Chess Terms
Benny Watts

Benny Watts

One of the strongest chess players in history is also someone who never lived. Meet Benny Watts, the fictional United States Chess Champion.

Who is Benny Watts?

Benny Watts is a fictional character in the 1983 novel The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis. The character gained notoriety after Scott Frank and Allan Scott adapted the novel into a Netflix miniseries of the same name in 2020.

Benny Watts played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

Benny's character is loosely based on GM Walter Browne. Like Browne, Benny is a multiple times US Chess Champion and an American chess legend. Benny meets Beth Harmon—the newly crowned Kentucky state champion—for the first time at an open tournament in Cincinnati.

Benny hands Beth a sobering defeat in their first encounter at the US Open in Las Vegas. However, Beth gets revenge by defeating Benny to win the 1967 US Chess Championship in Ohio. Benny becomes Beth's friend, mentor, and coach. Through this intimate relationship, Benny helps Beth overcome several demoralizing defeats and dethrone World Champion Vasily Borgov.

Why Does Benny Watts Carry A Knife

Benny maintains that he carries the knife for self defense purposes. Is this true, or is it a chess psychological trick? For example, some chess players adopt an intimidating posture or facial expression at the board to unnerve their opponents, projecting confidence and dominance. Perhaps Benny wields the knife to gain a psychological advantage over his opponents.

Or maybe Benny just thinks it looks cool with his hat. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

Benny Watts' Playing Style

We learn a lot about Benny's playing style when he opines: "The Caro-Kann Defense, genuine bummer. It's all pawns and no hope." Benny is an aggressive, attacking player and fights for the initiative from the first move. (He doesn't hold the Caro-Kann Defense in high esteem because it voluntarily cedes the center to White.)

It's no wonder Benny loves to play the aggressive, yet theoretically bulletproof, Sicilian Defense: Najdorf Variation. He uses this opening to defeat Beth in their first game at the US Open in Las Vegas. Benny is also a very skilled blitz chess player, and would certainly feel at home competing in Titled Tuesday on

Benny plays the Sicilian Defense against Beth. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.


If you liked learning about Benny and want to learn more about the character, then check out's exclusive interview with Thomas Brodie-Sangster.

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