THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Evan B
Episode 1: Openings
It’s 1967, Paris. A knock on a hotel door awakens Elizabeth “Beth” Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy). Her hotel is a mess and she is running late. Beth swallows two green pills and hurriedly dresses, glancing at a person sleeping in her bed. She runs downstairs and is greeted by the press. Beth walks over to a chessboard to begin a highly anticipated match.
The episode flashes back to when Beth is 9 years old (played by Isla Johnson), living in Kentucky. She stands at the scene of a car crash. Although she is unharmed, her mother died in the collision.
Beth is sent to a girl’s orphanage. The head of the orphanage, Helen Deardorff, welcomes her in. She is given new clothes and a haircut before being introduced to the other children. An older girl named Jolene (Moses Ingram) asks Beth what her mom’s last words were. Although Beth remembers her mother’s last words were “close your eyes” (implying that the mother crashed her car on purpose), she says she doesn’t remember. The orphanage dispenses pills to the girls – including the green ones Beth took in the opening.
That night, Beth has a dream about her parents. Her father Paul pleads to come inside, but her mother Alice (Chloe Pirrie) has locked him out. Alice throws pills on the ground and starts a bonfire, burning her possessions including a book she wrote as a PhD. Paul leaves after noting that this is the last time he will come after the pair.
One day, a teacher sends Beth to the basement to clean the school erasers. There, she sees the custodian Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp) playing chess by himself. Beth is immediately intrigued and dreams of the game. Eventually, she starts demanding that Shaibel teach her how to play. Although he initially declines, Shaibel relents when Beth reveals she learned how the pieces move simply by observing his solo games. Shaibel quickly defeats her using a strategy called the “scholar’s mate.”
That night, it’s revealed that Beth is hoarding her green pills. She ingests multiple pills and is able to envision a chess board on the ceiling of her dormitory. Through her visions, she is able to improve her strategy.
While playing a game with Shaibel, Beth immediately loses her queen. The custodian insists that she resign the game out of sportsmanship (losing the queen so early essentially dooms her). Beth gets angry and calls him a “cocksucker.” Shaibel then locks her out of the basement. Being forced to clean erasers outside, Beth sees local teens making out just beyond the orphanage gate. This clearly interests her. Beth later asks Jolene what a cocksucker is and reads through a book of human anatomy.
Shaibel eventually lets her back in and they begin playing in earnest. He teaches her chess strategies and the finer points of the game (such as the names of each square on the board and opening moves like the Queen’s Gambit). As she improves, Shaibel admits that she is astounding at chess.
One day, Beth goes to the basement to find that Shaibel invited a man named Mr Ganz to watch her play. Ganz is the head of a local chess club and also teaches chess at the local high school. She easily defeats him, even forcing him to concede the loss. When he asks how she got so good, she explains she visualizes the game on the ceiling. Treating her like a young girl, Ganz gifts her a doll as a present. Beth, feigning interest in the present, later throws away the doll. After Beth convincingly beats Ganz and Shaibel while playing them both at the same time (on two boards), Ganz gets permission from Deardorff to bring Elizabeth to the high school chess club to play all twelve members at once.
Before her big match, the orphanage is reported for violating state law. The green pills are revealed to be tranquilizers, which are illegal to give to children. Recognizing Beth is suffering withdrawal, Jolene smuggles Beth some tranquilizers just before her match at the chess club. Beth ends up beating all twelve boys in an hour and a half (and later tells Shaibel she really enjoyed doing it).
Clearly addicted, Beth breaks into the office where the green tranquilizers are kept. She ingests a fistful of tranquilizers and stuffs her pockets with more. As she exits, Deardorff and the rest of the school catch Beth in the act. The episode ends as Beth passes out and collapses in front of them….
Episode 2: Exchanges
The episode opens with Beth telling Jolene she intends to memorize the “Sicilian defense” strategy. Jolene asks how complex it is. Beth responds that it takes up 57 pages of her chess book.
Jumping forward in time, Beth is now a fifteen-year-old girl (played again by Anya Taylor-Joy). A couple come to the orphanage looking to adopt a teenage girl. Mrs. Deardorff introduces Beth to the couple – Alma (Marielle Heller) and Allston Wheatley (Patrick Kennedy). To Beth’s surprise, the Wheatleys adopt her. Jolene tells her to simply be obedient, and Beth expresses regret that Jolene has never been adopted. As Beth leaves, she waves to Shaibel.
