“The Queen’s Gambit”: Bringing Back Chess

Phil+Bray

Phil Bray

As soon as “The Queen’s Gambit” aired on Netflix, it became an immediate hit, captivating viewers with its alluring cinematography, characters and storyline. The show follows Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, a young chess prodigy who got her start in the basement of an orphanage and had to navigate her way through a male-dominated world, all the while coping with a tranquilizer and alcohol addiction.

The show itself broke barriers regarding gender roles in the 20th century, as well as within the chess world. On top of that, the release of the show has led to a drastic increase in interest in chess throughout the United States and the rest of the world.

“The Queen’s Gambit” has left a lasting impression on millions of viewers. Chess sales on eBay have risen by 215 percent following the release of “The Queen’s Gambit”, according to Kara Gibson, a representative of the site, in an interview with the New York Times. Viewers became so absorbed in the life of Harmon that the chess industry is booming, and more and more people have begun to pick up the game.

Even online chess games have flourished, with a 40 percent increase in online chess memberships, according to David Llada of the International Chess Federation. As of this time last year, only 11 million games were played online daily, but now, an estimated 17 million games are played.

Similarly, a representative of Goliath Games went on NPR stating that sales had been up by over 1000 percent since the release of the show. Many people who have watched the show, even with no prior knowledge of chess itself have begun playing the famed, strategic mind game.

After watching “The Queen’s Gambit”, Jacklyn Wang ‘24, felt a similar pull to the game.“I got inspired and have started casually playing with my friends and family again,” Wang said.

“The Queen’s Gambit”, even for those who know little about chess, is inspiring in many ways, but the most obvious reason being the strong female lead, Harmon. Harmon faces terrible odds during her lifetime, including growing up in an orphanage in the 1950s and grappling with multiple addictions. Despite the numerous obstacles, she manages to become a superstar in the chess world and has a cast of supportive men surrounding her, but the focus is always on her.

This representation is not entirely historically accurate. As Judit Polgar, one of the only female grandmasters, told the New York Times, “They were too nice to her.” Polgar became a grandmaster at the age of 15 in 1991, and even some 30 years after Harmon’s time period, she said she still faced plenty of misogyny in chess.

While the portrayal of the world in the show itself may not have been wholly accurate, it is groundbreaking. It depicts a sort of idyllic world, and rather than reflecting on the past, it’s more of a commentary on what the future of chess and society as a whole could become, if everyone simply emulated the actions illustrated through many of the characters in “The Queen’s Gambit.”

People all over the world have a sudden fascination with Harmon’s determination, self-confidence, and passion. Girls and women in particular, have begun to see Harmon as a sort of icon, one to be inspired by and model themselves after.

“I’m definitely inspired by her,” Phoebe Hsu ‘24 said. “Beth is just so cool and amazing, just everything about her makes you want to be her.”

The moral that can be learned from Harmon’s character is to never let anything get in your way, and that if you’re determined to do something, it can be done.

“She shows you that nothing is impossible, and to never let yourself get walked all over just because you’re different from everyone else,” Wang said.

Hsu echoed that sentiment.

“I feel like seeing her being really headstrong, and never taking no for an answer, has made me more open to taking risks and putting myself out there,” Hsu said.

It is not often that we see females lead in period pieces without also seeing the inherent sexism, but “The Queen’s Gambit” is inspiring women all over the world to take a leap of faith and try something completely new.