'Absolutely perfect' - Norfolk chess champ on The Queen's Gambit
- Credit: Denise Bradley/Netflix
The Queen’s Gambit has been one of the most popular Netflix dramas of 2020. Stuart Anderson spoke to Norfolk’s own queen of the chessboard.
It’s one young woman’s journey from insecure schoolgirl to national chess champion, set to a backdrop of everyday sexism, Cold War tension and fabulous 1960s fashion.
And it’s a tale that rings true for Kathleen Hindle, of Cromer, who rose to prominence in the same era and even travelled behind the Iron Curtain to play.
Mrs Hindle, 72, said she was impressed with the accuracy of the Netflix show, especially the atmosphere that’s evoked when playing at a big chess tournament.
She said: “Everything we experienced was in there - the tension and excitement. [Chess grandmaster] Garry Kasparov was one of the advisors, and they got it absolutely perfect.”
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Just like Beth Harmon, the main character from The Queen’s Gambit, Mrs Hindle came from humble beginnings and grew up in Glasgow.
It was when maths teacher Gerald Bonner started working at Mrs Hindle’s school when she was 14 that her life was set in a new direction.
She said: “There was a message on the Tannoy saying a new teacher had come to the school and he was starting a chess club - if we were interested we could get out a few minutes early and meet him in the library. Before that I’d never seen a chessboard before.”
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Despite a struggle to be taken seriously by the boys she persevered, becoming the first-ever Scottish girls’ champion at 17 and Scottish ladies' champion in 1975.
“We were a laughing stock in the beginning. Girls just didn't play chess," Mrs Hindle said. "So I thought I’d go home and learn some tricks and traps so I can beat people, especially boys.”
Mrs Hindle said she was once playing for Norfolk at an inter-county contest when her opponent joked with his mates that he “wouldn’t need long” before their game.
“After the first few moves he pulled in his seat a bit closer," she said. "I played quietly on and was gradually in the better position.
"Then he began to shuffle about a bit and his friends started to giggle. I felt sorry for him, but not that sorry.”
Another memorable encounter was playing the Russian grandmaster and four-times world champion Mikhail Botvinnik when he visited Scotland.
She took part in a 'simultaneous' exhibition in which Mr Botvinnik played more than 20 games against different players at the same time.
Mrs Hindle said: “I was in awe of him. He was world champion four times and he was a very nice man.”
She went on to win the British Girls' Championships and represented Scotland at Chess Olympiads in Argentina, Switzerland, Israel and Malta.
Mrs Hindle was part of the first girls’ team to play behind the Iron Curtain in Moscow and Lvov (now called Lviv), which was “like another world”.
She said part of the journey between cities was in a rickety old plane with wooden benches for seats which they shared with goats and other animals.
Mrs Hindle said: “That was the age of the miniskirt but in Russia they had seen nothing like it. Women were coming up to us in Lvov in their black shawls just to touch the colours on our skirts. It got a bit hairy, so they gave us an interpreter and a bodyguard."
Mrs Hindle met her husband, Owen, an English international player, at the British Chess Championship in Sunderland in 1966.
She said: “He had beautiful hands and the way he moved the pieces was absolutely mesmerising.”
Mrs Hindle said she had an aggressive style of play, always getting deeply immersed in the game and never leaving the board, even when the rules would have allowed her to move around when her opponent was contemplating their move.
She said: “When you see something on the board that you know might work out well - there’s such a feeling of anxiety but it’s also a thrill. Then you play your move and press their clock, and when you see it starting to go your way, it’s a feeling of euphoria.”
Mrs Hindle moved to Norfolk when she was 18 and became a teacher, eventually becoming head of history and then assistant head at Cromer High School.
Although she still plays chess she said it was now mostly “a young person’s game” and was astounded by the talent of some of today’s top junior players.
Chess in Norfolk
While Norfolk is home to several chess clubs, the popularity of The Queen's Gambit has not led to a boom in membership for them because the pandemic means all 'over the table' games are on hold.
But Edward Hackford, chairman of the North Norfolk Chess Club, said there were plenty of opportunities to improve your chess game online, on sites such as lichess.org and chess.com.
He said the English Chess Federation had even launched a 'Queen’s Gambit Scheme' to encourage women to get into the game.
Mr Hackford said his top tips for new chess players were:
1. First get a book for "Chess Beginners".
2. Buy a board and a basic, but not elaborate, chess set - and set up the pieces on the board.
3. Learn how each piece moves and remember; although the Queen is the most powerful piece, the King is the most precious.
4. It's all about attack and defence - the pawns are the infantry and your knights, bishops, castles and queen are your main artillery.
5. Keep your King safely protected while you go all out to capture your opponent's King. The first to do that is the winner.
Mr Hackford aded: "When the pandemic is over, join your nearest chess Club where you will receive a warm welcome whatever your standard, and watch your skill improve.
"You will never forget the fun of playing chess for the rest of your life."