Erwin l’Ami takes a look at the games of Beth Harmon

by Johannes Fischer
1/20/2021 – Frank Scott's "The Queen's Gambit" with Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon is the most successful Netflix series of all time, and despite small inaccuracies it convincingly shows how exciting and fascinating chess can be. In fact, the games Beth Harmon plays in the series were almost all taken from actual tournament or matches. But which games found their way into the series? In New in Chess Magazine 08/2020 Erwin l'Ami took a closer look. | Photo: Beth Harmon's most crucial game | Photo: Screenshot from the series

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Chess games in "The Queen's Gambit": Fiction and Reality

The last issue of the New in Chess Magazine in 2020 is again a treat, and offers a number of interesting articles about various topics. Alireza Firouzja, for example, talks about the differences between "real" and online chess and his passion for the game, Judit Polgar recalls her encounters with Boris Spassky, and Jan Timman takes a look at Levon Aronian's strong performance in the Norway Chess Tournament 2020.

Another highlight of the issue is Erwin l'Ami's search for the games that featured in "The Queen's Gambit", a "potent blend of exquisite chess from the early 17th century till our day". In passing, l'Ami notes that "Harmon hasn't made a single draw throughout the series, Combative she certainly is."

The climax of the series is Beth Harmon's game against World Champion Vasily Borgov, which, as the series suggests, makes Beth Harmon the world's number one and indicates that she has managed to overcome her demons.

The game ends with a with a pretty queen sacrifice, and, as l'Ami found out, is based on a game Vassily Ivanchuk and Patrick Wolff played at the Interzonal Tournament 1993 in Biel. For 36 moves Harmon and Borgov followed this predecessor, but then Harmon goes her own – and probably better – ways.


The end of the game is purely ficticious but this did not stop players such as Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura to comment it in depth.

Carlsen went first:

A little later Nakamura followed suit – again via YouTube. But he now not only comments the game between Harmon and Borgov, but also Carlsen's comments.

And who knows, maybe this fictional game will soon find its way into textbooks and anthologies?

New in Chess 08/2020, 106 pages, $14.99, €13.99



Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".


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