The Queen’s Gambit
Every few months there’s a new Netflix show that is a hit. The last show that tops the list worldwide is The Queen’s Gambit (named after one of the oldest chess openings). No superhero, no drugs cartel, no Spanish bank robbers, but a female chess player steals the show. A talented girl, an orphan, learns to play chess by the janitor of the orphanage. She makes it to grandmaster when she is still just a young woman in a game dominated by men. Exceptionally portrayed by Anya Taylor-Joy, who grows in her role as she grows in her game of chess. She plays her best scenes when she just stares at someone or into the distance with her big, wide snake eyes.
Never has chess ever been so exciting to watch for such a big audience. Alcohol, drugs, human relations and chess dominate the show. It is made with a lot of love for the game of chess. Partly due to the fact that one of the all time greats ever to play the game of chess, Garry Kasparov, advised about the chess play in the show. Every chess position used in the show is taken from real life.
Watch the trailer to get excited (for the show that gets you excited about playing chess): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDrieqwSdgI&feature=emb_logo
So why is chess such a beautiful game? Let’s find out!
The benefits of playing chess
There are many advantages to playing chess (Chess.com, 2020). For the sake of not making this piece too long, most of them are not explained further. But if you are interested, you can check this link for more information on the benefits: https://www.chess.com/article/view/benefits-of-chess
The benefits of playing chess:
- Brings people together
- Teaches you how to win and lose.
- Helps children. It teaches them that their choices can have good and bad consequences. It teaches them to think before they act. Deciding what you are going to do, only after you have thought it through is satisfying and often gives the best result. Playing too quickly and without thinking can have negative effects on your game and life. Which I know out of experience, because I still do it. In the game though, not in life.
- Can help you focus.
- Develops creativity.
- Builds confidence.
- Develops Problem-solving skills.
- Exercises the brain.
- Helps you be calm.
- Can be used as an educational tool. Because, if it helps with all the things mentioned above, why not implement it in the school system?
Another personal one: I started picking up chess again after seeing The Queen’s Gambit. But I had a ‘chess period’ before, in which I played the game a lot. I also played football during that time. One time I went to football training, where we played positional play. One of the most played training games in football, in which you play with two teams in a rectangle without goals. The goal of the game is to keep possession of the ball with your team. That training, due to the many chess I had played, I saw lines opening through which I could pass the ball, I defended and attacked more tactically, knew how to move, kept my calm and didn’t rush when I was in possession of the ball. I never played football so well in my life. And it was definitely due to chess. I now notice it helps with my tennis game as well.
My personal thoughts about chess
I am fascinated by the game of chess. I love to play it. But I don’t have so much passion for playing the game as for the game itself. Why am I so fascinated by it? Because to me it represents things you also have in real life. A symbolism of life. These representations are described below.
First of all: the board is so finite, so limited in space. Only 8×8 (64) squares (see picture below).
Yet, the possibilities on the board and the amount of different games that can be played are bigger than the amount of atoms in the universe (Numberphile, 2015). The world is also limited space wise, so finite, but life itself also has this almost endless number of possibilities in which it can exist.
Secondly: the positions. The starting position is so ordered. The pieces that are ‘waiting’ before they can approach each other. As if some sort of invisible trafic races by in the rows 3, 4, 5 and 6 before the player who plays with white makes a first move. From the starting position (see picture above) more and more chaos is being created during the game, with the black and white pieces mixing. Waiting on the mistake of the opponent. In attacking position or in defending formation.
Life also starts with some degree of order for everyone. Although in a world with almost 8 billion people, there are enough exceptions unfortunately… But from that moment on life becomes more and more complex. The link with entropy, which has a big role in physics, can be made. Entropy can be seen as ‘the degree of disorder’ or ‘the degeneration of a system’. As time progresses, all physical systems fall apart. Everything in the universe tends to be disorderly. Entropy can also be described as ‘the number of realization possibilities’. And that number always grows as time progresses. Nothing you can do about it. Both definitions apply to chess as well. In chess this would be the number of ways the pieces can be placed on the board. Which increases as the game progresses.
Thirdly: the pieces.
The different pieces that all have a different form, height and starting position. But above all, all can move in a different way. Some are more valuable than others, because they can do more, but you need them all to play the game. Just as with the people on earth to make something of life.