She arrives at her new home. Allston is largely dismissive of her (although Alma claims it was his idea to adopt Beth). Alma is polite, but distant. Beth also learns that the Wheatleys had a child who died. Allston, a traveling salesman, departs for a work trip. Alma largely ignores Beth and sinks into a depression.
Beth is not welcomed at school and most of the other girls make fun of her for being smart. The school lacks a chess club, and Beth is told the school only offers invite-only social clubs for girls. Things are made worse after Alma buys her ill-fitting, unfashionable clothing. Alma also refuses to buy Beth a chess set.
Beth goes to the library to find books on chess. While in the stacks, she spies on a popular classmate making out with a boy. The girl catches Alma and insults her. Beth checks out a book written by a grandmaster.
Alma sends Beth to the local general store to fill a prescription for her. It turns out that Alma’s subscription is for the green tranquilizers. Beth immediately begins stealing Alma’s pills and getting refills from the pharmacist for herself under Alma’s prescription. She is again able to envision playing chess on the ceiling of her bedroom. Beth also shoplifts a chess magazine. She discovers that there are chess tournaments with cash prizes, including the multi-day state tournament taking place at a local high school. The entry fee is $5.00.
Alma tells Beth they are having money troubles as Allston is sending a minimal amount of cash home. Beth offers to get a job (hoping to use the money she earns to enter the chess tournament) and Alma responds with a racist comment (saying only minorities get jobs). Alma writes to Shaibel to ask for the money and promises to pay him back double if she wins any money. He sends the cash. Although Alma criticizes her interest in chess, she doesn’t stop Beth from entering the tournament.
At the tournament, the registrars scoff at Beth entering as an unranked competitor. They note that Harry Beltik (Harry Belling), the state champion, is participating and has a high ranking. Beth is taken aback when sees a handsome young man, D.L. Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) at the tournament. Many observers smoke and watch the matches.
Beth learns quite a bit at the tournament, such as the purpose of the chess clock (requiring each player finish the game in 90 minutes), the “touch move” rule (you can only touch the piece that you move), how to gain an official ranking in the competitive chess world, that you must defeat a grandmaster to become a grandmaster, and the purpose of the notepad (for recording your moves). Despite not knowing the tournament formalities, she easily wins all her matches on her first day. Beth is also thrilled as she watches Beltik cockily defeat his opponents.
On the second day, she is paired against Townes. He is enrolled at the local university and came in fifth place at the US Open chess tournament in Las Vegas. The match is hard-fought, but Townes eventually is forced to concede. He compliments Beth. Immediately afterwards, Beth gets her first period.
After returning home, Beth finds the home in disarray. Alma reveals that Allston has essentially abandoned them as he is never returning home. This change could result in Beth being sent back to the orphanage. Alma offers to lie about the family status to keep Beth, and Beth agrees. Alma commits to being an actual mother. That night, Beth remembers Alice.
At the final day of the tournament, Beth is set to play Beltik in the finals. Beltik taunts Beth by arriving late for the match and fake yawning at her moves. His tactics work, frustrating Beth and causing her to lose focus. She takes a bathroom break. In the bathroom, Beth takes a tranquilizer and envisions their match on the bathroom ceiling. When she returns, she is calm and focused. She eventually forces Beltik to concede the match. The crowd, and Beltik, applaud Beth’s victory.
Alma reads about Beth’s victory and more importantly, the prize money ($100), in the paper. Beth opens a bank account and goes shopping, purchasing chess books, a chess set, and new clothes.
The episode ends with Alma having planned a trip for the pair to Cincinnati so that Beth can play in another tournament. Alma calculated the expenses of attending and says that they can profit if Beth finishes at least in third place. Beth promises that she will win…
Episode 3: Doubled Pawns
As a young girl, Beth goes to a lake with her mother, Alice. She watches as Alice dives in and goes underwater. Beth begins to get nervous when her mom doesn’t surface, but soon sees her mom managed to swim out to a dock. They have fun the rest of the day.
We jump to Cincinnati 1963
Beth and Alma arrive at a hotel, and enjoy the luxurious accommodations. Clearly Beth’s winnings allow them to travel in style.
