A female chess influencer says the sport is even more sexist than its portrayal in Netflix's 'The Queen's Gambit'
Alexandra Botez was called the "real Beth Harmon". With kind permission of Alexandra Botez; Netflix
Today's Beth Harmon Alexandra Botez told Insider that "The Queen's Gambit" is the "best display of chess" she has ever seen on screen.
Botez also relates how Harmon's character was not taken seriously as a gamer.
But Botez said the show wasn't nearly as sexist as the actual chess world, especially given the time period.
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Netflix's "The Queen's Gambit" is the most accurate representation of chess in Hollywood, but it doesn't go far enough to portray the sexism that is ingrained in the culture of the sport, chess influencer Alexandra Botez told Insider.
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Botez is a Twitch chess streamer who trained with her father when she was 6 years old. Botez won her first national championship when she was 8 years old.
She said she won six more championship titles by the time she graduated from high school. She holds the title of the International Chess Federation as a FIDE female champion.
"It's wild what it did to play chess when the average person knows about it," Botez said of the Netflix series that follows the fictional chess prodigy Beth Harmon when she was growing up in the 1960s. "I never imagined something like this because chess has always been a great niche."
Online chess has grown in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, especially since the show was released, Insider previously reported.
Botez plays a chess tournament in high school. With kind permission of Alexandra Botez
Botez says that if the show had been historically correct, Beth would not have been able to participate in a world championship
One thing "The Queen's Gambit" got it right is how all-consuming chess can feel, Botez said.
While growing up, Botez was so focused on chess that she said it felt like she lived in an alternate universe built for the game.
"Beth is totally immersed in the chess world, it seems like there is nothing else but these games, the training, the community and the chess," said Botez of the character. "The way it is presented is extremely precise."
And while the character in the male-dominated game deals with sexism, Botez said it doesn't get anywhere near the reality of misogyny in the chess world, especially for the period the show is playing.
"If the show had been historically correct, Beth wouldn't even have been able to attend world championships," Botez told Insider, quoting first female grandmaster Susan Polgar, who qualified for the 1986 World Chess Championship and was denied the chance to compete based on her gender , according to her biography.
"She qualified for the Candidates, a tournament where if you win you will fight for the World Cup," Botez told Insider. "That means that you are at least the second best player in the world and that you qualified through your rating."
She also says that some men’s behavior towards female chess players is much worse in real life
In addition to the competition, according to Botez, the way men behave towards women in chess also misses the mark.
"The way in which they supported them a lot in winning is inaccurate," Botez told Insider. "If you read the true stories of women who played back then, 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, in frustration, wiped everything off the board after losing to them.
"I faced sexual harassment, physical intimidation, and regular verbal and mental abuse," Polgar told St. Louis Post-Dispatch about her competitive experience in the 1970s and 1980s.
Today's male chess players are still downsizing women, according to Botez
Botez said she experienced sexism in chess communities while 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 heard comments like, "You play the girl, it's an easy win."
In a recent interview with Insider, Magnus Carlsen, the world's top chess player, said he still sees sexism in the world of chess.
"In general, chess societies have not been very kind to women and girls over the years," he said. "Of course the culture has to change a little."
Both Botez and Carlsen said that misogyny is more common in chess among older players than it is among children. Botez added that most of the girls who played chess in elementary school stopped playing when they were in high school.
"There's not that much difference between boys and girls. The difference is clearly later," said Carlsen.
Botez plays a chess tournament in elementary school. With kind permission of Alexandra Botez
When she experiences sexism in chess, Botez says that all she can do is focus on the game and do her best.
"It gets in the back of your mind after hearing it for this long, and it affects your confidence," she said. "Maybe you start to doubt yourself a little more, but you just keep trying to fight those thoughts."
"The Queen's Gambit" is currently being streamed on Netflix.
Meet the modern day Beth Harmon, a chess influencer who started training when she was 6
Meet the "real Beth Harmon" Vera Menchik, who came a few decades before Netflix's "The Queen's Gambit"
17 details you may have missed in "The Queen's Gambit"
A theory about Russian spies in "The Queen's Gambit" explains one of the unanswered questions in the series
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