What exactly is the Queen’s Gambit?

The Queen’s Gambit is a strategy for gaining control of the board’s center. White sacrifices (that’s the “gambit” part) a queen-side pawn in one of the most common chess openings (the “queen” part). The move is written as White moves its pawn to D4 in algebraic notation. Black moves its pawn to D5 on the opposite side of the board. White next moves its pawn to C4, diagonal to Black’s pawn and beside its first pawn. (If you’re watching the show and listening to people discuss chess moves, this letter-number sequence may seem particularly perplexing; many characters employ descriptive notation, such as “queen’s bishop 4,” rather than algebraic notation.) The Queen’s Gambit is written as: White pawn to Queen 4 [p-Q4], Black pawn to Queen 4 [p-Q4], White pawn to Queen’s Bishop 4 [p-QB4] in descriptive notation.

After moving, White’s second pawn (on C4) is now open for capture by Black’s pawn (on D5). Black can then either take or decline the gambit, each decision carrying with it a myriad of follow-up moves.

Since the sacrifice really puts White on the attack, it’s debatable if this move is truly a “gambit.”

Regardless of semantics, the Queen’s Gambit is an excellent sequence to chess openings for beginners

The Queen’s Gambit

The Queen’s Gambit is based on the true story of several chess players, including the book author Walter Tevis adopted the move as the title of his coming-of-age story, The Queen’s Gambit, which has since been made into a Netflix series of the same name.

The Queen’s Gambit follows Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy who rises through the ranks of competitive chess while battling heroin addiction.

So far, the series has been a critical and economic success. The Queen’s Gambit has topped Netflix’s power rankings in 63 countries and received over 62 million views since its launch in late October, making it one of the most popular Netflix original series ever. The Queen’s Gambit received two Golden Globe nominations: Best Television Motion Picture (including miniseries) and Best Actress for a Television Motion Picture (Anya Taylor-Joy).

The story was commended for portraying chess rivalry and the prodigies who are frequently at its competitive core accurately. The Netflix series presents a similarly intense competitive climate while maintaining a high level of realism in the sport.

The show’s consultants are responsible for the set’s authenticity. Anya Taylor-Joy has said that she had never played chess before filming the “odyssey,” as she calls it. Former world champion Garry Kasparov and chess tutor Bruce Pandolfini taught her the game. Pandolfini has written several chess books and worked as a consultant on past chess films such as Bobby Fischer’s Search. He also collaborated with Tevis on the novel The Queen’s Gambit.

Pandolfini discussed what went into curating chess matches for the series in an interview with Entertainment Weekly:

“To fit to scenarios in the narrative, I developed 92 chess positions, which we dubbed the Bible.” One of those 92 situations inspired the chess thoughts. … We had roughly 350 positions in total, with the majority of them never being seen on camera. The crew would put up these whole games with the unfilmed extras simply to get the right atmosphere and mood.”

Other aspects of the series that Pandolfini advised on were what chess tournaments would have been like during the time period—”clocks, writing moves down, what the observers would be like, the dreariness of the tournament scene, the clubs, the male-dominated.” The ultimate result is perhaps one of the most accurate representations of the game ever seen on television.

But how much of the tale is based on fact? Is Harmon based on a real-life female chess prodigy? Who is Beth Harmon’s inspiration?

Harmon is a fictional character, yet in his Author’s Note, Tevis mentions certain historical figures who inspired the novel’s protagonist.

For years, Grandmasters Robert Fischer, Boris Spassky, and Anatoly Karpov’s great chess has been a source of delight for gamers like myself. However, because The Queen’s Gambit is a work of fiction, it felt preferable to leave them out of the cast of characters, if only to avoid discrepancies in the record.
Tevis also remarked on Beth’s resemblance to himself, claiming that her competitive chess experience was influenced in part by his own. Tevis was classified as a class C amateur, which is a step up from a novice. (A novice is ranked at 800, and a grandmaster is listed above 2400 in the Elo rating system; for comparison, a beginner is ranked at 1400 and a grandmaster is ranked above 2400.) Magnus Carlsen, the current world number one, has a rating of 2875.)

I’ve played well enough to know what a good game is,” Tevis told the New York Times. I can defeat the normal individual, but I’m frightened of playing those guys who put up boards on Broadway’s street.”

Tevis also modeled a lot of Beth’s other traits after himself. As he explained to the New York Times,

I was born in the city of San Francisco.” When I was younger, I was diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease and was treated in a hospital with high medicine doses. In the narrative, Beth’s heroin addiction stems from this. It was cathartic to write about her. There was some discomfort—I dreamed a lot while writing that section of the story. But I didn’t allow myself to be self-indulgent in terms of art.

Tevis remarked that he wrote about “losers and loners” throughout his literary career. He explained, “I’m obsessed with the fight between winning and losing.” “My heroine in The Queen’s Gambit is an outsider.”

But, unlike Tevis, Beth isn’t merely an outsider. Beth is also a chess prodigy attempting to make chess history. She is comparable to a real-life prodigy in this regard.

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