The Queen’s Gambit

November 25, 2020 · Print This Article

We all like a Netflix binge. You may even be one of the 62 million who have watched the recently released series The Queen’s Gambit. Netflix says it was their most-watched limited series yet. So what’s it all about?

Chess. Not the most exhilarating topic. But following a young orphan girl’s astonishing talent for chess, the series takes us on her journey to stardom whilst grappling with addiction, her genius and mental health. Though maybe we shouldn’t be surprised about the popularity of a chess-fuelled series.

It has been reported in lockdown that chess has seen a huge resurgence. I know because I’m one of the many new players to the game. I played this 64-square-game almost every evening during lockdown, and a ready-to-go-board is downstairs even as I write this blog ready for the next cognitive work-out. And I use work-out intentionally.

In a world of only 64-squares, with 16 pieces, what fascinates me about this game is the endless possibilities of how a game might play out. This has been the reason why on one hand a seemingly docile game can be “so beautiful” – and thrilling – as lead character Beth Harmon describes it. With such potential set before you, no two games are the same. Every potential move leads you to thousands of other potential paths. This is where the real-life benefits kick in. The potential of each move forces you to consider options, evaluate risks and evolve strategy on the hoof. I’m sure if you play chess, you become a better thinker. But there was one other lesson I was going to learn this lockdown.

An international friend was visiting, and as he was quarantining, every evening we went head-to-head. I lost a lot. In fact every game. But I didn’t just pick up chess tips from him; one game, he left me with a curveball. Our conversation turned spiritual. “Some use the analogy of the chessboard to describe how both a sovereign, in control God can coexist with a humankind that has free will.” As if my brain wasn’t working hard enough, he throws in one of the harder questions of how a liberty-loving God can also be in total control. I thought, what did a chess game have to do with this?

He continued with the analogy that many over the centuries have found useful when pondering such a question. Of course, many of us, me included, have wrestled with the question of how a God with his fingers on the cosmic control panel can also be a God that gives total free agency to humans to do what they please – how can these realities be simultaneous. My friend offered one version of the analogy.

God is on one side of the chessboard and we are on the other. We have the freedom to choose what move we make. But God, seeing our move, responds to that move so that his ultimate purpose for the universe (winning the game in this analogy) will be achieved. Each time we get the chance to make the move we want, God as the master chess player works with our decision, but responds to it in a way that suits his purpose. I pondered.

This question is bigger than this blog and I’m not totally convinced but the analogy was a helpful starting place. What do you think?

Richard Fowler

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

Photo by ᴊᴀᴄʜʏᴍ ᴍɪᴄʜᴀʟ on Unsplash
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