Is Queen’s Gambit a Real Story? Beth Harmon Really Existed?

My top questions about The Queen's Gambit, Netflix mini-series, answered!
Is Queen's Gambit a True Story? Beth Harmon Really Existed?
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The Queen’s Gambit took audiences by surprise, quickly becoming a huge hit and one of Netflix‘s biggest releases last year. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, the story follows Beth Harmon, a young woman with excellent chess talent who seeks to reach the top of the sport while dealing with alcohol and drug addiction.

The impact was such that not only did the production become a worldwide success, but research suggests that even interest in chess increased due to its influence.

Still, the public remained with some doubts about the series. For example, is the main character based on an actual female player? What is a gambit? What is the series inspired by? In this article, I bring you the answers to the main questions about The Queen’s Gambit!

Did Beth Harmon Really Exist?

The simple answer is no, but that does not mean that she was not inspired by real people. While the series’s protagonist is purely fictional, her journey has been compared to great chess players, especially Vera Menchik and Judit Polgár. Both became famous for breaking gender barriers in the sport, competing in previously male-dominated tournaments.

Like Harmon, Menchik began learning to play in childhood. According to The Washington Post, she was the first woman to compete in male tournaments and become the first to participate in high-level matches. However, her way of playing was somewhat different from Beth Harmon in the series, who tends to be more aggressive in her moves.

Polgár, on the other hand, was the first player to compete in a world championship and place in the top ten. Unlike Menchik, she refused to play in competitions exclusively for women, preferring to enter open tournaments usually dominated by men. Despite the comparisons between her and Harmon, the real player was very young when the character was written, only becoming known outside her country later.

Finally, Beth Harmon has also been compared to Bobby Fischer, another player who started early and became a world champion by defeating a Soviet opponent. Despite all the similarities to real people, however, Harmon’s creator, Walter Tevis, denies that Harmon was inspired by a particular player.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in the series.
Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in the series.

Who is Beth Harmon Based On?

The story on which the Netflix series is based had its origin in literature, written by  Walter Tevis, as mentioned earlier. The American writer published the novel of the same name as the series in 1983, a year before his death.

Like in the series, the protagonist is Beth Harmon, an orphan girl who proves extremely talented at chess. Her goal is to become the best in the world, but while advancing in the sport, she must deal with the addiction she acquired while living in an orphanage.

The basis of the story is the same in both versions. The divergences between the original and the adapted version are minimal, with the characters and situations remaining the same for the most part.

What is a Gambit?

The gambit in the series’ name comes from chess moves. The concept of these moves would be to look for a way to gain an advantage by sacrificing a piece. Thus, this “trick” often works also as a way to shake the opponent’s emotions.

The “Queen’s Gambit” is the name of a traditional chess move that has existed since at least the 15th century and is one of the oldest known chess openings. In it, the pawn in front of the queen and bishop moves forward, giving more freedom for those pieces to move. In the series, Beth uses this move a few times.

Are the Russians Good Chess Players Like in The Series?

Harmon faces Borgov in chess.

Although it is not possible to state in general that every Russian is a good chess player, the fact is that the sport is very important in the country, which has some great players.

There is a connection between the game and the Russian culture, which has a long tradition. The sport even became a political dispute during the Cold War, when representatives of the United States and the Soviet Union faced each other.

Beth’s ultimate goal in the Netflix series is to defeat her Russian rival and world champion, Vasily Borgov. Although both are fictional characters, the rivalry has a factual basis, as the political dispute occurred during the Cold War.

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PopCorn Princess

PopCorn Princess

Hey there, I'm Princess. I’m an annual comic con attendee, Star Wars-loving, and collector freak. My mission is simple: To bring cool geeky news and content and share my passion with the rest of the world. (... I secretly wish to save the world as a superheroine...)