Besides her matches with Borgov and Pluchenko in Moscow, The Queen’s Gambit abounds with intriguing chess games and positions. They are here presented, in the venerable spirit of chess puzzles like this collection from logician Raymond Smullyan.
Thus far, games or positions discussed include
- Mate in 3 puzzle from Episode 6 Adjournment in Benny’s basement loft, as it were, with his chess friends, who later challenge Beth to multiple simultaneous games of speed chess.
- From Exchanges (Episode 2)
Beth’s first tournament move
Mate in 1 position from a Beltik game
Note: For Beth’s championship (and other) games with Borgov, see The Queens Gambit and its Puzzles: The Moscow Edition
For Beth’s games with Benny, see Chess with Ferb: Queens Gambit Battles Betwixt Beth and Benny
The Most Famous Game Ever Played
In Episode 6 Adjournment, Beth plays speed chess with Benny and two friends (see Chess with Ferb: Battles Betwixt Beth and Benny) and the final game is a replay of the “Most Famous Game Ever Played,” between the American chess phenom Paul Morphy (1837 – 1884, who is often mentioned by Beth and Harry; like Bobby Fischer, he retired from chess young – at age 22 – spending the rest of his life as a lawyer and wandering in general, passing away at age 47) and Duke Karl and Count Isouard during an opera in Paris, 1858), described by Agadmator here. This short game (17 moves) is often used to demonstrate the value of rapid development – moving all your pieces once before moving any twice is one such good idea. Note how quickly White develops an attack by developing all of her ok his pieces! Meanwhile, several of Black’s pieces are bottled up and never do even move once.
Morphy / Dukes of Hazard
1. e4 e5; 2.Nf3 d6; 3.d4 Bg4 an outdated defense (loses a pawn to 4.de de; 5.Qxd1 Kxd1; 6.Nxe5)
4. dxe Bxf3; 5. Qxf3 dxe; 6.Bc4 (threatening 7. Qxf7 mate) Nf6; 7. Qb3 (threatening both 7.Bxf7 ch and
7. … Qe7 8. Nc3 instead of 8.Qxb2, since “Qxb2 is a butcher’s move, and Morphy was an artist”
8. … c6 9. Bg5 b5 10. Nxb5 cxb5 11. Bxb5+
11. … Nbd7 12. O-O-O Rd8 13. Rxd7 Rxd7 14. Rd1 Qe6 to relieve the pin on Black’s N
15. Bxd7+ Nxd7 16. Qb8+ Nxb8 17. Rd8 checkmate
Exchanges (Episode 2): KY State Tournament
In Beth’s 2nd game, she moves up in the competitive ranks against a player ranked in the 1500s (2200 is required for “Master,” 2400-2500 for “Grandmaster;” she begins the tournament as “unrated;” 1500s is as far as I ever officially got <besides some stimulating losses to some higher rankeds> ); she observes a game between Harry Beltik and another Master, who are each trying to reach Grandmaster status.
KY: Sham Draw Offer from Mr. 1500s (Episode 2: Exchanges)
KY: Match with Townes
As Beth climbs the competition ladder, next shown playing her chess mentor and friend Charles Townes, she essays a gambit version of the spunky Center-Counter Defense (aka Scandinavian Defense, which “is one of the oldest recorded openings, first recorded as being played between Francesc de Castellví and Narcís Vinyoles in Valencia in 1475 in what may be the first recorded game of modern chess, and being mentioned by Lucena in 1497.” <wiki> )
- e4 d5 The Scandinavian; 2.exd c6 offering another pawn in exchange for freedom of movement 3. dxc Nxc6
4. Nf3 e5 Beth grabs the center, and prevents d4 by White
5.Bb5 Bg4 struggle to control the center continues, Beth threatens e4
6. Nc3 Nf6
7. Bxc3 bxc
From the opening into the middle game next shown, several things have changed:
a) White castles long (Queenside), b) many pawns are traded off; c) as are all but one minor piece (N or B) and one Rook for each side. Some other day we may construct a plausible middle game sequence …
(lets just say move 30.) … QxQ(h2); 31. Nxh2 Re7; 33. Rg2 are moves shown.
The endgame is shown next (after who knows how many moves)
KY: Finale with Harry Beltik
Another game copied from a Grandmaster match, “Agadmator” shows us the complete game at No Reverse Gear Elizabeth! || Harmon vs Beltik || Netflix’s Queen’s Gambit – YouTube. The game was originaly played in 1962 by Russian Grandmaster Rashid Nezhmetdinov.
