Just like in any other high-level, battle-of-wits competitions, chess has its own tells. And while there may be plenty to suss out in matches between long-time players, theres one quick way to spot a pretender.
For chess lifer Bruce Pandolfini, that was one of the key ways to help make sure that the performers on screen in the new Netflix series The Queens Gambit didnt break the illusion right away.
Perhaps the most important thing is how they grab and move the pieces. So you really want them to look natural and we worked on that a lot, Pandolfini said. Its like looking at someone handling a baseball bat. If they grab it in the middle, you know they dont like baseball. Theres a certain flow and fluency to it that you want to try to capture, if you can.
Pandolfini is no stranger to fictional portrayals of prodigious chess talents, having consulted on a number of other film and TV projects, including Searching for Bobby Fischer in which hes portrayed by Ben Kingsley. Hes also written a flotilla of books about the intricacies of chess strategy, from overall guides to closer investigations of openings and endgames.
Even for a series like The Queens Gambit, which uses the constant presence of a chessboard as a building block for Beth Harmons story, rather than a surface-level affectation, there wasnt a concerted effort to try to drill the main characters in the finer points of the game. Pandolfini worked with Anya Taylor-Joy and other actors by focusing on patterns that wouldnt distract from the other physical and mental demands of their respective roles.
We would use mnemonics and other visual cues to help them pick up on things and remember it more easily, Pandolfini said. We tried to do things in sequences, usually of three, so that it connects the moves and would make it seem more natural. If they have to stop and think at every move, it might come off as being a little bit unprofessional, especially at points. So we would have little visual aids on the board and ways of remembering things. Whenever we can, we try to give them that to feel more comfortable.
One particular challenge that The Queens Gambit presented was the shows sequences that involved chess variations beyond the standard, timed, one-on-one matches. Theres a scene of Beth and Benny (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) reciting moves back and forth in a virtual roadtrip game. In practice, thats closer to memorizing a cumbersome monologue.
Phil Bray / Netflix
Whats far more difficult to fake are the scenes that take place once the pair arrive at their destination. For the late-night speed chess sessions and Beths one-against-everyone simultaneous free-for-alls (simuls, for short), the preparation was a little more involved. Director Scott Frank lets enough of these scenes breathe, lingering on the action as it unfolds. So rather than solely cutting to insert shots of someone elses hands, the actors had to anticipate plenty more moves in advance.
For some of those more complicated scenes we did prepare at greater length. We sent them little films so they could watch good players playing the same moves. Another thing is we could send them the moves, so they could be on their phone, you can just follow a sequence of moves on your phone, so they could look at it anytime they wanted, Pandolfini said.
Of course, those moves dont just appear from the ether. Walter Tevis novel The Queens Gambit, from which the series is adapted, doesnt feature full start-to-finish, move-by-move rundowns of any of Beths matches with her Kentucky counterparts or Soviet grandmaster Vasily Borgov. Pandolfini helped to make sure these boards, whether those that take centerstage or ones seen in the background of any number of wide tournament shots, followed a natural and logical evolution.
We want to retain the logic of it so that the final position truly does connect to the earlier modes. Originally, I created 92 positions or games that matched the script. We called that the Bible. In the end we had as many as 350 different positions, Pandolfini said. Of course, most of those arent filmed. Many of them were used off-camera just to create the ambience. So theres a lot of work that goes into it, that helps everyone feel as if youre in a true chess setting. 350 games, thats the most chess ever for any dramatic series or film. I worked on Searching for Bobby Fischer and we had about 100.
Pandolfini met with Tevis in the run-up to the novels publication in 1983, while working as a consultant for Random House. He said that he offered Tevis (who was a skilled chess player in his own right) some suggestions based on reading the as-yet-unpublished manuscript, many of which didnt end up in the final version. In the end, Pandolfini (who Tevis included in the acknowledgments of the book) said that the most major idea that made its way to the novel was his suggestion of the title itself.
For the screen version of the story, Pandolfini wanted to make sure that the drama didnt come at the expense of the chess logistics, as he saw in some of the novels examples.
