Maybe it's The Queen's Gambit effect but chess is looking just a bit cool.
The Canberra Chess Club recently hosted an nine-week tournament in which almost 70 people competed, which the club director Nathalie Tisserand reckoned was "the biggest number ever in the history of the club". There are now 116 active members of the club.
Ms Tisserand credits the Netflix hit series The Queen's Gambit about an orphan chess prodigy for the surge in interest - "Absolutely!" - as well as the coronvirus pandemic when people in lockdown learnt the game and clubs and tournaments went online. Some people also saw it as a chance to return to the age-old game.
"If you start very early in your life, especially as a child, it will be a passion all your life, it will never die," Ms Tisserand, a lawyer from Russia, said.
The Canberra Chess Club is the oldest in Canberra. A history of the club by Denis Jessop said its first playing night was in 1941 "in the smoke room of Hotel Canberra". The first AGM was held in the croquet pavilion in 1942. There are plans to make much of the 80th anniversary next year.
One of the people who did return to competitive chess as a result of The Queen's Gambit was 35-year-old federal political advisor Shervin Rafizadeh, who recently won the nine-week Canberra Cup 16 years after playing his last tournament.
"Although I was a little rusty, I was pleased to win the tournament and see several veteran players still at the club from when I first started playing, as a 12 year old," he said.
Shervin's parents came to Australia in 1987 during the Iran-Iraq war. His father taught him chess and he started playing while in year six at Red Hill Primary. "I had good fortune in that my school principal, Angela Mawbey, was expanding chess in Red Hill Primary at that time," he said.
A former Australian junior chess champion, Shervin played his first adult tournament with the Canberra Chess Club when he was 12. The club was then in "a rough part of Civic" and "the interesting characters" only added to the glamour.
"I vividly recall my first club match was a nailbiter that went well past midnight, and my mother was falling asleep waiting for my game to finish. The experience was exhilarating in a way I can't explain, and when I got home I couldn't fall asleep as I still had so much adrenaline," he said.
Shervin was featured in The Canberra Times with his chess-playing school mates in 1997 and became an Australian junior champion in 2000.
"Prior to every national junior championships, my mother and I would spend weeks in advance walking around suburbs in the inner south selling caramel fudge bars to help with the expenses of the interstate trip," he said.
"I suspect many of the people who bought the fudge bars weren't particularly keen on them, but were intrigued by the chess angle, and wanted to help."
While he was a chess coach for eight years, his last tournament was in 2005 before returning to the game for last month's Canberra Cup.
He had a strong urge to return to chess after watching The Queen's Gambit.
"It made me reflect on parts of my childhood that I had fond memories of - playing, competing, travelling for tournaments and meeting interesting people along the way," he said.
Shervin said chess was "truly a beautiful and fun game".
"It is a fusion of logic and art, and how a person plays is in many respects a creative extension of their personality and how they think about initiative and risk," he said.
While the hero of The Queen's Gambit was a young girl, Ms Tisserand is at the moment the only female member of the Canberra Chess Club. She says it is "like a big family" and hopes more girls and women join.
"What is interesting about chess is that it is inter-generational. We have tournaments where children play very competent players aged over 70. It's amazing," she said.
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