Queen's Gambit on Netflix

I read the book a loooong time ago. I remember that I enjoyed reading it, but when I saw the mini-series I realized I hardly remembered anything about the book except the very broad strokes. I didn’t remember any of the names, including Beths. I didn’t remember the drugs from the orphanage nor the troublesome relationship between her foster parents. Beltik, Townes and Watts had blurred together.

I did remember one detail though:

The penis-shaped candles at the beatnicks house.

What can I say, I was a teenager then!

Just finished the book, and I enjoyed it, as I suspect anyone who liked the show would. The show is faithful to the book in its broad outlines, but there are some relatively significant differences.

In addition to the NSFW point noted above,

  • Ferguson, the pill-distributing guy at the orphanage, doesn’t quote plays or literature at all
  • There’s nothing about Beth’s mom’s high IQ, apparent mental illness, the attempted contact one night by (presumably) Beth’s biological father, her outreach to whoever that was in the big house while Beth sat in the car, or the implication that she committed suicide by car crash
  • Beth doesn’t imagine ghostly chess pieces moving around on the ceiling at any time
  • She doesn’t have a brief department-store encounter with her former high school classmate who’s already had kids
  • She doesn’t go on a bender after Mrs. Wheatley dies (that comes later), and is never so far gone in her drinking and pill abuse that she’s ever sprawled out on the front lawn
  • There’s no awkward scene with Beth, Townes and the other guy in the Vegas hotel room (there is no other guy, and actually no hint that Townes is gay or bi)
  • There’s a much greater focus on Borgov in Beth’s and Bennie’s studying in his skeevy NYC apartment
  • Beth doesn’t have a booze-fueled one-night-stand with the brunette in Paris, oversleep or show up flustered for her match with Borgov (in fact, she plays extremely well, having intensively studied his past games for months beforehand, but still loses to him)
  • There’s much less pill abuse by Beth overall
  • There’s more detail on a chess tournament she attends in San Francisco
  • She writes at least one article for a national chess magazine
  • She loses her Kentucky state title when she’s recently been drinking too much and loses her self-confidence, even wondering if booze has damaged her ability to think effectively about chess
  • Mr. Shaibel, the janitor, dies before Beth goes to Moscow (but she still never repaid the $10 he lent her, or had any contact with him after she left the orphanage, which still sticks in my craw)
  • Jolene from the orphanage earned her college degree in Phys Ed, is an excellent all-around athlete, and through a rigorous fitness regimen (which Beth resents at first) gets Beth in much better physical shape before she goes to Moscow
  • The climactic tournament in Moscow is played in an enormous auditorium before a huge crowd that only gets bigger, filling the aisles as the tournament progresses
  • Beth goes for a walk during a break, and is recognized and cheered by old Russian men who are playing chess in a park
  • Beth nearly loses the game just before her big climactic game with Borgov, but pulls off a come-from-behind win
  • Booth, the State Department (or CIA?) guy sent with her to Moscow, appears much less than in the miniseries
  • Townes doesn’t come to Moscow
  • Beth, in her impromptu press conference there, blasts the orphanage director, Mrs. Deardorff, by name for punishing her by keeping her from playing chess, despite Mrs. D. having provided her - against orphanage rules - with Jolene’s phone number just a few months earlier when Beth really wanted to get in touch with her
  • After her big win, there’s a party at the U.S. Embassy which bores her, and she leaves early
  • She then returns to the same Moscow park as before and cheerily offers to play chess with an old man there, just as in the show

Thanks for the excellent response!

Glad to!

Hey - I’m both a problem-solving GM and a former UK Speed chess champion! :nerd_face:
And also the two top English problem solvers (Nunn and Mestel) are double GMs.

But I agree that facing 3 opponents would be jolly difficult.
(I reckon it would be easier facing two; not just because of the lesser numbers, but also because you could have one White and one Black.)

Getting late to the party with this one – just binged the mini-series almost completely in one day.

I enjoyed it thoroughly, but a number of things threw me a little bit out of the story, and I’m wondering if it’s just a simple matter of suspension of disbelief and dramatic license.

One of the biggest things I didn’t understand was her difficulty in securing the funds to go to Moscow. Now this is all set during the middle of the Cold War, and you have this American chess phenom – and not only that, a female phenom in the male-dominated chess world – and the only people interested in paying her way to Moscow to play the champion GM is a group of evangelical Christians? Huh? This is also a dramatic world where chess is popular enough to have a giant magazine for sale at the pharmacy next to LIFE magazine and the popular periodicals of the day. I know there’s a throw-away line about her pissing off the USCF, but I don’t see how the national chess organization or the US government squanders their best opportunities to show up the Russkies by making her pay her own way.

Then they giver her this … overseer/handler … who doesn’t seem to care that she walks away from his oversight at the end. Like just drives away, as if he’d be allowed to do that.

Also, I understand this is a bit of a fairy tale and dramatic conventions and shortcuts must be taken, but are most tournaments of this single elimination style? All the world championships I know of are usually gruelling sets of many matches. I’m not sure how the regional and national tournaments are, but I did find that somewhat distracting that everything came down to one game, and it sucks a little at that level if you drew black. I know, I know – it’s dramatic this way, but it would be a bit more dramatic for me and with more verismilitude if at least one of the matches went to a tense series of back-and-forths.

