Back in 2020, Netflix released the miniseries, ‘The Queen’s Gambit.’ The show, about an orphan chess prodigy who rises to the top of the chess world, became an instant sensation, garnering top spot as Netflix’s most-watched miniseries.
In the fictional show, a 9-year-old Elizabeth Harmon enters an orphanage after the death of her mother. It’s there that she learns how to play chess from the custodian, Mr. Shaibel. His teaching changes her life and sets her on a journey to compete against the world’s best players.
Now, in a cool case of life imitating art, a Maine custodian by day/chess coach by night just took his school’s chess team all the way to the state championships.
On the Road to Victory: From State Championships to Nationals
Dave Bishop, 61, is the full-time custodian of George B. Weatherbee School in Hampden, Maine. He’s also their part-time chess coach. Additionally, he coaches the nearby Reeds Brook Middle School team as well.
Under Bishop’s guidance, the chess teams began to thrive. And he has the trophies to prove it.
Recently, he led both of his teams to victory at the Maine Scholastic Chess Championships. Not only did his teams win, but one of Bishop’s mentees, 11-year-old Avery Zhang, was crowned the state champion for grades K through 5.
From there, both teams headed straight to the U.S. Chess National Championships. Reeds Brook Middle School came in eighth place out of 52 teams and the George B. Weatherbee Elementary School chess team came in 15th.
Who Is Dave Bishop?
In 2013, at the age of 50, Dave Bishop decided to retire early from his job in the telecommunications industry. Burnt out and stressed out, he tried to find another job in the same field but was coming up empty.
When he heard about a school custodial job, he figured it would mean less stress so he applied. He’s been there ever since.
In the beginning, he didn’t even know there was a chess club but once he found out it reignited his childhood passion for the game.
In an interview with ABC News, Bishop shares that he “learned chess the old-fashioned way, with a family chessboard and by experimenting with the board pieces: pawns, bishops, knights, rooks, queens and kings.”
He and his brothers would play together in the family barn, learning various strategies as they fought to outwit each other.
In 1972, when he was just 10 years old, Bishop followed American Bobby Fischer’s win in the international chess crown in Reykjavik, Iceland, against the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky.
He never forgot it.
More than half a century later, he’s taken that passion and turned it into something good. He spends countless hours a week, coaching dozens of kids, and he doesn’t receive a dime in return. He does it for the love of the game. And the love of sharing it with as many students as he can.
It’s More Than Just a Game…
It’s not just about chess though. Bishop is teaching these kids valuable life skills too. Skills like strategic thinking, perseverance, and a strong work ethic.
Chess became a vehicle for building confidence, developing critical thinking skills, and fostering teamwork.
“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’s story has even caught the eye of Bill Camp, the actor who plays Mr. Shaibel in The Queen’s Gambit.
“What he’s doing is about as noble as one can do – he’s a teacher,” Camp told ABC News. “He’s doing the greatest service.”
When Bishop first started his job as the school custodian, he had no idea that journey would bring him to where he is today. The students of his school found an amazing chess mentor. Bishop found his purpose.
By passing on his passion and his knowledge of chess, Bishop is not just building champions in a game, he’s building champions in life.