When she is sent to an orphanage at the age of eight, Beth Harmon soon discovers two ways to escape her surroundings, albeit fleetingly: playing chess and taking the little green pills given to her and the other children to keep them subdued. Before long, it becomes apparent that hers is a prodigious talent, and as she progresses to the top of the US chess rankings she is able to forge a new life for herself. But she can never quite overcome her urge to self-destruct. For Beth, there’s more at stake than merely winning and losing.
Walter Stone Tevis was an American novelist and short story writer. Three of his six novels were adapted into major films: The Hustler, The Color of Money and The Man Who Fell to Earth. The Queen's Gambit has also been adapted in 2020 into a 7-episode mini-series. His books have been translated into at least 18 languages.
The Queen's Gambit is the first novel I've read in some time that I looked forward to cracking open in the evening to finish. Rather than simply wanting to get through it, I didn't want it to end. Published in 1983, the title has multiplied its Google searches in the last month by virtue of a successful Netflix mini-series. Walter Tevis is an author who'd been on my radar for a while though, with several science fiction novels, as well as The Hustler and its sequel The Color of Money. With The Queen's Gambit he explores artistry in sport again but focuses on a genius whose gender makes her journey so much more compelling. It is a great novel.
The story begins in the 1960s where eight-year-old Beth Harmon is interned at the Methuen Home in Mount Sterling, Kentucky when her mother is killed in an automobile accident. A smart but homely-looking and quiet child, Beth becomes a mascot of sorts to the tallest, most daring orphan in the home, a twelve-year-old black girl named Jolene. Assigned to clean the erasers in the basement, Beth observes the orphanage's janitor, Mr. Shaibel. She becomes fascinated by the game she sees the janitor playing on a milk crate and summons the courage to keep at him until he teaches her how to play chess.
Beth becomes addicted to the tranquilizers the orphanage plies the girls with. She becomes obsessed with chess, reading Modern Chess Openings illicitly in class and pressing her mentor to show her everything he knows about chess. Beth shows little interest in sportsmanlike conduct, bristling at having to resign games she's on her way to losing, playing to win and win all the time. Soon, Mr. Shaibel can no longer beat her. He invites a friend to their basement chess matches, a coach of the high school chess team. The coach gets permission for Beth to take a field trip to play his entire team. At the same time.
The surprising thing was how badly they played. In the very first games of her life she had understood more than they did. They left backward pawns all over the place, and their pieces were wide open for forks. A few of them tried crude mating attacks. She brushed those aside like flies. She moved briskly from board to board, her stomach calm and her hand steady. At each board it took only a second's glance to read the position and see what was called for. Her responses were quick, sure and deadly. Charles Levy was supposed to be the best of them; she had his pieces tied up beyond help in a dozen moves; in six more she mated him on the back rank with a knight-rook combination.
Her mind was luminous, and her soul sang to her in the sweet moves of chess. The classroom smelled of chalk dust and her shoes squeaked as she moved down the rows of players. The room was silent; she felt her own presence centered in it, small and solid and in command. Outside, birds sang, but she did not hear them. Inside, some of the students stared at her. Boys came in from the hallway and lined up along the back to watch the homely girl from the orphanage at the edge of town who moved from player to player with the determined energy of a Caesar in the field, a Pavlova under the lights. There were about a dozen people watching. Some smirked and yawned, but others could feel the energy in the room, the presence of something that had never, in the long history of this tired old classroom, been felt there before.
The story follows Beth from that classroom triumph as she grows into a teenager, is adopted, enters chess tournaments to the surprise of everyone but herself, beats everyone to the surprise of everyone but herself, dances a very unhealthy tango with drugs and alcohol, loses her virginity, lands in Life magazine while in high school, travels abroad, consumes herself with chess and ultimately represents the United States in a tournament against the Russian grandmasters of the sport. Beth's ambition is nothing less than to become a professional woman and the best chessplayer in the world.
The Queen's Gambit is pure storytelling. Without window dressing or deviations, Walter Tevis introduces a goal for his orphaned protagonist and starts throwing obstacles in her way. Beth is not gifted with physical beauty or wealth. Her superintendent prefers she take her tranquilizers and give the adults as little trouble as possible. Her foster mother Mrs. Wheatley discourages chess at first as something girls don't do. Tournament officials stick her in the corner against the other women. Beth has more pitfalls open up under her than Indiana Jones. I was driven to continue reading to find out if she would get what she wanted.