I wondered about her inability to find someone to finance her trip when I saw the show last year. I agree that it’s implausible that she’d have trouble securing the money.

Yeah, there’s a few other things that niggled at me – like while I felt she was well-known in-story, I’d think her level of media exposure would be a bit higher yet (especially if chess is as popular as having that big magazine in the local convenience store would make it out to be. Yes, it’s a prop to move the plot along, but just even considering how I think this would play in actual 60s America at the time, I suspect even more media attention than she had been getting.) Like there’s the one game that she plays in Mexico City, a tournament that has the top grandmaster in attendance, and on one of the games up the ladder, she plays this Russian boy – you’d think an interesting chess story – the game is played, adjourned, and finishes the next day with absolutely nobody in attendence, nobody watching the game. No sign of even a tournament official.

Also, there’d be a hell of a lot more overt sexism going on. Her rise to the top was pretty smooth. Hell, just see Kasparov’s early comments on Judit Polgar a few decades later.

I know, I know. I should just treat this a bit like magical realism or a fabulist work or something like that and not try to get too into the details. And, as that, it worked enjoyably enough.

Yes, single-elimination games are quite rare at the top level, and at lower levels as well, since the players there typically have paid an entry fee and would object to being sent home after one defeat. There is actually more of that sort of thing today than back then, but even now, the nearest thing would be an “Armageddon game” (where a draw means that Black advances, but on the other hand Black has had to give a time handicap) if a series is tied after the scheduled two or four or eight games.

The climactic game in “Searching for Bobby Fischer” (1993) was dramatized some compared to the real-life game it was based on. In real life, the hero Waitzkin had managed to swindle a draw from a worse position, and won the first-place trophy based on tie-break points (there are various tiebreak systems, but usually it comes down to how each player’s opponents have scored during the tournament). They might actually have milked the drama further by sticking closer to reality, because there would have been numerous other games in the room with an impact on the outcome, and when they were all done, we could have watched close-up, slo-motion footage of the tournament director calculating the tiebreak points on his Texas Instruments device…but they didn’t hire me as the scriptwriter, so that was that.

Bumped.

In the series finale, a character says: “Elizabeth Harmon’s not at all an important player by their standards. The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex. And even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”

Gaprindashvili, who is now 80 and lives in Tbilisi, Georgia, did face men. Dozens in fact. According to the lawsuit, she had faced 59 men, including 28 in one simultaneous match, as well as 10 grandmasters by the time the television series was set in 1968.

“This is my entire life that has been crossed out, as though it is not important,” she told the New York Times.

“They were trying to do this fictional character who was blazing the trail for other women, when in reality I had already blazed the trail and inspired generations,” Ms. Gaprindashvili said in a recent video interview arranged by her lawyers, speaking in Georgian, which was translated to English by her grandson. “That’s the irony.”

The lawsuit notes that the line in the series saying that Ms. Gaprindashvili had never faced men had been changed from the book it was based on.

Okay, she’s got a point. Sounds like the producers/writers absolutely screwed the pooch on that one.

So what? Elizabeth Harmon didn’t exist in reality. This is a fictional story set in an alternative universe, perhaps one in which Nona Gaprindashvili didn’t play against men.

So what is that it slandered her and hurt her hard-won reputation. She’s a real person regardless of whether Elizabeth Harmon was.

Yeah, it is a fictional show but she is a real person who is still alive and who got a genuine backhanded diss from the show just to up drama slightly. Not to mention they got her ethnicity wrong. All that research on chess games and they kinda muffed the background on a real life pioneer. If I were her I’d be pretty pissed off as well.

This is a bit of a peeve of mine. I hate it when ‘fiction’ based on real stuff gets it wrong and the creators claim the fact that it is fiction negates criticism. If they wanted fiction they should have used a fictional name.

The worst is probably Spotlight where they make a real person sound like he was covering up the pedo stuff when in reality he didn’t do anything like that. And they had a fictional ‘bad guy’ sitting right next to him that could have said the offensive stuff instead.

At the very least, the suit brings the truth out in the open. I loved queens gambit, and I’m happy to know the facts.

Sloppy by the show’s writers, and regrettable, but hardly actionable IMHO. They didn’t falsely say she did something terrible; they just didn’t give historical credit where credit is due.

The suit may win her that acknowledgment, even if it doesn’t win her money. I bet she cares more about the court of public opinion anyway.

If that’s her goal, then the publicity related to her complaint may have accomplished it. Certainly I wasn’t aware of her prior to this week.

Here’s an article about a real-life female chess player whose life bore many similarities to Elizabeth Harmon’s. I found it in the “Chess is Gendered?” thread.

Given that she’s also an extraordinarily beautiful young woman, the first thing that occurred to me was that she’d have corporate sponsors lined up offering to pay for it. “Say you like Coca Cola and we’ll give you all the money you need!”

This was the plot point that led her to the Magically Amazingly Helpful Negro Friend cliche, which also wasn’t one of the show’s finer moments.