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Unveiling The Queen's Gambit: A Deep Dive Into the Chess Saga

Hollywood  •  25 Oct, 2023  •  21,919 Views  •  ⭐ 2.5

Written by Shivani Chourasia

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If you've been captivated by the brilliance of Beth Harmon in Netflix's "The Queen's Gambit," then you're in for a treat. In this exploration, we'll delve deeper into the acclaimed miniseries, addressing key questions and shedding light on the intriguing aspects of the show. From the origins of this fictional chess prodigy's story to the intricacies of the Queen's Gambit itself, we've got all your queries covered. So, let's embark on this chess-themed journey together.


Is "The Queen's Gambit" a True Story?

Walter Tevis Was a Novelist. You Might Know His Books (Much) Better as  Movies. - The New York Times
Image Credits: The New York Times

While "The Queen's Gambit" might appear as a triumphant real-life sports story, it's actually an adaptation of a 1983 coming-of-age novel by Walter Tevis. Tevis, a chess enthusiast, consulted real chess masters to ensure the accurate portrayal of professional chess in his book. Therefore, Elizabeth Harmon's character is not based on a real orphaned chess prodigy from the '50s and '60s. However, if you're interested in real-life female chess players, Judit Polgar of Hungary is often considered the strongest in history.

Understanding the Queen's Gambit in Chess

Beth Harmon | The Queen's Gambit Main Character - Chess.com
Image Credits: Chess.com

In the realm of chess, a gambit is an opening move where a player sacrifices pieces to gain a favorable position later. "The Queen's Gambit" is one of the most popular gambits, known for its exceptional soundness even against perfect play. This is the move Beth employs in her climactic victory against Vasily Borgov, the Russian world champion. The Queen's Gambit's objective is to temporarily sacrifice a pawn to seize control of the center of the chessboard.



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Unveiling Beth's Tragic Family History

The Next Move is Yours: Tragedy Defines Strategy in 'The Queen's Gambit'  (Part One) – Curtain Going Up!
Image Credits: WordPress.com

At the tender age of 9, Beth Harmon experienced a harrowing family tragedy. Her real mother, Alice, took her own life by driving into an oncoming vehicle. This heartbreaking incident unfolded after Alice sought help from Beth's father, Paul, who had moved on to a new family. With nowhere to turn, Alice attempted a fatal crash, leaving Beth miraculously alive but emotionally scarred throughout her life.

The Enigmatic Pills Beth Takes

The Queen's Gambit Drugs: The Pills Beth Takes, Explained
Image Credits: Screen Rant

Beth's journey begins in an orphanage called the Methuen Home for Girls, where children are administered tranquillizer pills to ensure compliance. When a law prohibits the use of these pills and Beth's supply is cut off, she grapples with withdrawal symptoms and continues to battle her addiction.

Mrs. Wheatley's Mysterious Demise

Why THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT's Alma Is an Important Mother Figure - Nerdist
Image Credits: Nerdist

Following her whirlwind romance with pen pal Manuel in Mexico City, Mrs. Wheatley fails to attend Beth's crucial chess match with Borgov. Beth returns to her hotel room only to discover Mrs. Wheatley dead. The coroner attributes her death to hepatitis, an inflammatory liver condition aggravated by her alcoholism.


Beth's Triumph Over Benny Watts

The Queen's Gambit: In praise of the Netflix series' Thomas Brodie-Sangster.
Image Credits: slate.com

In her initial encounter with Benny Watts, the reigning US champion, at the US Open in Las Vegas, Beth suffers defeat. However, with guidance from ex-Kentucky state champion Harry Beltik, she learns to study her opponents and their past games meticulously. Armed with a copy of Chess Review featuring Watts, Beth turns the tables in their final match at the US Championship in Ohio, swiftly defeating him in 30 moves.

Decoding the Concept of Adjournment in Chess

Adjournment | Chess Terms - Chess.com
Image Credits: Chess.com

During Beth's pivotal match against Borgov in Russia, he requests an adjournment until the next day. This involves writing his next move on paper and sealing it in an envelope, to be revealed in the next session. This strategic move ensures that neither player knows the board's state when it's their turn to play.

Why Borgov Opted for Adjournment?

Episode 6 - Adjournment - Borgov - The Queen's Gambit photo (43678611) -  fanpop
Image Credits: fanpop

In the climactic showdown between Beth and Borgov at the Moscow Invitational, Beth appears fatigued, having played numerous long matches. Surprisingly, it's Borgov who suggests ending the session and resuming the next day. This decision likely reflects Borgov's acknowledgement of facing younger opponents, such as Beth, and his uncertainty about his ability to maintain his winning streak. "I can fight against anyone but time," he reveals in an interview, signaling his potential fatigue and the looming threat of defeat.


The Chess Moves on Screen

A Coach, a Nerd and a Passion for books
Image Credits: New In Chess

The meticulously detailed chess sequences in the series were crafted under the guidance of chess coach Bruce Pandolfini, who also advised on the original novel. They drew inspiration from real games and likely utilized chess engines to generate strong moves. Notably, Beth and Borgov's final match was based on a game between Vasyl Ivanchuk and Patrick Wolff, albeit with a different outcome. The reference to Borgov's standing ovation after Beth's win mirrors a historic moment from the 1972 World Championship between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer.

The Chess Community's Response

The Queen's Gambit: That ending explained and all your questions answered -  CNET
Image Credits: CNET

Critics have lauded "The Queen's Gambit," and it has garnered positive reviews from chess players. However, some criticism has arisen due to the exclusive use of men's games as the foundation for fictional matches. Jennifer Shahade, former US Women's Chess Champion, expressed that including women's games would have been a welcome addition.

Chess Etiquette in "The Queen's Gambit"

Who Plays Harry On 'The Queen's Gambit'? Harry Melling Is A 'Harry Potter'  Alum
Image Credits: Bustle

While "The Queen's Gambit" accurately portrays chess games, it takes artistic liberties with the etiquette surrounding talking during matches. Typically, players communicate only to declare check, checkmate, or offer a draw. Beth, however, engages in more conversation during her games, including a memorable exchange with Harry Beltik.

Remembering Iepe Rubingh

Iepe Rubingh, 1974 – 2020 | ChessBase
Image Credits: ChessBase

The series is dedicated to Iepe Rubingh, the creator of chess boxing, who passed away at 45. Chess boxing is a unique hybrid sport where competitors alternate between chess and boxing rounds.


"The Queen's Gambit" has not only entertained audiences but also ignited a fascination with chess. While the story of Beth Harmon is fictional, its impact on the world of chess and its portrayal of the game have left an indelible mark. As we bid adieu to this intriguing miniseries, we continue to appreciate its storytelling and the game of chess it brought to the forefront of popular culture.

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