November 18, 2020

“The Queen’s Gambit” & how my Husband Came Prepared to Take Me Down.

Anybody watching “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix?

You should. It’s really good—100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s all about chess, genius, and dysfunction.

Here’s a snippet of Allison Shoemaker’s review from the Roger Ebert website:

“When you read the words ‘Netflix limited drama series about addiction, obsession, trauma, and chess,’ the first adjective which springs to mind is probably not ‘thrilling.’ But here we are, and ‘The Queen’s Gambit,’ Scott Frank’s adaptation of Walter Tevis’ coming-of-age novel of the same name, absolutely demands the use of ‘thrilling.’ Anchored by a magnetic lead performance and bolstered by world-class acting, marvelous visual language, a teleplay that’s never less than gripping, and an admirable willingness to embrace contradiction and ambiguity, it’s one of the year’s best series. While not without flaws, it is, in short, a triumph. And it is satisfying not just as a compelling period drama, a character study, and a feast for the eyes. It’s also, at its heart, a sports movie wrapped up in the vestments of a prestige TV series. Ask yourself this: When is the last time you fist-pumped the air over chess? Isn’t that something you deserve?”

I used to play chess. Now, I am in no way comparing myself to our heroine here, but I do understand the drive to win.

Watching this series brought back a fun memory about that desire to win. It makes me smile and shake my head.

George (my husband of 35 years) and I were in the first few weeks of our budding relationship. You know, those days when you’re on fire with passion. You really like this person and you want to bring them into the embrace of your life.

Dinners out, dinners in, cooking for one another, dancing, hiking, movies, a little tennis, meeting friends, meeting family—we were doing the dance of getting to know one another.

One evening, I asked if he played chess. (Keep in mind, during this stage in the relationship, you rarely say “no” to one another.) “Sure,” he said.

“Want to play a game or two,” I asked. I’m not sure how enthusiastic he was, but again he said “Sure.”

Did you ever see the movie “The Thomas Crown Affair?” There was a sexy scene in which Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen were playing a game of chess. She in a backless dress, her hair stylishly up, and he in a dinner jacket, drawing on an expensive cigar, both looked sensuously into one another’s eyes as they moved their pieces around the board.

George was a big fan of McQueen movies and raw sensuality, so this inspired scene likely prompted his “Sure.” And so, over a couple of glasses of wine, we played our first game of chess.

I beat him soundly.

“Okay, set ‘em up again,” he said. And again, I beat him soundly.

I’m not the kind of woman who will let a man win, in any game, just to preserve ego, and, I beat him again.

After three games, we put the board away. We laughed a little and promised we’d have a rematch one day soon. I got the feeling that day would be in the distant future. George was pretty competitive. I’m sure he hated losing to his new girlfriend.

The next day was a big work day for both of us. George had a long drive out to Palm Springs and a lot of client meetings scheduled. In spite of our busy days, we planned another night together—low-key, a little dinner, maybe watch an episode of “Moonlighting.” But when he got to my house, he suggested we play chess again after dinner.

Well, okay, didn’t see that coming. You’re a glutton for punishment, I thought.

We poured ourselves a glass of wine, set up the board, and started our game. I was shocked at how much his game had improved overnight. The night before, he had no strategy. Now he was making good opening moves and clearly strategizing his attacks. Not surprisingly, he beat me. He was eager to play again. And again, he beat me.

Three out of three times, he put me in checkmate.

After that night we didn’t play anymore. We moved on to other things and he never really seemed interested in chess again.

It wasn’t until years later that he confessed what he had done.

As soon as he got to Palm Springs that day, he found a bookstore, bought a book on chess strategy, and studied it all day. Between work appointments and during his long drive home (yes, he read while driving!), he studied chess. He chose a few strategies and practiced them over and over in his head.

He came prepared to Take. Me. Down.

I know he was relieved to have won his games. He had redeemed himself. I’m pretty sure he was fist-pumping his chess victories that night as soon as he was out of my sight. Did he deserve that fist pump? You bet he did.

We don’t need to be obsessed with competitiveness; that’s not healthy. But a little friendly battle that raises our own game—that’s a good thing.

Now, ya’ll, do yourselves a favor and go watch “The Queen’s Gambit!”

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