The game begins
- e4 c6 Harry plays the Caro-Kann Defense (to play d5 vs. White’s P on e4, but without
restricting his Q Bishop behind his pawns as in 1. … e6 2. … d5 the French Defense)
- Nc3 d5
- Nf6 Bg5 White avoids the classic approach, 2.d4 … 3. Nc3 or 3. e5
- h3 Bxf3
- Qxf3 e6
6. g3 g6 both players prepare to “fianchetto” their Bishops on long diagonals
7. Bg2 Bg7 a more modern Harry would have played 6. … Nf6 Agadmator tells us
8. O-O Nd7 Harry yawns; Beth shows her annoyance (“she gets easily annoyed …”)
9. Qe2 d4; 10. Nb1 e5; 11. d3 Ne7; 12.f4 Qc7; 13.a4 O-O; 14.f5 Beth begins her attack
14 … f6 Harry prevents any possible future P-f6 annoyances, frees his Nd7 to roam elsewhere
15. Nd2 Bh6; 16. Kh2 Kh1; 17.fxg hxg;
18. Nf3 Bxc1; 19. R(a)xc1 Nc5 20. c3 Nb3; 21. R(a)d1 R(a)d8; 22. Nh4 Qc8; 23. Bf3 Qe6; 24. Nf3 Qg8
25. h4 Kg7; 26. Rf2 Rd6? 27. R(d)f1 R(d)d8 retreat!; Nxe5 then Rxf8 was threatened
28. Qc2 b6; later, Benny later suggests (Episode 3: Doubled Pawns) a stronger move at 29 for Beth, ticks her off. Why is this better? maybe the rest of the game may show why. For one, it prevents Black’s immediate Queenside actions …
29. h5 slash and burn attack! c5; 30. hxg dxc; 31. cxd c4(!) 32. d4 exd; 33. cxd Nxd4; 34. Nxd4 Rxd4 at this point, Beth goes off to her analysis center, the bathroom. “I don’t want to give anything away, but some things happen in the bathroom … she comes back a million times more focused ” 🙂
Agadmator is succinct, subtle …
35. e5 Beth presses her attack, sac’ing her B on g4 if necessary (exf ch wins)
… f5; 36. Bxf5 here, Harry could have found a way out (thank you Agadmator) with Nx(B)f5 to draw, but instead presses for a win with
36. … Qd5 37. Be6 !! Beltik says some nasty words, Beth reminds him, as per the Agadmator’s caption at top, had he showed up on time, maybe he could have gotten out of it (but now – “I don’t think so”)
37. … Rh8 ch 38. Bh3 Nxg6 [38. … Rd3 is Black’s best chance, cutting off White’s Q from the attack, and threatening K-Q fork with Rd2 ch at some point]
39. Rf7 ch Kh6 40. Qxg6 ch !!! Harry sees mate in 7 coming – “do you want to finish it here, or on the board?” Beth taunts. Harry resigns, and graciously applauds Beth’s surprising win.
Here is how checkmate would have been delivered:
40. … Kx(Q)g6 41.R(1)f6 ch Kg5; 42.Rf5 ch Kg6; 43.R(7)f6 ch Kh7
44.Rh5 ch Kg7 45.Rg5 ch Kh7; 46. Bf5 checkmate
Mexico City: Borgov’s Interesting Position (Episode 4: Middle Game)
In Mexico City, a glimpse of a game between Borgov and an unknown opponent is shown, with a position shown poised on the verge of a strategic middle game struggle. It would likely seem to result from a Queen pawn opening, the Torre Attack.
It turns out that this is a replica of a blitz (rapid move controls) game between English Grandmaster Nigel Short and Garry Kasparov (B) 2015, St. Louis, which Kasparov went on to win “in great style” (though W’s pawn is on a4 in that game, not a3 is it is supposed to be here oops).
Even More Interesting Positions: Moroccan Chess
Perhaps the two most fascinating positions of the entire series are shown in this very brief clip. Before looking more closely at them, credit must be given to Epcot and the craftsmen of Morocco, as the lower set and pieces on the upper board shown were found from the store at Morocco/Disney’s Epcot in Orlando, Florida. The <empty …> glasses as well as the Thuya wood coasters were also obtained there; Thuya wood is apparently indigenous to Morocco, and is used in exotic European automobiles, though they also fit into the cupholders of my robust, pleather- and plastic- interiored VW Jetta at one point. The board above was reportedly found in some Turkish bazaar, and Hammacher Schlemmer made them available for a little over $100 as I recall, some very nice handiwork at a very reasonable price.
