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In October, when Netflix released a new series with the simple premise of a girl wanting to become a chess grandmaster nobody could have predicted its rocketing success.
To those who have watched the miniseries, hearing the name Beth Harmon can only be associated with the protagonist who is almost unbeatable at the game of chess. She also beholds the motivation to improve and win that most of us aspire to have. Beth Harmon is a prime example of a strong female character who is not defined because of her femininity but because of her ability and how she is a powerful woman in a male-dominated world.
Beth’s character was introduced to the idea that women could be and do whatever they wanted through her mother, a highly educated woman. She represents the second-wave feminism that began in the 1960s which demanded workplace equality and reproductive freedom.
In lockdown, a time where we have all been feeling like we are undermined and powerless, watching a character with the world against her succeed in her dream fills the viewer with confidence that they too can achieve regardless of the situation.
It is clear that the Netflix adaptation will have a legacy. Since October, the sales of chess boards have increased by 200% with many people learning to play or improving their skills, myself included. (My knowledge was nothing more than the basic rules, as I had only ever played in friendly situations where occasionally the opponent’s queen would get stolen when they weren’t looking.)
With the public’s revived interest in this age-old game, the most obvious question would be where to begin?
Learning the phrases in pop culture that relate to chess is a good starting point. To understand the name of the show, we must understand the game jargon: the Queen’s Gambit is a series of moves that aim to remove the pawn in front of the opponent’s king by using pieces that relate to the queen in their starting positions. You then need to know how to set up this textbook move before you can correctly and successfully execute it. It soon became clear why most people don’t pursue this game any further than a friendly match.
The title of the show could suggest that Beth Harmon has to sacrifice things in order to progress to where she wishes – the definition of a gambit is to gain an advantage, although in the game of chess it is to gain an advantage through a sacrifice. This brings forward the suggestion that perhaps we have to sacrifice bad habits and the things that hold us back in order to progress forward, such as Beth Harmon does to win her title.
This ideology arrives at a time when the country fell into another lockdown and provides the motivation that people need to learn a new skill – and why not chess? The brilliance of Beth Harmon has brought the game of chess into the public eye, making this often elitist game accessible to many.
It would not be surprising if we soon see young girls grow up to be grandmasters whose inspiration for playing came from this fictional protégé.