In the latest Netflix release, The Queen’s Gambit, colourful fiction amalgamates with a stunning, real-life accuracy. Beth Harmon is a fictional female chess prodigy, while Berlin impressively doubles for Kentucky, Paris, Moscow and other cities – the depiction of every game of chess featured in the series, is nothing other than accurate.
What Is The Queen’s Gambit?
The fictional games for the show were created by chess coach Bruce Pandolfini and Garry Kasparaov, probably the most famous chess player in history, the actors learned and memorised every single move.
The Queen’s Gambit in the Chess Set
Chess is incomprehensible to most and is a tough art to learn. Most Netflix viewers surely don’t understand the significance of *1. d4 d5 2. c4? which is known as The Queen’s Gambit, one of the oldest and greatest moves in the game of chess.
The Queen’s Gambit in the Series Set
The Queen’s Gambit was set mainly in the 1960s, but women weren’t allowed to compete in the world chess championship until 20 years later, in the 1980s.
However, Hungarian player Judit Polgár became the youngest female chess grandmaster in history at just 15 years old in 1991. Polgár refused to compete in women's tournaments, instead, she planned on going up against and beating the best male chess players of her time.
Prior, Polgár’s older sister, Susan Polgár, fought for women to qualify in the World Chess Championship in 1986. But are these women the inspiration behind the Netflix series? Let’s find out.
The Inspiration Behind the Series
The Netflix series is based on Walter Tevis’ book of the same title. Tevis was born in San Francisco in 1928, he learned to play chess at the age of 7, but did not compete professionally until he was an adult. Although he never ascended to Beth’s level, he undoubtedly drew some aspects of the protagonist's story from his own experiences.
Tevis also spent a lot of his childhood in a convalescent home due to medical complications. During this time, his parents sadly abandoned him.
Carers at the convalescent facility drugged him regularly with phenobarbital, which was administered three times a day. Trevis credited this experience with drugs that later saw him face alcoholism in adult life - a parallel that is crystal clear in the book and series.
The Main Character
Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Beth Harmon said; “I essentially learned the chess sequences just as I do with dances - this helped me remember the routines because I am a trained dancer". Anya Taylor-Joy continued: “It helped me memorise how everything worked.”
Upon learning this, we were greatly impressed with the effort that went into this production by each cast member. But how will this stunning portrayal of the gameplay out in real life?
Beth Harmon’s story is similar to that of American Grandmaster- Bobby Fischer.
In a slate interview, grandmaster Kasparov identified the similarities of Beth's story to American chess grandmaster Bobby Ficher.
Ficher died in 2008 at the young age of 64. In his obituary, The New York Times described his playing style with words that could fit Beth’s particular traits: “ “dramatic”, “volatile”, “difficult”, and “brilliant”.
Post- The Queen’s Gambit: Chess Sets On the Rise
Since the first episode aired on October 23rd, interest in chess surged. According to eBay data, there was a 273% increase in searches for “chess sets'' on the popular auction site. This percentage was calculated in the 10 days following the show's debut release on Netflix - for context, that works out at one search for “chess sets'' every six seconds.
eBay wasn’t the only platform that saw a rise in searches for “chess set”, chess games have been topping search results in various application stores, and daily downloads continue to grow exponentially.
62 million households watched the gripping seven-episode series in its full entirety. It ranked in Netflix's top 10 in 92 countries and reached number one in 63 of them!
If you are yet to indulge in this gripping series, here’s a small synopsis that is enough to entice anyone:
The Queen's Gambit is indeed great on its own merits. It's an intelligent, expertly-told story and Taylor-Joy is superb as Beth Harmon, a young female chess prodigy, who learns to play chess from the janitor in her orphanage and takes those skills to Moscow to play the world's best Grandmaster by the time she reaches 20 years old.
Whether you are a chess enthusiast, or you have never played the game - The Queen's Gambit series truly does appeal to everyone.
By the time the series comes to a close, you will be ready to exercise the mind in a game of chess.