing through communication barriers while the chess team has been online.

“I feel that sometimes it’s a little antisocial when they’re just playing,” Szpisjak said. “When they’re involved and engaged with the analysis of the games, then it’s a little more social. That’s maybe one of the disadvantages of the Covid-19 era because had we been in-person, it would have been livelier, more socializing than we have now.”

The collective effort the team made at the state tournament and throughout the season leading up to it ensured another high placing at state on the chess team’s record, senior Odko Dechin, chess team member, said. He noted that the team had made significant progress throughout the year, not only as a team but individually as well.

Laden explained the team is composed of a majority of underclassmen and feels this paves a future path for success.

“Covid affected us in a positive way somehow because it exposed a lot more players to the game,” Ladan said. “With Queen’s Gambit and the increase of online platforms, we have seen a lot of new players come into the club. I’m excited to see where we are going to go in the future.” classmen and feels this paves a future path for success.