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The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis

Book Review: The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis

Book Review: The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis

The Queen's Gambit is a novel about an orphan named Beth Harmon who discovers her love for chess, which helps her escape her surroundings. 

She had a natural gift to envision the game and go through all its permutations in her head. Beth became so good at the game that she started entering local tournaments and quickly wiped all her competitors before becoming the first state and then the American chess champion.

As Beth's skill continued to grow, her ultimate goal was to travel to Russia and become the world chess champion. She becomes addicted to tranquilizers and battles with alcohol addiction. 

Despite her aloofness and social awkwardness, Beth was a fascinating character who kept readers rooting for her throughout the book.

It is a story of resilience and self-discovery, with the game of chess serving as a vehicle for Beth's personal growth.

The author provides intricate details about chess games and tournaments that may seem daunting to some, but the engaging and fast-paced narrative keeps readers hooked till the end.


About the Author: Walter Tevis

Walter Tevis (1928-1984)

Walter Travis was an American novelist and short story writer. Born in San Francisco, he was taken to the Stanford Children's Rehabilitation Center by his parents at the age of 11 and reunited with his parents in Kentucky a year later.

While a student at the University of Kentucky, Tevis worked at a pool hall and published a report on the sport for an English class. 

While teaching in a small-town middle school, he began to write short stories. He once taught at Ohio University for a long time. Died of lung cancer. 

He later rekindled his love of billiards in the novels "The Prodigal Son" (1959) and "The Color of Money" (1984), both of which were adapted into multiple award-winning films starring Paul Newman. 

Among his other works, "THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH" (1963) and "MOCKINGBIRD" (1980) are considered science fiction masterpieces. Tevez died in 1984.

A total of 7 novels and many short stories have been written. The works have been translated into nearly 40 languages and adapted into many film and television works, which have been widely acclaimed. 

Three of them have been adapted into films with considerable weight in the history of film, and these three are "The Prodigal Son", "The True Colors of Money" (directed by Martin), and "The Man From Space". 

Here are some other popular books by Walter Tevis:

  1. The Hustler (1959)
  2. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963)
  3. Mockingbird (1980)
  4. Far From Home (1981)
  5. The Steps of the Sun (1983)
  6. The Color of Money
  7. The King Is Dead


Beth Harmon is based on a blend of real chess prodigies including Bobby Fischer in the Queen's Gambit's acknowledgments. Teves wrote that he was inspired by grandmasters Robert Fisher, Boris Spassky, and Anatoly Karpov all of them were active in the chess scene in the 60s. 

When writing the novel remarkably those figures don't appear in the book or the show because they're incorporated into the fictional characters of them all of Beth's career parallels. Bobby Fischer was born into a poor Jewish family in Brooklyn. Fisher rose to become a  household name through the game of chess his list of achievements resembles Beth Harmon's. 

According to The Guardian, Fisher was the most youthful u.s master at 14 years and five months the youngest candidate for the world championship at 15 years and 6 months, and the youngest international grandmaster in his time.  

Beth and Fisher have more similarities in addition to being teenage talents both studied Russian to prepare for playing there. won the championship trophy in 1967.  Both were tormented by inner demons by drugs and mental illness. Both were self-sufficient as teenagers and actually, that's where the similarities end. 

By the end of the queen's gambit, you'll learn a little more about chess but a lot more about human nature and what people can overcome. this is why ultimately it doesn't matter that the queen's gambit is not based on a true story it's based on a universal one.

Excerpts from the original text

Chess isn't always 'competitive,' she said.

----Quoted from page 94

"It talks about the orphanage." Beth had bought her own copy.

 "And it gives one of my games. But it's mostly about my being a girl."

"Well, you are one."

 "It shouldn't be that important, "Beth said."They didn't print half the things I told them. They didn't tell about Mr. Shaibel. They didn't say anything about how I play the Sicilian."

" But, Beth, "Mrs. Wheatley said, "it makes you a celebrity!"

 Beth looked at her thoughtfully," For being a girl, mostly," she said.

----Quoted from page 95

Book Summary: The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis

The Queen's Gambit by American best-selling author Walter Tevez is a literary work with the theme of "chess". The characters and stories in it are fictional, and it is a fictional novel.

Walter Tevez is a chess player, and he received direct corrections and guidance from many international grandmasters when writing this book, which undoubtedly raised the text in the fictional novel "Queen's Gambit" to the level of professional chess knowledge. level. 

If you are not a chess player or a chess lover, but chance has opened it for you, then you must cherish it. It is not only a book about "playing chess", but also a book that allows us to "play chess" in the process. A book that explores the wisdom of life.

"Life is like chess, and the foresight wins." The "chess game" we talk about, on the surface, seems to be a game of chess pieces held by two people on the board, but in fact, it is a game constructed by two different brains according to different ideas. 

This kind of contest of mental strength is even more a contest with our own mind because sometimes the opponent is not the other party, but ourselves.

"chess game" = "miracle". The protagonist in "The Queen's Gambit" - Beth, is a little girl who lost her parents at the age of eight and lived in an orphanage, and then was adopted by a less healthy family. 

