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The real-life Queen’s Gambit: Woman Grandmaster Dorsa Derakhshani

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Chess is finally having a moment in the spotlight thanks to Netflix‘s hit drama The Queen’s Gambit, which sees the fictional prodigy Beth prove players can be sexy and fashionable.

But stylish contestants aren’t only found on the small screen, with a real-life Woman Grandmaster revealing how she likes to bring a touch of glamour to her matches by wearing trendy dresses and headpieces as well as standout lipstick.

By the age of 18, Dorsa Derakhshani, now 22, was a Woman Grandmaster and International Grandmaster, and it the highest-ranking female chess player in Iranian history.

Having taken up chess at the age of two she recently placed third in a national competition in the US, and has also been an International Chess Federation (FIDE) trainer since 2016. 

She is currently studying a degree in biology at Saint Louis University, Missouri, on a chess scholarship.

However, despite her love for the game, the Iranian student admits the world of chess is even more sexist than the programme suggested – with ‘lots of predators’ and players treating women as ‘inferior’, Dorsa told The Daily Telegraph

Dorsa Derakhshani, 22, is a Woman Grandmaster and International Grandmaster, who recently placed third in a national competition in the US

Dorsa first started playing chess at the age of two after learning to read at 18 months

Dorsa (pictured with some of her most recent medals) is currently studying a degree in biology at Saint Louis University, Missouri, on a chess scholarship

Chess is finally having a moment in the spotlight thanks to Netflix’s hit drama The Queen’s Gambit – which sees the fictional chess-prodigy Beth (pictured) prove players can be sexy and fashionable

In spite of her success, Dora’s been told ‘you can be pretty or you can play chess’, and one of her European coaches even said wearing lipstick would put her at a disadvantage during her game. 

Male contestants constantly question her chess scholarship and many get annoyed when she wins.

She confessed: ‘It gets boring that they’re surprised I can beat them, as if I were still a 10-year-old girl. It doesn’t matter how much you prove you’re good as a woman, when you have a bad game they still say, “see, we knew it was going to happen”.

In The Queen’s Gambit, which is set in the 1950s and 1960s, viewers witness similar sexism happening to teenage Beth as she visits her first tournament and the male players around her are in disbelief as she storms through her opponents.

Beth is also constantly left baffled by the media’s decision to highlight her gender rather than her chess-playing prowess. 

One particular scene sees Beth interviewed by a reporter for Life magazine, and she is asked what it feels like ‘to be a girl…among all of those men,’  – before replying that she ‘doesn’t mind’.

But eventually Beth finds respect, knowledge and camaraderie with the men around her. 

She is helped by former opponents such as Harry Beltik (played by Harry Melling) and Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) when against Russian players. 

And even when competing in the country, which is America’s fiercest competitor, she is respected by the other players, such as Grandmaster Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorociński). 

In spite of her success, Dora’s been told ‘you can be pretty or you can play chess’, and one of her European coaches even said wearing lipstick would put her at a disadvantage during her game 

The student admits the world of chess is even more sexist than the programme suggests

The Queen’s Gambit: Surprise Netflix hit giving chess sex appeal

Netflix chess drama The Queen’s Gambit has become the unexpected hit of lockdown.

Anya Taylor-Joy plays Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy and orphan from Kentucky whose genius is never in doubt, but whose drug and drink addictions mean disaster is constantly stalking her — both on and off the board. 

As well as serious themes, the seven-part series offers the escapism of glamorous locations – with tournaments in Las Vegas, Mexico City and Paris – and the delights of the period fashions of the 1950s and 1960s that play such a key role in the storytelling.

Based on a 1983 book The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, the show tells how Beth is brought to live at the Methuen Home for Girls after her mother, a maths professor, kills herself. 

At the orphanage, the children are given tranquilliser pills, and Beth, aged eight, becomes hooked on the drug.

She also starts to play chess, taught by the janitor Mr Shaibel — working out how the pieces move herself and visualising strategies on the ceiling while others sleep.

At 13, she is adopted by Alma and Allston Wheatley and starts to play in male-dominated tournaments across America, and later the world.

Red hot! Anya Taylor-Joy as chess prodigy Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit, which is a popular drama on Netflix

But while comradery is seen on the show, Dorsa suggests she still has to deal with ‘predatory players’. 

‘They treat women in chess as inferior, not as equals. There are a lot of predators in chess,’ she added.

‘Especially because chess is such an international thing… the consent age is different, so a guy twice or triple your age is hitting on you.’

Thankfully, Dorsa says, she always travelled with her mother but she’s frustrated that contestants aren’t penalised for their behaviour outside of the games. 

Dorsa has visited 34 countries thanks to chess tournaments, which boast some serious money, with the talented player’s recent bronze in the US championships gaining her $13,000. 

Dorsa has visited 34 countries thanks to chess tournaments, which boast some serious money, with the talented player’s recent bronze in the US championships gaining her $13,000 

Born in Tehran, Dorsa was able to read at 18 months old. She was two when her father, a doctor, first taught her chess.

At just eight, she won her first tournament – the Iranian Girls’ National Youth Under-8s – and sweetly collected her prize in a princess frock and tiara. 

By the time she reached 18, Dorsa was already a Woman Grandmaster, International Master, and the highest-ranking female chess player in Iranian history. She’s also been an International Chess Federation (FIDE) trainer since 2016.

Apart from World Champion, Grandmaster is the highest title a chess player can attain and is generally held for life, though sometimes it may be revoked for cheating. 

In 2017, Dorsa hit international headlines when she was publicly banned from the Iranian chess team after she didn’t wear a hijab during the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival.

Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran has required women to wear the Islamic headscarf in public places.

Like The Queen’s Gambit’s Beth, Dorsa practises for hours every day and watches many YouTube clips on techniques and reads numerous chess books

Following the news, Dorsa was offered and accepted a chess scholarship from Saint Louis University, Missouri, and now studies biology.

Like The Queen’s Gambit’s Beth, Dorsa practises for hours every day and watches many YouTube clips on techniques and reads numerous chess books.

She sometimes plays simultaneous games across multiple boards and even tries winning while blindfolded.

Dorsa has also been keeping up her training while in lockdown in the US with help of the St. Louis Chess Club.

She told St. Louis Public Radio: ‘I didn’t expect the third term of my grandmaster in residency to be all online, but luckily in the game of chess, all you need is an online chessboard and someone to play.

‘I’ve been teaching and streaming at the chess club since last summer, and I’ve enjoyed teaching my weekly classes of Ladies Knight and Chess and Psychology. 

‘It gives me a real sense of accomplishment, as I can still give something back to the ever-growing chess community.’

And the game’s certainly growing, with google searches for chess having doubled this year, most likely in part to the success of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit.

Dorsa, who binge-watched the series, said she adored the fashion displayed by Beth (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) in the late 1950s and 1960s.

She also appreciated how the drama captured the singular focus most chess players have, with Dora’s longest game lasting seven hours and 40 minutes.

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