The Queen's Gambit (novel)

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The Queen's Gambit
First edition
Author Walter Tevis
Country  United States
Language English
Genre Psychological thriller, suspense thriller
Publisher Random House
Publication date
Pages 243
ISBN 1-4000-3060-9
For the 2013 novel, see Queen's Gambit (novel).

The Queen's Gambit is an American novel by Walter Tevis. The bildungsroman coming-of-age novel was originally published in 1983 and covers themes in feminism, chess, drug addiction, and alcoholism.


The novel's epigraph is "The Long-Legged Fly" by William Butler Yeats. This poem highlights one of the novel's main concerns: the inner workings of genius in a woman. Tevis discusses this concern in a 1983 interview,[1] and never wrote the sequel he mentions in the interview.


Named after a chess opening favored by the protagonist Beth Harmon, The Queen's Gambit traces Harmon's life from her childhood in an orphanage through her struggles with tranquilizer and alcohol addiction to her triumphant rise through the Grandmaster ranks.

Eight-year-old orphan Beth Harmon is quiet, sullen, and by all appearances unremarkable—until she plays her first game of chess. Her senses grow sharper, her thinking clearer, and for the first time in her life she feels herself fully in control. By the age of sixteen, she’s competing for the U.S. Open championship. But as she hones her skills on the professional circuit, the stakes get higher, her isolation grows more frightening, and the thought of escape becomes all the more tempting.

Literary significance and reception[edit]

The novel is difficult to classify, occupying a space between thriller, sports/game novel and bildungsroman. It has cult status for its addictive plot:

The Queen's Gambit is sheer entertainment. It is a book I reread every few years--for the pure pleasure and skill of it.” --Michael Ondaatje (cover of Vintage paperback edition, 2003)

and for the technical accuracy of its depictions of chess:

New Yorker's reviewer was especially enthused with the novelist's recreation of the obsessive world of chess, noting that Tevis "does succeed in conveying the cerebral suspense with which would-be World Champions live." Harold C. Schonberg, writing in the New York Times Book Review, confirmed that Tevis "reveals a great deal about the world of American Chess, with a final glance at how the Russians operate, and it is an exceptionally accurate picture that he draws." Schonberg added: "Beth Harmon may not be prepossessing, but she has the dedication of a Biblical saint, a freak memory and an ability to synthesize and create and blow her little world apart with a kind of startling originality that nobody else can match. That is what chess on its highest level is all about." (From Contemporary Authors Online, 2007, Gale Reference)

Tevis based the chess scenes on his own experience as a class C player and on his long study of the game (The Queen's Gambit, endnote "About the Author"), and he elaborates on this in the Author's Note:

The superb chess of Grandmasters Robert Fischer, Boris Spassky and Anatoly Karpov has been a source of delight to players like myself for years. Since The Queen's Gambit is a work of fiction, however, it seemed prudent to omit them from the cast of characters, if only to prevent contradiction of the record.

I would like to express my thanks to Joe Ancrile, Fairfield Hoban and Stuart Morden, all excellent players, who helped me with books, magazines, and tournament rules. And I was fortunate to have the warm-hearted and diligent help of National Master Bruce Pandolfini in proofreading the text and in helping me rid it of errors concerning the game he plays so enviably well.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[edit]

In 1983, an attempt was made to turn the novel into a feature film when The New York Times journalist Jesse Kornbluth acquired rights for a screenplay; nearly every actor and director that he knew was interested in participating.[2] When Tevis died in 1984, rights to the movie were sold to another studio and the movie was called off due to financial concerns.

In 1992, Scottish screenwriter Allan Shiach acquired rights for a screenplay of a planned art house film. Among the directors who were involved at some point included Michael Apted and Bernardo Bertolucci, but each eventually moved on to other projects. In 2007 and 2008, Scott was working with Heath Ledger on what would have been Heath Ledger's directorial debut, and who was set to star alongside Ellen Page. Production and principal photography were planned for late 2008 but were put on hold following Heath Ledger's death on January 22. Shiach is planning to find a new director. [3]

Publication history[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Walter Tevis Interview with Don Swaim". February 15, 1983. Retrieved May 2013. 
  2. ^ Kornbluth, Jesse (January 23, 2011). "The Queen's Gambit -". Retrieved May 2013. 
  3. ^ Heath Ledger - a prophetic tragedy - Features, Film & TV - The Independent

External links[edit]