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What I liked and did not like about "The Queen's Gambit" TV series by Coach Vivi

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

Recently finished watching “The Queen’s Gambit” (currently #1 trending series on Netflix, Q4 2020 - Recommended for adults only) and it happens to be about my favorite thing: CHESS.

Finally! A TV series has been made that highlights technical aspects of chess (Gary Kasparov, former World Champ and one of the strongest chess players in history, was advisor in the series) bringing some light to the complexity of the game, how chess players train, and behave in tournaments. I’d like to share what I liked and did not like, trying not to give away any spoilers. I would love for all my chess peers to comment as well, and non-chess players feel free to ask about any aspects of the movie that brought curiosity to you or need help to be clarified for understanding.


Picture Source: Charlie Grey, Netflix


WHAT I LIKED THE MOST


This the first chess series that gets into the technical aspects of the game and is able to engage the audience in an entertaining way around the drama going around each match and opponent. Each episode named based on a chess lesson or theme such as: Openings, Exchanges, Doubled Pawns, Middle Game, Fork, Adjournment, and End Game.


Each opponent (Harry, Benny, Georgi, Borgov) plays a key role in Beth’s career, and represent a type of chess player that you would typically find. Two of them, I’d like to comment on as brought one of my favorite aspects of the game, and of the series to play.

  • Georgi Giev, the Russian boy that played Beth in a match that lasted two days, in my opinion represents the peculiarity of chess as an equalizer. Beth expressed “You are the best I’ve played so far”. She was an adult, genius, who was preparing to defeat the World Champ, and in my opinion finds herself with a surprisingly tough opponent, just a little kid. So true in chess. We have kids at young age who have achieved the highest title in chess of a GM such as Sergei Karjakin (12), Magnus Carlsen (13), Nihal Sarin (14), Judith Polgar (15), and Bobbie Fischer (15). Age doesn’t matter as much in chess. Adults have experience and maturity, and kids have unbiased imagination, learning agility, and time to practice.

  • Borgov, her ultimate challenge. This rival, poses one of my favorite parts of the series. She not only had to defeat him, the World Champ, but the whole Soviet machine. Chess is extremely popular in the Soviet Union, comparable to what Soccer is in Latin America, with attention from media and economic support from public and private sector. In the adjournment is evident how Beth had to fight against the whole soviet team with an unfair advantage that she was finally able to overcome. Nowadays, games are not adjourned anymore due to digital clocks and the change in the rhythm of the game. However, this in my opinion was taken from the live of Bobbie Fischer, first and only US World Chess Champion who had to defeat Boris Spassky and the whole Soviet machine in an unprecedent manner at the time.


Another realistic aspect and theme of the series that I liked, and one I can identify myself with: The fight for women to rise in an environment dominated by men. We see very few girls playing chess in the series, she only played one in her first tournament. This is so real and a challenge in the sense that some girls feel less attracted to the game because they don’t have the same level of peer support and might gravitate to other sports that do. Those girls who remain in chess, usually have strong personalities, and grew getting used to being in the spotlight like Beth. Many ask if Beth represent any female player in particular, and while she is red headed like the best female chess player in history, Judith Polgar, their stories do not resemble.


WHAT I DID NOT LIKE


I can’t believe they didn’t show how speed chess games are played in parks, or even bug house games among a group of friends. There is much more talking and joking going around, and is so entertaining. Not quiet at all! I’m impressed in how the series engages the audience for hours in slower games, but more realistic informal speed chess games, would’ve been great to bring light on how fun chess can be for all ages and spectators.


Another aspect I did not like as much, especially in the first episodes, is the child prodigy angle. I’ve seen this angle in other movies before, and it would have been a great opportunity to demystify chess, and show how regular kids are capable of doing the same things she did (i.e. visualizing games in her mind, playing chess simuls, blind games) not because of being a genius, but because they have been exposed to training in chess which does wonder for visualization skills like no other activity, perhaps only advanced geometry.

I would’ve loved to see her chess career develop as a child, but you can’t do it all in one. The series achieved so many things, and has done wonders for chess already, so for that you can watch movies like “Searching for Bobbie Fischer”.


The part I liked the least, and was so unrealistic, is that it could be misconstrued that the drugs were helping her performance, when there is no way a tranquilizer could help any chess player when you need to be alert in the game. I worry that could send the wrong message to younger audiences thinking that drugs could do that for you, which is not the case. I like how they vindicated a bit towards the end but can be misleading throughout most of the series.


Article by: MBA, Viviana Cordero (Coach Vivi - Game Master)

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