Queen’s Gambit Makes Me Want to Play Chess Less

My wife and I just finished watching Netflix’s Queen’s Gambit, a mini-series based on Walter Tevis‘ novel of a female chess prodigy named Beth Harmon. The show’s success has caused an increase in sales of chess sets and chess tutors’ hiring. With a gripping story and technical accuracy, Queen’s Gambit has sparked interest and conversation among chess novices and professionals alike.

Here’s the thing. Personally, it doesn’t make me any more interested in chess. It makes me less interested. Don’t get me wrong, I love the series and am now very interested in reading the original book. It’s a fabulously well-made show that’s well-paced and has a profound ending. Still, it has diminished my interest in the corresponding game it centers around.

I grew up with chess; my father taught me the game at a pretty young age. I’m not too bad at the game either. My children play chess, my oldest having been part of a chess club at school for a while and far exceeding my knowledge of the game. We have several sets in the house ranging from a 3d printed Minecraft set to a beautiful set made of onyx that I picked up on vacation in Mexico.

9-year-old Beth Harmon from the Queen’s Gambit

So why does Queen’s Gambit diminish my enjoyment of the game? It’s because it has shown me how much I don’t know about the game in more than one way. Sure, I’ve learned about chess notation, various openings, Grand Masters, and such. I’ve now realized that it all goes much, much deeper than that. Chess has become something that I once enjoyed, and felt comfortable because I knew how to play reasonably decently, to something downright intimidating. Beth Harmon, and all the supporting players of Queen’s Gambit, has shown me that like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, I know nothing.

Sure, there are plenty of other games like this. I’ve always been intimidated to try and learn Go. I even stopped playing Tak as much as I used to once the US Tak Association started, and players far beyond my caliber started making themselves known. Chess, though, is something different. It’s a game that I always felt I had a chance of winning against most people I’ve played. While not one of my favorite games by any means, it holds a very nostalgic place in my heart. There’s also an absolute beauty to a chessboard and pieces that only abstract games can achieve. 


Now I feel like if I want to play chess, there’s this rabbit hole I’d need to go down that I don’t feel like diving down. Will I stop playing the game altogether? Never. I’ll always play with my kids if they ask me to. Will I ever look to play a game outside of that situation? Probably not. Am I angry at Queen’s Gambit for making me feel that way? No. I’m not. It just is what it is.

All you people who’ve been motivated to pick up chess for the first time or who are now interested in becoming better at the game, I applaud you. Chess certainly deserves more attention in the public eye. Go forth, and enjoy the game. I’ll be here enjoying the book from which Netflix’s latest hit is based.

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  1. nathan
    November 9, 2020
    • Rob Kalajian
      November 9, 2020
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    November 12, 2020
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