Recently, a Netflix series has been launched entitled The Queen's Gambit which surely created a lot of hype in the chess community. Does the protagonist Beth Harmon resemble anyone (fully or partially) in real life? This is although the makers of the series said the character is fictional. Sill, I am kind of sceptic about this.


The character Beth Harmon is purely fictional. The series is based off a book by the same title by Walter Tevis. The author had a tendencie to base books drawing from personal experiences but he wasn't a chess prodigy that's for sure. He was however a good club level player which is why the book has such strong chess knowledge. In that time period, there are no valid players that could fit as inspiration for the character (that I can place at least). The chess advisors in the show were Bruce Pandolfini and Garry Kasparov which really shows the high-calibre efforts the production team went to to get the show's chess moments bang on.

EDIT: Found the following article https://www.radiotimes.com/news/on-demand/2020-10-29/the-queens-gambit-book-netflix/

Tevis previously told The Times that the character was created as a “tribute to brainy women” adding that “I like Beth for her bravery and intelligence. In the past, many women have had to hide their brains, but not today,” he said.

He listed his daughter and his aunt – who had gifted him with his first chess set – among the women who had inspired the character.

Regarding the games however that is a different story; Most the games are based on famous games. The final game in the series where she beats Borgov is based off a game between Vassily Ivanchuk and Patrick Wolff at the Biel Interzonal in 1993 for example. An absolute monster of a game to watch though;

Those researching the film did a fantastic job in finding great games to base their games on. Specifically move 38 Ne6 which is a more direct and simplified line.

The Movie Game (Simplified Ivanchuk v Wolff) The movie is a simplified and more modern line than the game it was based on.

[FEN ""]
[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2020.08.24"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Harmon"]
[Black "Borgov"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D20"]
[PlyCount "105"]
[SourceVersionDate "2020.10.31"]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e4 Nc6 4. Be3 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. d5 Ne7 7. Bxc4 Ng6 8. f3 Bd6 9. Qd2 Bd7 10. Nge2 a6 11. Bb3 b5 12. a4 O-O 13. O-O Qe7 14. Rac1 Nh5 15. g3 h6 16. Bc2 Rab8 17. axb5 axb5 18. Ra1 Ra8 19. Bd3 Bb4 20. Rxa8 Rxa8 21. Qc2 Bc5 22. Nd1 Bd6 23. Nf2 Nhf4 24. Rc1 Qg5 25. Kh1 Qh5 26. Ng1 Nxd3 27. Nxd3 f5 28. Nc5 Bc8 29. Rf1 Ne7 30. Qd3 fxe4 31. fxe4 Qg6 32. Kg2 Kh7 33. Nf3 Ng8 34. Nh4 Qg4 35. Nf5 Nf6 36. h3 Qg6 37. Ne6 Ra4 38. b3 Rxe4 39. Nxd6 Bxe6 40. dxe6 cxd6 41. e7 d5 42. Bc5 Qe8 43. Qf3 Qc6 44. b4 Qe8 45. Qf5+ Kh8 46. Qxf6 gxf6 47. Rxf6 Qh5 48. Rf8+ Kg7 49. e8=Q Re2+ 50. Kf1 Qxh3+ 51. Kxe2 Qg2+ 52. Rf2 Qe4+ 53. Kd2 1-0

The Game that its based off

[FEN ""]
[Event "Biel Interzonal"]
[Site "Biel"]
[Date "1993.??.??"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Ivanchuk, Vassily"]
[Black "Wolff, Patrick G"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "D20"]
[WhiteElo "2705"]
[BlackElo "2585"]
[PlyCount "144"]
[EventDate "1993.07.??"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "13"]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e4 Nc6 4. Be3 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. d5 Ne7 7. Bxc4 Ng6 8. f3 Bd6 9. Qd2 Bd7 10. Nge2 a6 11. Bb3 b5 12. a4 O-O 13. O-O Qe7 14. Rac1 Nh5 15. g3 h6 16. Bc2 Rab8 17. axb5 axb5 18. Ra1 Ra8 19. Bd3 Bb4 20. Rxa8 Rxa8 21. Qc2 Bc5 22. Nd1 Bd6 23. Nf2 Nhf4 24. Rc1 Qg5 25. Kh1 Qh5 26. Ng1 Nxd3 27. Nxd3 f5 28. Nc5 Bc8 29. Rf1 Ne7 30. Qd3 fxe4 31. fxe4 Qg6 32. Kg2 Kh7 33. Nf3 Ng8 34. Nh4 Qg4 35. Nf5 Nf6 36. h3 Qg6 37. g4 Bxc5 38. Bxc5 Ra4 39. Rf3 Rc4 40. Be7 Bxf5 41. Rxf5 Rd4 42. Qe3 Rxe4 43. Qf3 Rf4 44. Rxf4 exf4 45. Bxf6 Qxf6 46. Qd3+ Qg6 47. Qe2 c6 48. Kf3 cxd5 49. Kxf4 Qf6+ 50. Kg3 Qd6+ 51. Kf3 b4 52. h4 Qf6+ 53. Kg3 Qd6+ 54. Kf3 Qf6+ 55. Kg3 g6 56. Qe8 Qd6+ 57. Kf3 Kg7 58. g5 hxg5 59. hxg5 d4 60. Qe4 d3 61. Qb7+ Kf8 62. Qc8+ Ke7 63. Qb7+ Ke6 64. Qe4+ Kd7 65. Qb7+ Kd8 66. Qa8+ Kc7 67. Qa7+ Kc8 68. Qa8+ Kc7 69. Qa7+ Kc6 70. Qa6+ Kc5 71. Qxd6+ Kxd6 72. Ke3 Ke5 1/2-1/2

I believe the Kentucky game to be based of Nezhmetdinov vs Kasparian game as well.