After signing into the tournament and seeing her friends (the registrars from the earlier Kentucky State tournament), she walks around. She overhears a young man named Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) discussing the Caro-Kann defense with other chess players. Watts is the best chess player in the US. He dresses like an adventurer (think Indiana Jones). She approaches the group and Watts notes that he is familiar with her due to her success. Watts isn’t playing the tournament, noting he has little to gain from overexposure.
Alma drinks and watches TV as Beth replays her old games against herself in her hotel room. When Alma asks what she’s doing, Beth responds that she’s checking for weaknesses in her game. Beth then cockily says there aren’t any. She goes down to the lobby where various chess players are replaying their old games against themselves too.
After she wins a game, Beth is surprised to see Alma watching. Beth introduces Alma to her friends and they go to dinner together. Her friends note that Watts has an international title and plays in Europe. Alma is excited to hear that there are bigger prizes offered at foreign competitions. They also discuss the fact that the Soviets are the best players in the world and haven’t been beaten by an American in decades.
Beth wins the tournament, beating a master on her way to victory. She nets $300 after expenses. Alma asks Beth if she can receive a 10% commission. Beth decides to give her 15%.
Jumping ahead, Beth beats a grandmaster at another tournament. Alma proposes they go to Houston (where a tournament is being played) for the holidays. Alma wants to treat the trip as a vacation, not just another work trip. The two bond on the plane flight and Alma gives Beth a sip of her alcoholic drink. Beth then proposes learning Russian at the local college (so she can be better equipped to face Soviet players).
Beth gets interviewed for Life magazine. She explains she views the chess board as a world that she can control, unlike life. Beth says that if she gets hurt in a game, only she is to blame. Beth also states that she finds the game beautiful. The interviewer begins making derogatory comments about Beth, and Alma jumps to her defense. When they finally read the article, Beth is unhappy that it focuses so much on her being a girl.
Beth confronts Alma about her drinking, but Alma shrugs off Beth’s concerns.
Thanks to the article, Beth is invited to a social club by one of her schoolmates. Beth arrives at her schoolmate’s house, finding it is a huge mansion. At the club, the other girls are polite but distant (and a few are blatantly rude). Beth quickly realizes she has nothing in common with them. She sneaks out of the house, but not before stealing a bottle of alcohol. Once Beth returns home, she takes a tranquilizer with the alcohol and envisions a chess game on the ceiling.
We jump ahead to Las Vegas, 1966, at the US Open. Beth is older and attractive. As she walks through the hotel, she sees Townes. He is now a chess journalist. After the pair trade some insults, Townes asks her to come to his hotel room for an interview and to play some chess. They go to his hotel room and he begins photographing Beth while flirting with her. Townes eventually caresses her face. But before anything more happens, Townes’ roommate enters the room and inadvertently breaks up the encounter.
When Beth returns to her room, she finds Alma drinking beer. Alma lets Beth join her in drinking. Beth discusses the tournament. She mentions that Watts is there (and that he was also a child prodigy). She also says she is unnerved by a Soviet player named Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorocinski)
Watts formally introduces himself to Beth and says he read about her game with Beltik. He points out that Beltik could have beaten her. When she balks at his claim, he tells her to replay the game (which she is able to do from memory). Beth realizes Watts is right and is frustrated that Watts was able to figure this out based only on a write up of her match. This shakes Beth’s confidence.
Watts and Beth are finally matched up. Beth gets to move first and envisions dozens of opening moves before playing. Although a draw would allow Beth to win the tournament, she desperately wants to beat Watts. She employs a different strategy than she usually uses, but is countered. Remembering Shaibel’s lessons, she resigns. Watts tells her it was a “tough game.”
After the game, Alma focuses on the prize money, to Beth’s anger. Beth rudely insults Alma about being too familiar with loss to care. Alma responds that now Beth knows about loss too.
As she leaves the tournament, Townes approaches Beth but is blown off. As Alma and Beth drive off, Beth reaches out for her hand for comfort. Alma reciprocates Beth’s affection. . . .
