Ancient proverb, modern television

So you watched the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit” like 62 million others. Chess set sales are booming, said the New York Times, and maybe you bought one of those, too.

I have good news and bad news for you:

The good news is that chess is marvelous. A very old proverb goes: “Chess is a sea in which a gnat my drink and an elephant may bathe”. Chess has something for everybody; the possibilities are endless.

The bad news is — except for a few — no one gets rich. Beth Harmon made enough money to support herself and her mother, to travel to interesting places, to buy designer clothing… she’s a fictional character.

It’s true things are changing in that respect. When everyone moved inside nine months ago, online play exploded. Online tournaments are much less expensive to conduct and to enter, so there’s more money to spread around.

Also, chessplayers netcasting on streaming video became overnight celebrities. Internet celebrities find sponsors in Internet companies — whereas after the Fischer Boom in the ’70s, it was a very big deal when a fried chicken chain sponsored a grandmaster tournament in San Antonio.

More bad news: If you’re a parent, your kid isn’t the next Beth Harmon. If you’re a kid, you’re not the next Beth Harmon.

The fictional character Elizabeth Harmon is a greater talent than Capablanca, the standard by whom chess prodigies are measured.

Chess masters get younger every year. It’s a law of competitive nature — training methods are enhanced, access to improvement resources broadens. We can be sure that the next Alireza Firouzja (Iranian who earned the grandmaster title at 14) is out there somewhere — quite possibly a kid who’s watching “The Queen’s Gambit” as I write this. But Beth Harmon’s kind of talent is imaginary.

So far.

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