Actress Beth Behrs has a new obsession — chess — and the Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit" is to blame. Her obsession even got her into trouble on the set of the CBS show "The Neighborhood," where she plays Gemma Johnson.
"They yelled at me at work yesterday because I was hiding my phone under my script," she said. "I should have been acting and I was playing on Chess.com."
Behrs is hardly alone in her new passion. "The Queen's Gambit," about a troubled chess prodigy named Beth who is navigating the male-dominated tournament world, is a hit on Netflix (62 million households have watched at least some of the show, according to the streaming service). That has ignited interest in the game, including among women and girls.
Chess.com has added more than 2.35 million players since the series debuted in late October, according to Nick Barton, director of business development for the site. Registrations of female players are up 15% compared with those who were joining the site before the series began, he said.
Demand for chess lessons also has spiked. Evan Rabin, the founder of New York-based Premier Chess, said enrollment in the fall virtual classes was up 50%, and that many of the inquiries are coming from women. Maxim Dlugy, a grandmaster who runs Chess Max Academy in New York, said demand for private lessons has doubled and that he, too, is seeing more female players.
One of the academy's new students is Leyli Zohrenejad, who sits on the boards of several nonprofits. She learned to move the pieces when she was young, but never took to the game until "The Queen's Gambit" came out.
"It kind of motivated me to go from these casual phone games to something that is actually more meaningful," Zohrenejad said.
She begins some mornings by doing chess puzzles.
"It wakes up my brain in the morning," she said. "I don't think there are many things that I could do in the morning that gives me that thinking pattern."
Bianca Mitchell, a 15-year-old in Albuquerque, N.M., started playing when she was in first grade, but she quit in seventh grade. "I was the only girl who played, and I felt really awkward," she said.
Her feelings changed when she watched "The Queen's Gambit." She said that the series makes chess "look very glamorous and very luxurious, that women can be rock stars."
Behrs said that learning chess had long been a priority because her husband, "Mad Men" actor Michael Gladis, is passionate about the game. When they got together 10 years ago, Behrs tried to learn chess, but she felt intimidated.
"The Queen's Gambit" has changed that for her. She said that she feels empowered by the show.