[FEN ""]
[Event "Spartak Team Ch (1955), Riga LAT"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1955"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Rashid Gibiatovich Nezhmetdino"]
[Black "Genrikh Kasparian"]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "B11"]
[PlyCount "93"]

1. e4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3. Nc3 Bg4 4. h3 Bxf3 5. Qxf3 e6 6. g3 g6 7. Bg2 Bg7 8. O-O Nd7 9. Qe2 d4 10. Nb1 e5 11. d3 Ne7 12. f4 Qc7 13. a4 O-O 14. f5 f6 15. Nd2 Bh6 16. Kh2 Kh8 17. fxg6 hxg6 18. Nf3 Bxc1 19. Raxc1 Nc5 20. c3 Nb3 21. Rcd1 Rad8 22. Nh4 Qc8 23. Bf3 Qe6 24. Bg4 Qf7 25. Nf3 Qg8 26. h4 Kg7 27. Rf2 Rd6 28. Rdf1 Rdd8 29. Qc2 b6 30. h5 c5 31. hxg6 dxc3 32. bxc3 c4 33. d4 exd4 34. cxd4 Nxd4 35. Nxd4 Rxd4 36. e5 f5 37. Bxf5 Qd5 38. Be6 Rh8+ 39. Bh3 Nxg6 40. Rf7+ Kh6 41. Qxg6+ Kxg6 42. R1f6+ Kg5 43. Rf5+ Kg6 44. R7f6+ Kh7 45. Rh5+ Kg7 46. Rg5+ Kh7 47. Bf5# *

I will try to pin all the games I can find in the show so this list is likely to grow.

  • 1
    Nice. Thank you so much for this explanation. Although at some point I thought Borgov is resembling GM Garry Kasparov. – Red Oct 31 '20 at 14:36
  • 1
    Yeah I could see that resemblance. Also the final game if the Kentucky tournament, the yawning....but of a Fischer move. – David Bateman Nov 1 '20 at 1:19
  • 4
    @Red Kasparov is considerably younger, so he wasn't really active at the time of the series (Kasparov was a teenager when he won the USSR championship in 1981-82). Also, Kasparov is an advisor for the show and helped them develop the games. – terdon Nov 1 '20 at 14:55
  • Nice. Thanks, @terdon for that. I missed the timeline completely. – Red Nov 1 '20 at 16:34
  • 3
    @terdon well that explains the quality of the game play. I know the author was a cat C player in real life and the book was praised for its accuracy when it came to chess. Very glad Kasparov was an advisor – David Bateman Nov 1 '20 at 20:43

I take it you're referring to Beth Harmon, the protagonist of the series. There's no single chess master that resembles her, but various masters resemble her partially:

  • In the fact that she's female: there's only been one woman who's reached the top in chess: Judit Polgar. Two other women, Hou Yifan and Vera Menchik, come close as well.
  • In the fact that she's alcoholic and used drugs, and her health suffered for it: see Mikhail Tal. Tal didn't use drugs, but he was a heavy drinker and smoker, and his health was poor for this reason. Tal also loved chess so much he did other extreme things, such as leaving the hospital to play in a chess tournament. Former world champion Alexander Alekhine also springs to mind, in fact it's been argued that Alekhine lost the 1935 world championship to Max Euwe because he was drinking too much during that match.
  • In the fact that she took on and defeated Soviet masters: this clearly resembles Bobby Fischer. Fischer's career is similar in other ways, such as the ups and downs he went through, and his eccentricity.
  • In the fact that she's a prodigy: there've been lots of chess prodigies. Some names that immediately spring to mind are Paul Morphy and Jose Raul Capablanca, both of whom defeated strong masters while still young children, and Sergey Karjakin, who at 12 years old is the youngest person ever to become a grandmaster. Wikipedia has an article on chess prodigies with more names, as well.

Yes it correctly describes the life of a chess player. Wesley So has been adopted. The face of Alexandra Kosteniuk. Prodigy of Morphy. Life of Fischer against the Russians. Drinks of Alekhine. Beth Harmon is the combination of the lives of the greatest chess players.

  • 8
    Are you telling me that Alexandra Kosteniuk: es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleksandra_Kosteniuk#/media/… looks anything like Beth Harmon: the-queens-gambit.fandom.com/wiki/…? Because I look close to the average Mexican man and I think I ressemble Kosteniuk more than Beth does – David Oct 31 '20 at 10:20
  • 2
    lmao creative answer – edit_profile Nov 3 '20 at 4:19
  • @David: I am near face-blind and thus can see similarities on the spot noone else recognizes without that condition (random example, Loki and Lore :-). Thus my verdict is: Make Kosteniuk smile (her FIDE photo) and give her a wig, and there is a vague similarity. :-) – Hauke Reddmann Jan 14 at 17:08
  • wait wesley so was and is not adopted. he considers 'Lotis Key, Bambi Kabigting, and their daughter' as 'his adoptive family' in re his estrangement with his family, but there was no legal adoption. – BCLC Jan 20 at 13:58

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