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On the Authenticity of the Chess in The Queen’s Gambit

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2020

A scene from The Queen's Gambit

Like many of you, I watched and loved The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix (trailer). Part of the reason it’s so compelling is the care the show’s creators took in accurately portraying the chess players, games, and tournaments. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading articles by and interviews with chess experts on what the show got right and wrong. I’ll link to some of them below, but this interview with Garry Kasparov, one of the best chess players ever and an advisor to the show, is particularly worth reading. Here he talks about choosing a real game to be played as the final match in the series (spoilers):

Most of the games, it was not difficult, but the biggest challenge was the last game, because the last game is just, it’s a full game. And the problem is that the last game had to be played by the Queen’s Gambit. Of course I could pick up games from other openings, but it would be very much against the spirit of the book. How did I find a good game that will be played for 40 or so moves adjourned in a complicated situation? And then you have this very important element of Benny and his team calling from New York. It means the position had to be complicated. I found a few games and picked up one: Patrick Wolff against Vassily Ivanchuk, Biel Interzonal, 1993. Wolff sent me a note a couple of days after the show was released: “I recognize the game.” It was quite an obscure game. He said, “Garry, how on earth did you find it?” I said, “I had certain parameters, with the gambit, the number of pieces left, so basically, I ended up with 700 games.” It’s not perfect, because it’s not exactly as complicated as I want it, but it fit the book description: game adjourned, complicated position. And even with all the ruckus, he’s pushing the rook. The rook is trapped in the center. I preserved most of the game description and I think it helped, because that’s a climax, and the climax is something that people always recall.

The interview is interesting throughout. Here are some of the other articles I’ve read: former pro Linda Diaz, former top 10 player Judit Polgar (and others), former NY Times chess columnist Dylan Loeb McClain, chess pros Alexandra and Andrea Boetz, 2-time US champ Jennifer Shahade, and ChessBase editor Albert Silver.