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The Queen's Gambit - Episode 7 review

by Shahid Ahmed - 22/11/2020

The Queen's Gambit Episode 7 is titled 'End game'. A month after its release, The Queen's Gambit still remains the talk of the universe both chess and non-chess. The final episode of the mini-series is Beth's path to slaying Borgov in her third attempt. Although her journey in the tournament may seem like a fairy-tale ending, it is not absolutely impossible, yes highly improbable can be said. Anyway here is an episodic review where we discuss all the chess related aspects shown in the final episode and how tastefully it was done. It is arguably the greatest drama series/mini-series ever made about chess. Photo: Netflix stream

Episode 7 - End Game

End Game has to be one of the most overused chess term which is well known to almost everyone. It means exactly what it sounds, the final part of the game.

24-year-old Anya Taylor-Joy stars as the protagonist of the show - Beth Harmon | Photo: Netflix stream

Beth had hit her rock bottom. So to find inspiration once again, Beth takes a trip down her memory lane on her way to attend her first chess coach’s funeral. What hits her hard is when she sees that Mr.Shaibel kept track of all of her performances, especially triumphs. She also finds the letter she had written asking for her debut tournament’s entry fee.

Appreciation can make anyone’s day | Photo: Netflix stream

The series shows a brilliant part that sponsors almost always want something in return, money generally doesn’t come alone without having any strings attached. When the church group asks Beth to write a few things according to their wish, Beth refuses as it is against her belief and hurriedly decides to return all their money which she later regrets. I think players from every corner of the world will attest to the fact that more often than not they might have to do something for the sponsor for receiving the benefits they get for playing tournaments all across the world, sometimes even if they are unwilling to do so. It is true that the scenario has changed a lot, but you know what they say, the more they change, the more they stay the same. Eventually her childhood friend comes through. One thing non-chess players and enthusiasts need to understand is, although chess is an individual sport but it takes an entire support system including a team for a player to be successful at any level. Talent can take an individual only to a limit.

Can you solve the mate in three? | Photo: Netflix stream

Here is the diagram:

Mate in three

White to play

It is quite an easy one.

Brilliant cinematography and direction shows that the top players are in sync | Photo: Netflix stream

The first game we see of Beth from Moscow Invitational against Hellstrom (a typical German name?) is a replay of a game between Topalov and Kasparov from Euwe Memorial in 1995. Beth walks past three boards and sits on the fourth one which implies the tournament is in knockout format since it was already mentioned in an earlier episode that this tournament consists of four top Russian and four champions of their country from across the world. If you are familiar with how brackets work then you know why Borgov was playing on board no.1 and Beth on board no.4

Can you identify which world champion does Beth's opponent resemble? | Photo: Netflix stream

The first female ever to become a grandmaster Nona Gaprindashvili was mentioned in the series | Photo: Netflix stream

Although we hear the commentator mentioning about Nona Gaprindashvili who is a women's world champion but has never faced men. Factually that has to be incorrect because while she was world champion, she won Hastings Challengers in 1963-64 competing against men. This is a huge error but I guess it was done to dramatize Beth's feat more as she is the protagonist and the series often mixes the real players with the fictional ones.

Beth's first win at the Moscow Invitational 1968 | Photo: Netflix stream

After the initial 1.e4 c5, we only see the final winning move of the game which of course Kasparov won, means Beth too. Although the commentator mentions that Beth won against Laev (catchy version of Topalov?) in 27-move. However the actual game in reality was of 28-moves.

Topalov - Kasparov, Euwe Memorial 1995

Position after 28.cxd3

For a chess player to accept Beth getting applauded by the crowd with a loud clap while other games are on including tournament favorite Borgov was a little difficult to accept but then again if you have attended Tata Steel India in either 2018 or 2019 then you know crowd applauded many times when Anand won while the rest of the games including Carlsen's (in 2019) was on. It's true that Anand is the favorite in India while Beth is an outsider to the Soviet, but you get my point.

Do you recognize this position? | Photo: Netflix stream

The next game we see Beth winning is a replay of a game between Gyula Sax and Viktor Kortschnoj from Lugano Open 1986 which was won by Sax. We only see a move each from the final part of the game before the scene transitions to Beth taking a stroll in the city of Moscow.

Beth scores her second win of the event against Duhamel | Photo: Netflix stream

Sax - Kortschnoj, Lugano Open 1986

Position after 25...Rag8

Beth gets intrigued seeing so many people playing chess at a park in Moscow | Photo: Netflix stream

While taking a stroll in Moscow, Beth came across an area (probably a park) where she witnessed people playing chess outdoors against family, friends and strangers. In India, we get to see something like this only in Kolkata at Gariahat Chess Club which has been visited by Wesley So, Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura among the best of the best of the world.

 

In the next game, we see Beth’s opponent getting up and leaving the table without signing scoresheet. With a careful inspection I found that Beth once again replayed another Kasparov win against Robert Huebner played in Hamburg 1985. We only see the final position, no moves. Eventually the arbiter/tournament director comes to congratulate Beth for the win by shaking her hand.

Luchenko in the frame foreshadows him being Beth's future opponent | Photo: Netflix stream

Here is the final position from Beth's third round win

Huebner - Kasparov, Hamburg 1985

Position after 28...Qe5+

Commentator mentions that Hellstrom took it rather hard, but Beth had defeated him before in the first round of the event, how did she win against him again? In the next scene it is shown Beth winning another game against Shapkin but we do not get a clear view of the entire board. Thus it implies that it was not a knockout event.