For example, Josh Shipp, a well-known youth expert, once said of himself: "I have lived in an orphanage since I was a child. I will be a person who achieves nothing in the future, and will even bring a lot of danger to the world." 

In terms of probability, a child who lived in an orphanage and was adopted by a "stranger" has a high probability of a mediocre or miserable life in the future, and may even be harmful to the world. 

Beth was most likely one of those people too, but she made it to success. In the competition field that belonged only to men at that time—chess—step by step to the top of the chess game, he became a world-class chess master who came out of the basement of the orphanage. "The Queen's Gambit" is such a work that writes that life as humble as dust can create miracles.

The more persistent a genius is, the closer he is to a genius. Beth is very talented in chess, since the day the teacher asked her to go to the basement to clean the blackboard eraser, her fate has been connected with chess. 

When in the basement of the orphanage, he won the first game against the stubborn and prejudiced handyman——Xa Beier—and defeated Xia Beier, who was both the first teacher and the first opponent, and his life began. 

Hanging, so Beth, who came out of the basement of the orphanage, wrote her legendary "chess skills" life on the chess circuit. The chess competitions described in the book are thrilling and exciting. 

Even if I don’t understand the rules and procedures, I can fully feel the murderous spirit on the chessboard, a battlefield where there seems to be no gunpowder...

There is a sentence in "Big Fish and Begonia": "Life is used to create miracles, so you might as well be bolder and bolder." 

Beth was once confused and helpless on the way to boldly pursue her "miracle" life, with tears, and loneliness; but there are also visions, helping hands, laughter, and companionship. 

Bring hope when you are helpless, watch for warmth when you are lonely, and look forward to guidance when you are confused. Who of us in the world is not like this?

The Queen's Gambit only covers Beth's 19-year-old life. The final race in the book is in Moscow. She defeated all the top players in the Soviet chess world and finally won. But two years after the victory at this time, she will participate in the more intense competition for the world championship. 

The end of this competition is the beginning of the next promotion. Our "way of life" is the same as "the way of chess", which belongs to the brave and wise, and it will not stop until the end of life.

Share the book "The Queen's Gambit" with all of you who are persistently pursuing your "dream".

Book Reviews of The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis

In 1939, eleven-year-old Walter Tevez was sent to the Stanford Children's Rehabilitation Center by his parents. I don't know if that experience left a particularly deep impression on him. 

Decades later, he fabricated a genius chess player who was sent to an orphanage. 

It is a pity that the author could not imagine the popularity of the novel after it was adapted: the number of broadcasts topped the charts in more than 60 countries around the world, it won the "Emmy Award" and "Golden Globe Award", and the original works have repeatedly entered the "New York Times" "Bestseller list, has been translated into thirty-seven languages. 

It is even more regrettable that the author failed to continue the narrative talent shown in this novel. He died of lung cancer in 1984 and was buried in Richmond, Kentucky, where the story of "The Queen's Gambit" took place.

When Walter was young, he worked in a billiard hall and wrote a report on the sport of billiards. He has published six novels in his life, almost all of which are wonderful. 

The 1959 debut novel "The Hustler" ( The Hustler ) was adapted into a movie and was nominated for an Oscar. It was a story about billiards. A second novel, The Man Who Fell to Earth, followed in 1963, a sci-fi discussion of culture clashes, and a film of the same name starring rock star David Bowie. 

The debut sequel "The Color of Money" ( The Color of Money ) attracted Martin Scorsese to direct himself and helped star Paul Newman win the only Oscar statuette in his career. It is another story about billiards.

Therefore, the debate on the adaptation of novels to film and television may be a false proposition. When a story is good enough, it is very likely that film and television will be forced to reduce points. When a novel happens to be very suitable for adaptation, it is enough for the main creative team to present the original content as it is, such as "Queen's Gambit".


Beth, the heroine of the novel, entered the orphanage at the age of eight and met Deardorf, the dean, Jolanie, and Chapelle, the handyman. Chapelle taught her to play chess, Gioranne taught her to hide the sedatives issued by the orphanage, and Deerdorf stopped issuing addictive sedatives. Already addicted, Beth was caught stealing the drug and was forced to stop learning chess.

Four or five years later, the Whitleys adopted Beth. But Mr. Whitley abandoned his wife and daughter and left without saying goodbye, leaving the mother and daughter in trouble. 

Relying on her talent and diligence, Beth went to various parts of the United States to participate in competitions, win bonuses, and lived a prosperous life. 

The genius girl was invincible until she met Benny, the number one man in America. Benny was about as strong as she was, and the two tied for the national championship.

At that time, the international chess world was dominated by the Soviets, and it was generally believed that it was impossible for an American player to beat the Soviets for decades. 

After graduating from high school, Beth began to attack Borgov, the king of the Soviet Union but was defeated. With the help of her boyfriend Benny, Beth started special training and went to Paris to challenge Borgov again, but she was still defeated.

After returning, Beth fell into deep self-doubt, broke up with Benny, drank heavily all day long, and couldn't extricate herself from drug addiction. 

