The Queen’s Gambit may very well be a sport changer for ladies’s chess


Anya Taylor-Pleasure performs Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit.


The 12 months: 2015. The place: Sydney, Australia. Irina Berezina stands on the entrance of the classroom, going through 25 boarding faculty boys. They stare again at her. Whisper. Eyebrows jag into frowns. It is clear they do not approve.

Irina Berezina, competing on the FIDE World Girls’s Chess Championship, Khanty-Mansiysk, November 2012.

Organising Committee Khanty-Mansiysk World Girls’s Chess Championship 2012

This 50-year-old girl from the previous Soviet Union is about to show these boys the right way to play chess and so they’ll don’t know what simply hit them.

She units up 25 chess boards, one in entrance of every boy. Similar to she used to do again within the former Soviet Union along with her chess coach Lev. She aligns the items inside their squares. Steadies herself, concentrates.

The boys snigger, baffled. One versus 25? Positive, OK. They let her play.

Earlier than lengthy, a king falls. Then one other and one other. Across the room, the seems of skepticism stretch into awe. The boys, all 25 of them, pack their luggage, defeated. As they file out, passing the subsequent group who’re nonetheless crackling with mischief, they ship a warning: “She is aware of what she’s speaking about.”

“I earned my respect,” Berezina tells me over the telephone. “After that, it was a lot simpler to show.”

Now, a couple of years later, Berezina nonetheless performs chess in Sydney, Australia, primarily on-line, due to COVID-19 restrictions. She’s among the finest gamers in Australia and the one feminine chess participant to be topped ladies’ champion 4 consecutive years again house within the former Soviet Union.

Regardless of her success, Berezina’s by no means had a lot consideration earlier than.

However then got here a little bit present on Netflix, primarily based on Walter Tevis’ coming-of-age novel The Queen’s Gambit. It stars Anya Taylor-Pleasure as Beth Harmon, a fictional chess participant who competes in males’s competitions and defies the percentages to beat the most effective on the earth.

Because the present’s launch, Berezina has observed an enormous surge of curiosity in chess. The miniseries has bloomed in reputation, proudly owning the No. 1 spot on Netflix for weeks. “Each single neighbor requested me about it,” Berezina says.

“It is a fantastic present,” Vladimir Feldman, Berezina’s husband and present chess coach, tells me in one other name. “It is completed very professionally.” The creators consulted one of many best chess gamers ever: Garry Kasparov, a Russian grandmaster and former world champion.

“It is far more practical than any film I’ve seen in my life,” Berezina says.

She would know.


A younger Beth Harmon learns chess from Mr. Shaibel, her orphanage’s janitor, in The Queen’s Gambit.


A younger lady turns into a chess participant

In contrast to American Beth Harmon, Berezina grew up within the former Soviet Union, the place she found chess on the age of 4. Her older brother Victor obtained a chess set for his birthday, and he or she admired the gorgeous faces carved into the items. She was “simply operating round” when she overheard her father train Victor the foundations.

Her expertise was found at a chess membership she’d tagged alongside to along with her brother and her grandparents. They lived in a state the place chess was the No. 1 sport, part of the varsity curriculum and backed by authorities funding.

Berezina discovered a spot behind the room and sat down. Earlier than the youngsters stood Lev Aptekar, an esteemed chess participant from the identical technology as Boris Spassky, Mikhail Tal and Viktor Korchnoi.

He eyed the brilliant little faces and quizzed them about chess. Within the final row, a hand shot up. Aptekar took in Berezina, the lady behind the room. “OK, speak,” he mentioned.

By the top of the session, Berezina had a spot in Aptekar’s class of good 5-year-olds.

“He mentioned to my dad and mom — ‘That is it. She’s going to be world champion.'”

No extra dancing, no extra something. Simply chess.


Twelve-year-old Hungarian chess prodigy Judith Polgár throughout a France-Hungary sport.

