On October 23, 2020, the chess world was changed forever when The Queen’s Gambit (hereafter TQG)miniseries was released on Netflix. Set against the backdrop of Cold War era United States and Europe, TQG follows a fictitious female chess prodigy named Beth Harmon as she overcomes numerous obstacles (i.e., misogyny, poverty, Alcohol Use Disorder, and Substance Use Disorder) to win matches against progressively stronger opponents. The series was a runaway success for Netflix, winning 11 Primetime Emmy Awards for its depiction of Beth’s trials and tribulations within the world of chess. According to the OTT service’s publicly released viewer metrics, it was the most popular miniseries at the time: it was watched by 62 million accounts and became Netflix’s most watched show in 63 countries in the weeks following its release (Spangler, “‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Scores”). The popularity of TQG translatedimmediately to a resurgence of interest in chess from the general public. Sales of both chess sets and books spiked in the following months, and chess related searches on quadrupled (Spangler, “‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Spurs Boom”).

As online chess rose in popularity during the pandemic, was able to capitalize on this newfound spike of player interest and successfully market itself as the best and only place to play chess online. In fact,’s omnipresence in modern chess culture in 2023 cannot be overstated, nor can the widespread influence the corporation has had over how the game is played and who it is marketed to. The platform surpassed 100 million users in December 2022 (Pinhata) and 11 million daily users in January 2023 (“ Reaches 100 million Members”). On February 2, 2023, it became the most popular free gaming app from the Apple Store in 28 countries (Pinhata). Several months later, it was celebrated by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 companies of 2023 (G. Gonzalez). Following a “major investment” by the General Atlantic growth equity firm on December 31, 2021, (“ gets Major Investment”) was able to buy out the PlayMagnus Group in 2022 for 82 million USD (Barden). The latter was a conglomerate of ten brands that represent online player servers, chess analysis and training software, broadcasts, news, books, DVDs, camps, as well as clubs that represented’s last true competitor. While chess may be a two-player game, the chess industry has become a monopoly dominated by

Despite the popularity of TQG, many top female chess players have called out the series on its failure to spotlight the rampant misogyny within real life chess culture. In 2023, the Chess #MeToo movement arose after an increasing number of women spoke out about the toxic masculinity of chess culture and its propensity to protect (male) offenders of sexual assault. This essay examines the failures of the United States Chess Federation (hereafter USCF), the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (hereafter FIDE), and in addressing the Chess #MeToo movement. Special focus is paid to as a new, powerful entity in the chess industry—and one that has acted far more decisively in another recent chess controversy (the 2022 Carlsen-Neimann cheating scandal). While the newfound monopoly of has created a seismic shift in numerous aspects of chess culture, toxic masculinity within that culture remains virtually unchanged.

First, this essay will analyze the discrepancies between chess culture as portrayed in TQG and the far more toxic experiences of real-life women chess players. The following section will outline the rise of and their responses to multiple chess controversies, most notably the 2022 Neimann-Carlsen cheating scandal. Finally, the Chess #MeToo movement, and the minimal response from, will be explored.


During a 2023 Women’s Roundtable on the experiences of women in chess (hosted by International Master Anna Rudolf and featuring Grandmaster Judit Polgar, Women’s Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade, Women’s International Master Ayelén Martínez, Women’s International Master Fiona Steil-Antoni, Lula Roberts, and FIDE Master Alisa Melekhina), all attendees—while pleased with the series overall—noted severe shortcomings in how TQG handled its portrayal of misogyny within chess culture.

On the series, Beth Harmon’s opponents and tournament organizers greeted her with initial discrimination (based on her gender), but immediately revised this opinion upon losing to her. In other words, within the overly optimistic diegesis of TQG, sexism immediately dissipates when confronted with the reality of female chess talent. For instance, in an episode-seven scene remarked upon by WGM Jennifer Shahade, one of Beth Harmon’s opponents goes so far as to kiss her hand upon losing a pivotal match (33:35-34:00). Unfortunately, this grace upon defeat and immediate re-evaluation on the status of women in chess did not reflect the lived experiences of IM Anna Rudolf, WGM Jennifer Shahade, or GM Judit Polgar. Rather, upon defeating men, these women were more often met with temper tantrums, misogynistic slurs, and accusations of cheating (“The Experiences of Women in Chess”).

