The Queen’s Gambit Review

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(Photo credits to Ana Sallurday)

Black queen chess piece on an empty black and white chessboard.

Watched by over 62 million households within the first 28 days of its release on Netflix, this TV show was the number one TV show on Netflix in 63 countries. Based on a New York Times bestseller 37 years after its publication, the cinematic masterpiece called The Queen’s Gambit has also received a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes; this is something that only 11 TV shows have accomplished in 2020

The Queen’s Gambit is a TV show based on Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel about a young girl named Beth Harmon who lives in an orphanage. The only thing that she finds mildly entertaining is playing chess with the orphanage janitor, Mr. Shaibel, in the basement. In her teenage years, she discovers that she is an exemplary chess player and soon makes a living playing in chess competitions around the nation. The Queen’s Gambit follows Beth, a protégé, trying to become the world champion while struggling with addiction and gender norms. 

“I like that Beth is unique and different because she is gifted in chess. She finds herself throughout the TV show which makes her relatable,” said sophomore Armelle Varillas.

Although Beth Harmon is a fictional character, she is based on several famous chess players’ lives. Judit Polgar in Spain during 1994 won the strong grandmaster tournament that was open to all genders. She often refused to attend female-only chess competitions because she wanted to play the best of the best regardless of gender. For twenty-six years, she was recognized as the best female chess player in the world before retiring in 2014. Even though Judit was a competitive player, some people never saw her as a threat. Bobby Fischer, another chess protégé whom Beth was based on states, “I can give a knight or two to any women player in the world, and I can still beat her.” Judit explains in her TED talk that this scenario is the equivalent of a competitive swimmer swimming with his hands tied behind his back. Judit later became the youngest International Grandmaster at the time which was previously held by Bobby Fischer.

“I used to play chess with my brother. It’s very complicated. You have to think a lot to anticipate every move your opponent could make,” states junior Nate Sanders. 

I am amazed by how this TV show has made a stereotypically boring sport entertaining. It is one of my favorite shows I have ever watched.  I love that the main characters are not stereotypical chess players. Benny, the first person Beth loses a chess match to, is dressed in all black with a cowboy hat. Beth is a black sheep in many ways because she is a female in the male-dominated sport. She is an orphan who was adopted by a couple who soon divorced after her adoption. While she struggles with addiction, she overcomes the obstacles in her life to make her a successful chess player. The Queen’s Gambit is originally an opening, the first few moves of a chess match, that describes Beth’s life with a perfect metaphor: “sacrifices and hardships lead her to the top.” 

“Beth becomes a good lead in the show because she encountered a lot of struggles in her childhood but still grew up to become successful due to her talent in chess,” states freshman Erin Rable

Male chess players outnumber female chess players 16:1. Out of all the Grand Masters in the world, only one percent are women. Because men outnumber women in chess drastically, statistics show that the best performers will often come from a larger group of men rather than a smaller group of females. However, I hope that the popularity of this TV show increases the number of females in chess in the future generations to come. 

“This TV show gives the impression to girls that they can do whatever they want even if their hobby is male-dominated,” said freshman Erin Rable.

Since Netflix has released this TV show, Google searches for how to play chess have increased now more than they have in the past nine years. On eBay, searches for chess sets have increased by 250%. Chess.com has 5x as many new players. Watch out, guys, girls are learning chess. Checkmate.