The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position
Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position

| 72 | Fun & Trivia

There's no doubt about it: "The Queen's Gambit" is a huge hit. With incredible performances by the actors, beautiful sets, and a well-constructed plot, it's no wonder the miniseries is so successful. With 68 million households watching the show in the first 28 days after its release, it's obvious you don't need to be a chess player to love it.

However, as a chess enthusiast myself, I have to admit I do think chess players enjoy the show on a higher level.

I got very excited when the actors played opening moves accurately, and I almost fell out of my chair when I saw Beth impersonating Paul Morphy and replaying the Opera Game!

Beth Harmon and Benny Watts play the Sicilian Defense in
Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

The show's producers did a fantastic job of painting a detailed picture of this beautiful game we all love so much. And if you are curious about the chess positions used in the show, I have great news for you! In this article, I've compiled a list of (almost) every chess position featured in "The Queen's Gambit."

I hope you enjoy these as much as I did!

Give the gift of chess!

Episode 1: Openings

Eight-year-old Beth Harmon goes to an orphanage after her mother dies. She gets obsessed with chess after seeing the janitor, Mr. Shaibel, playing it. She also develops an addiction to tranquilizers the orphanage staff gave to all the kids.

Beth's first contact with chess comes after she sees Mr. Shaibel studying the game by himself. Interestingly, the first position ever showed is the Queen's Gambit Declined—perhaps a metaphor indicating that Beth's not yet ready to take the throne as a chess queen.

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position.

Beth later returns to the basement and sees Mr. Shaibel playing chess alone again. This time, he's analyzing a weird-looking position where Black is down a bishop and a pawn.

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position.Beth insists on playing a game against the janitor, and he uses a well-known trick that most of us have fallen for when first learning to play chess. Beth loses in four moves, a victim of the Scholar's Mate.

Disheartened with her quick loss, Beth goes to bed and starts visualizing variations of the game she played on the ceiling. Here are some of the lines she sees:

Better prepared but far from the chess queen she'll become, Beth faces Mr. Shaibel once more but loses her queen right out of the opening.

Mr. Shaibel tells Beth Harmon that she must resign.
"You resign now." —Mr. Shaibel. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

After days of practice, Beth once more plays against Mr. Shaibel. This time, she's able to pull off her first win. The innocent-looking kid starts showing signs of her tactical prowess in this incredible win against her first chess teacher.

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position - Beth wins her first game.
Beth wins her first game.

Impressed with her potential, Mr. Shaibel taught Beth a few openings. To fit her aggressive style, the Najdorf and the Levenfish Attack of the Sicilian Defense become her weapons of choice. Beth also learns the Queen's Gambit—an opening she'd use for the rest of her career.

Beth keeps studying and improving to the point that she can easily beat Mr. Shaibel. She defeats her teacher once more while replaying a game by the Italian chess master Gioachino Greco against an anonymous player.

Even more impressed with her skills, Mr. Shaibel invites the president of a local chess club, Mr. Granz, to play Beth. She quickly defeats her new challenger.

The Queen's Gambit: Every Position. Beth defeats Mr. Granz.
"That's mate in three." —Beth Harmon.

They proceed to play a simultaneous. Beth has the white pieces in both games, and she once more destroys her opponents. Her game with Mr. Shaibel ends after they reach this position:

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position.

On the other board, her game against Mr. Granz reproduces an encounter between Richard Reti and GM Savielly Tartakower in 1910. Beth plays the last few moves of the game while standing up and looking away from the board.

Episode 2: Exchanges

Beth gets adopted and moves to a suburban house with her new family. While she has a hard time trying to fit with her new social circle, Beth finds a way to participate in the Kentucky State Chess Championship.

The first position from this episode comes from Beth's second game of the Kentucky Championship when she's about to mate her opponent. The man playing against her offers a draw when he realizes his position is hopeless:

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position.
Beth sacrifices her queen to deliver checkmate.

After defeating her last opponent, Beth plays against the "underrated" Townes. People start taking Beth seriously after she beats this strong player in the endgame using a tactic to capture his rook.