Episode 4: Middle Game
We open in a college classroom where Beth is learning Russian. A male student invites her over to smoke pot with some of his fellow hippies. She calls Alma, who allows her to stay at the party and even correctly deduces she is smoking pot. That night, Beth has very unsatisfying sex with her classmate. Afterward, Beth begins engaging in hard-partying and sleeping over at men’s homes. Although Alma is concerned, she lets Beth do as she pleases.
Beth graduates high school and reveals to Alma she got invited to play chess in Europe later in the year. The pair celebrate.
They first head to a tournament in Mexico City. Alma reveals she is meeting a long time pen-pal named Manuel at the airport. In fact, Alma arranged for them to arrive early just so she could meet him. Alma and Manuel quickly begin having sex.
Alma forces Beth to leave the hotel and try to enjoy life beyond chess. As Beth walks through Mexico City, she remembers a conversation she had with Shaibel where he warns her that her talent will come with downsides and that he’s worried about the anger she keeps inside. The memory causes Beth to start drinking heavily. While at the zoo, Beth sees Borgov, meaning he is playing at the tournament.
Beth advances through the tournament (that her friends, the Kentucky registrars, are also attending). She even prevails against international grandmasters. But Beth is still intimidated by Borgov.
Beth faces a young Soviet boy, another prodigy. Their match lasts for five hours before the boy asks to postpone it to the following day. Beth agrees (and has to write down what her next move will be when play resumes so that she can’t change tactics during the break). It is apparent that Beth is struggling to win the match and spends a lot of time at night thinking strategy. When play resumes the next day, Beth engages in tactics to distract her opponent (such as wandering around the playing area after her turn and loudly tapping her toe). Her tactics work. The boy is distracted and loses the match. After she wins, they talk. He confides to her that his goal is to become world champion someday. She asks what he’ll do if he achieves this dream, and he responds that he doesn’t understand the question. Beth leaves, but not before telling the boy that he was the best opponent she’s ever faced. The boy mutters that she only thinks that because she’s never played Borgov.
Beth is standing in the back of an elevator when Borgov and two other Soviets walk in. They are clearly talking about her in Russian, which Beth can understand due to her Russian classes. The Soviets clearly consider her a threat to their chess dominance and have been looking into her, noting that she may be an alcoholic. One thinks Borgov should beat her here or in a future European tournament to crush her spirit. The other thinks he should wait to defeat her until she comes to the Soviet Union where they will be on their turf and she will be isolated. Borgov shows respect for her, saying that as an orphan, Beth plays like Soviets – with nothing to lose. Beth’s friends later tell her that other Soviet men are KGB agents assigned to keep an eye on Borgov so that he doesn’t defect.
Borgov and Beth are paired up. Alma promises to attend the match. We learn that Borgov is the “Master of the Sicilian” strategy and hopes to induce Beth into using it with his opening move. We also learn that the player who moves first (in this match, Borgov) always has the advantage in chess. Beth soon realizes that she has been outplayed. Though she tries to resist, she angrily concedes defeat. Beth looks for Alma in the audience, only to find she is not there.
Beth returns to her hotel room where she sees Alma is lying in bed. Beth immediately recaps the game while changing her clothes. She explains that Borgov used a rare chess strategy to defeat her. She felt that she foresaw that she couldn’t defeat him. And she only became more depressed when she realized Borgov was never worried about the outcome of the match.
After she finishes talking, Beth realizes Alma is non-responsive. Beth looks closer and realizes Alma is dead. The hotel offers to compensate Beth and help her in any way. It is implied that the tequila in Alma’s hotel room poisoned her after she consumed too much of it.
Beth calls Allston and tells him of Alma’s death. She asks for his help, but he is reluctant to get involved. Allston tells Beth to bury Alma in her family’s plot. He also offers to give Beth the house, subject to the mortgage. Allston has no sympathy for Alma or Beth.
Beth’s departure from Mexico is intercut with her visiting a Mexican pharmacy before she leaves. On the plane, Beth orders Alma’s favorite alcohol and begins to cry. In the pharmacy, she orders tranquilizers (after learning that a prescription for them is not needed in Mexico). When the pharmacist hands her one bottle, Beth looks at him and says “mas” (“more” in Spanish). . . .
Episode 5 – Fork
The episode opens with Alice telling a young Beth not to be afraid of the dark, but to be afraid of other people limiting her in life. She also says Beth needs to learn to be comfortable being alone… because one day she will be.