Picture by Yves Forestier/Sygma through Getty Photos

The true-life finest feminine chess participant

Berezina has performed chess in Jakarta, Malaysia, Moldova — everywhere in the world. She earned the title girl worldwide grasp in 1993. Six years later, after emigrating to Australia, she positioned equal second within the Oceania Zonal Championship, an open males’s and girls’s competitors held on the Gold Coast. The end result earned her the celebrated title worldwide grasp.

Berezina’s potential to play a number of chess video games without delay is perhaps acquainted. In her coaching, a younger Beth Harmon performs 12 chess matches concurrently. It is spectacular. Much more spectacular? Berezina can do it blindfolded.

“I can put a shawl over my eyes and play with my eyes closed.”

But when The Queen’s Gambit relies on somebody’s actual life, it is not Berezina’s. It is not even a lady’s. The closest inspiration Berezina can consider is Bobby Fischer, the primary American grandmaster to beat a Russian on the World Chess Championship, a feat much like what Harmon achieves within the present.

In actual life, the girl synonymous with the world’s finest chess gamers is Judit Polgár, a Hungarian grandmaster — the best title a chess participant can attain other than world champion.

Polgár refused to take part in girls’s tournaments, preferring to compete in opposition to males as an alternative. In 1991, at 15 years outdated, she turned the youngest ever grandmaster. She defeated Magnus Carlsen, Anatoly Karpov, Kasparov and Spassky.

She’s thought of the most effective ever feminine chess participant, however her title is not within the present’s script. “The Queen’s Gambit is so good however utilizing some girls’s video games would have been superior,” former US Girls’s Chess Champion Jennifer Shahade tweeted.

The present’s ’60s setting might be the rationale — outstanding feminine gamers like Polgár hadn’t been born but. Girls weren’t even allowed to compete within the World Chess Championship till the 1980s.

It was Polgár’s older sister Susan who fought for qualification in 1986. She battled to have “males’s” formally faraway from the title in order that it might turn out to be an “open” competitors.

Judit Polgár made an look on the championship in 2005. No girl has come shut since. In 2018, solely 14% of US Chess Federation members have been feminine — and that is a document excessive.

“One of many the reason why there are only a few ladies enjoying is it is a actually male-dominated place,” Feldman says.

If solely a present like The Queen’s Gambit had come alongside sooner.


Beth Harmon takes on fictional Russian World Champion Vasily Borgov.


The Queen’s Gambit impact

Like Beth, Berezina has to cowl the bills of her flights and accommodations in Australia out of her personal pocket. She’s labored odd jobs, from chess teaching to enjoying exhibition simultaneous chess video games at film openings for pre-screening leisure.

Later in The Queen’s Gambit, Beth’s victories include good-looking winnings. However in actual life, except you are multimillionaire Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen, the present world chess champion, the prize cash is not sufficient to pay the payments.

In Australia, the place chess is not obligatory at colleges and there is little authorities funding, a win at a event may put a grand in your pocket, however it’s barely sufficient to cowl the journey.

Berezina hopes the present may encourage an entire new technology of ladies to take up chess.

“All my life I used to be dreaming of doing one thing about girls’s chess … This present has completed a lot good already.”

When teaching faculty kids, significantly ladies, Berezina faces a battle with chess’ social stigma. Chess gamers are seen as nerds or outcasts.

“Generally you continue to hear from ladies, ‘Oh, it is not cool,'” Berezina says. “I have been desperately making an attempt to alter this angle.”

It was her dream to be a chess participant. To win. But over time, as she transitioned into teaching, Berezina’s felt the broader advantages of chess.

“It could actually assist individuals on so many ranges,” she explains. Bettering your reminiscence, serving to children who’re too shy or too aggressive, even bringing the household collectively over a cheap pastime. “It is a sport, however it’s an artwork.”

Now, after a life enjoying, Berezina enjoys chess greater than ever.

“Then, all I needed was to attain. Now, there’s simply pure love left.”

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