"Openings" is the first episode of The Queen's Gambit. Along with the rest of the series, it was released on Netflix on October 23, 2020.
"Openings" starts with a short cold opening from episode 6, Adjournment, of Elizabeth Harmon waking up wasted in a tub in Paris. Beth quickly dresses, downs some tranquilizers, and rushes barefoot through her hotel to her match with world champion chess player Vasily Borgov.
You’re all a bunch of fucking cocksuckers!
The cold opening ends as time rewinds to a point where Beth is nine years old, having just survived a head-on collision with a truck. Alice Harmon, Beth's mother and the driver of the car, did not survive the crash, leaving Beth an orphan since her father is gone, presumed to have had a "carefree life". She's adopted by the Methuen Home, a Christian girls' orphanage, and her first impression of the place is Jolene spewing profanities at the orphanage staff.
Beth is given vitamins and tranquilizers (for temperament), has her clothes burned and her hair cut, and dreams of her mother's last words to "close your eyes" before she died. She remembers her father, Paul, trying to be a part of her life, only for her mother to send him away for one final time. The next day, Beth alarms her teachers with her math skills, who allow her to leave early to clean erasers. She witnesses Jolene being dragged away to have her mouth washed out with soap, and down in the basement where she has to clean the erasers, Beth notices William Shaibel playing chess with himself. That night, when she takes her tranquilizers, she visualizes a chess board on the ceiling, using the heightened senses from the tranquilizers to play in her head.
After witnessing a girl named "Mary-Sue" get adopted before her, Beth continues hiding her tranquilizers to take at night, and asks Mr. Shaibel to teach her chess, although he initially denies her. That night, and many nights hence, Beth continues to play chess on the ceiling, under the influence of tranquilizers. She eventually manages to convince Mr. Shaibel to play with her, and he easily defeats her with the Scholar's Mate. Although she demands an explanation, he refuses again, and she practices once more with a particularly large dose of tranquilizer.
They play again the next day, wherein Mr. Shaibel takes her queen in such a fashion that necessitates resignation, as a part of good sportsmanship. Beth refuses to resign, but Mr. Shaibel won't entertain an unsportsmanlike continuance of the game and leaves to get a drink, so Beth becomes enraged and calls him a "cocksucker". Mr. Shaibel orders her to get out and locks the basement door to prevent her seeing him the next day. Forced to clean her erasers outside, she sees boys, and later asks Jolene what "cocksucker" means.
Chagrined, Beth later finds that Mr. Shaibel forgave her and opened the basement to her, willing to play her once again. This time, Beth finally beats Mr. Shaibel, albeit narrowly, and Mr. Shaibel takes it badly. He advises her to learn the Sicilian Defense, and notes that the squares even have names, but refuses to speak more on either subject in his eagerness for a rematch. As time goes on, he opens up more and teaches her advanced chess moves, openings, and strategies, with Beth often missing math class to play chess. She also notices life outside the orphanage, seeing girls and boys kissing each other. Eventually, Mr. Shaibel's respect for her rises to the point where he begins treating her as an equal, allowing her to occasionally play White, "the way the game should be played".
After losing once again, Mr. Shaibel gives Beth a gift: Modern Chess Openings, a book to help her continue to hone her skills. Further, he agrees to finally teach her chess notation so that she can understand the book, and finally compliments her innate skill; at nine years old, no less. Going forward, she ignores many of her classes to study her chess book instead. The next time she visists Mr. Shaibel, a representative from the local chess club named Mr. Ganz is with him. They go through the opening, at which point Beth declares "mate in three", and demonstrates how, impressing Mr. Ganz.
Mr. Ganz gives her a doll gift, but she only wishes to play again, so she plays Mr. Shaibel and Mr. Ganz simultaneously. After beating Mr. Shaibel, she walks away from the boards and runs her last game in her head, calling back her moves to Mr. Ganz without actually looking at the pieces, and then wins yet again. Astounded, Mr. Ganz asks to take her picture with Mr. Shaibel before departing. When Mr. Ganz is gone, Beth quickly throws her doll in the trash, having no interest in it.
Mr. Ganz returns later to offer Beth a chance to play a simultaneous 1v12 against the entire high school chess club, with Shirley Munson accompanying her in order to assuage Headmistress Deardorff's concerns. Before Beth is dismissed, Mrs. Deardorff says that playing chess in the basement is "highly irregular", and so has Mr. Fergussen look into getting a chess set from the game closet so she can play in the open. However, Beth is alarmed to learn that she cannot have any more tranquilizers, due to a new state law forbidding the practice. She begins to go into withdrawal, but Jolene gets her one last dose so that she'll be calm and collected for her chess match.
Beth plays the entire chess club and beats them all, including their best player, Charles Levy, in 80 minutes. Mr. Shaibel, proud of her accomplishment, gives her chocolate to celebrate while they discuss how bad the high school chess players were at the match. Her elation is short lived however, as withdrawal symptoms send her begging to Jolene for more drugs. Eventually, in desperation, she sneaks away from a movie theater and breaks into the medical station, where she stuffs her face with pills and attempts to steal it. She's caught with the jar in her hand, but passes out due to overdose.
- The Title refers to the games how does a chess game begins: specifically at the show, Levenfish variation, Najdorf variation, Sicilian Defense and The Queen's Gambit.