Finally: the circle. Not the circle on the board, because it doesn’t have any, but ‘the circle of life’: you start with all possible pieces of your colour in your possession. By the way, talking about colour… White against black in which white has the advantage (in the case of chess by having the first move). It sounds familiar… Luckily in chess, although it is important, it is also innocent. Unfortunately, we haven’t resolved the white against black problem in society. Ayway, throughout the game you lose pieces and at the end (except with a draw), the king falls. The game is over, but the pieces are put back in the starting position and the game starts over. Possibly with new players. In life you lose people you care about and you need to make the game (life) a success. Eventually you die too, as the king of your own life. But there will be new players to play the game (live). For instance your children.
The end game
What I hope is that chess becomes a sexy game. Where you can pick up a guitar to impress someone or just get the chess board out. And feel just as confident about yourself playing chess as dressing nicely. And it is not difficult to start. You don’t even have to buy a board and pieces anymore! Nowadays you can play chess online on your computer or phone. Still, because of The Queen’s Gambit, many people, especially young women bought a chess board. Which is very nice to hear! I would say keep it up! Stay interested in the game! You don’t have to be exceptionally smart as well. It’s true that most of us will never see the brilliant tactical plays the grandmasters of the game can see. But we can all see the world in which these grandmasters live in The Queen’s Gambit. We can all enjoy playing chess and we can all see the beauty of chess.
I am lucky for many reasons. One of those reasons is that I have someone in my life (called Mina) who inspires me in a lot of things, such as reading interesting books. Chess is described in many books and movies. Mostly about the game itself or to show the beauty of chess and the positive sides of the game (like I did), though there are also books that describe war, using chess as an analogy. But still, it is very hard as an individual to start war with only a chess board and a book. The book that was advised to me, however, is a book that an individual can use in an evil way. ´48 Laws of Power´ by Robert Greene is all about manipulation and how you can become a master in it. This is also the reason that the book is forbidden in Utah State prisons, just as another book from Greene, called ´The Art of Seduction´ (Tanner, 2017). You could also see it as a book that tells you how to win the war on a personal level, without any sentiment for the people around you. So how does ´48 Laws of Power´ (readable in PDF on https://irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com/cb9165b2/files/uploaded/The%2048%20Laws%20Of%20Power.pdf and as audiobook on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0J3AIfmDzq8v9ds28EvjLm?si=mGtY9N0zSVK_wyX_eVxboQ&utm_source=copy-link), which is also sometimes called ´Bible for Atheists´, ´Chicken Soup for the Soulless´ and ´How to be a Creep´ use chess as an anology to teach you how to manipulate?
Mina, who read the book in a more detailed way, summarized Greene´s words about chess and manipulation in a very clear way: you need to get rid of the king if you want to take his place, often sacrificing pawns in order to win. An example of sacrificing this ´pawn´ is for instance letting your friends do the dirty work, due to their affection for you and can thus be used as a convenient scapegoat when things go wrong. You have to give your opponent false security and distract him from predicting your next move.
Also Greene makes the relationship between war and chess:
¨The two board games that best approximate the strategies of war are chess and the Asian game of go.¨“The two board games that best approximate the strategies of war are chess and the Asian game of go. In chess, the board is small. In comparison to go, the attack comes relatively quickly, forcing a decisive battle…. Go is much less formal. It is played on a large grid, with 361 intersections — nearly six times as many positions as in chess…. [A game of go] can last up to three hundred moves. The strategy is more subtle and fluid than chess, developing slowly; the more complex the pattern your stones initially create on the board, the harder it is for your opponent to understand your strategy. Fighting to control a particular area is not worth the trouble: You have to think in larger terms, to be prepared to sacrifice an area in order eventually to dominate the board. What you are after is not an entrenched position but mobility. With mobility you can isolate your opponent in small areas and then encircle them… Chess is linear, position oriented, and aggressive; go is nonlinear and fluid. Aggression is indirect until the end of the game, when the winner can surround the opponents’ stones at an accelerated pace.”
One of my favourite bands has a song in which in the first part they compare life to a game of chess. The song is called I’ve Seen All Good People. I advise you to listen to it, because it’s just an amazing song! The first part is called Your Move. Here are some of the lyrics from that part.