Luchenko vs Beth | Photo: Netflix stream

Beth's next opponent Luchenko is introduced as the oldest player in the tournament. He was a world champion before Beth was born, he defeated Alekhine in an exhibition match when he was a boy, drew with Botvinnik and crushed Bronstein in Havana. Can you guess which player Luchenko was modeled after? We only see 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 before the scene changes. After returning back to her hotel, Beth finds Luchenko analyzing a game (probably their adjourned game) with Borgov and another player.

Benny already mentioned how Soviet players work as a team | Photo: Netflix stream

We see both Beth and Borgov arrive early to continue their adjourned games.

Luchenko vs Beth - the adjourned position | Photo: Netflix stream

In case you are wondering, yes this is also a replay of the game between Arshak Petrosian and Vladimir Akopian from Petrosian Memorial in Yerevan 1988.

Arshak Petrosian - Akopian, Yerevan 1988

Black to play

Beth deviated from the actual game and played 38...h5 here. We see one more move 39.gxh5 Kh8 and the scene transitions to the final position of the game.

Black is already winning the game, Rd4 is just the final nail in the coffin | Photo: Netflix stream

Luchenko - Beth, Moscow 1968

Position after Rd4

Luchenko resigns gracefully and says a lot of nice things to her opponent, finishing with, "I may have just played the best chess player of my life".

Beth defeats Flento in the next round but we do not see any position from the game. Her final round game is against the obvious Borgov where Beth plays the Queen's Gambit which Borgov declines by opting for Albin Counter gambit.

Borgov declined Beth's Queen's Gambit | Photo: Netflix stream

Beth - Borgov, Moscow 1968

Position after 5.Nc3

In the next frame, it is shown 7...Ng6 is being made on the demo board.

The only game that is going on - some kind of superfinal? | Photo: Netflix stream

Position after 7...Ng6

This game is also a replay of the game between Vassily Ivanchuk and Patrick G Wolff from Interzonal 1993. Only a different move order was used in the episode, but that doesn't matter much. The game fast forwards by 25 moves and we see the following position:

Demo board was shown tastefully in the entire series | Photo: Netflix stream

Position after 32.Kg2

Borgov played the same move as Wolff in this position 32...Kh7. After a few more moves, Borgov calls for 'adjournment' after Beth's 36.h3

Position after 36.h3

Beth's manager explains her how important it is to handle journalists by facing and answering their questions. The series established the fact behind Beth's reluctance but players need to understand that it is important and beneficial for them only to answer a few questions asked by the media because no one stays at the top forever and there is always another better player in the universe. By now Beth understood the necessity of having a team after observing Borgov discuss an adjourned game with Luchenko and others previously.

Beth discussing with the adjourned position with Benny and team | Photo: Netflix stream

Player-turned-reporter Townes helping Beth by writing down the variations | Photo: Netflix stream

Before the advent of ChessBase software, players had only one option to record the analysis - by writing them down. On the following day, we are shown the adjourned sealed move written as 36...Qg6

36...Qg6 is made on the board outside the venue for a huge crowd of spectators | Photo: Netflix stream

Position after 36...Qg6

So far the game is replayed the same as the game between Ivanchuk and Wolff. However Beth deviated here with 37.Ne6 when the game move was 37.g4.

It was beautifully shown that Beth could once again visualize the variations on the roof of the venue | Photo: Netflix stream

For dramatization purpose, commentators and Borgov look at the roof with a doubtful surprise, but we all know many chess players especially top players either look at the side or the top where they project their visualizations. So I wouldn't call it a mistake but it was done just for the general audience to create a more intriguing scene.

Beth played 42.Bc5 after completing her analysis | Photo: Netflix stream

Borgov made the first blunder in the entire series with 42...Qe8

Borgov blunders | Photo: Netflix stream

Position after 42...Qe8

The last few moves of the game was shown completely but what bothers me is sometimes Beth making a move like a complete amateur, someone who just started playing chess. Now this wouldn't have bothered much but Benny himself mentioned this a few episodes back. Anyway I guess some scenes were shot before and some after Anya Taylor Joy perfected the movement of pieces. Anyway this is not important, so we can let it slide. After a couple of moves we see Borgov making a draw offer for the first time in the entire series. which of course Beth declines as it is completely winning for her.

The pawn promotion to a queen is more symbolic than anything else | Photo: Netflix stream

Beth does a combination which allows her to promote a pawn into a queen which symbolizes Beth's arrival to the big leagues.

The final move Kd2 | Photo: Netflix stream

Borgov resigns by handing over his king while shaking Beth's hand is another symbolic 'passing the torch' moment.

Borgov passes the torch to Beth | Photo: Netflix stream

One of the best scene of the entire series is the epilogue where Beth on her way to the airport, gets down to the cab and walks toward the area where she several chess enthusiasts playing chess relentlessly. All players were excited to see her when one of them recognized who she was. She gets ready to play by taking her gloves off and says 'let's play' in Russian and the end credits roll.

Beth comes back as she does not forget her roots | Photo: Netflix stream

Conclusion

Episode 7 - 'End game' is a no-brainer title. There is no better title for a chess mini-series and you certainly cannot go wrong with it. The episode was good with a few negligible mistakes but the best part of the episode is the finish. Beth might have beaten the world champion, but she did not forget her support system especially her roots as she learned chess from her school's janitor Mr. Shaibel, a common man. So she returns to the park to play against the common folk.

The mini-series is adapted from The Queen's Gambit book by Walter Tevis | Photo: Penguin

Episodic review concludes in this article, however we will bring another article where you will see how the chess and non-chess universe reacted to this critically acclaimed mini-series.

 

Watch the entire episode of The Queen's Gambit Episode 7 - End Game on Netflix. The series is meant for adults only. So kids, if they want to watch the episodes for chess purpose, they can take an adult's help in watching only the chess elements of the mini-series.

Links

The Queen's Gambit on Netflix


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