Tevis' writing made a deep impression on me. I typically lose myself in a good story and completely ignore the way it's being told, but I couldn't help but appreciate how much detail that Tevis filled the page with while excluding descriptions or ideas or clever asides that didn't relate to the story. I forgot which decade it even takes place in, which is a quality I always admire. And I loved how non-judgmental an author he was, allowing Beth to experiment and make mistakes and evolve without lecturing the reader like the audience of an ABC Afterschool Special. He presents Beth with struggles that she will either overcome or won't. His prose is wildly vivid in its economy.
In January, Mrs. Wheatley called the school to say that Beth had a relapse of mono, and they went to Charleston. In February, it was Atlanta and a cold; in March, Miami and the flu. Sometimes Mrs. Wheatley talked to the Assistant Principal and sometimes to the Dean of Girls. No one questioned the excuses. It seemed likely that some of the students knew about her from out-of-town papers or something, but no one in authority said anything. Beth worked on her chess for three hours every evening between tournaments. She lost one game in Atlanta but still came in first and she stayed undefeated in the other two cities. She enjoyed flying with Mrs. Wheatley, who sometimes became comfortably buzzed by martinis on the planes. They talked and giggled together. Mrs. Wheatley said funny things about the stewardesses and their beautifully pressed jackets and bright, artificial make-up, or talked about how silly some of her neighbors in Lexington were. She was high-spirited and confidential and amusing, and Beth would laugh a long time and look out the window at the clouds below them and feel better than she had ever felt, even during those times at Methuen when she had saved up her green pills and taken five or six at once.
The Netflix mini-series is adapted by Scott Frank & Allan Scott, who together have 100 years of screenwriting credits. All seven episodes are directed by Frank, who wrote the screenplays for Dead Again and Little Man Tate and adapted the Elmore Leonard novels Get Shorty and Out of Sight to film. I don't know its development history but am delighted that rather than making a movie or TV series based on a cartoon or toy, Frank pulled this novel off a dusty bookshelf and told anyone who'd listen that a book about a female chess prodigy would make a great movie. The sublime Anya Taylor-Joy of The Witch and Emma was cast as Beth.
Blimey o’reilly, The Queen’s Gambit was an absolutely stonking good novel – the best I’ve read in ages! Why hasn’t anyone ever told me to read Walter Tevis before?! He’s an utterly fantabulous writer!
Set in 1950s/60s America, Beth Harmon is an orphaned chess prodigy who rises up through the ranks to become the American No.1 and heads across the Iron Curtain to take on the World Champion: the intimidating Russian Borgov!
The story is a bildungsroman but also about genius and addiction. In the orphanage Beth becomes addicted to tranquillisers, then later on discovers alcohol and uses both to get her through the increasingly challenging tournaments. Which only adds to the fascinating nature of Beth’s character: rare, incomprehensible talent coupled with a very relatable human frailty. Tevis shows us his idea of how a chess prodigy might operate – partly through mental visualisation, partly through an unspoken instinct manifesting without clear articulation – which is convincing if probably not wholly accurate.
I’ve played chess but I’m by no means a chess player – I wouldn’t even call myself an amateur, I’m that unskilled! – and yet I found it riveting to read a book filled with chess matches! The matches are genuinely tense and thrilling to read even without understanding the moves as they’re being described - that’s how accessible and interesting Tevis makes chess. He really was an enormously gifted writer.
Beth’s relationships were all awkward but touching in their way. From learning chess from the orphanage’s janitor Mr Shaibel, to her cheerful but fragile foster mom Mrs Wheatley, to her first couple of boyfriends, and her best friend Jolene – they were all compelling, though ultimately we see Beth as she always felt: isolated and alone. Partly through her intellect, partly through unfortunate circumstances, though it makes her subsequent addictions more understandable.
Tevis’ prose is mesmerising and the pages flew by. It’s such a smooth and effortlessly gripping read – I’ve read thrillers that were less exciting than this novel about CHESS of all things! There really isn’t a single thing I can think of to critique in the slightest.
I loved The Queen’s Gambit totally and obviously I’m recommending it to everyone – and now I’m off to check out all of Tevis’ other novels that I’ve been missing!
