The most desired Christmas gift of 2020? A chess set. It’s certainly desired, at any rate, by the rapt viewers of The Queen’s Gambit, the acclaimed Netflix miniseries that debuted in October. Created by screenwriter-producers Scott Frank and Allan Scott, its seven episodes tell the story of Beth Harmon, an orphan in 1950s Kentucky who turns out to be a chess prodigy, then goes on to become a world-class player. During the Cold War, the intellectual and geopolitical prospect of American and Soviet masters going head to head stoked public interest in chess; over the past month, the surprise success of The Queen’s Gambit has had a similar effect.
Whether or not you feel a sense of kinship with the series’ unrelentingly chess-obsessed young protagonist, you may well feel an urge to learn, or re-learn, to play the game. If so, all the resources you need are online, and today we’ve rounded them up for you.
To get started, Chess.com has produced “Everything You Need to Know About Chess,” a series of Youtube videos “designed to give every aspiring chess player the ‘one chess lesson of their life’ if they were only to get one.” Watch them, or explore these web-based tutorials. And even if you don’t have a chess set of your own, you can get started playing immediately thereafter: create an account at Chess.com and you can play against the computer or real players around the world matched to your skill level, all for free.
To shore up your knowledge of the game’s fundamentals, watch this five-video series by instructor John Bartholomew on topics like undefended pieces, coordination, and typical mistakes. The Chess Website’s Youtube channel covers even more, and its basics playlist teaches everything from opening principles to the nature of individual pieces, pawn, rook, knight, and beyond.
But nobody with a taste for chess can stop at the basics, and the supply of instruction has grown to meet the demand. The St. Louis Chess Club offers a series of lectures from national masters and grandmasters geared toward beginning, intermediate, and advanced players.
At Chess School, you’ll find videos on”the greatest chess games ever played, the immortal chess games, the best games from the latest tournaments, world champion’s games, instructive chess games, famous players games and much more.” Among serious players you’ll find many fans of Agadmator, whose extensive playlists examine current masters like Magnus Carlsen, past masters like Garry Kasparov, and examples of techniques like the English Opening and the Sicilian Defense, the later of which enjoyed quite a moment in the era of The Queen’s Gambit. The series has hardly gone unnoticed in the chess world: on channels like Chess Network, you’ll even find videos about the strategies employed by Beth Harmon, whose style has been programmed into chess-playing AI “bots.” They also have a “Beginner to Chess Master” playlist that will continually build your understanding of the game in a step by step manner.
The character’s personality, however, remains a creation of Walter Tevis, author of the eponymous novel The Queen’s Gambit. Tevis’ other works famously brought to the screen include The Hustler and The Man Who Fell to Earth: works of literature concerned, respectively, with mastery of a deceptively complex game and the condition of the social outsider. These themes come together in The Queen’s Gambit, whose author also described it as “a tribute to brainy women.” Perhaps you plan to give such a person in your life a chess set this year. If so, you know which book to wrap up with it — apart, of course, from Ward Farnsworth’s 700-page Predator at The Chessboard: A Field Guide To Chess Tactics. Or Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess. If you have other favorite resources, please feel free to add them to the list below…
A Free 700-Page Chess Manual Explains 1,000 Chess Tactics in Straightforward English
A Beautiful Short Documentary Takes You Inside New York City’s Last Great Chess Store
A Brief History of Chess: An Animated Introduction to the 1,500-Year-Old Game
Vladimir Nabokov’s Hand-Drawn Sketches of Mind-Bending Chess Problems
The Magic of Chess: Kids Share Their Uninhibited, Philosophical Insights about the Benefits of Chess
Garry Kasparov Now Teaching an Online Course on Chess
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.