by Heater Case
Despite the Cold War, 1960’s American media created a Russian Culture teenage crush. Doctor Zhivago, The Russians Are Coming, Illya Kuryakin, Pavel Chekov, the fantasied romance between Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, and/or anything else Russian was perceived to be as friendly and fashionable as Carnaby Street and World War I.
The rose-colored Tiger Beat glasses eventually embraced even the relatively humorless and button downed world of chess, primarily through Bobby Fisher’s highly publicized jousts with Russian chess masters.
Just like Cossack shirts and anything Russian found in Army-Navy stores, most of my comrades… err… classmates ran out to get chess sets and we quickly tried to wrap our heads around this brain-stretching cool and calculating lifeform that ate checkers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
It was then that we found some of our friends were ringers. Offspring of Will Hunting precursors and Hidden Figures ladies who never pursued or were never offered a path that validated their IQ. Some of us never got past making galloping noises with the Knight.
Most of us retained the basic rules but only dusted off those neurons (along with gin rummy and dominos) during blizzards, airport strandings, and, now, pandemics.
I wonder if rebirth is in store for Caissa’s Battlefield. If so, I can see nothing more influential than the current Netflix Miniseries, The Queen’s Gambit, a brilliant and engaging postcard from the edge of the chessboard.
Beth Harmon (brought to life by the amazing Anya Tayor-Joy) is the quirkiest femme fatale since Jodie Comer’s Villanelle in the BBC’s Killing Eve.
As we follow Beth, a character as unorthodox, sympathetic, and complex as they come, we also get thrown into the deep end of the mathematics and mentality of the game.
I’ve always felt that there was a thin line between encouraging and discouraging. The Queen’s Gambit can inspire a whole new generation of enthusiasts. It can also make one’s head explode and hide in the comfort zone of a good game of Battleship. At least we can hang on to Beth as we glimpse into whatever it is that makes her hang on.