There were moves that just didnt make sense. It would be hard to imagine what the condition is. First of all, it was imaginary, not based on something concrete, Pandolfini said. It would say bishop move to King knight 4, lets say. Well, what did that mean? There are countless decisions in chess. Then a page later you have rook to knight 6. To connect these moves is not so easy. So I really did have to work very hard on it, and it never got into the novel. But it was much easier to do here.
Now working on the TV version of this story nearly four decades later, Pandolfini wanted to offer this adaptation with dramatically striking attacks and surprises that didnt feel at odds with the high-level play and player strategies that are explicitly baked into the script.
Phil Bray / Netflix
In some cases, openings are mentioned. The games that are shown have to reflect those openings. I think theres a Levenfish Variation, theres a Najdorf Sicilian, theres a Dragon. I think Ruy Lopez is mentioned. Some of this also has to be translated into Spanish and into Russian. The terms are roughly synonymous, but theyre a little different. So the games had to match the script as much as possible, Pandolfini said. But I did have some leeway to go off in more interesting directions, because some of that might be boring visually. So we had to think of what would be more interesting, position-wise.
In addition to offering granular attention to the chess being played, Pandolfini also was able to offer perspective from his own experiences in competition from before his second act as a commentator and writer and consultant.
I knew what it was like, in the old days. I was a tournament player myself when I was younger. I remember the American scene, how small-time it would be compared to the European and Spanish-speaking countries contests and matches, where everyone in the audience was very knowledgeable. People sitting around, very good players in many cases, but in the American tournament, not necessarily so, Pandolfini said. It would be a big thing if you were the state champion of Kentucky. But it wouldnt be anything compared to what happens on the world scale. Which was like Bobby Fischer was so extraordinary. He came out of nowhere.
In the end, Pandolfinis contributions still rely on those who ultimately carry out the games in the run of the show. He saluted Taylor-Joys ability to not only handle an understanding of the move-by-move logistics, but how to project herself as someone in control of an opponent.
They say play the board, not the player, but even the worlds best players take into account subtleties and nuances, bodily expression and movement. Your opponent doesnt want to give away any information, and you have to not seem too unnatural by not moving at all, Pandolfini said. I think Anya is great. She didnt want to prepare a lot of the moves well ahead of time. Shed do it just before the scene and shed get it like that. Anya really got into it, she picked up right away with great sensitivity. She looks like a real top-level chess player, but its not easy. And I think she really enjoyed doing it. You can feel that in every take.
And his praise isnt reserved for only one Beth Harmon.
I also have to give credit to Isla Johnston, who plays the young Beth, Pandolfini said. Shes a real prodigy! She didnt know how to play chess either. She got it pretty quickly. She looks like a tremendous chess talent. Shes just a brilliant young girl, who I think has a very promising career if she stays with acting.
The Queens Gambit is now available to stream on Netflix.
Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.
