Is ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ a True Story? [PHIL-OSOPHY]
If you enjoy interesting, unputdownable TV, let me recommend Netflix's The Queen's Gambit. Everything about it is spellbinding. The Queen's Gambit, starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Moses Ingram, tells the bewitching story of Beth Harmon, an orphan, and the inner workings of genius in a woman. The praiseworthy novel of the same title by Walter Tevis delves into the life of an abandoned little girl and chess prodigy during the mid-1960s.
I don't know the first thing about playing chess, and yet this miniseries mesmerized me with an arresting story and magnificent acting.
I always leave recommendations like this as a virtual post-it note, without putting on the squeeze. I figure if it's meant to be, you'll put it in a search engine and pull up the synopsis. We all have different preferences, but I'd never endorse a movie or series I wasn't ecstatic about.
I understood this drama to be a true story, but I was mistaken, as a listener quickly pointed out. Because of my flub, I discovered that the fictional Beth Harmon had a real-life demoiselle, who predates the novel by many decades, whose name is Vera Menchik. I couldn't find any references that connected Ms. Menchik, the first female chess star, to Tevis' research for his 1983 novel, which makes my on-air gaffe even more fascinating.
I discovered the true story of a masterful chess player whose life parallels Harmon's profile, even though Harmon was American and Menchik was born in Russia. When Menchik was nine years old, her father began teaching her chess. She had a tough upbringing, and always had trouble fitting in, like Beth Harmon.
What I find surprising is before now, I've never heard of this brilliant woman who shattered the gender norms in a male-dominated game. She won the Women's World Class Championship in 1928 and then making history again as the first woman to compete in a global grandmaster tournament. Why it took 67 years is a mystery to me, but she was finally inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame in 2011.
Menchik died tragically when Nazis bombed her home in 1944, along with her mother and sister, as she was mid-tournament – and winning. I hope you'll find The Queen's Gambit as extraordinary as I did.
I propose a toast to the "real-life" Beth Harmon, to my wife Celeste for forcing me to watch it, and to personal slip-ups.
Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.