Sin que sirva de precedente, he de confesar que accedí a esta novela tras ver la famosa serie de Netflix. De hecho, ni conocía la obra, y eso que se publicó en 1983.
Lo primero que me ha llamado poderosamente la atención, es que la serie es una copia casi perfecta de la novela, incluyendo los diálogos, hecho que es poco usual en el mundo de la pantalla, pues las adaptaciones suelen ser bastante libres. En este caso, me huelgo mucho de ello. Creo que han salido ganando las dos, serie y novela.
La historia comienza en los años 60. Beth Harmon es internada en una inclusa de Kentucky al perder a su madre en un accidente de tráfico. Tiene 8 años, y la única persona de la que se hará amiga es Jolene, que tiene 12, pero que lo tendrá muy difícil para ser adoptada. ¿Por qué? Por que ya es mayor, y es negra. A Beth le asignan limpiar los borradores de las tizas en el sótano. Allí conocerá al Sr Shaibel, el huraño y solitario bedel del colegio, que pasa su tiempo jugando a algo que a Beth le desconcierta y le fascina al mismo tiempo. Al ajedrez. Poco a poco, nuestra protagonista conseguirá ganarse las simpatías de tan antipático personaje (pero que todos ya sabemos que no lo es), que la irá introduciendo en el maravilloso juego de las 32 piezas.
En la inclusa a las niñas les dan unas pastillas verdes (tranquilizantes, para que no se alboroten). Beth pronto se dará cuenta de que le pasa algo curioso con esas pastillas. Si junta varias, y se las toma al acostarse, se desplegará ante el techo de su dormitorio comunal un enorme tablero, que le irá, por arte de birlibirloque, enseñando los movimientos de ese maravilloso juego llamado ajedrez. A partir de ese momento, Beth, las pastillas y el ajedrez serán como la santísima trinidad, uno para todos y todos para uno. Pasarán varios años, la invitarán a participar en algún torneo externo, le prohibirán jugar al ajedrez, se hará adolescente…. y cuando menos se lo imaginaba, aparecerá un matrimonio dispuesto a adoptarla. Tendrá que renunciar a su mejor (y única amiga), pero el mundo de posibilidades que se abrirá de pronto ante sus ojos hará que Beth se centre en lo único que realmente le importa: llegar a ser alguien importante en el mundo del tablero de los 64 escaques.
Nunca me hubiera podido imaginar que una novela tan centrada en el mundo del ajedrez, sus movimientos, jugadas y partidas me absorbiera tan profundamente como esta novela (y también la serie, por qué no decirlo) lo ha hecho. Y ya es lástima, porque yo de ajedrez controlo lo que un portero de discoteca a la entrada del Liceu. Aún así, considero que no hace falta ser un experto para disfrutar de esta novela, como pasa también con otras obras de este tipo (léase “Novela de ajedrez” de Stefan Zweig). Ha sido una gozada por partida doble, serie y novela, y sí, ambas las recomiendo, empezando, por supuesto, por la novela. ¡Jaque mate total!
While I enjoyed this book about a young orphan girl.... who became addicted to prescription medication— while at the same time became addicted to the game chess.... Grows into a brilliant world chess champion.... I found myself more interested in her drug addiction ( something that thank heavens I have no personal experience with), her history, and relationships than ‘reading’ about the specific pieces on the board being played - ( knights, ponds, rooks, queens, bishop, kings, check or checkmate) ...— I’d rather play the game - ( an amateur chess player myself), or ‘watch’ the game be played rather than ‘read’ about the black and white pieces being played.
Paul and I watched the first episode of the Netflix series last night…( I love the cast, and found it more emotionally fulfilling than the book). I recognized the script from the book…( but didn’t I ‘feel’ the powerful emotions as much as I did in the series)
So, this is a case where I am more excited about watching the series than about the book itself.
Yet, I’m not sorry I read this slim book... as it gave me a jump-start into the story-line....
This book was a delightful read that was easy to get into and stay invested in. Like any good underdog story – and in the spirt of many great sports movies – we get to go from humble beginnings, victories, setbacks, and development from rookie to champion. Every step of the way I found myself cheering, feeling empathy, and sometimes cringing as I made a close connection to our protagonist, Beth Harmon.
