“The Queen’s Gambit is the most satisfying show on television,” gushed Rachel Syme in The New Yorker magazine last month — and few people who have watched the series, finding in it much-needed succour as this torrid year draws to a close, would disagree. But there is also something irksome about what Syme identifies as the show’s appeal: “An unlikely synergy between the heady interiority of chess and the sensual realm of style.”

She’s right, of course, but this is such a predictable New Yorker take (heady interiority, sensuality, style), written as if 2020 never happened. Or as if Beth Harmon, chess player extraordinaire, is an everywoman; as if we all have brilliant, multidimensional minds that can anticipate dozens of hypothetical scenarios and play them out with mathematical certainty. Two opponents, sitting across a chess board, present a rather flattering view of human beings — unique animals whose enormous brains can reconcile time future and time past, identifying patte...

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