Chess player says she’s been dealing with more sexism than the ‘queen’s gambit’


  • Modern-day Beth Harmon Alexandra Botez told Insider that “The Queen’s Gambit” was the “best portrayal of chess” she had ever seen on screen.
  • Botez also relates that the character of Harmon was not taken seriously as a player.
  • But Botez said the show wasn’t as sexist as the chess world today, especially given the period.
  • Visit the Insider home page for more stories.

“The Queen’s Gambit” is the most accurate portrayal of chess in Hollywood, but it doesn’t go far enough to portray the sexism rooted in sports culture, chess influencer Alexandra Botez told Insider.

Botez is a

A chess streamer who started training with her father when she was just 6 years old. At the age of 8, Botez won his first national championship.

She said she had won six more league titles by the time she graduated from high school. She holds the title of Female FIDE Master from the International Chess Federation.

“It’s crazy what it does to chess in terms of the average person who knows it,” Botez said of the Netflix series, which follows fictional chess prodigy Beth Harmon as she grows up in the 1960s. “I never imagined something like this because chess has always been such a great niche.”

Online chess has become increasingly popular during the coronavirus pandemic, especially since the show’s release, Insider previously reported.


Botez is playing a high school chess tournament.

Courtesy of Alexandra Botez

Botez says if the show was historically accurate, Beth wouldn’t have been able to participate in any world championship events

One thing “The Queen’s Gambit” got right is how all-consuming chess can be, Botez said.

As she grew up, Botez was so focused on chess that she said she felt like she was living in an alternate universe designed for play.

“Beth is totally engulfed in the world of chess, it seems like nothing else exists other than these games, training, community and chess,” Botez said of the character. “The way this is portrayed is extremely precise.”

And while the character deals with sexism in the male-dominated game, Botez said it doesn’t come close to the reality of misogyny in the chess world, especially for the time period the show is set in.

“If the show had been historically accurate, Beth wouldn’t even have been able to compete at world championships,” Botez told Insider, citing first female grandmaster Susan Polgar, who qualified for the world championship. ‘failures in 1986 and was refused. the chance to compete because of her gender, according to her biography.

“She qualified for the nominees, which is a tournament where, if you win, you compete for the world championships,” Botez told Insider. “It means that you are at least the second best player in the world, and she qualified by her ranking.”

She also says that some men’s behavior towards female chess players is much worse in real life.

In addition to competition, the show’s portrayal of men’s behavior towards women in chess also misses the mark, according to Botez.

“The way they hugely supported her when she won is inaccurate,” Botez told Insider. “If you read the real stories of women playing at the time, people wouldn’t even shake their hands or look at them.”

In a recent interview with St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Polgar recalls a male player who snatched all the pieces from the board in frustration after losing to her.

“I had to deal with sexual harassment, physical intimidation, and, on a regular basis, verbal and mental abuse,” Polgar told St. Louis Post-Dispatch of his experience in competition in the 1970s and 1980.

Today’s male chess players still belittle women, says Botez

Botez said she experienced sexism in chess communities growing up.

“Sometimes it’s the people who are your closest friends who think women are genetically worse at chess,” she told Insider.

Botez said she often hears comments like “you’re playing the girl, that’s an easy win.”

In a recent interview with Insider, Magnus Carlsen, the world’s highest ranked chess player, said he still sees sexism in the chess world.

“In general, chess societies haven’t been very nice to women and girls over the years,” he said. “Certainly there has to be a little culture change.”

Botez and Carlsen both said chess misogyny is more common among older players than among children. Botez added that most of the girls she knew who played chess in elementary school had stopped playing by the time they were in high school.

“There’s not that much of a difference between boys and girls. Obviously the difference is later,” Carlsen said.


Botez plays an elementary school chess tournament.

Courtesy of Alexandra Botez

When she experiences sexism in chess, Botez says all she can do is focus on the game and play her best.

“It comes to your mind when you’ve heard it for so long, and it disturbs your sense of confidence,” she said. “Maybe you’re starting to doubt yourself a little more, but you’re just trying to keep fighting those thoughts.”

“The Queen’s Gambit” is currently streaming on Netflix.


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