The Queen’s Gambit Season 1 Episode 2 Recap – what happened in “Exchanges”?

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


“Exchanges” sees Beth’s life as a teenager as she is adopted and plays in her first tournament; the sense of achievement is presented in the second chapter, but the addiction to tranquilizers remains rife in the story.

This recap of the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit Season 1 Episode 2, “Exchanges,” contains significant spoilers.

We recapped every episode — check out the archive.

The opening

Jolene tells Beth how she looked with the jar of tranquillizers, but Beth is determined to memorize all the chess strategies in the book — she does not seem phased by recent events. Beth tells Mr Shaibel that the orphanage will not let her play chess anymore as a punishment.

Episode 2 hints that there’s a period of time where Beth does not play chess competitively, rather she stores moves in her heads for years until she’s a teenager.

Beth is finally adopted

“Exchanges” shows a teenage Beth (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) with Jolene at the orphanage. A couple is interested in adopting her — Helen Deardorff lists her achievements to the couple. After a meeting with the parents, she is asked to pack — Beth is officially adopted. She apologises to Jolene that she was never adopted.

In the first episode, Jolene expresses how rare it is for black children to be adopted and the older they get, the less likely it becomes. This shows the time these characters are living in.

Getting to know her new mother

Beth is introduced to her new home and is toured by her adopted mother. She is shown her room, and she is surprised by how much space she has. The next morning, she heads downstairs to hear her new mother play the piano. She asks her mother where her husband is — she explains he has gone on a business trip. The conversation turns to children, and her new mother explains they used to have a child.

There’s clearly a tragedy in this marriage, and the tension in the room suggests that getting a daughter was the last throw of the dice.

Beth has a lonely first day at high school

Beth embarks on her first day at high school. She observes the other students; their conversations and clothes. In mathematics, Beth knows the answer to a complex term and girls nearby call her “another f*cking brain”. At lunch, Beth sits on her own. She asks a girl nearby if there’s a chess club at the school; the girl explains there’s nothing like that, but there are social clubs, which requires an invitation by the girls.

It’s evident that during this time, girls doing an activity like chess was not seen as normal.

She really wants a chess set

Beth’s new mother takes her out to buy her new clothes after the father wonders why she never changes. On the way out of the shop, Beth wants to buy a chess set — her mother tells her to save up for one. The next day, Beth asks the librarian if they have any books on chess. The librarian tells her about books about grandmasters — genius chess players. While checking out the books, she sees two students hooking up.

Beth wants to get a job

With chess always on her mind, Beth needs to adapt; she strategizes to make her mark in the chess world, and Episode 2 shows how the character thinks outside the box.

While out getting cigarettes for her adoptive mother, Beth notices a chess magazine, but she’s told if she wants to read it, she needs to buy it — she steals it. When Beth returns, her mother talks about financial woes — Beth suggests that she could get a job to earn money so she can enter a chess tournament. Her mother tells Beth that only “coloured” girls get jobs at her age. Beth writes letters to tournaments asking if she can play for free and if she wins, she will pay the entry fee.

Beth finally has tournament money

Beth’s mother sends her to the shop to get a prescription — tranquillizers — oh, they have returned. She steals half the bottle for herself, and in the middle of the night, she imagines chess on the ceiling again. The next day she gets a letter with money inside, presumably for the tournament.

Her first tournament

Episode 2 shows Beth in her first tournament which truly exemplifies her talents — the Netflix series is doing well to build up the anticipation despite her genius-like skills.

When Beth goes to the tournament, the organisers tell her that there’s no women’s section and they are surprised she wants to play as she is unrated. Beth’s first opponent is a girl, and she defeats her quickly. Afterwards, she watches State Champions play each other. In the second round, Beth beats her opponent and forces him to resign.

In the third round, she plays against Townes, an opponent that she’s been talking to throughout the tournament — Beth seems nervous around him. She puts Townes in a bad playing position, and when she beats him, he is genuinely impressed with how good she is for her age. Afterward, Beth experiences her first period, and a girl helps her out.

The husband leaves

And as “Exchanges” hinted with tension and the odd sly statements, trouble at home finally arrives.

When Beth returns home, her mother seems upset while playing the piano. Beth grabs her pills and sees the phone is off-hook in the mother’s bedroom. The mother’s husband has left, and she suggests lying to the authorities, so she doesn’t have to go back to the orphanage. Her mother tells Beth that she will learn to be a “real mother” as long she doesn’t go near Denver.

Playing against a worthy opponent

Episode 2 shows Beth’s biggest achievement so far in the series.

At the tournament, Beth is against Harry Beltik in the final; the one everyone says is the best and state champion. Harry has an arrogance about him, yawning between plays and acting blase about the situation. Beth is a little deterred by his chess-playing ability and speed. Suddenly, she goes to the bathroom and takes some tranquillisers — she calls herself “An ugly piece of trash” and tells herself she can beat him.

A tournament winner

When she returns, she’s more confident and Harry buckles under pressure. Harry refuses to resign, and he lets her play it out. Eventually, she throws him into submission and everyone applauds. Beth becomes a sensation in the local papers of Kentucky. She won $100 and her adoptive mother is impressed and didn’t realise there was so much prize money in this type of game. The next day, Beth opens a bank account with her mother.

The last scene is more interesting because of her adopted mother — her eyes lit up when she saw the financial opportunity.

The ending

Beth pays for a chessboard. Her mother tells her about a chess tournament with the prize money of $500. The mother plans the logistics and hotel for her.

The Queen’s Gambit episode 2 sees Beth’s life as a teenager as she is adopted and plays in her first tournament; the sense of achievement is presented in the second chapter, but the addiction to tranquilizers remains rife in the story.

Chess Club Archives
  • Beth’s adoptive mother disapproves of her joining a chess tournament and suggests a dance club for girls.

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