Your MoveI’ve seen all good people turn their heads each day so satisfied I’m on my way
Take a straight and stronger course to the corner of your life
Make the white queen run so fast she hasn’t got time to make you wife
‘Cause it’s time, it’s time in time with your time and it’s news is captured for the queen to use
Move me on to any black square
Use me anytime you want
Just remember that the goal
Is for us all to capture all we want, anywhere
Don’t surround yourself with yourself
Move on back two squares
Send an instant karma to me
Initial it with loving care
Don’t surround yourself
‘Cause it’s time, it’s time in time with your time and it’s news is captured for the queen to use.
*It could be that this article is updated from time to time.
Burton, J. (2014, July 16). Chess pieces [Photo]. Retrieved from https://www.chess.com/forum/view/chess-equipment/reproduction-and-real-jaques-of-london-chess-set
Chess.com Team. (2020, January 27). Top 10 Benefits of Chess. Retrieved 21 December 2020, from https://www.chess.com/article/view/benefits-of-chess
Numberphile. (2015, July 24). How many chess games are possible? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Km024eldY1A
Rathi, A. (2016, May 7). Chess board [Photo]. Retrieved from https://www.quora.com/Which-chess-set-is-used-in-World-Chess-Championship-matches
Tangcay, J. (2020, October 28). Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen’s Gambit [Photo]. Retrieved from https://variety.com/2020/tv/features/queens-gambit-chess-game-visual-effects-1234818139/
Tanner, C. (2017, January 9). Why are these two books banned at the Utah State prison? Retrieved 25 December 2021, from https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=4564871&itype=CMSID
Greene, R. (1998). 48 Laws of Power. Readable in PDF on https://irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com/cb9165b2/files/uploaded/The%2048%20Laws%20Of%20Power.pdf
Greene, R. (1998). 48 Laws of Power. Listenable in on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0J3AIfmDzq8v9ds28EvjLm?si=mGtY9N0zSVK_wyX_eVxboQ&utm_source=copy-link
14 thoughts on “The beauty of chess”
Thank you for the wonderful article Vincent !!!
I think I might just pick up chess again 🙂
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I once got the attention of an unruly math student of mine by offering the class extra credit for a one-paragraph explanation of The Knight’s Tour problem. The student happened to be a chess player, and I was right, the problem intrigued him enough (back in 2001, so I forget whether Google was available yet, but I’m sure he looked it up online rather than at the library, as I’d suggested) turn in the assignment and get the extra credit! 🙂
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First of all: thank you for commenting on this post and (therefore) probably also reading it!
I loved to read your comment! First of all because I am studying to also become a teacher (in physics)! I think it is very important to connect what the student is learning to their ‘world of experience’. Especially for the unruly ones… 🤭 Well done! Very happy for him that he got the extra credit!
Secondly: maybe surprisingly to you, but I hadn’t heard of The Knight’s Tour problem before. I looked up what it is and I will try to solve it! So I got a challenge on my hands! 😉 Thank you very much!
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Hey, coolness!! 🙂
Vincent, you may want to drop by my blog and look at my lesson plans, which are meant for either High School or precocious Middle School learners of all ages, as I’ve tried to draw my twenty years of teaching experience together into these lesson plans and provide them for both teachers and students, in the hope that no more teachers will burn out! I’ve put up a 1st cut book form of all of the lessons together on The Archive, and will add the images in a final book in April, but if you follow any lesson, you can get to all of them.
Please keep in touch and let me know if I can help in your journey as a fellow teacher!
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Hey again Shira!
First of all: thank you for all your years of servicing and education the worlds population. I don’t have to tell you how important that is, since we both know the value of (good) education! I’ve looked at your blog and seen some of the lesson plans! Thank you for the advise. It looked as if in every of them, more subjects were discussed in one lesson. So for instance language (grammar), history, maths… Is that true? Trying to understand the format…
Thank you for your possible help! I will keep that in mind!
Greetings from the Netherlands,
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Hello again, Vincent:
Yes, You’ve got it quite right -each lesson plan revolves mainly around the math and grammar lecture in the PDF, but also includes a reading selection, which comes either from history (sorry, mostly US history, as this is geared toward students in the US), or from science. So I tried to get grammar, maths, reading, a bit of writing, and then either US or World History or science into each lesson, at first in the lesson plans themselves, and then later mostly in the posts written around the lesson plans. As I added more to each post, I also added images that I hoped would either motivate the lesson or at least add to the interest of some part of the lesson. Since I was teaching this particular set of courses in San Diego, California, that is where they are strongly centered.
