Chess Set Sales Have Skyrocketed Thanks To 'The Queen's Gambit' On Netflix Who'd have guessed that a centuries-old game would become 2020's hard-to-find, must-have toy? Sales spiked after the release of the hit Netflix show, and now toy analysts are warning of a shortage.
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Can't Find A Chess Set? You Can Thank 'The Queen's Gambit' For That

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Can't Find A Chess Set? You Can Thank 'The Queen's Gambit' For That

Can't Find A Chess Set? You Can Thank 'The Queen's Gambit' For That

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There are fears we might be facing a national shortage of chess sets. You heard that right. We know every year around the holidays, there's always a new game that comes along, captures the popular imagination. And then it breaks people's hearts by selling out. Chess - obviously not so new, but a Netflix show is giving it new life. Here's NPR's Neda Ulaby.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: First toilet paper, then yeast, now chess.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) That's check.

ULABY: "The Queen's Gambit" is about a red-headed chess prodigy who swaggers through tournaments cruelly annihilating her opponents.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I don't have to use the queen.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Move.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I'll just cover it with a bishop.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Move.

MARY HIGBE: Our chess sales for the past couple of weeks have been, honestly, through the roof.

ULABY: Mary Higbe directs marketing at Goliath, an enormous games company that makes those red-boxed Pressmen sets you see in the toy aisles at Walmart.

HIGBE: Our chess sales are up 1,048%.

ULABY: One-thousand-forty-eight percent compared to this time last year. Could this be an anomaly? Let's check with another big toy company.

ELIZABETH LOVECCHIO: Ever since "Queen's Gambit" launched, our chess sales have increased triple digits.

ULABY: That's Elizabeth LoVecchio, VP of games and puzzle marketing for Spin Master. Its exact sales numbers are secret, she says. But Spin Master is a major supplier of classic games such as backgammon, checkers and chess.

LOVECCHIO: We have about 70% market share in the U.S.

ULABY: Game sales were up anyway, LoVecchio says. People have been hunkering down and buying games they thought they had but didn't. Still, no one anticipated the chess supply chain getting disrupted by a Netflix drama.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Knight in three. First check is with the queen.

ULABY: Leading to predictions from toy analyst Gerrick Johnson. He works for BMO Capital Markets.

GERRICK JOHNSON: Six months ago, a year ago, these retailers weren't saying, hey, let's load up on chess sets. So they're going to be in very short supply. Good luck finding a chess set this holiday.

ULABY: Could Johnson be overstating a coming chess crisis?

LOVECCHIO: No, I do not think he's overstating that.

ULABY: That's Elizabeth LoVecchio. And the other toy executive?

HIGBE: Oh, for sure. I believe it.

ULABY: Mary Higbe says chess has always been alluring. But "The Queen's Gambit" makes it seem accessible. Plus, she says, chess is affordable. It's a game that's different every time you play it.

HIGBE: You have to have patience. You have to really think about strategy. You have to plan ahead.

ULABY: Skills both for chess and for the dark few months before us.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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