Poker pros lured to the chessboard by The Queen’s Gambit

Jon Pill
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Posted on 01/11/2021

The Queen’s Gambit is already established as being Rounders for woodpushers. The show’s only been out since October 23, 2020 and yet caused a tripling of chess set sales on eBay ahead of Christmas.

The show revitalizing chess in the same way Fischer’s mad run did in the 60s. A run which is is more or less replaced by Beth Harmon’s in the alternative history of The Queen’s Gambit.

Anya Taylor-Joy, the star of the show, has reached the level of celebrity that even a beanie and face mask can’t disguise when she hits the London streets.

Poker players are not immune to this fannery. In a world still fascinated by Stu Ungar, the tale of a tortured genius beating a game but losing at life is irresistible.

Chess has always had its attraction to poker players. But we’ve seen a bunch of players come back to the game, or take it up lately, with some mixed results.

Now, we just need Hikaru no Go to take off in the same way. It would save me hours of my life if the automatch system on KGS was as well populated as chess.com.

The Queen’s Gambit

Among the higher-profile chess players in the poker world, Liv Boeree is near the top. As a physics geek and poker pro, it seemed almost inevitable that she would be good at chess as well.

Sure enough Boeree has shown an on and off interest in chess. She played it with Daniel Negreanu in a PokerStars sponsored event back in 2018. She has posted a smattering of selfies online at the chess table or with notable chess players like Jen Shahade and Anna Rudolf. She also posted a chess pic on Instagram with the hashtag #queensgambit.

“I have a love/hate relationship with chess,” she wrote. “In that I love playing and hate losing. You’d think that’d inspire me to train and improve.”

Negreanu, her one time partner in crime at the chess board has also made a serious return to chess. He uses it to unwind between bouts of heads-up study.

He even reckons the one has improved the other.

“One of the unexpected side effects from playing and studying more poker is that it appears to have improved my chess game. Playing occasionally and my win rate in 10 minute games has gone up dramatically.”

Though his improved rating on chess.com may also be down to The Queen’s Gambit. David Maris replied that the influx of new players after the Netflix show came out has pushed everyone’s ratings up a bit.

As someone else put it: “We out here feasting on the QG fish entering the pool.”

The Queen’s subject

But the person who’s really making the transition to chess streaming work for him is UK streamer, Benjamin “Spraggy” Spragg.

Self-styled as the unconventional “Picasso” of chess, he is proceeding without any training or reading on the subject, attempting to mirror the drug-fuelled early years of Beth Harmon’s development. The result is a lot of amusing trial-and-incompetence coupled with David-Brent-inspired grandstanding.

It’s infinitely more fun than watching someone who knows what they are doing. He tweeted his chess process: “My chess rating is now 628 and falling. I am refusing to consume chess literature. I will brute force my way out of this.”

Poker remains the main thrust of his stream, but he fits games of chess (and Age of Empires) in around tourneys and cash games. His disastrous chess mishaps have even attracted the notice of Grand Masters like Hikaru Nakamura. Though not all the attention has been positive.

“If you were in the chess directory I’d bully you,” wrote 33-year-old chess-nerd Nakamura.”#whatisthathair.”

If this doesn’t end up in a heads-up grudge match then I don’t know what Twitter is even for.

Featured image source: Twitter