While the male opponents of Beth Harmon would consistently speak in awe of her achievements, real life male Grandmasters have a far more fraught history with sexist beliefs. Chess culture has a bad habit of overlooking misogyny and prioritizing chess playing skills. GM Bobby Fischer, arguably the most famous U.S. chess player to ever live, was well known for his misogynistic (as well as his antisemitic) beliefs. He once stated in an interview that “[Women] are terrible chess players…I don’t know why, I guess they’re just not so smart…I don’t think they should mess with intellectual affairs, you know what I mean? They should keep strictly to the home” (Fischer). As another example, in 1989, during the height of his popularity and while holding the World Championship title, GM Garry Kasparov expressed the following opinions in an interview with Playboy magazine:

There is real chess and women’s chess. Some people don’t like to hear this, but chess does not fit women properly. It’s a fight, you know? A big fight. It’s not for women. Sorry. She’s helpless if she has men’s opposition…Women are weaker fighters…Chess is the combination of sport, art and science. In all these fields, you can see men’s superiority. Just compare the sexes in literature, in music or in art. The result is, you know, obvious. Probably the answer is in the genes. (Kasparov, 70).

Since losing to Polgar and retiring from competitive play, Kasparov has fully rescinded his earlier remarks (Kasparov and Greengard, 268). More so, he appears to have made an earnest effort in both rethinking his male privilege and supporting women in chess. While this reflects one positive example of a male top chess player rethinking their misogyny, the toxic culture encouraged by sexist statements from the industry’s most powerful men continues. In 2015, GM Nigel Short, former World Champion contender and one of the strongest players in the UK, asserted in New in Chess Magazine the following: “Men and women’s brains are hardwired differently…[my wife] doesn’t feel embarrassed in asking me to manoeuvre the car out of our narrow garage…rather than fretting about inequality, perhaps we should just gracefully accept it as a fact” (Short, 51). When given a chance to reconsider his position five years later, Short only reaffirmed his earlier statements (Khandekar), claiming any interpretation of his words as “sexist” was merely misconstrued by the media (Ellis-Peterson). Rather than hold Short accountable for his sexism, in September 2022, FIDE, the international governing body regulating competitive chess tournaments, instated Short as the Director for Chess Development—a title Short still holds as of December 2023 (“Mr Short and Mr Iashvili appointed”).

While TQG failed to accurately capture the full scope of chess culture misogyny, Rudolf, Polgar, and Shahade all note that this failure may have been prevented with the inclusion of women’s voices during the series’ production. This is to say, the miniseries focused on championing women’s chess was written, directed, and produced by men (and adapted from a novel written by another man). TQG featured two male chess consultants (i.e., National Master Bruce Pandolfini and GM Garry Kasparov) who re-created chess positions taken exclusively from male chess games. Even if those involved in the creation of the show had only the most feminist intentions in mind, a female chess player’s lived experience was never going to be truly captured without the inclusion of female voices in leadership roles behind the camera.

Perhaps the most infamous example of this oversight is the following line from episode seven: “The only thing unusual about [Beth Harmon], really, is her sex, and even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men” (30:00-30:30). This example is noteworthy as the series’ first instance where a real-life woman player is mentioned (but the same cannot be said for real life male players who were discussed extensively in previous episodes). But even the provided context to viewers is incorrect, as GM Gaprindashvili had not only played against men but beaten many of the strongest grandmasters in the world by 1968, the year in which the series finale takes place. This inaccuracy prompted Gaprindashvili to sue Netflix in hopes of getting the line of dialogue removed. Specifically, Gaprindashvili’s lawsuit brought light to how the series erased her real-life struggles as a woman facing discrimination in chess only to glorify a fictional one (Stevens). The lawsuit was settled out of court, but the line of dialogue remains (Bushard).

Despite its oversights and controversies, TQG is still usually viewed as a net positive by top female players as well as the broader chess community. This is mostly due to the unprecedentedly large new player base created within the weeks and months following the show’s release. As a result, TQG not only popularized the game of chess for an entire new generation of players, but it also set in motion events that would forever transform chess and chess culture.


The release of TQG midway through the Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent quarantines, meant that in-person (colloquially known as ‘on the board’ or OTB) chess clubs and tournaments were largely unavailable for the newfound player base and would be for several months. Instead, those inspired by TQG to start playing or return to the game of chess turned to the growing website, one of several steps in the game of chess’s current transformation into an e-sport.

