Disclaimer: The article has spoilers about the web series, The Queen’s Gambit. 

I used to believe that there is a clear line between fiction and nonfiction. Whether it be books or media/entertainment. Then I came across Richard Bach’s famous quote: 

‘If you will practice being fictional for a while, you will understand that
fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies
and heartbeats’
Richard Bach

And this made me reflect on how true this statement is. We so often come across people in real life, and we see their actions belie their personality, their words belie their action and personality belies their background. 

At the same time, we come across a work of fiction that we desperately wish was true, only if the character was there in real life and we could meet him/her. Like in the case of super-heroes, the fan treats the actor as if he is the super-hero and expects him to perform the movie stunts in real life. 

The year 2020, while it gave the world Corona and one of the deadliest of pandemics, it also gave this beautiful web series that I finally watched in 2021. Yeah, I am referring to none other than The Queen’s Gambit. While we are all awed by the story of Elizabeth Harmon, aka Beth, and what she accomplished despite those personal challenges, I saw it as a great source of inspiration. There are subtle learnings that were well depicted. So I decided to pen my thoughts on the same:

  1. Obsession: If there is one thing you can take away from the series, it’s the importance of obsession and how it helps Beth become the champion. If you want to be really successful at something, move from good to great, you need to be obsessed about it.  Consider Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, Sachin Tendulkar, Diego Maradona or any of the sports superstars, what is common amongst them is the madness for the game they love, spending thousands of hours in practice.                                                                                     

    There was a recent post in which Steve Smith was seen in complete cricket gear, middle of the night in his hotel room, he was doing shadow practice, a day before he made the comeback hundred in the Test series against India.   

    I vividly remember the scene where the character played by Harry Melling tells Beth that he is giving up Chess and going back to college to continue his studies. When she asks him why, he says, “I am not obsessed about chess, the way you are. You are surely gonna make it big”.

  2. Visualisation: Sportspersons have been known to practice visualisation for a while now. The most famous example I know of is Michael Phelps victory in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But here, Beth uses visualisation to consider moves on a virtual chess board even while playing a game. I was impressed when Beth and Benny Watts, on a drive from Lexington to NY, discussed the moves without any paper or board while driving.
  3. Life Always Gives you a second chance: When Beth makes a total mess of her first match with Borgov, not many gave her a chance to come back. But the second time, despite the challenges in her personal life, death of her step-mother and the feud with step-father, she remained focused on her goal.
  4. Never forget your roots: It was a somber moment when she goes back to the orphanage on the death of William Shamble, the janitor who taught her the game. While she had only remembered the $10 she owed him, she did not realise that he had kept track of all her achievements, while she was engrossed in the game.

  5. When you are dead serious about something, the whole world supports you: It was a pleasant surprise for her not only to meet Townes the day of the final match with Borgov, but to also talk with Beltik, Benny Watts and others on the phone, who had tracked the match and worked out strategies for her win.
  6. True Friendship never dies: The way her friend from the orphanage days, Jolene, makes a come back into the series in the last episode and helps her for her flight to Paris.

Along the way when I was researching online on the series, I came across some interesting facts. Thought I will share the same:

  1. The web series is based on a 1983 book with the same title by Walter Tevis. There is resemblance in the story to Walter’s own childhood life.
  2. Beth’s story closely resembles the rise of another US Chess Grandmaster, Bobby Fishcer.
  3. Even though the show was set mainly in the 1960s, women weren’t allowed to compete in the World Chess Championship until the 1980s.
  4. Current World Chess champion confirmed that the scenes where Beth looks to the ceiling to visualise moves on the chessboard aren’t completely unrealistic.
  5. Hungarian player Judit Polgár became the youngest chess grandmaster in the history at just 15 years old, in 1991. She refused to play in women’s tournaments, instead going up against and beating the best male chess players of her time. 

In the end, many might say that it’s work of fiction and fiction is made to impress, create wow scenes, et cetera. But the fact is that there was nothing unrealistic about the story. It’s all very much possible. If one aspires to make it big in a game even as complicated as chess, it’s very much possible to do it. One just needs to try and give it the best effort. If you have not seen the web series, its a must, must watch!

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Hetal Sonpal

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