In the game on the left (lower board shown), Black has given up two pieces (Rook, Knight) to achieve this astounding position. (noting that a1 is the bottom right dark square on both boards) and even though his light squared Bishop is also under attack, it attacks White’s Queen, the Black pawn on g7 attacks White’s Rook at f1, and all at the same time that the Black Queen is delivering check to White’s King: Black’s investment is playing off in spades, and maybe in clubs too. She also is attacking Black’s Rook on c6 with a Bishop at b4.
In the position to the right (or Beth’s game against her apparently Moroccan opponent, as I am surmising perhaps for selfish reasons), the game is equal in terms of material, with Beth (White) having just completed a capture with her advanced pawn on black’s 2nd row, f7. Likely the pawn jsut captured from an advanced position at e6, possibly it concldued a Knight exchange or it jsut captured a pawn. ALthough materially equal, the sides have an imbalanced array of forces, with Black having an extra Rook compared to White’s extra Bishop and two extra pawns. Is White (Beth) about to win, as she seems to nearly always do, and how?
The backgammon board on the back is worth a shoutout, and for a fraction of the price of arguably the world’s most epic backgammon board, Noble House’s Middle Earth themed one also shown …
Mexico City: Curious Early Resignation by Diedrich
“Queens’ Gambit Declined,” “Relentless pressure in the middle of the board,” “she did it mostly with her pawns” likely she played the Tarrasch Defense to the QGD. Active play on the Queen side, all those pawns look to have been traded off early: how to construct in 23 moves (and why did he actually resign here?) remain open questions …
It is difficult to see why Diedrich would resign here, though Black does seem to have a more active position, and her passed pawn on c4 puts further pressure on White. Interesting position to play out as an after dinner exercise. Of course, with such a brilliant opponent
Indeed, New in Chess Issue 2020 #8 declares, in A Queen’s Gambit for Everyone, Diedrich’s unease and sudden resignation to be “somewhat surprising, since the game is far from over.” The game does follow that of Bernstein-Capablanca 1914, which then continued
20. Rc2 Bxc3
21. Rxc3 Nd5
22. Rc2 c3
23. R(d)c1 Rc5
24. … Rc6
25. Nd4 Rc7
26. Nb5 Rc5
27. Nxc3 Nxc3
28. Rxc3 Rxc3
29. Rxc3 Qb2
checkmate on the back row is inevitable, ex. 30. Qe1 Qxc3; 31. Qxc3 Rd1 ch; 32.Qe1 Qxe1 checkmate
Another Randomly Shown Position in Mexico City
In the above shown position, Beth (Black) just responded to White’s pressure on her lonely queen rook pawn (a7) by Ra4 with R(d8)-b8.
Yet Another Interesting Position
Mexico City: Loss to Borgov
see The Queens Gambit and its Puzzles: Moscow Edition where all Beth-Borgov games are given
Mexico City, Harmon v. G. Girev Russian Boy Wonder
(Middle Game, Episode 4)
Beth meets a fellow wunderkind, Georgie Girov, the 13 year old Russian Grandmaster who feels destined for the title of World Champion (by the time he is 16, he projects). Once again, the Sicilian Defense appears.
Helpful analysis of the real game from which this was taken can be found here, along with brief analysis of all
of “GothamChess” ‘s 7 favorite games from The Queen’s Gambit series..
Girov plays [surprise, yet another] Sicilian Defense
Beth Boy King
1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 e6
3. d4 cd
4. dc Nc6
5. Nc3 d6
6. Be3 Nf6
7. f4 e5 moving ePawn a 2nd time, but it allows
8. Nf3 Ng4 attacking White’s dark squared Bishop
9. Qd2 Nx(B)e3
10. Qx(N)e3 fe
11. Qxf4 …
then, many moves get played, apparently, and they arrive at the adjournment position. Harmon seals 41. (P-)h5, and the action picks back up …
As we will see further below, the game as played on Netflix deviates from the historical match from which it was taken (Jakovenko – Stellwagen, Wijk Aan Zee 2007), hinted at by the mysterious disappearance of White’ pawn on e4. New in Chess‘s Queen’s Gambit article reveals the actual moves played in the historical game (which ended in a draw), and the quick ending the game deserved after the sealed move 41. h5 (!!)
