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10-year-old chess prodigy can help you beat ‘Queen’s Gambit’ Beth Harmon
Ten-year-old brainiac Oliver Boydell recently called “checkmate” on one of his favorite rivals, chess prodigy Beth Harmon of “The Queen’s Gambit.”
“I am technically undefeated against her,” said the Manhattan fifth-grader, who narrowly beat the fictional anti-heroine on his iPad. The victory ended a Chess.com challenge pitting real players, such as Oliver, against simulated versions of the fictitious Beth at different ages and correlating degrees of difficulties.
Tapping into the global obsession sparked by the hit Netflix series and the 2020 stay-at-home advisories, the baby-faced national and New York City champion has now published a book: “He’s Got Moves: 25 Legendary Chess Games as Analyzed by a Smart Kid” (Metabook, out now).
The guide — whose rights have already been acquired for film and TV — breaks down more than a dozen of the most riveting clashes in history. They range from “The Immortal Game” of 1851 between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky, to Magnus Carlsen’s online triumph earlier this year against Russian-Dutch star Anish Giri.
Like “The Queen’s Gambit,” Oliver manages to make chess play-by-plays exciting.
“The knight moves into position,” he writes of a move in “The Immortal Game.” “Attack, attack, attack! Both White rooks are now threatened.”
He annotates each with lessons that even fledgling players can apply to their own practice, such as how to dominate by focusing on attacking with minor pieces (such as bishops and knights), like Anderssen did in the aforementioned 1851 match. Another lesson from that infamous game? “You can move your king early and still be OK,” he writes.
“I love seeing these games from legendary players,” Oliver told The Post, after explaining how he took up chess at the age of 5 with encouragement from his parents, Tiffany and Paul. “I had so many notes from [studying] them, I decided to write a book.”
It was completed in record time thanks to the extended hours he spent at his family’s Tribeca apartment during the spring and summer lockdown.
The foreword is written by the most celebrated of the boy’s three chess tutors: Bruce Pandolfini, 73, a primary consultant on “The Queen’s Gambit,” who makes a cameo appearance in the drama. The former coach of late Brooklyn-bred grandmaster, Bobby Fischer, Pandolfini was portrayed by actor Ben Kingsley in the 1993 biopic “Searching for Bobby Fischer.”
Pandolfini initially met Oliver in early 2016, a few months after the gifted young mathematician had earned one of his first big trophies at the National Kindergarten Chess Championship. Pandolfini said he was “a very bright kid from the start” who “really loves the beauty and aesthetics of chess.
“He’s a perfectionist and has that drive to be the best of the best,” the expert said.
As the author of around 40 chess best sellers, he joked that he wouldn’t mind if Oliver’s debut publication outsold his collection.
“I hope that happens,” Pandolfini said. “What better wish [than] to empower students to do better than their teacher?”
Oliver, who plans to follow in Fischer’s footsteps, might well do so. Before COVID-19 took hold, he was a star attraction at the renowned Marshall Chess Club in Greenwich Village where he frequently outmaneuvered the adults.
He also has taken on grown strangers in chess hot spots like Washington Square Park. Intrigued passers-by tend to crowd around the pint-sized genius who likes to draw up his trademark hoodie to limit peripheral vision and “keep focused.”
“When I win, I always feel proud and happy,” said Oliver. “Even when I Iose, I’m happy because I know I can learn from my mistakes.”
His mom, Tiffany, a 49-year-old lawyer, who has accompanied her son to chess tournaments throughout America and across the world, is bursting with pride.
“Chess is his passion,” she said, noting that his other interests include skiing, soccer and the video game “Fortnite.”
The wunderkind also has a penchant for TV — naming his favorite show as, what else? “The Queen’s Gambit.”
“It proves that anyone can really get engaged with chess and become a phenomenal player,” Oliver said.
But what about its frequently discussed R-rated scenes involving the main protagonist Beth?
“We call them the ‘adult portion,’ ” said Tiffany. “That’s when I press the fast forward button.”