The good news came so quickly and unexpectedly it was like a classic checkmate move by the fictional star of Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit.
The programme, which follows the rise of Beth Harmon to chess stardom, has converted a new wave of devotees to the sport.
It’s also proved to be a huge boost to Catalan company Rechapados Ferrer, whose chessboards were featured in the popular drama.
“During lockdown, orders started to increase and we thought it was because people were spending too much time at home with board games,” David Ferrer, the owner of the company founded by his grandfather near Barcelona in the 1950s. “Until one of our employees recognised our tailormade chessboards on the [Netflix] series.
“At that point, we thought that a chess series would not be very successful anyway but then it turned out to be the series of the year!”
‘We are overwhelmed’
Rechapados Ferrer is a family business with 14 workers, run off its feet trying to meet the huge demand of recent months.
Orders have gone from 20,000 units a year to 40,000 in just three months.
“We can’t keep up, we are overwhelmed,” admits Ferrer. “We even had to limit customer orders and we are reorganising the work to be able to deliver all the orders on time.
“Some clients get upset for not receiving their boards quicker but this is a craft and tailor-made production.
“Now there is a boom of sales but who knows in a few years?”
Ferrer will take solace in the fact the firm is already well established in the chess world. It was already providing the official boards for the World Chess Championships, even before the Queen’s Gambit boosted its profile.
Lockdown has been a blessing for Rechapados Ferrer
During the 2008 financial downturn, the firm was on the verge of closing its factory. But more than a decade on, the latest crisis is very different. Chessboards are booming amid the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.
Ferrer said the fact people are stuck at home watching Netflix and playing board games has helped the firm’s order book.
“Plus, with the confinement, people started to fix up their homes,” he added, referring to the other part of the firm’s business, veneered panels, which have also seen an uptick.
Normally their business is split 55% for veneered panels, 45% chess boards. This year that will switch round on the back of the chess boom.
‘Netflix didn’t contact us’
Back at the workshop and craftsmen manually sew and cut thin strips of plywood to form black and white squares. Others glue and frame the boards. Next is quality control, before the boards are hand-packed.
“Training someone to realise a chessboard from the beginning of the production to the end would take us about two years,” said Ferrer, highlighting the quality of the process.
Indeed it is this attention to detail that means the firm has a long-established clientele and does not need to sell direct to private individuals. That, however, has not stopped people coming to the factory since the Netflix series and trying to get their hands on one, even a faulty model.
Ferrer then shows Euronews a model of the chessboard used in the grand finale of The Queen’s Gambit in Moscow. But, he adds, Netflix did not contact the firm to use it. “This board was sold to a German client,” he confirms.