Lessons From Netflix's 'The Queen's Gambit'

Being able to combine creativity, calculation, art and science will help anyone’s thought process.

The chess world has seen an explosion of interested participants recently in large part due to the mega Netflix hit “The Queen’s Gambit.” The series focuses on a young female chess player, Elizabeth Harmon, who learns how to play the game from the janitor at her orphanage. Harmon goes on to conqueror the chess world, beating countless men along the way. Although she stumbles at a point (not a spoiler), she finds her way back to playing the game she loves. 

Former Russian Grand Champion Garry Kasparov served as a “Queen’s Gambit” consultant, using his expertise to bring authenticity to the series. Though Elizabeth was a character created in a novel, Kasparov made her a real-life chess player, showing what it takes to become a champion and the sacrifice chess players must make.

Throughout the series, we watch Elizabeth spending time reading books about former games and former champions in preparation for her future. She understands the need to analyze and re-create games in her memory bank, so she is well prepared when she needs to make a split-second decision. 

For any coach or leader, the game of chess is vital to understand. Being able to combine creativity, calculation, art and science will help anyone’s thought process. Chess is a unique cognitive nexus, a place where art and science come together in the human mind and are then refined and improved by experience. Great teachers and leaders understand the parallels.

What else can we learn from Elizabeth Harmon that can help our decision-making? 

  1. Understand the difference between strategy and tactics. A strategy is abstract and based on long-term goals; tactics are concrete and based on finding the best move. Tactics are conditional and opportunistic, all about threat and defense. No matter what pursuit you're engaged in — chess, business, the military, managing a sports team — it takes both good tactics and wise strategy to be successful.

  2. Walk a fine line between flexibility and consistency. Avoid change for the sake of change. We see Harmon make some changes, but she is consistent with her style for most of the series. 

  3. Practice your strategy — develop confidence that will work under pressure. Once you have your strategy down on paper, the real work begins. How do you stay on track, and how do you know when you have slipped away from thinking strategically? 

  4. Seek outside opinions. Always find someone who might offer a different perspective, a different view, and challenge improvement in your process. Elizabeth had many former players come to help her understand the total game. 

  5. Don't fear any opponent; believe in your talent to win. All through the seven episodes, Elizabeth believed she was the best player — and knew she could win. 

“The Queen’s Gambit” is a fun watch and an invaluable learning experience for all of us.  

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