A Cat Conquers Chess – Lessons for the Toy Industry

I like cats and Chess, so it should be no surprise that I was immediately interested when I saw this headline,” The Chess World’s New Villain: A Cat Named Mittens.” The article by Wall Street Journal writers Andrew Beaton and Joshua Robinson is about artificial intelligence posing as a Chess-playing cat.

I admit that this is a weird story, but I am the one who wrote about Chess Boxing, a game that consists of 11 rounds (six Chess and five boxing). You wind by knockout or checkmate.

But I digress. This cat is creating a frenzy of interest in Chess. Here is how the article describes it:

Since Chess.com introduced this bot with the avatar of a cuddly, big-eyed kitten on Jan. 1, the obsession with playing her has been astonishing. Mittens has crashed the website through its sheer popularity and helped drive more people to play chess than even “The Queen’s Gambit.”

The Chess World’s New Villain: A Cat Named Mittens.” Andrew Beaton, Joshua Robinson, Wall Street journal, January 18, 2023

But what about Mittens draws such an intense reaction from those inside and outside the chess world? It appears that it is due to Mittens’ personality that is described as “cute,” “terrifying,” and “Psycho.” She quotes lines from French movies, taunts you, laughs at you, and beats you…badly.

We in the toy industry would do well to pay attention to Mittens. Not because she is an A.I. cat that plays chess but because she is a new way to attract fans to one of the world’s oldest games.Mittens is, therefore, about youth, competition, and fun (unless you are losing to her).

Those of us in the toy industry constantly see chess variants. Inventors create new pieces, board configurations, and rules changes. What is different about Mittens is that she doesn’t attempt to change how the game is played, only how it is marketed. She is perfect for a connected world that delights in being playfully caustic while making videos for TikTok or comments on Twitter.

Viva La Mittens.

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