Actual-life ‘The Queen’s Gambit’: Custodian leads college chess groups in Maine

HAMPDEN, Maine — David Bishop spends the varsity day as a mild-mannered custodian, however earlier than the ultimate bell rings, he grabs his chess boards and items and begins his second function.

“The Queen’s Gambit” is enjoying out in actual life in Maine, the place this custodian is teaching his colleges’ chess groups to acclaim.

Bishop, a part-time chess coach and full-time custodian, led his elementary and center college groups to state championship titles this 12 months, drawing comparisons to the Netflix collection a few chess prodigy impressed by a janitor.

A few of his gamers are ok to beat their coach, proudly declaring “checkmate!”

“Initially, it was humiliating and demoralizing, however it didn’t take lengthy for me to understand that’s factor. They’re getting stronger,” the 61-year-old mentioned.

Nationwide, chess is using a brand new wave of recognition, and it is not simply due to the favored Netflix mini collection based mostly on the 1983 e book by Walter Tevis.

Through the pandemic, a rising variety of children compelled to remain at dwelling for prolonged intervals turned to to alleviate their boredom. The web site and app permits guests to be taught the sport, to play in opposition to one another or in opposition to a pc, and to get chess information.

The web site had 1.5 million day by day customers in February 2020 — simply earlier than the pandemic hit the U.S. in full power — however it grew to 4.5 million by the top of 2020. It had hit 10 million by January of this 12 months. The entire variety of registered customers has almost quadrupled to 123 million, the corporate mentioned.

Chess followers are additionally watching movies of grandmasters educating methods and livestreams of high-profile chess gamers going through off.

“What we’re seeing is an unprecedented interval of increase, like nothing earlier than,” mentioned Leon Watson, spokesperson for “It undoubtedly appears like chess is having a second.”

In Hampden, Bishop’s teaching success adopted a contented coincidence.

He was burned out from his job within the telecommunications trade and took an early retirement bundle at age 50. He was exploring new alternatives within the discipline — and never having a lot luck — when somebody instructed him a few college custodial job. He figured it might be imply much less stress.

He did not even know there was a chess membership till after he’d begun work in 2013. He started volunteering with the chess membership at Reeds Brook Center Faculty, and later at George B. Weatherbee Elementary Faculty, as effectively.

Bishop discovered chess the old style manner, with a household chessboard and by experimenting with the board items: pawns, bishops, knights, rooks, queens and kings. He performed along with his brothers, typically within the household’s barn, studying the strikes to checkmate his opponent’s king, the article of the sport. At age 10, he adopted with eager curiosity the match through which American grandmaster Bobby Fischer defeated the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky in 1972.

Whereas Bishop loved chess and was good at it, he didn’t be a part of his highschool chess membership, worrying he could be typecast as a nerd. He regrets that now.

Today, because of its rising attraction, these stereotypes now not apply.

On a latest day, there was a buzz within the air on the Reeds Brook Center Faculty library the place the chess membership meets. Bishop’s group had simply represented Maine on the the nationwide championships in Texas, and so they got here in eighth place out of 52 groups. The elementary college group competes this weekend in its nationwide championships in Maryland.

The scholars rapidly tossed their backpacks apart, sat down at library tables and launched into matches. Those that weren’t actively enjoying watched others’ strikes intently.

Eli Marquis, 12, mentioned the chess gamers are continually studying new expertise and techniques — like opening and shutting strikes — permitting them to enhance and making certain they don’t get bored.

“You’ll be able to by no means run out of issues to be taught and to follow and to do, and you’ll simply carry on getting higher so long as you follow. There’s no finish to it. Actually,” he mentioned.

Eddie LaRochelle, 13, in contrast chess to different aggressive group sports activities. A powerful work ethic and follow enhance particular person expertise, and people people work collectively to attain victory.

“You don’t must work out each single day within the health club. To get stronger, you may train your mind with puzzles, chess and different issues,” he mentioned.

Classes from the chess board usually carry into life.

Staff members mentioned chess has taught them to assume forward, be strategic and take into account the ramifications of choices. And it helps with holding on activity and staying organized.

“Chess is so good for them, and most of them don’t realize it,” their coach mentioned. “They’re simply enjoying chess, however it’s like a exercise for the mind.”

Bishop understands comparisons to the janitor in “The Queen’s Gambit” — William Shaibel, performed by actor Invoice Camp — and he thinks it’s an entertaining collection. The chess play is correct and thrilling, he mentioned.

Camp, the actor, has heard of the group’s success and hopes to pay a go to to the varsity to supply his congratulations. He had excessive reward for Bishop.

“What he is doing is about as noble as one can do – he’s a trainer,” Camp mentioned from Los Angeles. “He is doing the best service.”

In contrast to the Netflix collection’s janitor, Bishop helps not only one lady in an orphanage, however dozens of children of all talent ranges and socioeconomic backgrounds.

His one fear is that there aren’t as many women taking over chess.

Chess continues to be dominated by males and boys from the highest degree of grandmasters all the way down to the grade college degree. There’s just one feminine on his center college champion group proper now, however he is hoping to alter that by getting children hooked at earlier ages, beginning in kindergarten.

For now, Bishop seems ahead to seeing how far his groups can go. Because the groups get higher, he’s getting used to shedding chess matches extra ceaselessly.

Riley Richardson, who positioned 14th out of 386 opponents on the nationals, mentioned the primary time he beat his coach, he thought Bishop was letting him win. However now, he has crushed his coach just a few instances.

He is looking ahead to vulnerabilities.

“Some time in the past, I really beat him as a result of I simply began studying his weaknesses,” Richardson mentioned. That weak spot? He smiled and mentioned: ”Typically, he’s overthinking.”


Comply with David Sharp on Twitter @David_Sharp_AP

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