Our world is seriously infected. Not only with COVID and other sinister diseases, but also with a new spike of chess fever! The traffic of chess sites is growing like mad. Millions of online games are being played daily. People of all ages are besieging chess clubs, pleading for an opportunity to enlist for studies. What is the reason behind all these unexpected proceedings? The answer is that Netflix recently released a mini-series titled “The Queen’s Gambit” that instantly became a major international success.
The numbers speak for themselves. As of this writing, the series are rated #1 on Netflix across 55 (!) countries. The Rotten Tomatoes score for “The Queen’s Gambit” is a remarkable 100%, while the audience score is almost as impressive – 97%. Unsurprisingly, pretty much all the chess media are currently obsessed with Beth Harmon and riding the hype train by releasing all sorts of content about the series. Well, even the FIDE President Arkadij Dvorkovich couldn’t abstain from awarding Beth Harmon, a fictional book character, the title of a chess Grandmaster! We wonder what the FIDE Anti-Cheating Commission has to say about Harmon's inhuman level of chess though. Anyway, by publishing this review, we follow the "if you can't beat them, lead them!" evergreen principle.
The movie revolves around the life of an orphan American girl who becomes a chess prodigy and rises in the 1960s to the very top of the chess world while struggling with her personal demons and drug/alcohol addiction.
Without giving away too many spoilers, let’s go over the main pros of “The Queen’s Gambit”:
• The featured games are truly magnificent thanks to Garry Kasparov and other chess consultants involved in the production of the movie. Most of the encounters were based on real life prototypes and enhanced using top-notch computer analysis. Importantly enough, you actually get to see the moves on the board and to analyze the matches if you feel like doing so. Also, apart from staring at each other way too much, talking over the board and knocking down their kings when resigning, the actors do a decent job of imitating real tournament play, making the moves and pressing the clocks rather plausibly and skillfully.
• The drama brings up quite a few deep social, psychological and political aspects, such as: genius and madness, troubled relationships and unrequited love, self-fulfillment, overcoming addictions, gender and racial discrimination, financial struggles, ideological confrontation between the USA and the USSR, etc.
• Anya Taylor-Joy, the main actress of the series, is very charismatic and does an excellent job of portraying a capricious and arrogant narcissist who is madly in love with chess.
• The Soviets are pictured as courteous and amicable chessaholics as opposed to the stereotypical Hollywood representation of Russians as freaks/villains. “The Queen’s Gambit” draws comedy gold parallels between the life in the USA and the USSR. For example, during international trips the Soviet Grandmasters are accompanied by a KGB man dressed in a suit, making sure “they won’t run away”. When Beth travels to Moscow, the State Department refuses to fund her trip, yet sends a spooky security guy with her, who also wears a suit and resembles a long-lost twin of the KGB man in terms of manners! Overall, chess is portrayed as a bridge uniting the Americans and the Russians and helping them communicate on friendly terms.
• The camera work is amazing and the music is quite fitting for a chess movie.
Obviously, the series are not entirely perfect either, so, for objectivity’s sake, let’s talk about the cons:
• Beth Harmon is an attractive and glamorous chess genius with a fantastic natural talent for the game. The movie arguably puts more emphasis on her consuming one bottle of alcohol after another and greedily devouring drug pills in order to get in shape for her games than on actual chess preparation. This “guilty pleasure” image is highly romantic and may serve as a bad role model for the young kids aspiring to become chess pros. Even though in the end Beth kind of gives up on her addictions and proves that she can perform brilliantly while staying clean, one can’t help but attribute Harmon’s chess success to the drugs that she has been taking throughout the entire series.
• While the featured games themselves are fantastic, the chess commentators occasionally say some random or silly things that have hardly anything to do with the positions displayed on the board. There are also certain factual hiccups, such as a moment when the camera shows an actress playing Nona Gaprindashvili and the commentators mention that, unlike Beth Harmon, she participates in women-only events exclusively. As you probably know, Gaprindashvili, apart from being a legendary Women’s Chess Champion, is famous for a long history of successfully competing against men and, ironically, was the first woman ever to earn the full Grandmaster title.
• The narrative is rather slow-paced, particularly in the first episode, and may come across as boring for some of the viewers, especially for those who are not keen on chess.
• The series has a crumpled open final that left some of the viewers unsatisfied. Maybe this is actually a sign of Season 2 of “The Queen’s Gambit” being in the works?
For this weekend Play Magnus pretty much turns into Play Beth. You will be treated to three (and free!) exclusive Magnus Trainer lessons featuring dazzling combinations, top-notch analysis of the masterpieces from the series and insights into the predecessor games upon which the movie scenes were based. As a short sneak preview, here are a few positions that you will encounter while cruising through the “Beth Harmon’s Killer Moves” Magnus Trainer series:
Beth is White and is about to checkmate her opponent in seven moves, winning her first official tournament, the Kentucky State Chess Championship. Do you see how to make magic happen?
Harmon’s chess pals challenge her to this “mate in three” puzzle for White. Being a chess genius, she spots the tricky solution in a few seconds. How long will you need?
This position is from Beth Harmon’s ultimate showdown against her arch-nemesis, the Soviet World Chess Champion Vasily Borgov. White has many ways to convert her advantage. How does she crash through her opponent’s defense in style, promoting the e-pawn at the end of the line?
You will find the answers to the puzzles and much, much more in our Magnus Trainer “The Queen’s Gambit” series! They are available for download using the links below:
Magnus Trainer (Android)
Magnus Trainer (iOS)
The Play Magnus score for “The Queen’s Gambit” series:
8 pills out of 10.