Let’s be honest – I had no effing clue how to play chess. I remember my Dad trying to teach me once when I was younger and that was a disaster— too many rules and too much thinking for my little ten-year-old brain. Thus, I developed a bitchy attitude towards it, thinking it was for nerds with too much time on their hands.
Fast-forward a decade, Mom has been nagging at me for months to watch this new show on Netflix called The Queen’s Gambit. She described it as a show about a chess prodigy but how it’s ~so much more than that~. Daily convos went like this:
“Jenna, have you watched Queen’s Gambit yet?”
“No, Mom, I don’t care about chess!”
“No, no, no, you don’t understand. It’s different.”
Finally, I gave into the pressure and begrudgingly watched Episode 1. That led to Episode 2, and then the next one, and eventually the whole series was binged in less than a week. My mother was right all this time – this show was about so much more than chess. It was about survival, trauma, loss, and transformation, which are all prevalent themes I have experienced in my life as well. So, when you finish reading this article, go to Netflix straight away and watch the first episode – it’s worth it.
Post-binging, I suddenly became interested in the game I have been so apathetic towards for so long. Hearing that I wanted to relearn how to play chess, my dad immediately hopped on Amazon and bought a new chess set. When the set arrived, Dad quickly arranged all the pieces on the board and ordered me to sit down. As soon as I sat in front of the board, he began to rattle off all the rules and moves you could make. As he regaled me with all his chess knowledge, I began to wonder, “How does he know so much about chess? Why does he care so much?” I asked Dad what I was thinking and what he said truly shocked me.
“I’ve been playing for 40 years, I was in a chess club.”
W H A T ? My dad, the big, buff personal trainer, has been a chess master this whole time? Immediately, the saying of “don’t judge a book by its cover” hit home right then and there. He told me how strategic the game is and how it’s all about noticing your opponent’s weakness and thinking 2 or 3 steps ahead. A beginner game turned into another, and soon I got a handle on how to play. I was getting better with each game because of learning from my mistakes.
I would visibly cringe every time I realized I messed up and gave Dad the opportunity to demolish the board. But whenever my nose scrunched up or I muttered “dammit,” he would always remind me of what not to do – “Never let them see you sweat. Psych them out as much as possible.”
Chess, simply put, is beautiful. It drives me insane every time, but that is exactly the reason I love it. Like Beth Harmon said in Queen’s Gambit, “it’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I can control it, I can dominate it.” Imagine having just one purpose, one objective right in front of you that you can reimagine a thousand different ways. People, even my earlier self, thought that chess was for nerds and had strict, boring rules. In reality, this is a game that fosters inventiveness and literally anyone can play – even me, the lost cause I once thought I was, or my dad, who I had no idea would ever be into this. This year has been so rough for everyone, but a true bright spot for me was being able to find a new passion that I can share with someone I love – checkmate.