Beth walks into her now empty home, clearly still grieving for Alma. She gets a call and is surprised to hear from Beltik. He heard of her loss to Borgov and, after acknowledging she is better than him, asks to train with her. He says he is moving into a new apartment later that week and they can meet then. Beth invites him over that night.
Beltik arrives and comments on how much she’s grown. Beltik himself dropped out of college and used his tuition money to help fix his teeth. They discuss her chess game. Beltik studied her game with Watts at the US Open and helps Beth see a different strategy that she could have taken. They also discuss her playing style. Beltik notes that Beth plays on instinct and can be tricked into playing too narrowly when she is angry. There is also obvious sexual tension between the two. Beltik leaves for the night and Beth sleeps in front of TV.
The next day, Beltik gives Beth a book on Borgov’s life so that she can have more insight into him. Beth begins openly flirting with him. That night she goes to sleep in the master bedroom. She also begins shopping for groceries so she can provide home-cooked meals to Beltik.
Through documentary-style clips, we learn that Borgov was a child prodigy. He believes that a successful chess master must play aggressively. He also expresses concern about how long he can fend off the next generation.
Beth finally offers to let Beltik move in for free. The pair have sex that night. Afterwards, Beltik asks Beth if she wants him to stay in her room, and she responds that she doesn’t care. Beltik goes to sleep in his own room (Beth’s old room). It’s clear that Beth is somewhat turned off by Beltik’s constant meekness. She is also unhappy when Beltik confesses that he fixed his teeth and called her after seeing how attractive she was in the news.
While shopping, Beth comes across her old high school classmate (the one that belittled her at the social club). Beth brings up the old insults, but the classmate doesn’t seem to remember the interaction. The classmate is now married to her high school sweetheart and already has a baby. It’s clear that despite her high school popularity, she is living a much less glamorous life than Beth.
Beth defeats Beltik in a chess match and insults him for not being better. The pair fight, with Beltik frustrated by Beth’s cutting personality and Beth frustrated with his timidity. Beltik rejects Beth’s advances that night. In the morning Beltik announces he’s moving out to go back to school. Beth unsuccessfully tries to convince him to stay. He does thank Beth, however, for teaching him he doesn’t love chess (at least not as much as he once did). He also expresses concerns for her well-being. Beltik acknowledges that Beth could be one of the best chess players ever. But he also notes that she reminds him of another American chess master who played boldly and instinctually, but also went crazy and ended up retiring from chess in his early 20s. After expressing his concerns, he tells Beth to be careful with the tranquilizers (surprising her with his knowledge of them).
The episode jumps to the US Chess Championship in 1967. The championship now takes place at a college campus in Ohio – a far cry from Las Vegas. Beth and Watts meet up and Watts bemoans how far chess has fallen in the US (the championship lacks news coverage and the fancy amenities of the past). Beth cockily tells Watts she will beat him at the tournament before walking off. Beth and Watts easily defeat the competition over the course of the tournament. They will meet in the finals. It’s also revealed that Beth is reading a book written by Watts…. and still taking tranquilizers.
Watts takes a real interest in Beth throughout the tournament, consistently encouraging her. Beth later eavesdrops on an interview Watts is having with a reporter. Like Borgov, Watts says that aggressive and confident play is the key to excellence. He says he can gauge if an opponent has that confidence from their first chess move. After the interview, Watts asks Beth to meet him that night in the student union. Though she declines, she later attends.
Beth arrives to find Watts playing chess recreationally with some other eliminated players. Watts and another player are debating a certain move and Watts asks Beth to weigh in. She does and Watts says that she made the same move he was advocating. He remarks that they see chess the same way. Watts then convinces Beth to play speed chess with him, with the pair wagering $5/game. As onlookers gawk, they play at lightning speed, making each move in mere seconds. Beth loses every single game, her frustration mounting with each loss. Watts eventually cleans Beth out of all her money. She storms back to her room, where she breaks down in tears.
The next day, Beth is relaxing outside watching the college coeds flirt with each other when Watts approaches. He reiterates she’s the best player at the tournament. She asks if he’s trying to psych her out, and he responds he doesn’t need to do that to beat her. Watts explains he only won last night because he’s far more experienced at speed chess. When she brings up her loss from years ago, he says it was a long time ago and she was distracted. But now that she has matured, she should be able to beat him.
