Introduction & Setup
Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of comments talking about the Queen’s gambit.
For those of you who don’t know, The Queen’s gambit is a new miniseries released on Netflix and it’s been trending all over the world.
- But should You watch this series?
- Is it worth spending your 7 valuable hours?
- What can you expect out of it?
- Is it only for Chess players or even non-chess players can watch it?
Well, in this article, I will answer all these questions without giving too much away.
So stay tuned till the end and read this article. So I started reading and reviewing the Queen’s gambit, and I couldn’t stop until I finished it.
It’s so refreshing to see a series where chess takes center-stage.
I mean we have seen so many movies based on popular athletic sports and players, like say basketball, football or even cricket.
But I think this is for the first time that any mainstream series or movie has been made especially for chess in such a magnificent way and that too on a premium OTT platform, Netflix.
Here, chess is the hero & not just an accessory to the story. You get to see what actually goes around the game of chess, how a young chess player becomes a great chess player.
You see a ton of nail-biting chess games. And that, I feel, is very fascinating for all chess lovers.
Beth Harmon’s journey
Now coming to Beth Harmon played by Anya Taylor Joy, who is the protagonist in this series.
It’s a strong character and you get invested in the journey of this young woman who seems a little quiet, detached and fairly unremarkable until she discovers her incredible talent for the game of chess.
But her story shows us that talent alone is not sufficient.
What makes her a great player, is her passion & her dedication towards the game, her obsession with winning & with improving, and her curiosity to learn from everyone.
While sleeping, all she is dreaming about is chess – her moves and her games.
She is pretty confident as well.
Despite struggling with inner demons, substance addictions & the difficulties of life, she still finds a way to become a chess stalwart.
But even with all her achievements, it’s quite evident that Beth is not a perfect person, and that’s what makes it more real & relatable.
Another defining element of the story is the relationships that Beth forms over the years.
Although she is somewhat of a social recluse, she has these amazing bonds with her trainer, her adoptive mother, her friends and her colleagues.
In particular, her emotional connect with her trainer is very endearing.
It is such a subtle portrayal of how affection and care is expressed silently, with just chess being the topic of communication.
In fact, I loved the dynamics in all her relationships & how in the end, everyone somehow manages to come back & support her. That was really interesting to watch.
Anya’s acting is mesmerizing. She is not only convincing as a chess genius, but also as a detached person who can sometimes seem a little arrogant.
She portrays her character beautifully.
All the other supporting cast – her friend Jolene, Harry, Benny, Townes, the janitor Mr. Shaibel, her adoptive mother – all have played their roles to perfection.
So all these stellar performances are another good reason to watch this series.
Research on Chess
What I’ve read is that Garry Kasparov & Bruce Pandolfini were the special consultants for this mini-series.
Having experts like them ensures that the chess element is well researched & well documented.
The sport is duly honoured by using technical terms such as the Sicilian defense, the Najdorf, the Scholar’s mate and I really love that as a chess player.
There’s an instance where the young Beth is playing 12 masters, all at once, and crushing them.
This seems to have been inspired by the Simultaneous games of our real-life Grandmasters like Bobby Fischer or Magnus Carlsen.
And that again, is an impressive integration to the story.
An Old Era of Chess
This series is based in the 1950s & 1960s and if you’ve ever been intrigued by the great games of Capablanca, Bobby Fischer, Paul Morphy or Mikhail Tal, you will get an insight into how they used to play, travel & participate in tournaments in that era.
Those were purely physical tournaments.
Now we see a lot of online chess.
But it’s nice to see how chess was played in those good old days.
It’s refreshing to see the players analyzing their games, sitting over the board discussing among themselves instead of just going through chess engines.
You won’t find any internet at all.
And you’ll see all the old-fashioned modes of communication – like newspapers, telephones and radio.
Also, the competition between the players, the vintage setting, the originality & the novelty that they have maintained throughout these chess sequences make it really fascinating to watch.
Another theme touched upon, is how in that period – much importance was given to the fact that she was a woman, excelling at a male dominated sport.
And how over time, she proves her merit, forcing everyone to take note of her skill instead of her gender.
And that also has been brought out well in the story.
The Drama Element
Look, chess is not a physical sport; it’s all in the mind.
And so it becomes very difficult to bring out that element of drama convincingly.
There is not much action happening apart from moving the wooden pieces on the board.
Even the players, for the most part, have only a subtle body language, and they do not show intense emotions or expressions.
But somehow, the makers have done a brilliant job at capturing and dramatizing the high tension in those chess tournaments, and the absolute obsessiveness that the game can inspire.
The chess sequences are electrifying & you are compelled to watch more of it.
Of course, the setup, the scenes, the editing, the background score – all that add to the effect.
There are scenes where Beth is going through all the move combinations in her mind – and we get to see what she sees in her head – and these scenes are an absolute visual delight.
Can Non-chess Players Watch This?
Now for the people who don’t know much about chess, you need not fret.
I know I said there’s a lot of chess, but you don’t necessarily need to be a chess player.
All the basics that you need to enjoy the series – you’ll learn along with Beth.
You’ll constantly find her asking questions from people, and the answers will help you follow along.
And if you get interested in the game, you can quickly check out category of short blog to learn more about the ‘Chess Basics for Beginners’.
And for the more advanced chess aspects shown in the series – the background score, the editing, the acting, they are all good enough to give you a sense of what’s going on in the series.
As it is, they have not shown complete games in the series, they’ve just created some exciting moments and built up chess conversations around them, that is subtle, at the same time very engaging.
So all in all, you can still understand & enjoy the series even if you don’t have much knowledge about chess.
Final Verdict: Should You Watch It?
Now keeping chess aside, is this really worth the watch?
Of course, Yes!
There’s drama, there’s this passion, there are these strong, engaging characters and their relationships!
The performances are outstanding.
What more could you ask of an entertainment series!
If nothing else, watch it to follow the journey of Beth – you’ll get hooked to the character, you’ll want to know more of her.
Her dilemmas, human conflicts, the intense games she plays – are all very captivating.
And for the chess lovers – all this is just an icing on the cake!
You will definitely enjoy the games, you will love the Chess Talks!
And who knows, you might even end up checking out the book this series is based on.
So just go for it!
And watch The Queen’s Gambit.
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