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Beth Harmon

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Beth Harmon
The Queen's Gambit character
First appearanceThe Queen's Gambit (1983 novel)
Created byWalter Tevis
Adapted byScott Frank
Portrayed by
In-universe information
Full nameElizabeth Harmon
OccupationChess player
  • Alice Harmon (biological mother; deceased)
  • Paul Harmon (biological father)
  • Alma Wheatley (adoptive mother; deceased)
  • Allston Wheatley (adoptive father)

Elizabeth "Beth" Harmon is a fictional American character and the main protagonist in the Walter Tevis novel The Queen's Gambit and the Netflix drama miniseries of the same name, in which she is portrayed by Anya Taylor-Joy.[1][2][3][4] Taylor-Joy's performance as Beth was critically acclaimed. She was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.[5] She also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film[6] and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie.[7]

Fictional biography[edit]

Beth Harmon is orphaned at age eight when her mother dies in a car crash. Growing up in an orphanage in Kentucky, she is taught chess by the custodian Mr. Shaibel, and soon becomes a chess prodigy. While at the orphanage, she struggles with an addiction to tranquilizers. In her teens she is adopted and begins her rapid rise in the chess world, eventually challenging the top Soviet players. As her skill and profile grows, so does her dependency on tranquilizers and eventually alcohol.[8]

Concept and inspiration[edit]

Diana Lanni, a New York chess player contemporary with Tevis who represented the United States at the 1982 Chess Olympiad in Lucerne, suggested she was at least in part the inspiration for the Beth Harmon character, and that her friend grandmaster Larry Kaufman was the inspiration for the book's Harry Beltik character. Lanni thinks it is plausible she got Tevis' attention when playing at the outdoor tables at Washington Square Park as the only woman, and as someone with depression and addiction problems.[9] Other real life chess players said to have inspired the character include Bobby Fischer and Tevis himself.[10][11][12] Tevis, however, explicitly denied any of his characters were based on any real life people. He also said he found it more interesting to write a female character.[13]

Television adaptation[edit]

After several aborted attempts to bring the novel to screen, Netflix announced they had acquired the rights, with Anya Taylor-Joy confirmed as the show's lead, on March 19, 2019, with a Twitter post by Netflix Queue.[14][15][16]

See also[edit]

  • Judit Polgar, the female chess player who has come closest to challenging for the World Chess Championship


  1. ^ "The Queen's Gambit: meet the real Beth Harmon… Bobby Fischer". British GQ. November 25, 2020. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  2. ^ "Chess: Beth Harmon and Magnus Carlsen triggers for an unlikely boom". The Guardian. November 20, 2020. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  3. ^ "How Beth Harmon became a style icon in The Queen's Gambit". The Independent. November 15, 2020. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  4. ^ Dry, Jude (November 13, 2020). "'The Queen's Gambit': Let's Celebrate Beth Harmon Doing Whatever the Hell She Wants". IndieWire. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  5. ^ "73rd Emmy Awards Nominations". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved May 7, 2021.
  6. ^ "Anya Taylor-Joy". Golden Globes. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  7. ^ Gonzalez, Sandra (April 4, 2021). "SAG Awards: See the full list of winners". CNN. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  8. ^ "The Queen's Gambit: Why is everyone suddenly talking about chess?". Sky News. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  9. ^ Sampson, Annabel (February 16, 2021). "The It Girl of the 1980s chess scene is thought to be the inspiration behind The Queen's Gambit's Beth Harmon". Tatler. Retrieved November 1, 2021.
  10. ^ Dray, Kayleigh (December 4, 2020). "The Queen's Gambit was inspired by a tragic true story". Stylist. Retrieved February 14, 2021.
  11. ^ Kerridge, Jake (October 30, 2020). "Literature's lonely alien: the troubled author behind The Queen's Gambit". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved February 14, 2021.
  12. ^ Nicolaou, Elena (November 23, 2020). "Beth of "The Queen's Gambit" Is Partially Based on Chess's Most Famous Pros". Oprah Magazine. Retrieved February 14, 2021.
  13. ^ Sarah Beth Cohen, Tevis —May 1983, December 25, 2020, citing Chess Life interview with Marcy Soltis, May 1983
  14. ^ Thorne, Will (March 19, 2019). "Anya Taylor-Joy to Star in 'The Queen's Gambit' Limited Series at Netflix". Variety. Retrieved February 14, 2021.
  15. ^ Porter, Rick (March 19, 2019). "Anya Taylor-Joy to Star in Netflix Limited Series 'The Queen's Gambit'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 14, 2021.
  16. ^ "Anya Taylor-Joy to play chess prodigy in The Queen's Gambit, a new Netflix limited series from Godless creator". Firstpost. March 20, 2019. Retrieved February 14, 2021.