There really isn’t much that I would say is bad about this book. There are a few storylines that I thought might play out differently and maybe a few opportunities missed. But, not enough to detract from the overall experience
I know how to play chess and how all the pieces move. How long would I last in a chess game? Probably not very long as it has been years since I actually played and, as is reflected in this book, the strategy of those who play a lot is very complex and hard to follow with many, many potential moves needing to be anticipated and prepared for. At times, this book gets deep into describing chess matches and chess strategy. Actually understanding what is going on does not seem to matter, but it does occupy quite a bit of real estate in this book so it is something to be prepared for. If you think pages and pages of chess will not interest you, you can skim and should be fine.
I am glad I read this book and I think a lot of people will enjoy it. I am looking forward to checking out the show on Netflix.
hmm. for sure in the minority with my thoughts and feelings about this one.
i found the chess scenes to be surprisingly interesting. i appreciate how the games and competitions are portrayed with a very high-stakes feel. which is quite an achievement for that kind of feeling to be translated onto paper.
what i was bored with was everything else, unfortunately. i couldnt find depth in the characters and certain events, there are some questionable scenes that i struggled to see a purpose for, and i thought the overall structure of the narrative/plot was repetitive.
would i have enjoyed this more had the story been longer and expanded? maybe. it might feel more developed that way. is it just a case of me not personally clicking with this authors writing style? quite possibly. which means this is definitely a case of “its not you, its me.”
Quiero aprovechar esta oportunidad para confesar que una de las razones por las que me gusta leer es por la curiosidad que siento por lo desconocido. Soy muy curioso por naturaleza y desde niño siempre me gustaron los misterios, o imaginar cientos de sucesos a partir de un simple acontecimiento, y eso me ha llevado a estar permanentemente investigando descubrimientos, leyendas, anécdotas paranormales, etc. Sin embargo, aunque amo las historias, siento pereza al ver una serie/película cuando no estoy en compañía porque me parece súper aburrido tener que quedarme varias horas sentado mirando una pantalla, sin tener con quien discutir lo que está pasando ante mis ojos. Sin compañía no veo televisión y eso me lleva a ser un gran procrastinador de todo tipo de contenido audiovisual. Lo sé, es irónico porque para leer necesito estar solo quedándome mucho tiempo mirando unas hojas de papel, o una pantalla en caso de ser digital, pero la diferencia es que con un libro mi imaginación empieza a trabajar automáticamente, hecho que no ocurre con una serie, película o programa de televisión. Por ello, lo que suelo hacer cuando me recomiendan una serie o película es buscar si está basada en un libro, y si es así, descarto automáticamente ver la cinta y programo el momento de realizar la lectura. Y bien, esa fue la forma como conocí este libro... y si se preguntan: No, aún no he visto la serie de Netflix.
En Gambito de Dama acompañaremos a Beth, una niña huérfana que se encuentra en un orfanato, quien un día por casualidad conoce el ajedrez y se volverá tan importante para ella que desde allí su vida girará en torno a este juego. No importa donde esté, no importa lo que haga, el ajedrez siempre estará en su cabeza. Tanta será su obsesión que incluso será capaz de jugar varias partidas simultáneamente en su mente, sin siquiera ver físicamente un tablero de ajedrez. ¡Eso no lo hace cualquiera! Pero Beth si puede hacerlo y no solo eso, sino también logrará convertirse en una gran profesional de este deporte (de las mejores). Pero hacerlo no será sencillo porque a pesar de que Beth posee el talento natural para este juego, ella vive en una época donde se cree que el ajedrez es solo para hombres, y donde las mujeres parecen interesarles solo el maquillaje, la moda y los hombres. Como Beth no entra en ese modelo de chica, entonces se sentirá como un cero a la izquierda, causándole una soledad crónica que le afectará toda su vida. El ajedrez será su escapatoria para no pensar en ello, pero desagradablemente también lo harán las adicciones. Sin embargo, más allá de sus malos hábitos, la persistencia de Beth se convertirá en un ejemplo de superación personal para cualquier persona que siente que no puede conseguir sus sueños: La clave está en persistir, en practicar y en no rendirse jamás. Por ello, independientemente de si nos gusta o no este juego, encontraremos en Gambito de Dama una historia muy interesante sobre la persistencia, las adicciones, la soledad y la frustración.
