It’s finally time to get excited about chess. Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit—based on the book of the same name by Walter Tevis—follows fictional chess prodigy Beth Harmon as she reinvigorates America’s love for the game we used to be (kind of) good at. Our last World Chess Champion was Bobby Fischer—in 1975. But a nation can dream.
The series takes inspiration from prodigies such as Fischer, exploring how a young gifted child could rise through the professional ranks (Fischer won the U.S. championship at 14, Beth, in the show, at 16.)
To do this, Beth needs to master various elements of the game, including the “opening” and the “end game”—how a player first attempts to control of the board and then finish off her opponent.
These stratagems are mentioned through the series, but not explored in a lot of depth—though, the series does go to some lengths to simulate real chess competitions; the show worked with chess expert Bruce Pandolfini who created 350 different chess positions for games shown in the foreground and background of every shot.
Of course, the one opening move we hear named most prominently (aside from the “Sicilian Defense”) is the “Queen’s Gambit.” It’s both the title of the series and an opening strategy Beth employs on a number of occasions.
What is the Queen’s Gambit move?
The Queen’s Gambit is a move designed to secure control of the center of the board. It’s one of the most common chess openings and involves white sacrificing (that’s the “gambit” part) a queen-side pawn (the “queen” part). In Algebraic notation, the move is: White moves its pawn to D4. Black moves its pawn opposite to D5. White then moves its pawn to C4, beside its first pawn and diagonal to Black’s pawn. (If you’re listening to characters talk chess moves in the show, this letter-number sequence might sound extra confusing; many characters use descriptive notation, such as “queen’s bishop 4,” rather than algebraic notation. In descriptive notation, the Queen’s Gambit is: White pawn to Queen 4 [p-Q4], Black pawn to Queen 4 [p-Q4], White pawn to Queen’s Bishop 5 [p-QB5].)
After moving, White’s second pawn (on C4) is now open for capture by Black’s pawn (on D5). Black can then either take or decline the gambit, each decision carrying with it a myriad of follow-up moves.
There’s some debate whether this move is really a “gambit” since the sacrifice actually puts White on the offensive.
Still, semantic debate aside, the Queen’s Gambit is a great sequence to study if you’re just getting into chess strategy—and a great opening to use whether you’re an amateur or a grandmaster.
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