The actual game saw Jakovenko marauding Black’s hapless Queenside pawns (a7,b7) with 41. Rxb7, resulting in the following sequence, which was eventually drawn:
41. Rxb7 Re2
42. Kb3 Rxb2 ch
43. Ka4 Rd7
However, 41. h5 wraps up the game in just a few quick moves (unlike how the position is shown to be played out on Netflix):
41. h5 if gxh5 then 42. g6 immediately brings the denouement,
while if hxg5 then 42.hxg6 Bg7; 43.Rc8 ch is “equally hopeless” [NiC]
However, back to the game as shown on Netflix: while Beth makes a few quick moves to win, consistent with the mating patterns shown above, the game as played there would seem to drag out given the final position shown. We continue from the game as shown
Any shred of protection for Black’s King is about to be ripped away, and White threatens mate in 2, beginning with (P)h x (P)g then Rh7 mate, supported by the White B on d5
But first, Georgi has some tricks up his own sleeve vis-a-vis White’s King: his arm appears to slightly retreat a piece from the far end of the board, thus
41. … Re7 threatening Rx(P)b2 ch and cornering White’s King.
Black’s threat is real:
42. a4 Rxb2 ch White thus makes an escape route
Black still needs to find a defense against White’s mate threat. Only five moves are implied in the film, but a look at the final position shows that it will take a few more than that.
We observe the following clues:
a) Black’s 4 pawns (a7,b7, g6,h6) have been captured
a1) White’s pawn on e4 seems to have disappeared once the game resumes,
judging from a close scrutiny of the triad of pictures further above (“41. e5(!!)” ) (?)
b) Girov laments after resigning that “I should not have allowed your Rook to do that”
c) White’s R ends up on b8, while the Black R is found on g6, Black’s B on f2, likely
Black’s only defense against White’s dark art of checkmate seems to be
42. … Rh2
43. hxg hxg
44. Rxb7 Bd4 Black protects the a pawn
45. g7 ch (!) Bxg7 g pawn sac’d (threat was 46. g8/Q) to clear out Black’s a pawn
46. Rxa7 Bd4
47. Ra8 ch Kg2
48. b5 … Now White plans to [promote to] Queen a pawn
We are close to reaching the end, but a few moves are required yet. We resort to entirely arbitrarily motivated moves, their sole unifying rationale … to reach the “correct” final position. Thus … well it seems that we first need to make Black’s g pawn disappear, to make up for White’s e4 pawn disappearing earlier. There may be a local Bermuda’s triangle of lost pawns in the area
48. … Rh3 ch
49. Bb3 d5
50. Rb8 Rh6 prevents W’s b pawn from advancing
51. … Bf2 Black’s d pawn could advance, or even better the g pawn, which now must disappear
52. Bd1 Kf6
53. Be2 Ke5
54. a6 Rg6
55. Bd3 Black resigns
Conclusion: some interesting attacks and counter attacks, but a pawn on each side disappearing at the end, then some truly random moves, achieve the final position. An area “open for research” to come up with a better sequence … Certainly, the few quick moves Beth Harmon played don’t fit into this sequence, which is supported by the positions shown on the board (ex. Georgie’s melodramatic resignation by literal downfall of his King piece), though they would be consistent with the quick mate that follows 41. h5 as shown further above.
Other Openings that might have gotten shown
The Queens Gambit excelled at showing quality chess in interesting, exotic locales. As a number of chess strategies are identified with countries or regions in which they were pioneered, some further openings are now shown from sets I have collected native to such regions.
Mexico City: Ruy Lopez aka the “Spanish Torture”
Chess sets from Latin America often have the theme of Aztecs v. (Spanish) Conquistadors as with the first set shown. In an ironic twist of history, the light Aztec side is shown here perpetrating a Ruy Lopez attack on the very Spanish whose Ruy Lopez de Segura is credited with inventing what has come to be known as “The Spanish Torture” – an unrelenting attack on Black’s Pawn on K4 (e4) and the center in general, preparing P-Q4 (d4) with P-QB3 (c3), pointing both Bishops towards Black’s castled King, and swinging both Knights over to the attack as well in many continuations.
