“Relatively recently, there was a series in which a chess club played a very important role” is how I was planning to start this blog post. This was supposed to suggest that I meant Queen’s gambit. I would then have revealed that the readers had been tricked, backstabbed, and quite possibly bamboozled because I actually meant Cheerleaders in the chess club. Then I realised that the title give it all away. Being of a lazy disposition, I decided to just add quotation marks and make do with this odd self-referential introduction.
The drawback of that is that I haven’t really told you anything about our subject yet. So let’s remedy that. Cheerleaders in the chess club is a web series about, well, cheerleaders that join the chess club. It is produced by YAP TV. The YAP is an abbreviation for young actors production and, indeed, this is one of those rare high school shows that actually features high schoolers. The plan is that I’m going to watch the first season and give my comments.
Right at the beginning, two members of the cheerleading squad, Ashley and Jessica, join the chess club. I certainly can’t chide the series for false advertising. I can chide them for lack of realism, though: not including the new members, there are four girls in the club and only two boys.1
They turn out to be a hodgepodge of freaks and weirdos. Ashley takes Howard apart — together with Gwen co-captain of the club — and complains about this. She says she doesn’t want to be in chess club after all, but Howard threatens that he’ll post “the video” if she pulls out! Oh no! It probably shows her kicking a puppy. Or maybe that her dad’s D. B. Cooper.
Verdict: Wait and see! There is not really any chess in this episode. That’s sad, but it makes some sense, as the cheerleaders have only just entered the club.
Beth, a girl who doesn’t talk and was sent to chess club by her counsellor,2 tries to get Ashley to play. Ashley outs herself as the freakiest of the weirdos: she doesn’t want to play. Beth — who has black, mind you — starts with 1. c5 and mopes until Ashley answers with 1. … h4. Oh dear. These are not very good players, are they?
Meanwhile, Howard and Gwen are trying to film something for their vlog. Brie, the snarky one in the chess club, absconds Howard’s phone to look for “the video”. Ashley gets annoyed at Beth’s quietness and storms off. Jessica takes her place and tries to comfort Beth a bit. She’s probably the kindest one of the bunch. Dumb as a rock, but kind.
Brie has finally finds something that might be “the video”: Howard is filming himself in his room when Ashley walks in. She says that she was playing truth or dare and that she was dared to do “this”. Gwen snatches the phone back before we see what “this” is, but I have my suspicions. It’s probably something really embarrassing, like “play Bird’s opening”.
Verdict: Some steps are taken on the chess front, but they’re backwards. Apart from that, fare seems fair. Standard, but fair.
Aha! Now this is what we’re talking about! Right at the very beginning of this episode, we see Ashley playing Gwen. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. They have the board set up wrongly in two ways: h1 is a black square, and the kings and queens have swapped places. Moreover, the position is this one:3
and, while I’m still willing — albeit reluctantly — to accept that some people like the Trompowsky (1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5), I find it very hard to believe that anyone in a chess club would continue 2. … Ng4 3. Nc3 Nc6. Then again, I also find it hard to believe that anyone in a chess club would switch the positions of kings and queens. Ashley is messing about on her phone and plays a3 without looking. That’s a serious faux pas, considering it’s not her move. Gwen doesn’t even notice and plays e5. She gets mated. I need an aspirin.
Brie wants Howard to do another chess blog so she has an excuse to get at his phone. While he looks through her script, she is of to the bathroom again with the phone. Meanwhile, Ashley gets in another tiff with Beth.
Somehow, by some baffling twist in someone’s brain, the idea is launched that Beth would start talking if she got a kiss. Garth, local pseudo-playboy is volunteered. When he goes for it, she screams ‘no’ and flees to the bathroom. There she finds Brie and they see ‘the video’: Ashley kissing Howard during a game of truth or dare. Seriously? That’s the blackmail material? Not an hour ago, she was massacring a Trompowsky in plain view and this is what’s she’s ashamed of?
Verdict: The more chess there is, the worse it seems to get. The rest of the plot has taken a sharp turn for the ludicrous, too. This doesn’t bode well. But there’s still a glimmer of hope: perhaps it doesn’t bode at all.
Beth tries to tell Ashley about the video but, while she does speak nowadays, she has no volume just yet and Ashley goes to cheerleading practice without knowing about the video. However, Brie has sent it to her arch nemesis.4 To make matters worse, Ashley falls and hits her head during practice.
Then things get a little bit trippy. Everyone is behaving exactly as they normally don’t. Jessica is a doctor now, Beth is talking like her life depends on it, Brie want to be a cheerleader. Hell, there’s a chess position on the wall — and it makes sense!
At first glance, that is. I’m not so sure it holds up to scrutiny. The bishop on a5 strongly suggest that this was a Nimzo-Indian, but I couldn’t tell you what kind of Nimzo-Indian or, indeed, how white’s e-pawn got exchanged for black’s d-pawn. I have looked through some databases, but haven’t found a match.5
Plotwise, Ashley’s rival finds her and promises she will not spread the video if and only if Ashley gives up her captaincy of the cheerleading squad. In response, Ashley kisses Howard again and posts the video online. Yay.
Verdict: Probably the best episode. The chess is better and the surreal concussion sequence is probably the series’ best. It’s still not great, though.
Final verdict: Too much waddling, too little chess.
1. [Those numbers don’t reflect the membership of chess clubs, but it probably reflects that of theatre clubs very well.]↩
2. [It seems like every child in this school has a counsellor. Is this an American thing? A fiction thing? Or am I just too old to have stumbled across them.]↩
3. [If you want to impress the cheerleaders in your chess club, I suggest you make your diagrams here.]↩
4. [Do highschoolers routinely have arch nemeses? Movies seem to think they do, but I find that hard to believe.]↩
5. [My investigation went up in flames.]↩