Beth Harmon beats Townes on
"You're humiliating my rook." —Townes. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

The last game of this episode happens between Beth Harmon and Harry Beltik, the current Kentucky champion. Beltik arrives late and seems not to respect Beth. They play the Caro-Kann and reproduce a 1955 game between the attacking monster IM Rashid Nezhmetdinov and IM Genrikh Kasparian.

Episode 3: Doubled Pawns

Beth gains even more recognition after having an outstanding performance in a Cincinnati tournament. Many tournaments and media appearances later, Beth starts aiming at the U.S. Open.

The show introduces us to the first chess position of the third episode along with one of its main characters, U.S. champion Benny Watts. He's analyzing a Caro-Kann game and shows a little crowd of bystanders a variation of a game between GM Jacques Mieses and GM Samuel Reshevsky in 1935. Beth suggests a move that loses due to a deflection tactic that would part with her queen.

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position.
"All pawns and no hope." —Benny Watts about the Caro-Kann.

Only one position from this tournament appears in detail. It comes from a game that Beth plays as Black against a master. One of her friends comments that she couldn't be happy playing an endgame against such a strong player. Beth quickly demonstrates that she has no problem with this kind of position and wins the game in a few moves.

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position. Beth wins an endgame against a master.

Beth then heads to Las Vegas to play the U.S. Open. We can see her first victory of the championship where she delivers checkmate playing with the white pieces:

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position.

We also get to spectate in Beth's game against Benny. She plays as White, and we can see her visualizing different opening lines on the board in front of her before playing the first move. Again, the miniseries does a great job of showing various openings like the Sicilian Scheveningen, Ruy Lopez, Caro-Kann, French Defense, and the Najdorf.

Benny chooses to play the Najdorf against Beth. She gets into a worse position and misses a saving resource to draw the game. She loses her first official game in the show after Benny forks her rook and king.

Benny Watts beats Beth Harmon on
"Tough game." —Benny Watts. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

Episode 4: Middle Game

In the fourth episode, Beth goes to Mexico City to play an invitational tournament. She faces her most challenging opponents yet, including world champion Vasily Borgov.

We get to see in detail Beth's second win in Mexico City. Her game is a reconstruction of a game between GM Bobby Fischer and GM Bent Larsen in 1958. Curiously, Beth inverts the order of Fischer's last three winning moves. We see her playing (the also winning) 29.d7 instead of Fischer's 29.Bxf6—which is more precise and forces mate.

Beth goes on to win various other games—most of which are reconstructions of real games. We can see her preparing an unstoppable checkmate with her queen and rook:

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position.We can also see Beth winning in a position taken from the game between two legendary world champions GM Viswanathan Anand and GM Garry Kasparov.

We can only see a glimpse of Beth's game against the fictional player Diedrich. The game reconstructs the beautiful battle between Ossip Bernstein and Jose Raul Capablanca. Unfortunately, we can't see Capablanca's stunning finishing moves.

After that, we get to see Beth facing a strong child prodigy named Girev. Their game goes on for a long time, and they have to adjourn. After studying the continuation, Beth once more skillfully outplays her opponent and wins the game. Taken from GM Dmitry Jakovenko vs. GM Daniel Stellwagen, 2007, Beth improves on Jakovenko's play and wins the game.

Beth defeats Girev on
"For you, Beth Harmon, I resign the old-fashioned way." - Girev.

Following the last victory, Beth finally plays against the reigning world champion, Borgov. They play a slight variation of the game between GM Leonid Stein and GM Aleksandar Matanovic in 1965. Playing as Black, Beth loses for the second time in her professional career.

Episode 5: Fork

Episode five shows Beth preparing for and playing the U.S. Championship in Ohio, where she again faces Benny Watts.

The first position we see is from a scene where Beltik (one of her former opponents) helps Beth prepare for the US Championship. He shows her "one of Alekhine's ideas"—referring to former world champion Alexander Alekhine.

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position.
"It's from Alekhine. I'm saying I got it from a book." —Harry Beltik.

At the championship, Beth has no problem getting past her opponents. Unfortunately, we can't see more games until she runs into Benny at a bar. He invites her to play some blitz.

Benny Watts invites Beth Harmon to play blitz on
Benny Watts invites Beth Harmon to play some blitz games. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

Their first blitz game comes from GM Predrag Nikolic vs. GM Vassily Ivanchuk, 2004. Benny beats Beth after he forks her queen and king.