While the word ‘e-sport’ may conjure images of Call of Duty or Fortnite celebrity streamers from the popular platform, this is exactly the platform on which chess had seen massive growth for the months preceding TQG—a growth which the miniseries’ release only intensified. During the quarantine months of March through August 2020, celebrity chess streamer Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura grew his twitch following from 2,000 to 366,000 (D’Anastasio). As of December 2023, his following has grown to 1.9 million. Other chess streamers GothamChess, EricRosen, and the Botez Sisters saw similar pandemic-influenced rapid growth, despite some having previously streamed for years with relatively flat numbers.[i]

It is noteworthy to point out that ambassador contracts with chess streaming celebrities are a long-running strategy employed by The platform has succeeded in buying out every major chess streaming celebrity (with the singular holdout of Eric Rosen). This ensures popular chess streamers stream their twitch sessions utilizing’s servers and not lichess: a free, open-source alternative to that operates as a non-profit charity mostly run by volunteers.Although lichess (a portmanteau of libre and chess) offers nearly identical features to, the former’s non-profit model has left them massively outplayed by’s marketing blitz, which is specifically designed to appeal to Generation Z players (Richtel). In their 82-million-dollar acquisition of PlayMagnus Group, arguably the most valuable asset gained by was signing GM Magnus Carlsen, five-time world champion, (considered by many to be the best player to ever live) as an additional ambassador of the site. has not been afraid to leverage their newfound capital in various controversies throughout chess culture. One example is from 2022 after Vladmir Putin declared war on Ukraine, when FIDE banned Russian and Belarusian players from using their nation’s flags. Furthermore, the international organization moved the 2022 Chess Olympiad from Moscow to Dubai, and sanctioned GM Sergey Karjakin for his outspoken support of the invasion (Pannet). followed FIDE’s example by posting a statement denouncing the Russian invasion and stripping Russian and Belarusian chess players of their country’s flag (“On the Invasion of Ukraine”). As of December 2023, this change remains on the website. While this was undeniably a safe decision on’s part, given the mass unpopularity of the invasion, it marks the first time the website has become involved in global politics. Notably, however, has yet to comment on any other ongoing human rights crises that might prove controversial to its userbase. For example, no statement or action has been made by supporting either Palestinian civilians or Israel since renewed violence began in the Gaza Strip during October 2023.

A more famous example of’s involvement occurred during the 2022 Sinquefield Cup, when GM Carlsen accused GM Hans Moke Niemann of cheating against him. immediately backed Carlsen and released an investigation concluding that Niemann had cheated in at least one hundred games (“The Hans Neimann Report”). Crucially, however, because finalized their 82-million-dollar acquisition of Carlsen’s company one month earlier, their very public support of Carlsen during the scandal could never be objective.[ii]

As the dispute continued, with both Carlsen and Neimann fueling the fire with additional dramatic accusations and eventually lawsuits (Gonzalez and AlBaroudi), the controversy shifted from one player’s alleged cheating to the larger question of the ubiquity of cheating within high-level tournaments. Carlsen’s accusations drew newfound attention to possible methods of cheating, as well as the relative ease of avoiding detection. The scandal questioned not merely Neimann’s legitimacy but also the integrity of the game itself—could any tournament results be trusted if cheating was so rampant? In hindsight, this panic now appears as an overreaction, especially since widespread reporting from mainstream media outlets on the Neimann scandal served to create another spike in new chess players (as opposed to encouraging existing players to leave the community). Yet took this potential challenge to chess integrity seriously: the website both posted an extensive official press release reviewing their cheating detection policies and sent out a mass email survey. One of the survey’s questions included, “Do you think chess is facing a ‘crisis’ due to cheating?” in addition to providing various opinion polls for the ideal consequences of various scenarios of cheaters caught in the act (“Fair Play Survey Results”).

Crucially,‘s heavy involvement in the Neimann scandal was always voluntary on the corporation’s part. Carlsen’s accusations of cheating were regarding Neimann’s OTB play in the Sinquefield Cup, placing these claims under the jurisdiction of St. Louis Chess Club (the tournament organizers) and the United States Chess Federation. Nevertheless, deliberately chose a side in the conflict. By releasing their investigation’s conclusion that Neiman had cheated in over one hundred online games, was not only backing Carlsen but denouncing Neiman in the process—a move which saw the company included in a defamation lawsuit launched by Neiman in 2022. It is instructive, therefore, to compare‘s strong public reaction to Neimann of 2022 to their more tepid reaction to the Alejandro Ramirez sexual assault scandal of 2023, which kicked off the ‘Chess #Me Too’ movement (Lytton).


On February 15, 2023, WGM Jennifer Shahade tweeted “Times up,” followed by two screenshots reading:

Currently there are multiple investigations underway on Alejandro Ramirez and sexual misconduct, including a series of alleged incidents involving a minor. I was assaulted by him twice, 9 and 10 years ago. I’d moved on until the past couple years, when multiple women, independent of each other and with no knowledge of my own experience—approached me with their own stories of alleged abuse. These accounts were from much younger alleged victims. I saw alarming evidence, including texts that admitted abuse of a minor while he was coaching her, as well as a text to an alleged victim about being an underage ‘temptress.’ The road to investigation and potential consequences has been a very stressful process. You may have noticed I’ve taken a major step back from commentary as this plays out. I’ve filled the time with poker, writing and promoting girls in chess. And yet a lot of that work is futile if we cannot make crystal clear that the safety of women, girls, children is of the highest priority. And that’s why I’m speaking out now. Thanks for your support and patience for more details. (Shahade, “Time’s Up.”)