See the article here:
- Like in chess, protecting the King key for No. 6 Aggies in season opener - TexAgs - September 4th, 2021
- Trinidad and Tobago fail to advance to Online Chess Olympiad Division II - TT Newsday - September 4th, 2021
- If You'd Like to Learn How to Play Chess May I Suggest Doing It With a T-Rex via The Noble Collection's Jurassic Park Set? - The Mary Sue - August 23rd, 2021
- Ending years of feud, AICF and Chess Association of India announce merger - The Indian Express - August 23rd, 2021
- The 8 Best Movie-Themed Chess Sets to Buy Online - IndieWire - August 23rd, 2021
- Chess May be Banned in Afghanistan - World Chess - August 23rd, 2021
- Coach Of The Month: IM Kostya Kavutskiy - Chess.com - August 23rd, 2021
- The Guildford Chess Club celebrates its 125th anniversary! - Chessbase News - August 23rd, 2021
- Chess, PHILSPADA athletes to be honored in 27th SKC awards - Mindanao Times - August 23rd, 2021
- Harshit Raja, Indias 69th Chess Grandmaster - Gulte - August 9th, 2021
- Nas enjoys a game of chess in Rare visual - REVOLT TV - August 9th, 2021
- Star Trek 3D chess and more out-of-this-world ways to celebrate International Chess Day - ZDNet - July 25th, 2021
- How the game of Chess has helped mold Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux - NBC Sports - July 25th, 2021
- Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand Goes Down To Anish Giri In Croatia Grand Chess Tour - Outlook India - July 10th, 2021
- The Real Queens Gambit: Ashley Priores Nonprofit Aims To Give Women An Edge In The Male-Dominated World Of Chess - Forbes - July 10th, 2021
- Of Anand, simultaneous chess and the cheating controversy - The Hindu - June 28th, 2021
- Chess in The Parks held at Myrtle Park in Indian Orchard - WWLP.com - June 28th, 2021
- The Londoner Inviting a Guy Over to Play Chess - The Cut - June 28th, 2021
- Carol Jarecki: From chess mom to one of the game's greatest referees - Washington Times - June 28th, 2021
- NBA Playoffs 2021: The chess match between Trae Young and the Milwaukee Bucks' defence is only beginning - NBA CA - June 28th, 2021
- Chess Corner: Sitting on the 7th rank - Muskogee Daily Phoenix - June 11th, 2021
- Joe Burrow is so competitive he's trash talking teammates about...chess - Bengals Wire - June 11th, 2021
- PhosAgro Renews Strategic Partnership Agreements with FIDE and the Russian Chess Federation - PRNewswire - June 11th, 2021
- Nuclear powers must stop playing nuclear chess and atomic roulette - The Mail & Guardian - Mail and Guardian - June 11th, 2021
- Joe Burrow has Been Talking Crap About Chess to a Key Offensive Target - Sportscasting - June 11th, 2021
- Aamir Khan will face the chess with chess champion Viswanathan Anand - asume tech - June 11th, 2021
- 2021 Scholar-Chessplayer Award Winners Announced | US Chess.org - uschess.org - uschess.org - June 11th, 2021
- New tables give you the opportunity to play chess/checkers at two EC parks - WQOW TV News 18 - May 30th, 2021
- A Chess Game: Everyone will win or lose after the NATO summit | Daily Sabah - Daily Sabah - May 30th, 2021
- Xiong Wins May 25 Titled Tuesday - Chess.com - May 30th, 2021
- Grandmaster Judit Polgar to Appear in US Chess Women Girls Club - uschess.org - May 30th, 2021
- Chess event promotes solidarity between Jews and Arabs - The Jerusalem Post - May 30th, 2021
- Taylor Jenkins and Quin Snyder are in a NBA playoffs 'chess match' that's years in the making | Giannotto - Commercial Appeal - May 30th, 2021
- Mind games: Two intellectuals and chess on a football pitch - The Indian Express - May 30th, 2021
- Theatre review: Chess the Musical - InDaily - May 30th, 2021
- 10-Year-Old Chess Prodigy Who Overcame Homelessness Named National Chess Master - NewsOne - May 18th, 2021
- Top chess player in the world visits Indianapolis - WTHR - May 18th, 2021
- 10-year-old boy who once lived in a homeless shelter achieves remarkable title: chess master - USA TODAY - May 18th, 2021
- Ventura sweeps National Youth and Schools Online Chess Tourney - PhilBoxing.com - May 18th, 2021
- First Ever Chess-Focused Sports Agency Launched - World Chess - May 18th, 2021
