At a school in Hampden, Maine, David Bishop works to keep floors clean and classrooms in good shape.
Bishop is a janitor. But he is also known as the coach of the chess teams at Reeds Brook Middle School and Weatherbee Elementary School.
The middle school students who play chess with Bishop’s help recently finished 8th out of 52 teams at a national competition. The elementary school students participated in a national event for beginning players last weekend.
The success of both teams has some people comparing Bishop to a character from the Netflix television program, The Queen’s Gambit.
The show came out in 2020. It is about a girl who learned to play chess from the janitor at the institution where she lived. She went on to be a great chess player.
Bishop said he understands why people compare him to the janitor in the television program. He said he enjoyed watching the show.
But unlike the character in The Queen’s Gambit, Bishop is helping a lot of young chess players -- not just one girl.
Sometimes, the chess players beat their teacher.
Bishop is 61. At first, he did not like losing to the children. He called it “humiliating and demoralizing.” But then he understood it was good for him to lose. That meant his chess students were getting stronger.
The children in Maine are part of a nationwide trend. Today, many more young people are interested in chess than were before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of them started playing the game with others on the internet, using the website Chess.com. The website had about 1.5 million daily users in February 2020. By the end of 2020, it had 4.5 million users each day. And at the beginning of 2023, the number was up to 10 million.
Leon Watson is a spokesperson for Chess.com. He called the increase “unprecedented,” or never experienced before.
Bishop said he was a good chess player as a boy but did not like to let his friends know. He did not want to be called a “nerd” and did not join his school’s chess club.
He wishes he had.
But now that the game is more popular among young people, no one thinks less of chess players like Eli Marquis, who is 12. Marquis joined other players on a recent day at his school’s library. All the students were either playing or watching chess.
He said he likes the game because he is always learning.
“You can never run out of things to learn and to practice and to do, and you can just keep on getting better as long as you practice. There’s no end to it. Really,” he said.
Eddie LaRochelle, 13, said chess is like other sports where you have to work hard and practice a lot. However, there are some differences.
“You don’t need to work out every single day in the gym. To get stronger, you can exercise your brain with puzzles, chess and other things,” he said.
The young people said chess helps them think ahead, consider strategy and think about the effects of their decisions.
“Chess is so good for them, and most of them don’t know it,” Bishop said. “They’re just playing chess, but it’s like a workout for the brain.”
Bishop said he wants to see his players get better, even if that means losing to them more often. He is happy to see so many young people playing the game. But he is concerned there are not very many girls playing. There is only one girl on his middle school team, but he hopes that will change if players start when they are younger.
I’m Dan Friedell.