Greetings from San Diego, California
(by the way, Vincent: is it true that in all of the Netherlands, every city has fully protected lanes and lockers for bicycles? I’ve been wanting to find a job in a city where I, as a very low-skilled cyclist, could feel safe riding everywhere, and I hear that most of northern Europe is very cycling friendly)?
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Well, I understand the US history part. Every country has its own history that is important to them. I was actually discussing this with my friend Victor with whom I write on this site and the one creating Ekabo. He is from Nigeria. We were talking about that in the Netherlands (where I went to high school) for instance the first and second and World War are some of the big subjects. In Nigeria, where he went to school, the Nigerian civil war is a big subject. And I hadn’t even heard about that once!!!
Yes, I guess when you get more and more experienced in teaching, you don’t have to rely so much on your lesson plans and can build/write around them. So I saw these were long classes, isn’t it? Around 3 hours? Then teaching more subjects in one class is actually possible!
About cycling in the Netherlands: it’s heaven! Of course we are known for it, but cyclists own the roads in the Netherlands! I am 25 and I don’t even drive a car! It is possible to get everywhere without (also because of good public transport, I have to say 🤭). Some background information: the Netherlands has more bikes than people (around 23 million bikes vs. 17,5 million people). Only China has more bikes/cyclists (but they are also with somewhat more people, haha 😅). On average, more than a quarter of the trips are on bikes everyday and 75% of school children cycle to school. Around 98% of households in the city own a bike. 50% 3 or more. To answer your question: Almost all of the cycle paths are separated from the roads cars drive on, yes (cycle lanes). And this is not only in the cities, but throughout the whole of the Netherlands (which is of course much smaller than the USA. You can drive by car through the whole of the Netherlands (from north to south) in only three hours. 🤭 We have almost 22,000 miles of seperated cycle roads (1/4 of the entire road network). I heard the other day that the minimal width a cycle lane must have is around 4.5 feet. We have roundabouts, bridges, tunnels and more infrastructure, all especially for bicycles. You must be able to reach every place in the Netherlands by bike! I live in the beautiful city of Leiden, but the central train station of the city where I study (Utrecht) has the biggest indoor bicycle parking 12,500 places for bikes). Three floors high, indoor bicycle lanes and indoor bicycle repair shops. Almost all stations in the Netherlands provide special bicycles that you can use and deliver back at another station (if necessary). Many cities, like Leiden, Utrecht, Groningen and Amsterdam are built and upgraded to get less cars through the streets and more bikes and pedestrians.
If you are interested, I would advise you to look up some videos on ‘cycling in then Netherlands’ on YouTube. Sorry for the many information I gave to you. This is just something I am very enthusiastic about. The Netherlands has many flaws as well (and we are not at all ‘the greatest country in the world’, but bicycle infrastructure and water management are two things we are just very very good in. 🤭
By the way San Diego: nice and warm ☀️ Beautiful place!
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“…Then teaching more subjects in one class is actually possible” -well, yes and no. These were supposed to be ‘independent study’ classes, but the Dean wanted me to give a short lecture anyway. During those 3 hours, the students were expected to study their maths, grammar, and then either reading, writing, history or science, all on their own, in theory, but the case is that most of them really needed far more structure than the independent format gave them, so I created plans that would give them that structure, and yes, I did end up teaching many subjects in one class period, but it was exhausting. (ok, not having a car and not having an assistant to do the attendance was bad, too…)
Wow -no worries, no worries at all! Thank you for telling me about bicycle heaven. What you describe is almost unimaginable here in the US, unfortunately.
I think I’m going to have to find a way to come live there. I am just so tired of all of the cars here.
These last few weeks, San Diego has not been so warm, nor sunny, but most of the time it is. It is a beautiful place, with the mountains and the palm trees, but I came here for sunlight, which there seems to be a good deal less of than I’d expected, and as the politics here are also a good deal less progressive than I’d believed based on my research before I moved here, I’m not planning to stay much longer.
I hope that my lessons are of good use to you, Vincent!
(I’ve just posted an old lesson plan from when I taught college Algebra, simply to be sure that I didn’t forget it, if that is interesting…)
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I understand the students needed more structure. I love structure myself and try to give it my students. Also if it takes more time. But yes, teaching all those subjects in one course/class is very exhausting, I understand!
