Nervously watching ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

As I watched “The Queen’s Gambit” about an orphan chess prodigy named Beth Harmon in the miniseries on Netflix, I kept thinking about Bobby Fischer whom I think was the United States’ best chess player ever. He, too, was a prodigy and after achieving great things in chess, things went badly for him. From a layperson’s viewpoint, he became (or possibly always was) a psychological mess. And we all watched him self-destruct.

There are two gifted people in my family. One is gone. One struggles on. Like those I’ve read about, they were and are at odds with life itself. Anya Taylor-Joy does a wonderful job portraying a fictional gifted child who becomes a prodigy and achieves great things in chess.

She has huge issues with alcohol and drugs and implodes occasionally throughout the series into multi-day episodes that might well end her life and career. As the episodes moved toward the all-important-big-game finish, I came to dread the ending of the series because, having imploded during one big match, Harmon seemed likely to implode again.

The series was so well done, I expected to see the main character fall apart, Bobby-Fischer-like before all was said and done.  I’ll give you no spoilers here, but the ending was better than I expected.

I fear for the gifted child. I have seen several up close and nobody knew what to do with them, much less how to save them. If you like drama, whether you play chess or not, this is a wonderful series. And yet, it will haunt me because it reminds me of people I have known.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of multiple magical realism, contemporary fantasy, and paranormal novels and short stories. The most recent is “Fate’s Arrows.”

Disappointed in Jerry and Bobby

I don’t know how I would react to fame, the ever-prying lenses of cameras, the crush of people’s expectations, the constant roar of the crowd. Fame kills, I think, and it does so without remorse.

When I was young and in need of heroes, I saw chess champion Bobby Fischer as a viable candidate. I played chess badly, and so it was that I admired a guy about my age who played better chess at 13 than most chess players will ever play in their prime.

As a writer in training, I grew up with the canon of literature as it was preached during the 1950s; I rebelled against it, and so it was that I admired a guy of my mother’s generation who brought the Caulfield and Glass families to life outside the scope of what my teachers taught.

No one likes to see their heroes rusting away with age and crumbling into apparently flawed and strange creatures. Perhaps neither man expected the fame he achieved or understood its dangers. Bobby Fischer became eccentric and mean spirited and J. D. Salinger hid away from the public eye with what, at times, was an admirable persistence and what, at other times, seemed more like a self-righteous disdain for the rest of the world.

Rightly or wrongly, I am disappointed in both men because each of them threw his talent away. If Bobby’s mission was chess and if Jerry’s mission was short stories and novels, then let the vicissitudes of fame be damned and find a way to stay on course.

Bobby’s chess, including his innovations for the game, will continue to influence prospective masters who might benefit from his contributions to openings and end games. Jerry’s “The Catcher in the Rye” may well fade with time as its focus becomes more and more dated, but his writing brought us more than that in his sparse, but strong collected works. And perhaps there’s more, novels and stories sequestered for years in a safe that may one day find a friendly light of day.

Bottom line, though, I disappointed in Jerry and Bobby because they both quit, perhaps for cause, but that’s ultimately the weakest of rationale.