It is her childhood friend who finally pulls her out of the abyss: through Deerdorf, Beth finds Britney. The two attended Chapelle's funeral together. Revisiting the old place, Beth regained her original intention and finally defeated Borgov in the international competition in Moscow and won the championship.

Beth in the novel does not have a real character prototype. But she has gathered the shadows of several chess players, such as the American chess player Fischer who fought against the entire Soviet army alone, Minchik, the first women's world champion, or Polgar, the highest-ranked women's player in history. But in my personal opinion, Beth is more like Yang Guo or Wu Qingyuan.

Walter Twiss wrote a story with an oriental martial arts flavor. An orphan enters strange surroundings and grows up in fear and anger. 

Fortunately, the protagonist has some kind of talent, and an understanding of martial arts or chess skills, and meets the guidelines, the orderly in the basement, or the grave keeper in the ancient tomb. Since then, the orphan has continued to hone his skills, facing opponents one after another, experiencing setbacks one after another, and becoming a peerless master.

In addition, there are frequent descriptions of chess players drinking and taking drugs in the story, which can't help but remind us of the ancient "Wei and Jin romances".

The plot of "The Queen's Gambit" perfectly fits the structure of a Hollywood commercial film: the characters appear at a low tide, change their fate in about one-third of the way, and then rise all the way up until they encounter a strong enemy in one-half, and then continue to decline. It fell into a trough at two-thirds and finally rose against the trend, forming a happy ending.

In 2008, Joker actor Heath Ledger wanted to make this story into a movie, but unfortunately, he couldn't make it. Until 2020, Netflix made this 14-section feature into a seven-episode web series, which eventually conquered hundreds of millions of viewers. 

In addition to the fact that the concept of the novel is suitable for film and television, the key to its popularity all over the world is due to the objective and emotional female perspective.


"The Queen's Gambit" was once famous for its "feminism". Paradoxically, former Soviet chess grandmaster Nona Gaprindashvili sued the web series for "sexism and historical inaccuracy." 

Because it was said in the play that Nona Gaprindashvili is only a female world champion and has not defeated a man. This statement is false: Nona has played against many chess masters and won against many men. 

In the end, this lawsuit caused a loss of five million US dollars to Netflix, the producer, which was harvested and lost.

The success of "The Queen's Gambit" lies in its ruthless deconstruction of the routine of love between men and women. The heroine's mother, who was a doctor of mathematics, chose to commit suicide after being abandoned by her lover. 

Beth's adoptive mother, who lost first her husband and then her longtime pen pal, died suddenly of pneumonia after her relationship withered. 

Young women have already seen through everything in the patriarchal society: in the online drama, Beth’s first love’s sexual orientation is unclear; in the novel, the adoptive father backtracks and asks Beth for a high price for buying a house. 

Even his confidant Benny, when he learned that Beth didn't want to go to New York to get together, quickly put on a cold face, ignored his girlfriend, and even didn't want to help her through the financial difficulties after buying a house.

The biggest difference between the film and television versions of "The Queen's Gambit" and the novel may lie in the more delicate friendship between Beth and Joanne. 

The two met with foul language and loneliness. Qiaolanni helped her integrate into the life of the orphanage through sports, talked about the relationship between men and women, and once ran to Beth's bed to enlighten her sexually. When Beth's drug addiction hits, Jolanie gives a friend her private stash of sedative pills.

Some people on the Internet have criticized Beth for thinking masculinely, using masculine ways, and intruding into men's territory to gain men's respect. It is actually a pseudo-feminist story. Probably ignoring its "women helping women" theme. 

Beth's talent comes from her biological mother, Beth's growth comes from her adoptive mother, and Beth's redemption comes from Qiao Lanni. Whether it is a web drama or a novel, the heroine is not really emotional to the man. 

Only the passing away of the adoptive mother and the return of Qiao Lanni really broke the heart of the heroine. All her focus is on the chessboard. This calm design of "God helps those who help themselves" is gender-neutral. 

As The New Yorker put it: "If you've ever felt lost, unaccepted, or recognized, while silently yearning for a buried strength that could somehow save you, you'll love The Queen's Gambit." 

Conclusion: The Queen's Gambit

It's really well-written and concise but with a tight plot. Although I don't understand chess at all, I still enjoy watching it. Maybe because the author is also a screenwriter, this book is really suitable for adapting to a TV series Or movie. Moreover, many contents in the book are really advanced, and the author is really farsighted. 

If I read this book ten years ago, I would definitely use this book to write a thesis. The TV series did not waste too much pen and ink describing the emotional line, so it is actually normal to deal with it this way. 

Benny is actually the male version of Beth. Both of them are very similar. Both of them have cold appearances and hard-spoken hearts. 

In fact, they are afraid of loneliness and want to be accompanied by others, but neither of them wants to show it. 

The casting of the TV series is really good, and Anya is also very suitable for Beth. There is a section in the novel that describes Benny's appearance.

Muhiuddin Alam is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of He serves as a consistent contributor to various websites and publications, including Medium, Quora, Reddit, Linkedin, Substack, Vocal, Flipboard, and Amazon KDP. Alam personally read numerous books and, for the past 10 years, has been providing book recommendations and reviews. Find Me: About Me & Google Knowledge Panel.

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