Yes, I know it is very difficult to get this situation in the US. Two reasons that create the ideal situation for cycling in the Netherlands is because of the fact that the Netherlands is totally flat. Our highest point is less than 1000 feet and we share it with Germany and Belgium 😅. For the rest we don’t have any… 😁 Also, the Netherlands is small, so it is possible to have the infrastructure for cycling throughout the whole country. And so we have… Of course The USA doesn’t have these ‘elements’. So I think that also makes it harder. You could however create more infrastructure within the cities. But of course therefore you also must stand behind the concept of cycling with the whole community. Here in the Netherlands it is just normal that you learn to ride a bike from let’s say 3/4 years old. So, after dinner you go outside with one of your parents and you practice for 15 minutes every day on the side walk. First with side wheels on the sidewalk, held up by one of you parents, a few days later you can go to the end of the street and back only by the help of side wheels, while you are being watched by a parent. Then the same two things without side wheels. And then, already before you go to primary school you can ride a bike. Talking about a learning process by the way… 🤭 Anyway, you can understand when every kid is being brought up like that, cycling becomes part of the DNA. And here it comes: being able to cycle and understanding the advantages of it stimulates building the infrastructure for it. And building the infrastructure for it stimulates cycling. It’s a circle. A circle that has become unbreakable in the Netherlands. Of course with obstacles in the beginning. The infrastructure was also created because there were a lot of protests because children on bikes and pedestrians were in accidents with cars. In the ’60 I believe…
So although the elements aren’t ideal in the US. Everyone could learn about the advantages of riding a bike (healthy, cheap, independent (as a kid)), teach there children how to ride a bike and dare to invest in the infrastructure for it (in the cities). Then over time, the advantages become more and more visible and it will even accelerate the stimulus…
So, about San Diego, you can understand that we find mountains very special in the Netherlands, since we don’t have any 🤭. Same goes for palm trees. 🌴 Sad that there is not as much sunlight as you expected! Hopefully you find a place with a lot of sunshine, bicycles and great politics!
I will have more extensive look at your site and lesson plans when I have time for it!!
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Wow, Vincent, that is a nice virtuous cycle, with cycling! 🙂
Overcoming the individualist mentality and ‘car as freedom’ aura of driving as a right mentality in the US is very difficult, not to mention the hills, as you point out. It could certainly be done if our culture were different, but I think that we have a very long way to go.
I do hope that you enjoy my lesson plans, and that you can adapt and use them for your own classes, if they are helpful.
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Hey Shira! Hope you are good! I checked up on ‘the Knight’s Tour problem’. I didn’t know there were so many possibilities! It’s crazy! 😮 I haven’t succeeded in finding a solution myself, but maybe I will do one day!
For now all the best! Be sure to subscribe (if you are not already) to the site if you are possibly interested in upcoming pieces. Or not, whatever you want!
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Hi, Vincent: Excellent! I’m so glad that looked it up! I love the ‘tour’ problem, and I am certain that you will find a way to solve it soon! 🙂
I’ve been trying to subscribe, but I have a trouble ticket in with WP, as oddly two strange things have been happening for several weeks: 1.) I seem not to be able to follow anyone, and 2.) some posts on my Reader seem dimmed out, not grey, and I can stilll access them, but not bright like most other posts. Not sure what’s going on, but I will get it resolved when the free support folks get back to me, which may be awhile!
Hey Shira. I will try to solve the tour problem! I guess it’s more trial and error than going in a specific pattern, right? Which needs you to have paticience, a quality that is normally not linked to me, but I will try one day! 🤭
I am afraid I can’t help you with the WordPress problems. I myself am very bad with everything inside the screen. But maybe the WordPress admins notice we are talking/complaining about it and they will help you quicker since it is bad for them to have unhappy users. Let’s just use the words WordPress, unhappy, unsatisfied and problems in the same sentence a lot. Then they feel the obligation to help quickly. 😉
At least: good luck! I hope the problems are resolved quickly!
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Aha, so that is how to get their attention! 🙂
Patience, they say, is a virtue, but I hope that you will find working out a solution to The Knight’s Tour a fun challenge, as well, Vincent! 🙂
and Stay safe, too!