Lady’s game, when Netflix plays chess

Published on : 21/11/2020 – 13:21

The series “The Lady’s Game” on Netflix is ​​causing a worldwide craze for the game of chess. The fictionalized story of a young American player who competes in talent against steadfast Soviet players in the middle of the Cold War seems truer than life. Because reality often goes beyond fiction, as explained Laurent Verat, former director of the French Chess Federation, who looks back on this success and the world of chess.

The mini-series The lady’s game (7 episodes) premiered October 23 on Netflix. It is now at the top of the platform’s most popular content worldwide. The success of this series created by Scott Frank and Allan Scott, is based on a cleverly put together even daring narrative that depicts the rise of a young American woman Beth Harmon – played by Anya Taylor-Joy – in the very masculine world of chess of the 1960s. ” However, there was only one player to reach the world top 10, it is the Hungarian Judit Polgar, explains Laurent Verat, journalist, former director of the French chess federation and player manager. She played with the men because the parties are mixed. »

« The game of the queen is a beautiful portrait of chess from the 1960s, Organized by Laurent continue. The restitution is perfect with this audience physically around the players. » Then he nuances: “The gestures of the actors, it’s a little hard to believe when you’re in the chess world. And then it is romanticized, because we see few draws in the series while in competition there are many. They also play very fast while the pace of chess is still slower. »

“The chessboard for a high level player is also in his mind”

« What is successful are these moments of visualization. So over the course of the series, the heroine visualizes the chess games on the ceiling of her orphanage, or her bedroom, like a ballet of chess pieces. ” Indeed, the chessboard in a high level player is also in his mind, he can continue to play and imagine the movements of the pieces in his head even when he leaves the game table. The directors of the series drew on the expertise of two chess masters, Bruce Pandolfini and Russian Garry Kasparov. Pandolfini had previously participated as an advisor to the film Searching for Bobby Fischer but he had also assisted the author of the novel at the birth of the series Queen’s Gambit, Walter Tevis, published in 1983. A virtuous loop for the narrative intensity of this series.

The Lady's Game Netflix
The Lady’s Game Netflix © Netflix

The surprise is that watching The Lady’s Game makes you want to play chess! ” I know that searches for playing chess online have increased and real game purchases also since the broadcast of this series. Containment also played a huge role, there was a boom in connections during the first containment on the three large platforms:, chess24, and lichess. On for example, 40 to 45 million players are registered, and per day more than 7 million games are sometimes played. The difficulty will be to retain these players », Underlines Laurent Verat. During the series, we discover the classic strategies and openings. In English the series is called Queen’s Gambit, an opening by the sacrifice (accepted or refused by the opponent) of a pawn on the queen side. (In English we say the queen, in French a lady, but our madman becomes a bishop (bishop) among the Anglo-Saxons, what an idea!) And sacrifices on the ladies side, there are also in the plot of the series .

“Similarities with the life of young Bobby Fischer”

From apprenticeship to expertise, from the 1960s United States to Cold War Russia – much of the filming was done in Berlin although the city is not depicted as such – the heroine of The Lady’s Game makes you want to believe in her story. Especially since his character reminds us of another very real one, a kid from Brooklyn: Bobby Fischer. The life of the undisputed chess prodigy, author at 13 of a game nicknamed part of the century, is told in the excellent book Frank Brady’s Endgame (editions At the Forges de Vulcain). The course of the American phenomenal echoes that of the heroine of the series wrongly suspected of apophenia (giving meaning to what has none) and due to various addictions. ” There are clearly similarities to the life of young Bobby Fischer », According to Laurent Verat.

However, on screen the heroine fights, the only woman, in a men’s sport. ” It is true that chess remains masculine. Until a few years ago, they were practiced in the back rooms of bars, billiard academies … places for men. »The jubilation one feels in watching this young woman casually and elegantly shake up the stereotypes of society is therefore intense, to the point of seeing her lift a section of the historic iron curtain.

Crazy paranoia from the Cold War years

« I’m a loser in the game of life Bobby Fischer explained that the tragic end is in the image of the crazy – even shocking and outrageous – paranoia of the Cold War years between the United States and the USSR. Becoming the only leader on the stage of international chess, facing the Soviet power of the time, he seemed to be the embodiment of a monologue by Hamlet in Shakespeare:

I could be locked in a nutshell,

And look at me like the king of infinite space,

If I didn’t have bad dreams.

Bad dreams is what runs through the heroine of the series over the episodes.

The Lady's Game, NetflixThe Lady's Game, Netflix
The Lady’s Game, Netflix Phil Bray/Netflix – PHIL BRAY/NETFLIX

Norwegian world champion: Magnus Carlsen

The world of chess is more peaceful these days: ” A player’s life is now like that of a tennis player », Explains Laurent Verat. The new world champion is Norwegian: Magnus Carlsen. ” A trendy boy who became the world leader at 19 in 2013. He is a star in his country who has since taken up chess. When he plays it’s prime time on Norwegian TV with adapted formats. (He is nicknamed the Mozart of chess, the documentary below is an astonishing portrait of the prodigy).

« France for 20 years has been one of the good countries in the world of chess. In the top 10, or even 5. The Hexagon experienced a boom in the 2000s with the arrival of players from Eastern Europe. “According to Laurent Verat, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave that he manages is” a potential world champion “. In any case, he became one of the youngest grandmasters in the history of chess at 14 years old. So, when will you see prime time chess games on French TV?

World ranking :

1. Magnus Carlsen, Norway

2. Fabiano Caruana, United States

3. Ding Liren, Chine

4. Ian Nepomniachtchi, Russie

5. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, France


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