The Queen’s Gambit; A Netflix-induced theory that cannabis makes you a better chess player
If you’ve been binge-watching a Netflix show, then you’re not alone. My latest go-to has been The Queen’s Gambit. Is it just me, or did they manage to make chess seem like a sexy and glamorous game? This latest Netflix binge has me putting The Queen’s Gambit and cannabis together, like does cannabis make you a better chess player? If you haven’t seen the show, then spoilers are ahead.
In The Queen’s Gambit (based on the novel of the same name), the protagonist, Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), is a child-prodigy turned world champion chess player who unfortunately battles addiction with alcohol and pills. In the show, she also mentions cannabis as one of her vices. Although the show takes place in the 1960s in America, cannabis is definitely in the same category as harsher drugs in comparison at the time. And they do not disappoint with the stoner stereotypes of that time either.
Taylor-Joy described taking on the role of Beth Harmon without prior knowledge of chess and described learning chess as likened to being introduced to a secret world. If chess is a ‘secret world,’ then cannabis chess is likely to be a ‘micro secret world’.
Before we dive into this topic of discussion, it must be prefaced that this post is in no way trying to dismiss or glamourize the severity of addiction and drug abuse.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please contact these Canadian National and Provincial helplines.
Chess has long been considered an Olympic sport and must abide by anti-doping laws the same way any other recognized sport would, and cannabis or any cannabinoid-based substance is on the banned list. Therefore, all contestants at chess tournaments must be as Beth Harmon would say, “…sober as a judge” while partaking in one of the world’s oldest and most popular games.
However, from an adult-use cannabis consumer and wannabe chess player perspective, this begs the question.
Does cannabis make you a better chess player?
If you give this topic a quick little google, this continues to be debated long before legalization came around. Chess forums are full of enthusiasts posting about their ratings and scores with and without Mary Jane as their chess entourage. I recall watching a video by Vice Media about a man named Russ Hudson who does marijuana reviews for a living. He mentions a particular strain of cannabis that is his ‘secret weapon’, where he consumes it to play chess; however, he didn’t say whether or not he wins at his chess games.
In the show (unrelated to cannabis), Beth Harmon mentions that she has a “dependence” on her pills because it “clouds her mind and helps her imagine the board and pieces more clearly”. This is a fascinating perspective of understanding someone’s mental state when strategizing through a game of chess, albeit against gaming rules and not to mention an unhealthy practice.
If you’re playing chess to win, then cannabis may not be something that will work in your favour. It could make the game more enjoyable and relaxing, and depending on the strain of cannabis, it can help refine your sense of focus to see strategies a little clearer. However, if you’re not a serious player, you may not even notice the difference. It still makes for a great pass time, and chess is a game that can go on for hours.
So to answer this age-old question, there’s no way of knowing. Cannabis experiences vary depending on the person and their vibes for the game. If you feel like you’re a better player with the help of Mary Jane, then that’s what ultimately matters. Chess is like any other sport, you have to practice to get good at it, and cannabis is not a magic potion that will make you into a fictional Beth Harmon or a non-fictional Magnus Carlsen.
A great way to find out is to micro-dose as if you’re getting ready for a workout and record your chess moves, feelings, and overall experience with the game. Counting ratings alone probably won’t do it in this context. But chess is a game of the mind, and like any part of your body, it requires exercise and practice to stay healthy, and if cannabis can aid in your journey of becoming a better casual/amateur chess player, then why not?
Regardless of your cannabis and chess stance, it’s quite common that chess has found its way into cannabis lounges and even low-key tournaments before legalization. It’s become the go-to cannabis board game at coffeeshops and lounges in Amsterdam. In 2019, a cannabis-friendly chess tournament took place in celebration of 420 in Victoria, British Columbia. Although it’s not common practice yet or mainstream for chess tournaments to be deemed cool. The Queen’s Gambit holds its own when it comes to personifying chess as a sport of the mind and exposing this ‘secret world’ to the rest of us.
So let us know in the comments how you do with a game of chess and Mary Jane by your side!