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I just finished watching The Queen’s Gambit and it was incredible — for someone who’s actively studying story telling and film, it was a work of art in my books.
I found it to be an excellent series, but if there was one thing I would change, it would be the ongoing relationship between Beth Harmon and Mr. Shaibel after her adoption.
The Relationship Between Beth Harmon and Mr. Shaibel
Elizabeth Harmon was an orphan girl, aged 8 at an all girl orphan school, Mr Shaibel an elderly janitor.
Mr. Shaibel taught the young Harmon to play chess in the basement and served as her original mentor — gifting her books to study and showed her the ropes in her early days that paved the initial foundation for her eventual worldly success.
Eventually Beth Harmon was adopted, so she left the school and her first chess mentor in the process.
She needed some money to enter her first chess tournament and with her Mother strapped for cash, she wrote Mr. Sheibal and asked for a small loan of $5 to enter the tournament promising that if she placed 1st or 2nd, she would pay him back $10.
Beth went on to win first place, beating out the state champion in her debut tournament and won $100.
Even though she won, she neglected to honour the agreement they had by simply sending him his $10.
Now, this isn’t about the money in this example. It’s about your actions showing your who and what matters to you.
It would have been insanely easy to send the $10 back to a man you owed money to, let alone one of the first people to believe in you in your journey.
And from then on in, Beth never contacted Mr. Shaibel again.
The closest she got to even slightly honuring him was mentioning Mr. Shaibel in her story to a journalist, where that specific piece of the write up was unfortunately omitted.
The Death of Mr. Shaibel
Around 5 years later, she got word that her original mentor had passed.
To assist in her grieving process, she returned back to the orphanage for the first time and visited the basement where she first learned how to play chess.
As she sat down to re-experience the memories she once had in that room, she saw something new on the wall that wasn’t there before.
She moved closer.
It was a collection of all of the news clippings and articles that had been written about her on her rise to becoming one of the best chess players in the world.
Dead center of that board was a picture of the two of them, almost a decade earlier, in her first year of training.
Despite the fact that she never reached out again to pay him back or just to check in on her old friend, he continued to care tremendously about her anyways and kept tabs on her journey as she grew up and became world class at chess.
This part absolutely destroyed me. I broke down, as did she.
It seemed clear that she regretted how she had done things in the past.
I know it was a little more complicated to communicate with people back in the 1960’s, but it wasn’t impossible. A little effort would have gone a long way in this situation to honour where she came from.
From my perspective, it seemed she started to realize this near the end of the series.
After enough pain of alcoholism, sabotaging relationships that helped her get where she desired, the death of her original mentor, and her original best friend at the orphanage returning into her life, it seemed she had a wake up call and started to change.
How Beth Harmon Changed Going Forward
After the passing, she attended the Moscow Invitational, seeking the title of World Champion by beating the greatest chess player in the world at the time, Vasily Borgov.
She progressed wonderfully in the world class tournament without any alcohol or drugs making it all the way to the final match between her and Borgov.
As they adjourned the game for the day, on her way out of leaving the building, Beth had an interaction with the press.
They asked her a couple questions, all leading into how she learned how to play chess. Learning from her past mistakes, this time she made the press promise to publish it and paid tribute to her late mentor, William Shaibel. She made it clear to the reporters that that would be all, giving them almost no choice but to zero in on Mr. Shaibel and ultimately do what she could to honour him better than she once did.
The following morning, with the help of a friend she had bumped into the night before, a call came in from America.
On the other side, was a surprise array of people who had helped her both early and later on in her chess journey.
She was overjoyed.
A group of skilled chess players — friends, past lovers & people she cared for — all who put aside any of their own personal grievances to team up and help Beth with her upcoming moves that would place her as world champion.
She was incredibly grateful. You could tell she really cared for these people and they were very much in her corner.
This was a Beth who seemed to be changing for the better.
Later on in the day, she took the training provided from that mastermind and beat Borgov, winning the title of world champion.
What I’d Change from The Queen’s Gambit
The Queen’s Gambit was an incredible series, but if there was one thing I would change about it, it would be how she honoured her origins.
And since I can’t change it, it will serve as a lesson for how to live life going forward.
It took the death of someone she cared about and painful regret for her to realize this lesson.
Don’t let that be you, too.
Instead, cherish the people who have served critical roles in your evolution and journey.
Pay tribute to the people who supported you with their actions.
Honour those who believed in you even when you didn’t believe in yourself.
For without these people, where would you be?
It’s not about the thoughts — it’s about the actions.
Show gratitude to these people. Let them know. Be transparent. Don’t hold back. And even better, show your support back to their own goals, passions and pursuits.
At any point, life can be taken away from us. Make sure that if life ended today for either one of you, that you knew you left things on good terms because you honoured your origins and the people in your journey.