The next day, Shahade tweeted that “Four more women have contacted me about alleged misconduct from Ramirez, ranging from harassment to sexual assault to grooming students. Seven if including secondhand reports” (@Shahade, “Four more women”). On March 6, 2023, Ramirez resigned from the St. Louis chess club, just two days after The Wall Street Journal presented him with a detailed list of allegations against him. Ramirez refused to claim any responsibility, instead citing the ongoing investigation that had been launched against him as a “negative distraction” (Beaton and Robinson). His attorney additionally commented, “Superimposing today’s mores on erroneous recitals of acts of yesteryear is a recipe for disaster” (Beaton and Robinson). Although banned from playing in the United States, (“US Chess Final Statement About Alejandro Ramirez Investigation”) Alejandro Ramirez remains active in international chess tournaments as of August 2023 (“Campeonato Nacional e Internacional de Ajedrez, Final Ranking Crosstable After Nine Rounds”).

In June 2023, USCF released a list of 27 sanctioned players, including Alejandro Ramirez and GM Timur Gareyev. As with Ramirez, multiple women had come forward to the USCF with allegations of sexual assault against Gareyev, only for the case to be initially dismissed. One anonymous woman described her encounter with Gareyev in the following account: 

Timur spins around quickly, pins my arms to my sides, and tries to kiss me, aggressively. His fingers were digging into my arms. I can not (sic) get free. I was turning my head side to side, saying, “No Timur. Stop. I don’t want this.” I can still feel his beard on both of my cheeks as I am struggling. He said, “But, I just want to …” He was holding my arms with both hands. When he changed his grip, I managed to force him off-balance for a moment and finally pulled away. I guess that I should have raised my knee to kick him, or maybe thrown my head forward to get him to let go. I had no idea that he was that strong. I was not expecting Timur to grab me like that…Everything happened so quickly, but I was powerless to stop it. (“Breaking the Silence”).

Gareyev was eventually sanctioned by the USCF, which prevented him from playing in nationally sponsored events for two years, although this did not stop him from playing in local and regional events. More telling though is how the USCF chose to keep Gareyev’s sanction a secret until after it had ended, thereby allowing him to compete in international tournaments with his reputation intact. As a result, while being sanctioned for sexual assault, Gareyev would go on to win the Kenyan Open and play in the 2023 FIDE World Cup in Azerbaijan (“Breaking the Silence”). By the end of June 2023, all four women on the US Chess Accessibility and Special Circumstances Committee, a subcommittee of the USCF, resigned in protest over the federation’s handling of sexual assault cases (“Breaking the Silence”). On September 5, 2023, WGM Shahade also resigned from her post as director of US Chess Women (also under the umbrella organization of the USCF), arguing that she “cannot in good conscience lend her credibility to the org [sic] anymore” (Shahade, “I have left US Chess”).

On August 3rd, 2023, fourteen of France’s top women chess players published an open letter to X (formerly Twitter), reading in part:

We, women chess players…have experienced sexist or sexual violence perpetrated by chess players, coaches, arbiters, or managers. We are convinced that this harassment and these assaults are still one of the main reasons why women and young girls, especially in their teens, stop playing chess. Faced with these acts of violence, we have remained silent for too long….Today we are speaking out and encouraging all female chess players to denounce the violence they have suffered…To anyone who has experienced sexist or sexual violence, we want to say: You are not alone. We believe you. We will be there for you. (Nous, jouseuses d’échecs)

Within four days, the open letter had garnered over a hundred signatures of women chess players who had experienced sexist or sexual violence.

