Book Companion Logo  THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT
AUTHOR: Walter Tevis
Walter Tevis

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REVIEWS: The Queen's Gambit
NY Times


Los Angeles Review of Books

Book Companion

When eight-year-old Beth Harmon’s parents are killed in an automobile accident, she’s placed in an orphanage in Mount Sterling, Kentucky. Plain and shy, Beth learns to play chess from the janitor in the basement and discovers she is a prodigy. The thrilling novel of one young woman’s journey through the worlds of chess and drug addiction.

Characters: 60. Amazon rating: 4 1/2 stars. Genre: Fiction.

BOOK COMPANION Editor Gerry Andeen Discusses The Queen's Gambit

     This is a story about finding out things as you grow up.  We begin with Beth Harmon in an orphanage.  She is a bright child and gets to clap the erasers in the basement where she sees the janitor with his attention on a chess board.  We follow her through the things she learns and experiences, friends, sex, addictions, etc. as she eventually plays the world champion chess grandmaster master.  One does not have to know much about chess to enjoy the story, but increasing knowledge enhances the reading experience.  I think the book should be required reading for students of Artificial Intelligence as well as of child development, and maybe chess.


     A common way to think about a chess move is to consider the position and find a good move from that position.  That is the way the early artificial intelligence game playing programs worked.  They considered every possible move from a given position, and every possible response, followed by the first player’s second move, down to as many levels as you could afford given machine speed and memory.  Then the machine evaluated all the end positions, picked the best one and made the move that led to that position.  Beside the large move tree created, the problem was to devise that critical evaluation algorithm.


     What is clear from The Queen’s Gambit is that, in addition to considering the board position, the master players think in terms of groups of moves.  They are often named for players who played them in famous games, Sillian defense, Queens gambit, Morphy’s branch.  The chess road is well trod and simply looking at a position does not take advantage of the accumulated chess knowledge.  Now I am not familiar with what is going on in chess AI, especially how neural networks are employed.  If the neural networks are only looking at a position, can they be improved by considering patterns of play?


     As already suggested, the book is more than about chess.  It is about discovery and learning.  It is about people and their interactions with each other.






Netflix series.

Understanding Drug Addiction.

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