‘The Queen’s Gambit’ entwines chess, personal demons

Netflix original series displays chess prodigy’s rise to the top


Fair use from Netflix.

Sam Listiak

When I first saw that “The Queen’s Gambit” was about chess, I had relatively low expectations. However, the show managed to deliver a shocking story of a chess prodigy who struggles with her internal issues.

Based on the 1983 fictional novel The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, the Netflix show set in the 1960s, follows main character Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), an orphan who finds she has a gift for chess at a young age and quickly becomes a celebrity in the chess world. For being a series with an innocent-sounding plot, I was surprised to see that the main character struggled with many internal demons such as an addiction to drugs and alcohol as well as struggling to make relationships with people due to her hyper-focus on chess.

One thing that stood out to me in this movie was the development of the protagonist. She loses her mother at a young age and goes to a girl’s orphanage. At the orphanage, Beth becomes dependent on drugs that both enhance her ability to play chess, but degrades her social skills. At the same time, she is learning to play chess with the janitor in the basement, and this is where she gains her first recognition by being invited to a high school chess club and beating the whole team at eight years old.

The directing of the show was also very well done. All of the scenes seemed very appropriate for the 1960s, and the actors did a great job with their characters. The directors also did a good job of showing Beth’s thought process in the chess matches, showing what was going on in her mind throughout each game.

Throughout all of this, Beth is trying to figure out how to carry herself in the world. Not only does she have to deal with being mostly alone in the world, she also is a chess celebrity now. Chess players are asking for her autograph, and she has to deal with the pressure of that and being a teenager. We see her repeatedly turn to substance abuse to solve this problem, something that she can never really seem to get over. 

Overall, the movie did a great job portraying chess as an intellectual game, and the examples of the professional matches were very accurate. I also liked how the show was like a drama, but not super cheesy either. Younger kids should stay away from the series due to the aforementioned abuse of drugs and alcohol, but if you are older and are looking for a quick series to watch,  “The Queen’s Gambit” is for you.

“The Queen’s Gambit”: ★★★★★