The actual Queen’s Gambit: Meet the chess grasp preventing for the ladies’s sport
The yr: 2015. The place: Sydney, Australia. Irina Berezina stands on the entrance of the classroom, dealing with 25 boarding faculty boys. They stare again at her. Whisper. Eyebrows jag into frowns. It is clear they do not approve.
This 50-year-old girl from the previous Soviet Union is about to show these boys tips on how to play chess they usually’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 together with her chess coach Lev. She aligns the items inside their squares. Steadies herself, concentrates.
The boys snigger, baffled. One versus 25? Certain, OK. They let her play.
Earlier than lengthy, a king falls. Then one other and one other. Across the room, the seems to be of skepticism stretch into awe. The boys, all 25 of them, pack their baggage, 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 the most effective gamers in Australia and the one feminine chess participant to be topped ladies’ champion 4 consecutive years again residence 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 bit present on Netflix, primarily based on Walter Tevis’ coming-of-age novel. It stars Anya Taylor-Pleasure as Beth Harmon, a fictional chess participant who competes in males’s competitions and defies the chances to beat the most effective on the earth.
For the reason that present’s launch, Berezina has observed an enormous surge of curiosity in chess. The miniseries has bloomed in recognition, proudly owning the No. 1 spot on Netflix for weeks. “Each single neighbor requested me about it,” Berezina says.
“It is an important present,” Vladimir Feldman, Berezina’s husband and present chess coach, tells me in one other name. “It is performed very professionally.” The creators consulted one of many best chess gamers ever: Garry Kasparov, a Russian grandmaster and former world champion.
“It is way more practical than any film I’ve seen in my life,” Berezina says.
She would know.
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 acquired a chess set for his birthday, and he or she admired the attractive faces carved into the items. She was “simply working round” when she overheard her father educate Victor the foundations.
Her expertise was found at a chess membership she’d tagged alongside to together with her brother and her grandparents. They lived in a state the place chess was the No. 1 sport, part of the college curriculum and backed by authorities funding.
Berezina discovered a spot in the back of the room and sat down. Earlier than the kids 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 in the back of the room. “OK, discuss,” he stated.
By the tip of the session, Berezina had a spot in Aptekar’s class of sensible 5-year-olds.
“He stated to my mother and father — ‘That is it. She’s going to be world champion.'”
No extra dancing, no extra something. Simply chess.
The actual-life greatest 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 ladies’s competitors held on the Gold Coast. The outcome earned her the celebrated title worldwide grasp.
Berezina’s means to play a number of chess video games directly 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 isn’t Berezina’s. It isn’t 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 greatest 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 towards males as an alternative. In 1991, at 15 years previous, she turned the youngest ever grandmaster. She defeated Magnus Carlsen, Anatoly Karpov, Kasparov and Spassky.
She’s thought-about the most effective ever feminine chess participant, however her identify is not within the present’s script. “The Queen’s Gambit is so sensible however utilizing some girls’s video games would have been superior,” former US Women’s Chess Champion Jennifer Shahade tweeted.
The present’s ’60s setting might be the rationale — distinguished feminine gamers like Polgár hadn’t been born but. Ladies weren’t even allowed to compete within the World Chess Championship till the Eighties.
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 will develop into 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 had been feminine — and that is a report excessive.
“One of many the reason why there are only a few ladies taking part in is it is a actually male-dominated place,” Feldman says.
If solely a present like The Queen’s Gambit had come alongside sooner.
The Queen’s Gambit impact
Like Beth, Berezina has to cowl the bills of her flights and motels in Australia out of her personal pocket. She’s labored odd jobs, from chess teaching to taking part in 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, until 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 faculties and there is little authorities funding, a win at a match would possibly put a grand in your pocket, nevertheless it’s barely sufficient to cowl the journey.
Berezina hopes the present would possibly 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 performed a lot good already.”
When teaching faculty kids, notably 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 isn’t cool,'” Berezina says. “I have been desperately attempting to vary 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 may possibly assist individuals on so many ranges,” she explains. Bettering your reminiscence, serving to youngsters who’re too shy or too aggressive, even bringing the household collectively over an affordable pastime. “It is a sport, nevertheless it’s an artwork.”
Now, after a life taking part in, Berezina enjoys chess greater than ever.
“Then, all I wished was to attain. Now, there’s simply pure love left.”