Como personaje, simpaticé rápidamente con Beth por su gusto por el ajedrez, ya que a mí me encanta, pero cuando se volvió adulta perdí ese agrado por ella porque no me gustó la forma como se estaba autodestruyendo a sí misma. Su consumo de drogas, sus borracheras y su tendencia a tener sexo con cualquier hombre solo demostraban la triste autoestima que Beth tenía, a pesar de ser tan increíble. Cuando empezó con esas actividades lo único que pensaba sobre ella era «qué asco de persona». Sin embargo, más adelante recuperó mi respeto y me dejó satisfecho por su rol de protagonista. Como jugadora me pareció muy buena y disfruté muchísimo cada una de sus partidas, aunque, debo reconocer, que para ser una jugadora tan buena, debió usar más aperturas en su juego y no solo la siciliana y los gambitos de rey y dama. Entiendo que Walter Tevis lo debió decidir así para no confundir a los lectores que no conocían sobre el tema, pero hacerlo así es un error. Es un error porque los grandes maestros (GM) estudian horas, meses y años cada una de las aperturas usadas en este juego, por lo que esos jugadores conocen a profundidad el funcionamiento de cada una de ellas. No se les puede ganar a todos usando la misma apertura porque el ajedrez no es un deporte como el fútbol, en el cual un equipo juega siempre con la misma estrategia y gana todos sus partidos. No, cada partida de ajedrez es una guerra distinta, y eso es precisamente lo que hace interesante este juego. Aquel jugador que siempre juega igual se vuelve predecible y pierde su nivel, por ello, es que hay tantos cambios en el ranking mundial de la FIDE, así como niños prodigios que en uno o dos años ya no tienen nivel para competir internacionalmente. Como ficción, el juego de Beth es espectacular, pero si alguien en la vida real participará profesionalmente con el estilo de Beth posiblemente perdería en las primeras rondas de todos los torneos. ¿Por qué? Porque para competir internacionalmente se necesita jugar bien en cada una de las fases del ajedrez (apertura, medio juego y final), y aunque Beth jugaba perfectamente el medio juego, no es suficiente en un torneo real.
Algo que me gustó mucho de esta nóvela es la forma como Beth va descubriendo la normatividad y ciertas informaciones sobre el ajedrez. Para mí fue como redescubrir lo que ya conocía, pero fue una sensación muy agradable. De hecho todo lo relacionado al ajedrez está muy bien trabajado —excepto lo que comenté en el párrafo anterior— y excelentemente ambientado. Está tan bien creada la atmósfera del argumento principal, que cada vez que leía un enfrentamiento de Beth sentía deseos de dejar de leer e ir a jugar unas buenas partidas. Y eso ocurría porque en lo que alcancé a percibir, los movimientos que se realizaban no eran inventados, sino eran jugadas de partidas reales que se desarrollaron hace muchos años y que hacen parte de las mejores partidas de la historia. Me hubiera encantado que el libro tuviera ilustraciones de algunos movimientos, o por lo menos un anexo en la parte final donde se mencionaran las partidas que se usaron en este libro. De ser así, buscaría las partidas y las disfrutaría con más detenimiento.
Los demás personajes no están mal, pero tampoco tienen un desarrollo para destacar. Cada uno tiene su rol en su momento y lo cumple a medida que se va relacionando con Beth, eso es todo. Sí, algunos son más importantes que otros, pero Beth y el ajedrez opacan completamente a cada uno de los integrantes de esta historia. No obstante, quiero destacar el rol de Benny Watts por la forma en que estudia el ajedrez, así como su influencia sobre Beth; igualmente, quiero declarar que nunca me simpatizó la señora Wheatley porque no me gustan las personas interesadas.
En cuanto a la prosa no me gustó al inicio porque en las primeras páginas sentí como si estuviera leyendo una bitácora. Fue un inicio horrible y bastante glacial, donde cada párrafo fue una escena, con saltos en el tiempo precipitados y desordenados, y en el cual fue notable que a Walter no le interesaba narrar la infancia de Beth, pero, por la composición de su obra, se vio obligado a ello. Sin embargo, en vez de hacerlo con calma y con transiciones normales, lo que resultó haciendo fue contarlo todo de la manera más hosca posible. Afortunadamente eso solo ocurrió en el inicio porque después, de allí hasta al final, la prosa se vuelve muy agradable, fácil de leer y con la información suficiente para que el lector entienda lo necesario sobre ajedrez.
