Chess Terms
Vasily Borgov

Vasily Borgov

One of the strongest chess players in history is also someone who never lived. Meet Vasily Borgov, the fictional world chess champion.

Who is Vasily Borgov?

Vasily Borgov 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.

Vasily Borgov played by Marcin Dorocinski. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

Borgov's character is loosely based on GM Boris Spassky. Like Spassky, Borgov was a Russian chess prodigy who fulfilled his prophecy by becoming the world chess champion. Backed by the might of the Soviet Union and an army of seconds, Borgov is a seemingly invincible player over the chessboard. However, after consecutive defeats, American Beth Harmon finally beats Borgov in the climactic scene. To Beth's great surprise, Borgov warmly embraces her and delivers one of the most famous quotes of the series: "It's your game, take it."

Borgov resigns. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

Vasily Borgov's Playing Style

Like most world chess champions, Borgov has a universal playing style and is comfortable in any position. His game is founded on the principles of the Soviet School of Chess. As GM Alexander Kotov describes, "the Soviet style of play is characterized by creative scope, boldness and energy in attack, plus tenacity and resourcefulness in defense." In the video below, GM Magnus Carlsen shares his insights on Borgov's playing style as he analyzes his final game versus Beth.

Vasily Borgov's Opening Repertoire

Though chess engines do not exist during his reign, Borgov employs the opening philosophy of modern grandmasters. He utilizes a combination of mainline and sideline openings to keep his opponents off balance.

In this scene, Borgov plays the Sicilian Defense. Photo: The Queen's Gambit/Netflix.

In their first encounter in Mexico City, Borgov has the white pieces. Against Beth's aggressive Sicilian Defense, he sidesteps the mainlines of the Open Sicilian and instead opts for the Rossolimo Variation against 2...Nc6.

In his rematch with Beth in Paris, Borgov has the black pieces. Rather than a sideline, Borgov plays arguably the most theoretically challenging response to 1. e4: the Sicilian Najdorf Variation.

In their final battle, Borgov has the black pieces again. Fittingly, Beth plays the Queen's Gambit. It is customary to decline the gambit with either the Queen's Gambit Declined or the Slav Defense. However, Borgov circumvents Beth's opening preparation and plays the Queen's Gambit Accepted.

Do you want to learn these and other key openings in chess? Then take our Key Openings lesson to improve the way you start your games.


If you liked learning about Borgov and want to understand how Beth defeated him, check out NM Jeremy Kane's Play Like Beth Harmon lesson. "It's your game, take it."

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