The Queen’s Gambit Season 1 Episode 1 Recap – the opening chapter explained

By Daniel Hart
Published: October 23, 2020 (Last updated: December 3, 2023)
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The Queen's Gambit Season 1 Recap
Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen's Gambit - Image Courtesy of Netflix


The Queen’s Gambit episode 1 provides context to a child genius but also shows flaws in her character as Beth becomes accustomed to the world of chess.

This recap of the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit Season 1 Episode 1, “Openings,” contains significant spoilers.

We recapped every episode — check out the archive.

The opening

Episode 1 opens with Beth waking up in Paris, 1967. She’s in a rush and she fell asleep in the bath. After swigging alcohol, she rushes downstairs from her hotel room. The paparazzi are flashing at her and she sits down to play a game of chess against a man with a room full of people. Flashbacks show that a young Beth survived a car crash.

Adjustment to the orphanage

From here, “Openings” presents Beth’s younger life and how she became accustomed to chess and a reckless life.

The young Beth is orphaned due to the death of her mother from the crash. There’s no report of what happened to her father. She’s shown around the orphanage. Beth is introduced to Jolene — she’s asked what was the last thing her parents said before she died; Beth has a brief flash of her mother saying, “Close your eyes”.

Beth’s mother was always running away

The opening chapter gives a hint that there’s a broken home involved in this character and there’s a sense that chess eventually becomes her escapism.

Beth takes vitamins and afterwards, she struggles to walk around the orphanage (they are clearly not vitamins) — Jolene tells her she needs to wait until later to take the vitamins. At night in bed, the young Beth remembers when her father Paul tried to return; he asks her mother Alice if he can see Beth. The father questions how they both live in a trailer. Paul tells Alice that he’s sick of running after her and he drives away.

Beth’s first look at chess

During class at the orphanage, Beth is sent to the basement to deal with the erasers. She sees a man named Mr Shaibel playing chess on his own and he’s intrigued. She tries to speak to Mr Shaibel the next day but he is not interested in showing her chess. At night time, before she sleeps, she imagines the chessboard. Beth has also taken Jolene’s advice, to take vitamins at night.

Her first game of chess

And finally, Episode 1 shows Beth’s first taste of chess that ignites the series.

Beth tries again with Mr Shaibel to discuss chess. He tells her that “Girls do not play chess”. Beth demonstrates how much she’s learnt already so the man offers her a game. Mr Shaibel beats her quickly with the “Scholar’s Mate”. At night time, Beth reimagines the move. The next day, Beth loses her Queen and Mr Shaibel tells her to resign the game, but she wants to continue. When he says no, she calls him a “c*cksucker”. Afterwards, Jolene tells Beth what a c*ck is.

Beth is a natural at chess

The Netflix series does not delay the inevitable to show how great Beth is at the game.

Despite their brief falling out, Beth continues to play chess against Mr Shaibel in the basement. She beats him for the first time. The man keeps showing her new strategies. He shows her what “Openings” are and names one of them “The Queen’s Gambit”. She beats him again and Mr Shaibel calls her “Astounding”. Beth is a natural. He gives her a book of different “Openings”.

Mr Shaibel introduces Beth to Mr Ganz from the chess club to play a game. She beats the man easily. Mr Ganz asks Beth where she plays and she tells him she plays in her head. Mr Ganz gives her a present — a doll. Beth then plays both men at once with two separate boards and she beats them both convincingly.

An invitation to the chess club

Episode 1 shows how Beth became a local sensation very quickly as word spread quickly of her chess-playing abilities.

Mr Ganz wants Beth to join a chess club at a High School every Thursday. He wants her to play everyone simultaneously. Head of the Orphanage Helen Deardorff approves the logistics of Beth attending the club. She tells Beth that she can no longer play chess in the basement. Afterwards, Beth wants the “green vitamins” but they tell her that they don’t give tranquillizers to the kids anymore. Beth has an addiction.

This may explain her recklessness at the start of the series when she is older.

Beating the entire chess club

Jolene tells Beth that she’s having withdrawal symptoms. The next day, Beth heads to the chess club; Jolene gives her a couple of tranquillizers and wishes her luck. At the high school, a group of chess playing boys enter the club. Beth has to play all of them at once. As she takes them all on, a crowd of students gather. Beth beat all the students in an hour and twenty minutes. She proudly tells Mr Shaibel of what happened.

The ending

Still suffering from withdrawal symptoms, Beth grabs tools from the basement. During a movie night, she pretends to go to the bathroom but breaks into the chemist. Beth grabs a handful of tranquillizers and puts loads in her mouth and stuffs many in her pockets. As movie night ends, Beth is caught by Helen Deardorff — Beth has taken too many tranquillizers; she drops the jar and collapses.

The Queen’s Gambit episode 1 provides context to a child genius but also shows flaws in her character as Beth becomes accustomed to the world of chess. This is a well-acted and dramatic opening to the Netflix series.

The Chess Club Archives
  • Jolene tells Beth that they are told old to be adopted and they will be “lifers”.
  • Beth throws the doll that Mr Ganz gave her in the bin.

Netflix, TV Recaps
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