Paris: French and English
Curiously, I detected no French defenses in the Netflix Queens Gambit mix. The thematically rich opportunity to play such an opening in its home country seems priceless (similar to how France won the 1998 World Cup hosted by France, defeating Brazil 3-0) but that was not a price that Netflix was apparently willing to pay. Nevertheless, two French themed sets I have managed to collet over the years make their debut here. My parents stopped in Venice once on a trip back from the Holy Land (Israel), and got myself and my 3 brothers each a different thematic set. Sensing historic opportunity, I swapped out a side of pieces with a set to pit the English (King John leading them, I like to imagine; conceivably the Asiatic-aware Prester John) against France’s own Napoleon. I also learned a few years back that the Vanderbilt Biltmore Estate in North Carolina was home to a set that was a gift from across the Atlantic of a set that was once owned by Napoleon. Despite the characters all being Chinese, it seemed appropriate that it be configured to show a version of the French Defense, so I assigned it the innovative Tarrasch Variation of the French Defense (which avoids the Winawer’s 3. … Bb4 and allows c3 to buttress White’s central pawn structure), giving the main line to the Napoleonic set.
Russia, Italy and the Indian Defenses
Italy’s Guioco Piano[or ‘Pianissimo’], or “the quiet game” from the 16th century, often starts out as anything but quiet.
1. e4 e5; 2.Nf3 Nc6; 3.Bc4 Bc5 and each player have aimed their Bishops at their opponents’ weakest square, the bishop pawn (f2, f7) guarded only by the King. White is able to first occupy the center with
4. c3 Nf6; 5. d4 leading to some volatile play. Instead 5. d3 defends White’s pawn on e4, lives down to the “quiet game” anti-hype, but in fact is often now preferred, expecting to slowly build a King side attack much like in the Ruy Lopez described above.
Russia’s main legacy to opening theory came from Russian Alexander Alekhine in 1921, the 4th World Champion (1927-1935, 1937-1946), is the Alekhine Defense. Responding to 1. e4 with Nf6, Black provokes a small avalanche of White’s pawns as they chase the homeless horse across the board. The 4 Pawns Attack is the most aggressive approach by White, and in classic hypermodern style, Black lures White’s pawns forward with the aim of using the advanced front as a target. The board shown was inspired if not actually made in Russia, with Tsars and Cossacks, probably, lending their personas to the characters; Russian balsa (?) appears to have been used for the ultra lightweight pieces.
Indian Defenses (1. … Nf6) to Queen pawn openings (1. d4), appear rarely (appropriately enough) in the series named for their explicit avoidance (the Queen’s Gambit results from their avoidance, i.e. 1. d4 d5; 2.c4). Nevertheless, since I once picked up a board from India, and found some pieces that look to be inspired by intricate Indian or possibly Arabic/Mughal aesthetics, that was excuse enough for me to throw in some pictures of these. Various versions are shown: 1. d4 Nf6 2.c4 then
2. … e6; 3. Nc3 Bb4 the Nimzo-Indian named after the Latvian-born Danish Aaron Nimzovich, restrains e4 by White by pinning Nc3; d5, c5 and active play for Black typically ensue
2. … e6; 3. Nf3 (to avoid the dreaded Nimzo) b6 Queen’s Indian with time for a queenside bishop fianchetto (b6, Bb7) to likewise prevent e4 by White; the fianchettoed Bishop on b7 helps control e4, which Black may later occupy with Ne4, supported by f5
Next, we see two more “Indian” Defenses:
2. … g6; 3. Nc3 Bg7 the King’s Indian with a quick “fianchetto” (g6, Bg7) of the King’s bishop and castling; typically White expands on the Queenside, and Black plays something like e5, Nh5, then f5 and attacks on the King side
2. … e6; 3.Nc3 c5 Benoni (Indian) Defense somewhat hypermodern like the Alekhine’s Defense, as it invites White to advance and occupy the center with 4. d5 exd; 5. cxd d6, and Black can pressure White’s center or Queenside (Bg7 aims at both, and Queen side pawns can advance a6, b5 etc.). Of course, Bobby Fischer played the edgey Benoni against Spassky in the crucial 3rd game of the 1972 World Championship, and attacked on the King side, Queen side and finally in the center; it is one of the featured games in the 2014 movie Pawn Sacrifice about Fischer.
For further exploration of chess openings and their lands, see the related post The Queen’s Gambit: Openings from Other Lands