Reports | April 18, 2012 15:30

Chess plays major role in TV series Endgame

Chess plays major role in Endgame

While chess is usually not more than part of a decor in cinema, or – even worse – a way to emphasize a character's twisted mind, it plays a major role in the TV series Endgame which premiered last year on the Canadian network Showcase. Last week's profile in the New York Times drew our attention to the show that stars Shawn Doyle, playing crime-solver Arkady Balagan.

In the synopsis Balagan is described as a former World Champion, born in the Soviet Union but "escaped when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down".

He came to Vancouver, the hometown of his fiancée, Rosemary, to take part in a tournament. Rosemary was going to lunch with an old friend. As they waved goodbye, a vehicle drove up. He watched as Rosemary died in a hail of bullets.

The local police said it was a case of mistaken identity. Balagan became traumatized; convinced he was the real target. It was Vladimir Putin's revenge for Balagan having given millions to the pro-democracy forces in Russia.

Balagan won't leave his luxury hotel suite for months, until he helps finding a missing boy and proving the innocence of the boy's father. Thus he earns a reputation for solving mysteries and figuring out the impossible. In the series, each week people come with problems that have stymied the police, or problems that they cannot even bring to the authorities. Balagin is assisted by Sam, a grad student and chess fanatic, and Alcina, a hotel maid from Guatemala. Danni, the hotel bartender, is his source for information and contacts, as well as an ear for his theories.

Promo video

Although Balagan cannot leave the hotel, he solves the puzzles in his head. Literally, as the synopsis writes.

He can imagine events, interview the living and the dead, go over every permutation and combination of events. He imagines it one way, then another; and we have the privilege of entering his mind and seeing it all with him, until finally he figures it out.

During all of this Balagan is also trying to figure out who killed Rosemary and why. With the assistance of her sister, Pippa, he explores many theories, but to no avail.

So the question remains: Why can he solve every case - except his own?

And so  Endgame is special in a way that chess is more than just decor: the main character is in fact a former player, and his great intellect helps him to solve crimes. (Well, maybe times are changin', as our blogger GM David Smerdon recently noted!) On top of that, Balagan is often seen playing chess, and some of the plots are built around the games.

The series was created by Avrum Jacobson, a writer for TV series since 1987. He said to the New York Times:

To me it is a metaphor. Someone who plays chess is able to think in a certain way. I thought it had a lot of great visuals.

The show still doesn't seem to be available in Europe and apparently the Showcase network did not renew the series. However, it has been picked up by Hulu, which is considering the production of a second season. This was reported by the New York Times - their article is recommended for reading more about Endgame.

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


filiusdextris's picture

I watched all 13 episodes on hulu for free (in two weeks) and it is extremely well produced and acted. The writing is thoughtful, witty, and suspenseful. There is a lot of meta-chess (believably portrayed) but only a little actual chess. Still what is actually shown, when paused, is accurately described and evaluated.

As a conservative (morally) Christian, I did have some moral issues with some of the tacitly accepted culture, but the approval is modest and nothing is graphically shown. These edgy issues were never the main focus, however, so I turned an eye for now.

I really hope they produce a second season. I'm a huge detective fiction fan, and Balagan holds his own with Poirot (the best comparison) and Sherlock Holmes.

Lee's picture

Though I only stuck around for the first couple of episodes, I agree that the acting and production was very good.

I wasn't on board with the character being stuck in a hotel though, so didn't stay the journey for the season.

Anonymous's picture

This trailer is also good:

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