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4 Great Contemporary Chess Documentaries

A polymath from humble beginnings, spiralling. Bit of a wretch.

Nona Gaprindashvili is one of the heroines of 2020's chess documentary, "Glory To The Queen," and the first woman named Grandmaster, earning the honor in 1978.

Nona Gaprindashvili is one of the heroines of 2020's chess documentary, "Glory To The Queen," and the first woman named Grandmaster, earning the honor in 1978.

Inside the Mind of Geniuses

Netflix's 2020 adaptation of the Walter Tevis novel, The Queen's Gambit, heralded the greatest boom in chess ever seen. It was also appreciated by chess professionals for realistically depicting the game.

Here's a look at four of the best films and documentaries about chess released in recent years.

  1. Album 61 (2013)
  2. Inside the Mind of a Genius (2021)
  3. Glory To The Queen (2020)
  4. Closing Gambit (2018)
Boris Gelfand in "Album 61" (2013)

Boris Gelfand in "Album 61" (2013)

1. Album 61 (2013)

Shot from the perspective of Grandmaster Boris Gelfand, and his family, Album 61 is an Israeli documentary film directed by Halil Efrat. The film named in honour of the 60 albums of news and photos of Gelfand collected by his father, traces the journey of one of the elite GMs in contemporary times.

The film opens at the first game of the World Championship match between Gelfand and Viswanathan Anand, and is interspersed with stories about Gelfand's childhood, parents, support team, while monitoring and describing his chances through the various games in the match.

Grandmaster Boris Gelfand

Album 61 was highly lauded for shedding light on the journey of hard-work and dedication that an elite chess player has to undertake on their way to the top prize in chess. The film includes fascinating anecdotes and analysis by former World Champions Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik. One of the most beautiful moments of the film comes at the end, when Gelfand's mother winks at him before his rapid play-off which will determine the world title.

Intimately shot, Album 61 is a must-watch for all chess and film lovers looking to get an understanding of the various aspects of chess at the elite level, and during World Championship events.

Maxime-Vachier Lagrave in "Inside the Mind of a Genius" (2021)

Maxime-Vachier Lagrave in "Inside the Mind of a Genius" (2021)

2. Inside the Mind of a Genius (2021)

Inside the Mind of a Genius is a documentary directed by Nathan Cahen and it focuses on the ninth-highest rated chess player in history—and one of the most-liked elite players in recent times—Grandmaster Maxime-Vachier Lagrave (aka MVL).

Shot in 2017-18 during the Grand Chess Tour, the two-part documentary contains fascinating interviews with elite chess players such as Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So, as well as former World Champion Garry Kasparov.

Grandmaster Maxime-Vachier Lagrave

The film showcases MVL's preparation during the tournament, his mental state, opinions of other elite players regarding his play, and celebrates the spread of chess in Africa. The first episode focuses on the African leg of the Grand Chess Tour, while the second episode focuses on the Paris leg of the series.

Inside the Mind of a Genius is a must-watch for newbie chess fans looking to understand the perceptions of top chess players, as well as the ubiquitous genius of one of the most uncompromising and entertaining players in recent times. MVL's dry humour and astute insights are great to watch.

"Glory To The Queen" (2020)

"Glory To The Queen" (2020)

3. Glory to the Queen (2020)

The name Nona Gaprindashvili may ring a bell for eagle-eyed chess fans, as she recently won a lawsuit against the makers of The Queens' Gambit for mentioning that she did not play against men. In fact, Gaprindashvili was the greatest woman chess player of her generation, and she often played against men.

The documentary Glory to the Queen focuses on the lives of the greatest chess generation produced by the country of Georgia:

  • Nona Gaprindashvili, former World Champion and the first woman to become Grandmaster
  • Maia Chiburdanidze, former World Champion
  • Nana Alexandria, three-time Soviet Champion and World Championship challenger
  • Nana Ioseliani, five-time Olympiad gold winner and World Championship challenger

Directed by Tatia Shkirtladze, the film traces the impact that the golden generation had on Georgia, using archival footage, interviews with the four legends, and highlights of their various skirmishes at the top level of chess.

The film culminates in the 25th Chess Olympiad in 1982 where the four Georgian women won the gold medal in women's chess, sweeping their opponents in the process.

25th Chess Olympiad (1982)

Glory to the Queen also offers important commentary regarding the status of women in chess, and describes the rampant sexism prevalent in chess during the Cold War.

The film is highly recommended for budding women players looking for inspiration, and for chess fans who want to better understand the history of chess.

"Closing Gambit" (2018)

"Closing Gambit" (2018)

4. Closing Gambit (2018)

Released in 2018, Closing Gambit looks at the one of the most intensely fought World Championship matches in chess history, the 1978 battle between World Champion Anatoly Karpov and Soviet defector Victor Korchnoi.

After inheriting the world championship from Bobby Fischer—who refused to play him in 1975—Karpov went on a streak of tournament victories, determined to cement his reputation as World Champion.

Karpov vs. Korchnoi

Under the tutelage of legendary Soviet player Mikhail Botvinnik, Karpov advanced rapidly. Before his match against Korchnoi, Karpov was the darling of the Soviet chess establishment, having been given country houses and a chaffeur-driven Mercedes.

By contrast, Victor Korchnoi had been sidelined by the Soviets. He was not allowed to compete in international tournaments after Karpov's win over him in the 1975 Candidates. This is why Korchnoi defected in 1976, moving to the Netherlands. He then moved to Switzerland just prior to his world championship match against Karpov.

The match itself was marred by many controversies, ranging from alleged murderers befriending Korchnoi during the match, to chairs being X-rayed, and sunglasses being used by the players to blind their opponent.

1978 World Chess Championships

The match is considered one of the most notorious World Championship matches ever, with several allegations of cheating on both sides, including one where a purple-coloured yoghurt dish was brought to Karpov, interpreted to be a coded sign by Korchnoi.

The film includes commentary and anecdotes by several contemporaries of the two, as well as archival footage. It's a fascinating overview of an even more fascinating match which left a deep impact on chess over the next few decades.