The finals arrive. Watts gets to play first (giving him the advantage). But Beth is calm and collected.
The episode jumps to the post-match, with Watts and Beth drinking together at a bar. It’s revealed that Beth beat Watts in only 30 moves – she is the US Champion. Although Watts is unhappy, he praises Beth’s growth. Watts explains that as the US Champion, she will be asked to play in the Soviet Union (just as he has done as the former US Champion). In Moscow, she will be pitted against champions from other countries, as well as four Soviets (including Borgov). Watts continues to press Beth as to how she plans to win. Beth tries to distract him via flirtation, but he brushes the flirtations aside. He also begins confronting Beth about her heavy drinking. Beth is surprised at Watts’ boldness.
Eventually, Watts gets to the point. He says Beth is the only one with the talent to defeat the Soviets in chess. But only if she has a good trainer, one who is “better” and “more mature” than Beltik (showing that Watts has been following Beth’s life more closely than she knew). Beth realizes that Watts is offering to be that trainer. He invites her to come live with him in New York where they can train together. Beth finally admits that she is terrified of Borgov and how he destroyed her. Watts replies that she wasn’t ready to beat him back then, but can do it now. She agrees to train with Watts, and he says they will leave for New York in the morning. Before leaving the bar, Watts turns to Beth and says as far as sex goes, she can “forget it . . . .”
Episode 6: Adjournment
The episode opens with Alice talking about how men aren’t any smarter than women, despite acting like they are. She advises young Beth to keep true to herself, rather than settle for such men.
We cut to Beth and Watts driving to New York. They sing songs, play chess matches (without a board), discuss strategy, and brush up on their Russian skills. They arrive at Watts’ tiny, dingy apartment. IHe sets up an air mattress for Beth in the living room and notes that he doesn’t have alcohol.
Beth’s training begins immediately. Watts has them play through Borgov’s old games and really study chess strategy. He notes that the Soviets work in teams while Americans work alone. He hopes that their collaboration will raise her game. The two also bicker as to who is in charge of the schedule. Beth stays sober and focused.
One night, some of Watts’ friends come over. Two are chess players, including a grandmaster. Another is a Parisian model named Cleo (Millie Brady), who used to date Watts. The two women bond as Cleo praises Beth’s intellect. Watts proposes they play – Beth vs. himself and his two chess-playing friends at the same time. Beth counters, proposing they play simultaneous speed chess for $10 per game. She defeats all three simultaneously, multiple times.
After the others leave, Watts tells Beth that nobody’s beaten him that badly in 15 years. The pair then sleep together. Beth enjoys sex for the first time. Post-coitus, Watts discusses chess strategy. Beth is upset that all he can think about is chess.
Beth arrives at an opulent hotel for her first European tournament at which Borgov is playing. Unlike in the US, the tournament is attended by press and numerous fans. Beth snarkily responds to questions about her “glamorous” lifestyle. She takes Borgov by surprise by stating she’s reviewed his old games, and answering a question in Russian. Beth stays focused and cuts her way through the tournament. She advances to the finals against Borgov.
The night before the finals, Cleo asks Beth out for a drink. Beth goes down to meet her at the bar for a single drink. One drink turns to many. Beth daydreams of living in France and being like the French girls. Cleo says that Beth is too smart and spirited to aspire to be like other women. Beth admits to being in love with Townes, after which Cleo convinces Beth to go flirt with some nearby men.
We cut to the scene at the beginning of the series as Beth wakes up late for her match (now we know that the match is against Borgov). We watch again as she takes some tranquilizers before rushing downstairs to the match. It’s revealed that the person sleeping in her bed is Cleo.
Beth apologizes and the match begins. Beth even gets to move first. As the match progresses, Beth grows more agitated (and hungover). Beth hesitates, and then makes a tentative move. Borgov responds quickly and confidently. A tear streams down Beth’s cheek, and she resigns.
On the flight back to America, Beth talks to Watts on the phone. She says the outcome wouldn’t have been different even if she wasn’t hungover. Watts asks her to come back to New York, but Beth chooses to go home. She tells Watts she is unsure what she wants to do next.
