Expose Your Chess Pieces If You Dare! Beth Harmon’s Game 4

beth harmon the queens gambit
Spoiler: Beth Harmon gets a victory against a chess coach

Develop Your Chess Pieces Fast like Beth Harmon!

Rebel against the advice of your fellow chess players and expose your chess pieces to attack… but don’t say you weren’t warned!

Don’t learn this lesson the hard way like Mr. Granz in “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix).

So you think the tried and tested truisms of chess don’t apply to the fearless player?

Beth Harmon vs Mr. Granz

Could it be that Mr. Granz was thinking along these lines when he exposed his king and let his development lag? Or was he merely overconfident?

Beth Harmon Chess Game Versus Mr. Granz

Whatever the reason, you wouldn’t expect the chess coach of the Duncan High chess team to lose in eight moves. Of course, even a chess coach can have an off day.

Unsurprisingly it’s a tactical sequence including a piece sacrifice that brings the game to a shocking end. In almost all of the shortest chess games you will invariably find a tactical explosion.

Beth Harmon is a study of concentration as he decides where to place her chess pieces.
Beth Harmon carefully considers where to place her chess pieces.

Many people think they should study tactics so they can earn a quick victory. This is true but only part of the reason why you need to apply yourself diligently to learning tactics. Good tactics come from good positions.

When you know what tactics to use in a specific position you will know how to defend against them. Alarm bells will sound the moment you recognize the placement of your opponent’s pieces.

Poor Placement of Your Chess Pieces Is Costly

Even those with little or no chess experience will realize keeping your chess pieces on their starting squares is unlikely to serve you well. The further you can keep the opponent’s pieces from your king the better.

Game 4 of “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix) starts with Beth Harmon choosing a hypermodern opening called the Reti – 1.Nf3. A hypermodern opening is one where you control the center with your pieces instead of occupying it with pawns.

Mr. Granz employs the Dutch Defense against it. The Dutch Defense is an exciting and flexible system you can play against many opening moves by white.

There are three main variations of the Dutch Defense. They all work well against 1.d4, 1.c4, and 1.Nf3 in particular.

  • Classical Dutch – you place your pawns on f5, e6, and your dark-squared bishop on e7.
  • Stonewall Dutch is where you have pawns on f5, e6, d5, and c6.
  • Leningrad Variation with g6 and a fianchetto your bishop on g7.

The Dutch Defense caters to a variety of chess styles and has been played by numerous world champions including the current world champion Magnus Carlsen.

Beware of Pushing Pawns Instead of Developing Your Pieces!

The only chess piece you can develop on the first move, without moving a pawn, is your knight. This means it’s necessary to make some pawn moves in the opening.

These need to be made with a purpose. The move ..f5 controls a central square (e4) and this control can be increased with ..Nf6, developing a piece.

beth harmon playing a simultaneous exhibition
Beth Harmon playing a simultaneous exhibition

Moving the pawn to ..d5 also controls e4 but it isn’t as flexible as using the knight because a pawn can’t move backward. Also, the knight controls a lot more squares than the pawn on d5.

If Mr. Granz played ..Nf6 instead of ..d5 he could have met Ne5 with ..d6, driving the knight off this threatening square.

Your Opponent Has a Concealed Plan Too

Whenever your opponent makes a move it’s important to ask “Why?” or “What’s the purpose?” Like many chess players, Mr. Granz appears to be focused exclusively on his own plans.

After Ne5 if you ask “What’s the purpose of this move?” it’s easy to see the knight controls both the exit squares of the king. This limits how black can respond to any attack.

Also, having an enemy piece attacking squares next to your king is extremely dangerous. When you recognize danger, deal with it right away.

Here is another look at the game.

Mr. Granz let his greed to win a pawn cost him the game against Beth Harmon and played the move ..Nc6 one move too late.

When you look at the position after 4.Ne5 you can see the only access to f7 and d7 squares controlled by the knight, is from h5. The black pawn on e4 is under attack.

By playing 4…Nf6, black defends the pawn and takes control of the h5 square. 4…Nc6 would prove a good defense by attacking the undefended white knight on e5.

Capturing the pawn on d3 allowed white to develop another piece – the bishop. Not only did the bishop enter the game, it took aim at the crucial g6 square.

Be Aware Of Your Own Weak Chess Pieces

There is usually a positive and a negative to every move in chess. When you move a piece forward to attack, you are losing a defender.

This give and take is very important to keep in mind with pawn moves. Remember you can’t move a pawn backward.

Harry Melling who plays Kentucky chess champion Harry Beltik, in "The Queen's Gambit, is recognized by many thanks to his role as Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films.
Harry Melling who plays Kentucky chess champion Harry Beltik, in The Queen’s Gambit is recognized by many thanks to his role as Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films.

Be especially vigilant when you move your f-pawn, with white or black. Moving the f-pawn allows your opponent a way of placing you in check.

In the opening this usually happens with a queen on h4 or h5, depending on the color you’re playing. After you have castled, dangerous checks occur on the a2-g8 or a7-g1 diagonals if the f-pawn is moved.

The g3 and g6 squares are vulnerable points early in the game if the f-pawn advances. On f2 the pawn helps the h-pawn protect g3.

A queen in the h-file early in the game pins the h-pawn and stops it from recapturing on g6 or else the rook on h8 is lost.

Essential Takeaways From Beth Harmon vs Mr. Granz

Although it’s challenging to get any advantage from the opening it’s essential to know enough to keep your king safe. A knowledge of attacking themes and motifs works well with your opening knowledge.

This game is a very good example of three common tactical motifs

  • weak diagonals
  • poor piece development
  • and weak king position

Mr. Granz could have saved himself a lot of embarrassment if he realized he was weak on the kingside. Then he would have known ..Nf6 or ..Nc6 was better than ..exd3.

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Developing chess pieces in the area where you have made weakening pawn moves allows you to keep your opponent’s pieces out. Qh5+ wouldn’t have been possible with a knight on the f6 square.

When learning something new it’s usually best to play it safe. Choose caution over valor if you aren’t very far along in your chess studies and more so if you think you’re a good player.

“The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix) is a show where a lot of time and energy went into the chess games so make use of them to improve your own game.

Want To Improve Your Game?

You will find the following chess articles well worth a read.

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