Real-Life 'The Queen's Gambit': School Custodian Coaches Chess Team To Championships

May 16, 2023

A custodian in Maine is coaching his school's chess team to acclaim, drawing comparisons to The Queen's Gambit - a Netflix series about a chess prodigy inspired by a janitor.

Dave Bishop chess
Dave Bishop

After Dave Bishop retired from a 30-year telecommunications career, he got a job as a custodian in a Maine school district.

But after the final bell rings, he grabs his chess boards and begins his second role: part-time chess coach.

The 61-year-old custodian has coached both elementary and middle school teams to state championship titles this year. One of his mentees is 11-year-old Avery Zhang, who was crowned the state champion for grades K-5 this year.


Bishop has played chess since he was a child, but never competitively. He didn't join his high school chess club, worrying he would be typecast as a nerd. These days, thanks to its growing appeal after The Queen's Gambit, those stereotypes no longer apply.

But unlike the Netflix series' janitor, Bishop is helping not just one girl but dozens of kids of all skill levels and backgrounds. His one worry is that there aren't as many girls taking up chess. There's only one female on his middle school champion team right now. He's hoping to change that by getting kids into the game at earlier ages.

Bishop also emphasizes to his young players that chess is about more than winning.

"I tell my kids that chess mirrors your life," he told the Daily News. "If you work hard ... if you're not discouraged by failure, you will be successful."

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