El final fue excelente porque la última partida me pareció épica. Sí, fue predecible, pero siento que es un gran final para un gran libro que no me arrepiento de leer, y el cual me hace interesarme por los demás libros publicados por Walter Tevis. Seguramente de no ser por la adaptación de Netflix nunca hubiera descubierto este libro ni a este autor, pero a veces simplemente las coincidencias se presentan y nos llevan irremediablemente hacia el camino que debemos recorrer. ¿Miraré en el futuro la serie de Netflix? No lo sé, probablemente no.
Por el argumento, por la protagonista y por causarme ese deseo de ir a jugar ajedrez, es que decido calificar este libro con cinco estrellas: Están muy bien ganadas. Libro muy recomendado independientemente de si les gusta o no el ajedrez.
Note: This is not really a review. It's more me just gushing about something I love... sorry. That's all I have to offer on this one.
I'm not one who usually buys into TV show hype and has to read the book. Sure, I read the first couple of Song of Ice and Fire books, but I did it before the TV show. Same with Haunting of Hill House. I enjoyed Mindhunter, but never felt a strong desire to read the book. Just because I enjoy one version does not mean I will care for it in another
I completely admit that I have bought into the hype for The Queen's Gambit. I wasn't even interested in the show at first. I kept hearing people talk about it at work though and on one of the forums I frequently visit and kept seeing the damn thing every time I turned on Netflix until I finally said "I give!" and tried it.
I loved it. Honestly one of the best shows I've seen in some time. Flash forward to be beginning of this week when I was walking around Barnes and Noble on Sunday and saw a copy of this on display. I usually dislike media tie-in covers (again, see that first paragraph), but seeing Anya Taylor-Joy's eyes staring me down over that chess board, seemingly intimidating the player in front of her... I decided yes, I'd give the book a shot as well.
Yes, it was just as good. In fact, it was exactly what I needed. Since the year had started I've already finished three books, all of which I gave three stars. They were fun enough, but nothing that wowed me. This was perfection and is already a contender for favorite book of the year... and we're only two weeks into it.
I won't go over the plot. It's been discussed and now with the show pretty much everyone knows the basic idea, but the book is well told. Structurally it leads the reader into all its themes and ideas bit by bit. It's about genius, it's about addiction and while the drama is told remarkably well, chess is of course where it stands out and manages to somehow, through describing the moves, create more suspense than any thriller I've ever read.
This book is simply a joy from start to finish. A wonderful read and one I cannot recommend enough. 5/5 stars.
The Queens Gambit is about professional chess in the same way that David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is about professional tennis. That is to say, the core of the book is about how we use our talents to destroy ourselves. In this it is sImilar to Stefan Zweig’s Chess Story which, although written three quarters of a century ago, carries the same warning about the same game.
Beth is a chess prodigy. The first impression of her story might be that she is another Billy Eliot or a Mozart, a rerun of talent triumphing over adversity. But Walter Tevis has done something unusual. Although the book is written on the third person, the reader gets to know very little about Beth from the outside. The perspective is that of Beth from the inside - what she, feels, thinks. But what she is to herself is opaque. She, like most of us, has no idea that she is neurotic.
Beth is an Objective Introvert in Jungian terms. That is, she is particularly sensitive to the social environment in which she finds herself; and she tends to adapt herself in a variety of ways to that environment. I think it’s fair to say that Objective Introverts are the permanently oppressed in modern society. In ages past, they might end up in monasteries or as quiet functionaries in a family business. But in a competitive corporate society their lack of aggressiveness and apparent malleability makes them seem weak and unserious, unfit for commercial adventure.
Unless, of course, they have some significant talent that allows them to shine - like playing chess. In that case the talent is perceived - by its possessor as well as the rest of society - as a compensation for an otherwise unfortunate personality. Like the autistic savant who can sketch an entire cityscape from memory, the talent is not only a way to fit in but also a route to fame and fortune. Or so it might seem.
Beth compensates for her psychic imbalance using two strategies: chess and dope. Chess provides a focus from which the constant pressure generated by the the world can be mitigated. The dope dulls what’s left of the world and eases the pressure between matches. Outstanding therapy therefore.
