If you’re a fan of chess and the intensity that surrounds the environment and players, you’re in for a treat. If you’re not a fan of chess, you may be after this great series on Netflix.
Minor spoilers ahead so proceed with caution.
1. d4 – First Thoughts
“Chess isn’t always competitive. Chess can also be beautiful. It was the board I noticed first. It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it. I can dominate it. And it’s predictable, so if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame.” – Beth Harmon – The Queen’s Gambit
I’ve always been a big fan of chess. Admittedly I’m not very good at it, but maybe a bit better than some. I learned when I was younger and was always fascinated with a game that can be different each time you play it, forcing you to think after a certain point. Your opponent is doing the same, trying to outsmart you and ultimately, the best person wins every time. There is no “tricks” or “cheats”. The opponents position is displayed on the board at all times. The only thing that’s not revealed is your opponents intent and experience, and ultimately you are playing against his ideas, not necessarily the pieces on the board.
I played for fun but in the last few years I’ve tried studying a bit of chess. Learning a few names of major players and understanding a few openings, watching a few tournaments, you start to really appreciate the sport and those who are at the top. It’s not an easy game at high levels, and at low levels it’s still very challenging to beat your opponent even if they are not as good as you. One wrong move and you’re done, making each move you make a decision that could change the outcome of the game. It’s just fascinating to me.
“Would you like to start my clock?” – D. L. Townes – The Queen’s Gambit
This show, to me, captures what a child chess prodigy would go through. The urge to beat everyone and the struggle to do so is what I’m assuming every world champion or high ranked player must think about every day to reach and stay on top. Unfortunately the show’s protagonist battles against drug and alcohol abuse, something that was ingrained in her at a young age. Even super successful, top talent people fight their own inner demons, The Queen’s Gambit displays this and more.
The characters developed in the show are memorable and unique. The Russian players are cold and merciless. The American players have a sort of hippie, cocky vibe. Beth seems to be a mixture of both, cold and calculated but enjoying every second of it. What was nice is the respect shown by all players in defeat. While emotions get in the way after some of the games, ultimately respect is given and earned and its done in each character’s unique way.
The events that occur in her life is enough to send anyone off the deep end, and at times you feel she hits the wall that stops her chess progression. But eventually she continues, fighting through her own issues and those on the chess board. When she starts doing pills or alcohol you start to feel sorry for her, she displays that as much as she knows she doesn’t want to, she simply can’t help it. Anytime she reaches for a drink, you’re filled with this sense of fear, hoping she doesn’t go overboard.
The visuals and dialogue of the show are fantastic, almost perfect. There is a bit dark humor sprinkled in and it is a bit slow at times, but overall it fits the narrative well. Certain scenes are simply eye candy, allowing you to study the scene and realize how much effort and thought went into each piece of the show. Even those who are not big chess fans or don’t know how to play can appreciate the show as it doesn’t dive deep into actual game play. It’s more about the people, not so much about the game itself.
Knowing a little bit about chess will make it more enjoyable though. Some of the highlights are touched on briefly but recognizing certain aspects of the chess world makes it a bit more enjoyable I think. Knowing how much is on the line during a chess game at the highest level and how one less-than-perfect move can mean a loss adds a gravity to each game that’s fantastic.
“Let’s play.” – Beth Harmon – The Queen’s Gambit
I wasn’t even finished the series before I downloaded some chess apps. I stopped playing for a while about 6 months ago for no reason at all. I typically play 3-day correspondence games but I need to focus more on live games. 3-day games are calm and lets me play at my own pace but live games I think allow you to learn a lot more faster.
I’ve always played on chess.com but lately I’ve been playing more on lichess.org. On lichess you’re able to save your games, study them, add notes, etc. These features are only for paid members on chess.com. While I think the subscription has a lot to offer, I’m not quite serious enough to pay for a subscription. I’ll probably be spending more time on lichess moving forward for these reasons.
I think there’s a lot you can learn from chess at whatever age you learn it. I’ll probably do another blog post on learning and playing chess regularly unrelated to this series.
I look forward to more chess related shows if they are anything like The Queen’s Gambit. Or maybe a season 2?