The Queen's Gambit (2020)

The True Story Behind Netflix's Chess Series 'The Queen's Gambit'

By: Domonique Cox-Salberg

Following a 9-year-old orphan and prodigious introvert named Beth Harmon, the series chronicles her discovery and mastery of chess in 1960s USA. Which we soon find out in the series her child stardom comes at a price. A story most may think and hope is true—who doesn’t like seeing an underdog child prodigy? Sadly, The Queen’s Gambit ( referring one of the oldest known chess openings) is not one of them, but also not entirely fictitious. Thus, starring the actress with the memorable large wide-set eyes, Anya Taylor-Joy as the lead Beth Harmon, the story was adapted from a book and some of the author’s real experiences.

The Queen’s Gambit Novel by Walter Tevis

An American novel that, just like the 2020 mini-series, explored a female chess prodigy’s life and was initially published in 1983. Themes of drug addiction, feminism, chess, and alcoholism are covered with one of its main concerns highlighting the inner workings of genius in a woman. Moreover, as stated before, many of the accounts from the series draw inspiration from the author’s own experiences, as stated in a 1983 interview with The New York Times.

For instance, the chess scenes came from his time as a Class C competitor. His early days as a chess player began with his sister and neighborhood kids. Winning a prize of $250 is what allowed him to become a Class C player. Admitting he is better than most average players but fears playing “guys who set up boards in the street on Broadway,” so he now plays against a computer. Though he insists he does play well enough to know what a good game is.

As for Beth’s drug addiction, it, too, came from real-life experience. Tevis was diagnosed as having a rheumatic heart and given heavy drug doses in a hospital, where Beth’s drug dependency comes from in the novel. He later states in the Times interview: “Writing about her was purgative. There was some pain—I did a lot of dreaming while writing that part of the story. But artistically, I didn’t allow myself to be self-indulgent.” All in all, Tevis wanted the novel to be a tribute to brainy women and showcase his appreciation for Beth’s bravery and intelligence. He is then said to have realized how women had to hide their brains, but not today. Whether a fan of chess or not, The Queen’s Gambit is great for anyone interested in an underdog story, prodigies, and the exploration of brainy women.

All seven episodes are available for streaming on Netflix.

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2 thoughts on “The True Story Behind Netflix’s Chess Series ‘The Queen’s Gambit’”

  1. I love this show so much. The way you went about explaining the Netflix series was perfect. Short but very well written. I love how I learned something new, which was the fact that it was inspired by the authors real life events and personal experience…I had no idea. I was so curious to see how the internet would perceive this series which I honestly wasn’t impressed with because I didn’t read anything as good as this. Makes me want to watch it for the 3rd time.. haha obsessed. Love this!!

    1. I was surprised it was based on the author as well, mainly that he chose to turn it into a female-centric story that created more intrigue since chess is not explored too often in this capacity. Thanks for the kind words, Deylin!

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