Upon return, Beth’s lawyer calls and says that Allston is refusing to sign the house over to her. They arrange a meeting where Beth confronts him. He refuses to acknowledge his promise concerning the house, or even his adoption of Beth. Allston insults Alma and Beth defends her. She finally offers to buy the house from Allston for $7,000.00, minus the costs to bury Alma. Her offer is accepted. Beth remakes the entire house, removing almost all of the existing decorations and furniture and replacing it with her own.
Soon after, a Christian organization contacts Beth and offers to financially support her if she goes to the Soviet Union. She calls Watts, who tells Beth to accept their offer and stay focused. She tries to stay home and study, but goes out to a club instead. She orders a drink and returns home later with multiple bottles of booze. Beth goes on a multi-day bender. It ends only when she passes out and hits her head on a table. She also ignores attempts by Beltik to contact her.
Beth arrives hungover and dishevelled at a local tournament that she is promoting. The first person Beth ever beat in a tournament (another girl) approaches and tells Beth how much of an inspiration she is. Beth blows her off. Beth then goes outside for a smoke, where Beltik is waiting for her. He works at the local supermarket (while still going to college). He had seen her in disarray at the market several times. Beltik expresses concern for her (noting his own father was an alcoholic), and wishes her good luck.
The next morning, Beth hears a knock on the door. Assuming it’s Beltik, she angrily answers the door. Beth is surprised to find her old friend Jolene standing there . . .
Episode 7 – End Game:
Young Beth watches as Alice knocks on the door of a strange house. A man, his wife, and their baby come out. Alice begs the man for help, saying she can’t “do this” anymore. The man refuses to even talk with Alice. Beth doesn’t remember that this man is her father, Paul. As they drive away, Alice says she doesn’t know what to do with Beth.
Cutting to the present. Jolene tells Beth that Shaibel died and they should go to the funeral together. We learn that Jolene went to college, studied history, became angered about the oppression, and is now a paralegal. She hopes to go to law school and then become a “radical” lawyer fighting for civil rights. Jolene sees the tranquilizers and notes Beth must now be doing a lot more than pills.
Beth confesses she’s afraid of going to the Soviet Union and admits that all she wants to do is drink. She’s also worried that she is crazy, just like her mother. Jolene tells Beth she isn’t bound by her history and gives Beth a present, the missing chess book from her childhood. Jolene admits she did steal it in her anger over Beth getting adopted.
The pair begin the drive to Shaibel’s funeral. Jolene tells Beth she was hired by a law firm that wanted to seem diverse by hiring one black person. She also gets fancy gifts from a wealthy white lawyer she’s having an affair with.
On the way, they stop at the trailer home where Beth lived with Alice. Alice and Paul were both wealthy, which made Alice’s eventual fall into destitution more tragic. They also drive by the orphanage they both lived at, but Beth doesn’t want to go inside. The pair attend Shaibel’s funeral, where Beth expresses sorrow and mentions she never paid him back his entry fee to her first chess tournament. After the funeral, Beth decides to go back to the orphanage after all. She sees Mrs. Deardorff (who broke her hip and suffered a permanent injury soon after Beth left), but Deardorff doesn’t recognize Beth. Beth then goes to the basement where she learned to play chess with Shaibel. She finds that he collected press clippings about her career. Beth takes a picture of the two of them he had kept, and then weeps in Jolene’s car.
Jumping forward, Beth is meeting with the Christian group that paid for her to play a tour in San Francisco and is planning to pay her way to the Soviet Union. They want her to make a pre-written statement to the press espousing Christianity. She refuses to do it and returns their money. She now needs to raise the funds, at least $3,000, for the trip to the USSR on her own.
Beth calls Watts to ask for more money, but he doesn’t have it (it’s implied that he’s gambled his money away). She asks him to at least come with her to the Soviet Union, but he angrily declines (still mad that she didn’t come back to New York after Paris). This is significant as, without Watts, Beth will have nobody to help her develop strategy and analyze matches.
The Chess Federation (which is angry she’s refused to do press) gives her a very small sum. And while the State Department won’t pay her way, it will send a federal agent to accompany/protect Beth on her trip. Jolene finally offers to give Beth the money. Jolene explains she also has been following Beth’s career over the years and considers Beth her family. Beth promises to pay Jolene back once she wins.