Finally, on August 10, 2023, lichess posted to their front page an official press release titled “Breaking the Silence,” reiterating many of the aforementioned events as their rationale in no longer cooperating with the St. Louis Chess Club and the USCF. More specifically, the release stated the following: “Women and girls in chess already face an uphill battle. They deserve a safe and supportive environment. But too often, they encounter abuse…It’s time to help break the silence” (“Breaking the Silence”). Within the same week, followed lichess’s example, albeit with several notable differences. Most notably, instead of cutting ties with both the St. Louis Chess Club and the USCF, only suspended their relationship with the St. Louis Chess Club. While this constituted a token act of affirmation, it also acted as a far smaller commitment and, therefore, financial risk by the for-profit company. While the St. Louis Chess Club may be the most prestigious club in the United States, it is still only one chess club. For to terminate their relationship with the USCF, as lichess did, would have reflected a far greater act of solidarity that would be impossible to ignore. Yet has made every effort to avoid making public statements regarding the Chess #MeToo movement. The events of the Chess #MeToo movement have seen some reporting on by staff member Tarjei J. Svensen in’s confusingly organized ‘News’ page. However, this section of the website is updated multiple times each day, mostly with tournament results. As a result, Svensen’s few articles covering the movement are always swiftly buried. Furthermore, seems utterly unwilling to moderate the gender-based hate speech that arises in the comment sections of these reports, or in the comment sections of their forums.


The glitzy, postfeminist diegesis of TQG may have severely underestimated the lengths to which misogyny would dominate the chess world over half a century after it took place. It may have proved oddly prophetic, however, regarding the role of capitalism in propagating inequity. In the miniseries, Beth Harmon’s efforts as a female chess player are often stymied by her lack of money. In real life,’s support for the Chess #MeToo movement has been minimized by the corporation’s desire not to lose money.

While lichess runs its platform as a nonprofit charity and, therefore, can make decisions purely in support of the well-being of its userbase, instead is a for-profit company. As such any decision the corporation makes is influenced by monetary incentives.’s political moves can either be traced to potential financial gains for the company (e.g., vocal support for Carlsen in the cheating controversy, which erupted only a month after they had bought his company and signed Carlsen as a ambassador for 82 million dollars) or the most risk-averse possible solution to protect their existing assets (i.e., symbolic support for Ukraine after Putin’s invasion but refusal to acknowledge any other human rights crises).’s handling of the Chess #MeToo movement has so far been similar to their handling of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine: risk averse. In both instances, waited until a different organization issued a political statement, then copied the essence of the statement, but with less commitment on’s part. was willing to denounce Putin and the St. Louis Chess Club, but only after their respective actions had garnered them mass unpopularity. As of December 2023, they remain unwilling to make a public statement of solidarity with the Chess #MeToo movement—even as cases continue to grow.

As the Chess #MeToo movement continues, FIDE and the USCF have refused to enact significant policy changes to protect women players. Instead, on August 21, 2023, FIDE enacted a policy which bans transgender women from competing in women’s only tournaments and requires ID inspection of all transgender players as proof that they have transitioned, amongst other prejudicial changes (“Transgender Registration Regulations”). This ban in particular warrants further research, as does overall treatment of transgender positionalities in chess culture.

A decade ago, it would have been unthinkable that a single website would have more money, power, and influence in the chess community than the prestigious organizing bodies of USCF and FIDE. Yet through an aggressive marketing campaign that capitalized on renewed interest in chess from TQG and a shift to digital gaming brought about by the pandemic, became a monopoly in the chess industry. continues to fundamentally disrupt chess culture: normalizing online play, popularizing speed chess, and marketing to youth are new and largely positive changes by the company. Yet has chosen to remain silent on a far more urgent issue to the chess community: a culture of misogyny and growing sexual assault cases.

[i] Several news outlets commented in disbelief that the slow and methodical, almost meditative game featured on TQG was gaining massive ground on the same platform that had popularized Five Night’s at Freddy’s Lets Plays and Among Us memes (Browning). Chess streamers were not playing slow and methodical games, however. While TQG focused on ‘classical chess,’ where each side has over an hour to make all of their moves, twitch streamers were almost exclusively playing ‘blitz’ and ‘bullet’ chess matches where each side had only five, three or one minute to play the entire game. As such, this fast-paced nature is higher in adrenaline and fit in well with other popular strategy games already available on the platform.

[ii] Carlsen was unable to provide any evidence of his accusations that Neimann cheated in the 2022 Sinquefield Cup. Nevertheless, Carlsen withdrew from the tournament as an act of protest, a nearly unprecedented decision in top level chess play. By withdrawing before the tournament was halfway completed, Carlsen nullified his earlier match results in the Sinquefield Cup. This changed the standings of several other grandmasters in the tournament who had played Carlsen previously. As a result, Carlsen was arguably unfairly modifying the tournament results regardless of whether Neimann was actually cheating.

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Matthew Konerth

University of Denver and School of Iliff Joint Doctoral Program

Matthew Konerth is a student at the University of Denver and School of Iliff Joint Doctoral Program in Religion specializing in the intersections of religion, film, and neurodivergence. He also works as a chess coach and curriculum consultant for Pals Chess Academy in Colorado and formerly coached for Magnus Chess Academy in the DC area.