Their second game comes from GM Vladimir Kramnik vs. GM Alexander Morozevich, 2007. Benny builds up too much pressure and puts Beth in a terrible position, forcing her to resign.

Their third blitz game reproduces a 2005 game between GM David Baramidze and GM Alexander Graf. Beth resigns after Benny gets a material advantage and puts her in a passive position.

Benny Watts beats Beth Harmon at blitz on
"Again?" —Benny Watts. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

Finally, both chess masters play their fourth and final blitz games. Benny once more defeats Beth after deflecting her rook to checkmate her king.

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position.

The next day, Beth and Benny play against each other at the US Championship. Sadly, we can't see their game.

Episode 6: Adjournment

Beth trains with Benny in New York and then goes to a tournament in Paris where she will face Borgov again.

One of this episode's notable positions comes from a scene where one of Benny's friends, a grandmaster, shows Beth a problem. After looking at it for a few seconds, she blurts out the correct answer.

That same night, a better-prepared Beth proposes to play a blitz simultaneous against Benny and his two friends. She defeats them multiple times, and it's here that Beth replays the world-famous Opera Game.

Beth Harmon beats Benny Watts and his friends.
"Well, kid... I think you got it." - Benny Watts. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

Beth then heads to the Paris tournament. Her first opponent is the fictional Alec Bergland, and we can only see one position from their game. Beth plays the White side of the following position:

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position.

Against her second Paris opponent, Beth replays a game between GM Yuri Averbakh and GM Alexander Tolush from 1953:

We can only get a glimpse of Beth's game against her next opponent, but we can see that Beth is a minor piece up. Curiously, she moves her knight to g3, giving the minor piece back for no reason.

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position.

The next scene shows us Beth looking at Borgov's win against his previous opponent, Darga. The Russian champion had no trouble beating his adversary—as we can infer from Borgov's significant material and positional advantage.

The Queen's Gambit: Every Chess Position.

Beth finally gets her rematch with Borgov. They play the Sicilian one more time, but this time Borgov goes for the Najdorf. Probably adapted from a 2007 game between GM Susanto Megaranto and GM Leinier Dominguez Perez, this rematch did not go well for Beth. She once more loses to her nemesis.

Beth Harmon resigns.
"I resign." - Beth Harmon. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

Episode 7: End Game

Beth goes to Russia to play the biggest tournament of her life and once again try to beat the Russian world champion Borgov. It's in this event that we see the chess queen playing at her absolute best against world-class competitors.

Her first game is against Laev and is a reproduction of the GM Veselin Topalov game against Kasparov in 1995. Oddly, the commentator says that Beth delivered a "27-moves trashing," while the actual game was 28 moves long.

Beth had White for her second game. This time, the show reproduced a remarkable victory by GM Gyula Sax against GM Viktor Korchnoi in 1986.

We can't see Beth's third game, but we can appreciate her victory with the black pieces against Hellstrom. Beth once more impersonates Kasparov, this time with his win against GM Robert Huebner in 1985.

Beth proceeds to play as Black against her next opponent, Luchenko. We then enjoy the adaptation from the IM Arshak Petrosian against GM Vladimir Akopian game played in 1988. After the adjournment, we see Beth deviating from the original game to defeat her opponent in a brilliant continuation.

After all of those games, we finally see Beth's rematch against Borgov. Playing as White, she starts the game with the Queen's Gambit. Borgov eventually accepts the gambit, contrasting with the show's first chess scene and finishing the miniseries with the Queen's Gambit Accepted.

Beth's last game displays an improvement on Invanchuk's game against GM Patrick Wolff in 1993. She improves from the original after playing 37.Ne6 instead of Ivanchuk's 37.g4.

Beth Harmon defeats Borgov on
"It's your game. Take it." - Vasily Borgov. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.


As you can see, there was a lot of thought and care behind the production of "The Queen's Gambit" to make the chess scenes feel authentic. The show succeeded in using chess as a tool to help tell Beth's story, and not only as a prop.

I was delighted to see chess gain so much attention, and I truly enjoyed taking a closer look at all those chess positions. I hope you liked them too, and I would love to hear your thoughts. Which position was your favorite?

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