- More than a game: How Cook County is using chess to prepare inmates for life on the outside - Daily Herald - May 18th, 2021
- The Queens Gambit Star Anya Taylor-Joy: Its Not About Chess, Its About Loneliness And The Price Of Genius Contenders TV - Deadline - May 18th, 2021
- Chess Market Is Expected To Expand At An Impressive Rate By 2027 KSU | The Sentinel Newspaper - KSU | The Sentinel Newspaper - May 18th, 2021
- Announcing The Botez Bullet Invitational On May 5 - Chess.com - May 5th, 2021
- New In Chess Classic: Carlsen Strikes - Chess.com - May 5th, 2021
- Jazz Cartier on His Chess Docuseries With Diddy, Skincare Line, and Next LP - Complex - May 5th, 2021
- Cover Stories with Chess Life #36: Taylor Kingston - uschess.org - May 5th, 2021
- Meet Tani Adewumi: The 10-year-old Nigerian refugee who became a national chess master | NewsChannel 3-12 - KEYT - May 5th, 2021
- Are the Rams trying to play chess with NFL Draft pick Tutu Atwell? - With the First Pick - May 5th, 2021
- The Chess Match Ahead in the East - Japers' Rink - May 5th, 2021
- Mother tongue and chess is there a connection? - Chessbase News - May 5th, 2021
- Great Moments in Chess: Kasparov Seizes the Crown - chess24 - May 5th, 2021
- 'A sport for the mind': New chess team a big hit at MHS - Yahoo News - May 5th, 2021
- All India Chess Federation launches initiative to help chess community fight COVID-19 - Firstpost - May 5th, 2021
- It's your move: Pittsburgh police invite the public to play chess in Market Square - TribLIVE - April 21st, 2021
- Aagaard on the Candidates - Round 9 | US Chess.org - uschess.org - April 21st, 2021
- What America Taught The World About Chess - Chess.com - April 21st, 2021
- The real story of women in chess - The Independent - April 21st, 2021
- Cops in Paraguay discover 20k worth of high purity cocaine bound for Ireland inside chess set... - The Irish Sun - April 21st, 2021
- Mike Tyson heads to Arnold Schwarzeneggers mansion for game of chess and golf along with UFC icon Henry C... - The Sun - April 21st, 2021
- Classic games like chess and Sudoku are now easier to play on iPhones and iPads - TechRadar - April 5th, 2021
- Clash Mini: Everything we know about Supercell's upcoming auto chess game - Pocket Gamer - April 5th, 2021
- Bucs decision to bring back Godwin and Barrett was a chess game - Bucs Nation - April 5th, 2021
- Artemiev Swindles Nakamura To Win Another Titled Tuesday - Chess.com - March 9th, 2021
- Chess lovers practice the art of the checkmate - KNBN NewsCenter1 - Newscenter1.tv - March 9th, 2021
- Play Chess With Agadmator, Nemo, Cramling, Canty, And More - Chess.com - March 9th, 2021
- Turkish chess group head works to inspire young girls - Anadolu Agency - March 9th, 2021
- Chess Player Koneru Humpy Is The BBC Indian Sportswoman Of The Year - Femina - March 9th, 2021
- He loves the chess aspect: is Rooney made to measure as a manager? - The Guardian - March 9th, 2021
- Battle of the Minds: 4 legends compete in chess and poker - chess24 - March 9th, 2021
- Wednesday Workout: Leveling Up Through the US Chess Rapids - uschess.org - March 9th, 2021
- John Leguizamo on Critical Thinking [VIDEO] | US Chess.org - uschess.org - February 20th, 2021
- Maharashtra Chess Association back as a governing body after 4 years - The Bridge - February 20th, 2021
- Chess and Artificial Intelligence (1) - Chessbase News - February 17th, 2021
- Rockford Chess Club Gets Revived Thanks to ' The Queen's Gambit' - q985online.com - February 17th, 2021
- Aaron Chess, District 1 council candidate, wants to bring hope back to the district - CIProud.com - February 17th, 2021
- Knight's Retreat Review - Chess but not! - TheXboxHub - February 17th, 2021
- Smashing Stereotypes - Marissa Saroca to play The Arbiter in CHESS THE MUSICAL | News - Aussie Theatre - February 17th, 2021
- Garry Kasparov at IMPROVATE Cybersecurity Conference is talking about Chess, IA and The Queen's Gambit - Yahoo Finance - February 17th, 2021
- Become a chess expert with these discounted grandmaster taught training bundles | TheHill - The Hill - February 15th, 2021