Beth Harmon rarely had luck with finding good father figures in The Queen’s Gambit, but her first chess teacher, Mr. Shaibel, was the exception.
Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) dealt with multiple detached father figures throughout The Queen’s Gambit, but only one man, Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), provided that critical support for the chess prodigy. Beth was never close with her biological father, Paul (Sergio Di Zio), as her mother Alice (Chloe Pirrie) kept her from him, and he eventually gave up on seeing either of them. Alice later fell into poverty and sought Paul’s assistance. Despite his financial stability, Paul refused to help his daughter. This left Alice hopeless, and she attempted murder-suicide by crashing their car with her and Beth inside. However, the resulting wreck only killed Alice, and Beth landed in an orphanage.Continue scrolling to keep reading
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At the Queen’s Gambit orphanage, Beth found a friend in Jolene (Moses Ingram), an older orphan, and excelled in her schoolwork. Still, the uncertainty of her future weighed heavily upon her. The possibility of aging out of the system without being adopted became more real by the day. A trip to the orphanage’s basement led to a fateful encounter with Mr. Shaibel, the orphanage’s custodian. She was mesmerized by the chess game in front of him. Though Shaibel was initially skeptical of the child’s worthiness as a chess opponent, her keen observation skills convinced him to teach her to play.
Related: The Queen’s Gambit: Why Beth’s Two Dads Are Both So Terrible
Although Mr. Shaibel remained stoic throughout his many games with Beth, he saw what an amazing player she was becoming. He was the only male authority figure to encourage her budding passions, and Shaibel’s mentorship was critical for molding the girl into the chess master she would eventually become. Beyond his role as a coach, Mr. Shaibel truly cared deeply for Beth, making him the closest thing she ever had to a supportive father.
Mr. Shaibel was reluctant to teach Beth in the first place. He believed that chess was not for girls, and had little patience for her childlike frustrations with the game. However, when Beth’s potential became apparent, he consistently nurtured her talents, and connected Beth to opportunities to improve. Even after Beth was adopted, Shaibel helped jumpstart her chess career. When her new adoptive family only introduced another absentee father to Beth’s life, she turned to her former mentor for assistance, and he paid the entry fee for her first chess tournament. After mastering the game, she would remember the custodian’s teachings in her most critical moments, showing how meaningful their relationship was to Beth in Queen’s Gambit.
Despite his icy exterior, Beth was more than just a chess prodigy to Mr. Shaibel. He offered little praise, but his admittance that Beth was an “astounding” player was particularly heartfelt. After his mentee made quick work of an entire team of older chess players, Shaibel bought her chocolates as a reward and listened to her recollection of the games with genuine interest. Long after his last encounter with Beth, Mr. Shaibel kept up with her progress as a player through newspaper clippings. In turn, Beth always tried to assert Shaibel’s importance to her in interviews but was often silenced. Unlike her other, more toxic relationships, Mr. Shaibel truly rooted for Beth, without having ulterior motives.
Throughout Queen’s Gambit, Beth Harmon and Mr. Shaibel influenced each other greatly, which makes the loss of contact between the two all the more tragic. Beth never forgot about all he did for her, but the fast-paced world of competitive chess was simply too hectic for her to reach out to him. Without Shaibel’s steady guidance, Beth was vulnerable to more duplicitous mentors. Seeing Mr. Shaibel’s bulletin board dedicated to her in the last episode of The Queen’s Gambit not only helped Beth pick herself back up, but reminded her of the years of friendship she missed out on while traveling the world.
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About The Author
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Kristen Abernathy is a Movies and TV Features writer at Screen Rant. She is a current third year Biology student at the University of California, Los Angeles who loves science fiction as much as real science. When she isn’t studying, she’s reading comics, watching movies, and writing her own short stories.
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