Queen’s Gambit

We just completed watching the popular Netflix miniseries Queen’s Gambit, the fictional story of a female chess prodigy Beth Harmon, based on a novel by Walter Tevis.

The story is well told, in such a way as to make it interesting to non-chessplayers. As an ex-chessplayer, to county standard, I can say that it does get over quite well the reality of playing chess at the time – the fictional period is round about the time I was regularly playing chess. You really get the feel of the excitement of playing the games, but without need to understand precisely what is going on at the board. Indeed, the chessplayer cannot easily tell what is happening. But the drama is excellent.

It does give an idea of the misogyny that was prevalent in the game at the time, which reflected the wider society. Boys just did not believe that girls could really play chess as well. Although in the USSR things were different. Women’s world champion Nona Gaprindashvili was a very strong player, as I discovered when drawing with her in a simultaneous diplay in Cambridge in the 1960s.

This is also a deep psychological story, of how Beth copes with a deep trauma from childhood and how this affects her chess and relationships, again well done.

When she goes to Moscow (funnily enough around the time when I was involved in a real chess trip to Moscow), the film also only hints at the extreme measures taken by the USSR to ensure its hegemony at chess. The shenanigins of the matches between Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassky and between Anatoly Karpov and Victor Korchnoi are notorious. She would have needed seconds along with her to survive.

And finally, when she has beat a Russian opponent, he hugs her – a modern sexism for effect in the film, but no, it would not have happened then.

Still, it’s a great story. I give it 5/5.

Featured image is from Netflix publicity.

Run by abandoned children?

I was just pointed at the 2014 article by Nick Duffel in The Guardian Why boarding schools produce bad leaders, which, based on his research, makes a persuasive case that premature abandonment in a boarding school environment damages the psychological development of the individuals involved.

“It leaves them ill-prepared for relationships in the adult world and the nation with a cadre of leaders who perpetuate a culture of elitism, bullying and misogyny affecting the whole of society… turns out people who appear much more competent than they actually are. They are particularly deficient in non-rational skills, such as those needed to sustain relationships, and are not, in fact, well-equipped to be leaders in today’s world.”

Now look at the UK parliament and what do we see – a culture of elitism, bullying and misogyny. Look at our recent history with Europe – David Cameron appears to have spent his years in office grandstanding with Europe rather than developing relationships. The result – he had no allies when he needed them, and we are saddled with a damaging Brexit. The job was to make Europe work, not to break it.

The whole EU referendum debate was between these people, the ‘big personalities’ – Farage, Cameron, Osborn, Johnson, Gove – having the unreality of an Oxford Union debate where an interesting motion was being debated, but perhaps not really in touch with the importance of what it was they were debating. Did they ever really address the ‘big picture’ rather than the simplistic polarity of ‘economy vs immigration’, which will always be a compromise.

Duffel goes on to describe ‘privileged abandonment’:

“Prematurely separated from home and family, from love and touch, they must speedily reinvent themselves as self-reliant pseudo-adults… Paradoxically, they then struggle to properly mature, since the child who was not allowed to grow up organically gets stranded, as it were, inside them. In consequence, an abandoned child complex within such adults ends up running the show.”

Look at the ridiculous childish put-downs that are a staple of parliamentary ‘debate’, particularly at Prime Minister’s Questions. Look at the ridiculous attachment to centuries-old traditions that simpy make parliamentary procedures look farcical.

So are we really being run by immature adults with abandoned child complex, big egos lacking empathy, and is that why things are such a mess in these post-Brexit days?

If so, do we really want another of them to be the next prime minister?

 There is much more insight in Duffel’s article and , no doubt, in his books and on his website http://woundedleaders.co.uk/