On her flight to the Soviet Union the government agent tells her to keep cloistered in the hotel, and keep sober. He also tells her to be on the lookout for any messages she may receive from Borgov about defection.
Beth and the agent land in Moscow in 1968. She settles into her hotel room and says to herself, as Alma used to say on their trips, “this will do nicely.”
The tournament begins in a large hall to thunderous applause. Beth thrashes her first opponent in 27 moves. A commentator recounts that Beth’s first opponent likely underestimated Beth due to her being a woman and an American.
While on a walk with her bodyguard through the city, Beth sees dozens of Soviets playing chess in a park. She continues to stay sober and advances through the tournament. After she wins her third match, Borgov gets up from his seat to review her board. One of her opponents refuses to shake her hands after his loss, although most are gracious. After each victory, more fans wait to applaud Beth outside the venue.
Beth gets paired against Luchenko, the oldest competitor who was a world champion from before Beth was born. They play so long that they have to adjourn the match for the night. As she returns to her room, Beth sees Luchenko, Borgov, and another Soviet player strategizing about the adjourned game. With nobody in Moscow to help her, Beth stays up most of the night strategizing on her own. When play resumes, Beth wins. Luchenko smiles at her and they talk candidly. Beth says she studied his work growing up and admires him. Luchenko responds that he reviewed her games at this tournament and says that she is possibly the best chess player he has faced. Beth then wins another marathon match to set up a final battle with Borgov.
That night, Beth lies in her hotel room and stares at her tranquilizers. She flashes back to her childhood after she and Alice left Paul’s house. As they drive, Alice tells Beth to close her eyes and swerves into an oncoming truck (this shows the crash that killed Alice was intentional). Beth then flushes the tranquilizers down the toilet.
The final match arrives, Beth vs. Borgov. It is aired over the radio, and Beth gets to move first. She opens with the Queen’s Gambit strategy. The commentators note that Borgov is playing a different style than typical. Outside, the crowd follows along by moving the pieces on their own chessboard. After a while, Borgov surprisingly asks to adjourn. Beth knows that he will spend the night with his compatriots developing a strategy to beat her.
The federal agent convinces an exhausted Beth to talk to the press. There, she engages in witty repartee and credits Shaibel for teaching her chess. As she leaves, she is shocked to find Townes there. He goes to her room where both apologize for past slights. They agree to be friends. Townes then asks how he can help her beat Borgov. She confides that she thinks she needs the pills and booze to win, and that she can’t visualize the game without them. Townes gets her to admit she has been doing fine without them and helps her fall asleep.
When Beth awakens, fully rested, she finds Townes has been busy. He has coffee, her game with Borgov recreated, and people waiting to talk to her on the phone. When Beth answers, she is delighted to hear Watts at the other end. The New York Times has been covering the match, so Watts gathered a support team to follow her progress and help advise her as needed. The team includes Beltik, her registrar friends, and the other two players Beth beat at speed chess while living with Watts. The group helps Beth prepare for the resumption of play.
A commentator notes that the longer the match continues, the more Borgov’s advantage will grow as his strength is the end game vs. Beth’s strength as an opener. As they play, Borgov makes unexpected moves that Beth and her friends did not foresee. Beth must improvise to win. She takes a deep breath and looks up to the ceiling…. where she is able to envision the board without the tranquilizers. She causes Borgov to begin retreating. He offers her a draw, the first time he has ever made such an offer. If Beth accepts, she will have forced a tie with the World Champion. But if she doesn’t, she will need to overcome Borgov’s endgame and risk another crushing loss. Beth declines the draw and they play on. Borgov eventually concedes defeat, picking up his king and handing it to her. He then embraces Beth as the crowd applauds.
Back in America, Watts and the rest of the support team wildly celebrate. When Jolene hears the news, she gives a contented smile.
As they drive to the airport to board a plane back to the USA, the agent tells her that she will be meeting the President and some Russian dissidents. He is excited that Beth beat the Soviets at their own game and values her only as an anti-Communist marketing tool. Beth gets out of the car to walk the rest of the way in peace. As she walks through the park filled with chess players, they stand and applaud. One player invites her to sit and play. She accepts the offer and the series ends with Beth saying “let’s play.”