Despite efforts to make the chess scenes believable, there are still areas in which the series is shortened. Most obvious is how quickly players move through tournaments. As one tournament director told Beth before the competition in Cincinnati, each player had two hours to do 40 moves, which was and remains a standard time control for games like this. But in every match, Beth and her opponents make all of their moves after only taking a few seconds to think about them. At such a tempo, they’ll finish their games in minutes, not hours. Speed is understandable to the filmmaking industry because watching players sit at a board for hours, barely moving, is unimpressive. But it is also not accurate.
Competitors do not speak during some games. Unlike a tie show – essentially agreeing to end in a draw – players don’t talk to each other during matches. Not only is she considered bad sportsmanship, she is also against the rules. But many times, as in Beth’s match against Harry in Episode 2, in which she rejoices near the end, and in her game against a young Russian prodigy in Mexico City in Episode 4, Beth and her opponents engage in verbal exchanges. Dialogue makes games more understandable and brightens drama, but again, it’s not true in life.
Although “The Queen’s Maneuver” is a work of fiction and the characters that appear in it never existed, there are occasional references to the players who did so, among them world champions Jose Raul Capablanka, Alexander Alkin, Mikhail Botvinnik and Boris Spassky.
There is also a strange moment when Harry Beth is compared to Paul Murphy, the American, who played that famous game at the 1858 Paris Opera and who is widely regarded as the greatest player of the nineteenth century. The comparison seems to be the wrong direction. Despite her self-destructive tendencies, she doesn’t look like Beth Murphy. It is more akin to the female version of another hero: Bobby Fisher.
This may not be accidental. Walter Teves, who wrote Novel 1983 On which the series is based, he was a passionate and knowledgeable amateur player. In making the protagonist a woman play a game that was dominated by men for so long – which still exists today, although no reason is known – Teves may have been expressing hope that someday there might be more true gender equality than commission.