The problem of course, as in any self-help regime, is that the remedy quickly becomes part of the problem. As Beth is successful professionally, chess promotes even greater introversion. And the dope becomes a greater intrusion than the rest of the world had ever been. Together they drive her further into what becomes obsessive addiction.
Beth’s personality is not her problem. What gets her in trouble is her compulsion to ‘fix’ her personality. If she could realise that there is no need to do so, she might not be so driven to find competitive success. But she’d probably enjoy chess - and life in general - much more.
As much as I wished to have discovered the book before the TV show, that didn't stop the words from amusing me. Even if you don't know what any of the chess pieces do and have no interest in chess, Beth alone can make up for all that. What a character she is! She deserves more appreciation and acknowledgement as one of the most well-developed femme fatale. So, here's a tribute to the one who's "unapologetically feminine," yet not a goddess without flaws.
Esta novela me hizo jaque mate en estos diez movimientos:
♟En la oficina donde trabajo varias compañeras me hablaron de la serie de Netflix… —Aitor, tienes que ver “Gambito de dama”. —La veré, pero antes voy a leer el libro.
♟Mi hermano mayor estuvo durante varios años apuntado a un club de ajedrez. No le he ganado nunca, pero disfruto (y aprendo) cada vez que jugamos.
♟La apertura de la novela es brillante, el juego medio se sigue con mucho interés y el final te deja con la sensación de haber dis(p/fr)utado una gran partida.
♟Me gusta el ajedrez, pero creo que no es condición necesaria para que te guste la novela.
♟El personaje de Beth Harmon es maravilloso.
♟El talento y el esfuerzo no entienden de géneros ni de procedencias.
♟Habrá quien ante tanta notación ajedrecista se enroque, habrá quien pida tablas y habrá quien abandone la partida…, pero seguro que much@s la disfrutaréis tantísimo como yo.
♟Porque aunque la vida nos apriete, nos hayan comido varias piezas importantes y seamos conscientes de habernos equivocado muchas veces, merece la pena seguir poniendo lo mejor de nosotros en cada nuevo movimiento.
♟Sé que la serie de Netflix me hará jaque mate en 7 (episodios).
♟Si Goodreads fuera una gran oficina y vosotr@s mis compañer@s de trabajo, yo también os diría: —Tenéis que leer “Gambito de dama”.
Extraordinary tale of a young girl's genius at chess
If you loved the Netflix series, you will adore the book from which it was born, The Queen's Gambit is storytelling at its finest. Walter Tevis is well known for his books about pool, The Hustler and The Color of Money. Pool and chess have much in common. Each sets one player against one other. Each game requires dexterity and the ability to see in three dimensions, and each requires a calm and clear mind.
If told that I would read a book about chess and revel in it, I would not have believed it, but it's true. I was riveted. Even though I had just seen the series, I believe the book is better. We are inside Beth Harmon's mind. We get to understand why she behaved the way she does and why her addiction to drugs and alcohol and chess have such a hold on her.
Have you ever enjoyed a movie/tv show more than the book?
This is one of the rare occasions where I would say the tv show was better! But I still enjoyed the book. They were very similar however I was hoping to learn more about Beth in the book which I didn’t get.
What I loved:
• I was rooting for Beth all the way, from humble beginnings to a chess champion, it is an uplifting story.
• I loved Beth’s and Mrs Wheatley’s growing relationship. It was very heartwarming. Mrs Wheatley was hilarious and how she would cover for Beth from school with fake diseases.
• The chess tournaments! I don’t think you need to know chess to enjoy this but it might impact you a bit because there were a lot of scenes. If anything it might get you interested and curious to learn! Even though I know how to play (I played in a tournament in primary school and won 3.5/7 games :D) I didn’t understand the strategy but it was still fun and I was on the edge of my seat.
What I wanted more of:
• I was never fully immersed in Beth’s life and felt a bit detached because the story briefly tells you what happens rather than actually experiencing it with her. After a while it became repetitive, Beth would go for a tournament, then filler-like scenes of her life in between before another tournament. I wanted to feel more and experience her ups and downs of growing up however they were a little flat. All of her hardships were overcome very easily and I never questioned whether she would get through it or the impacts on her because they were always shrugged off. For example I was devastated about but I forgot about it soon after because the story moved on very quickly! It didn’t affect Beth as much as I thought it would. I wanted to get insights and learn more about her than the series but only the chess games were in detail.
• I didn’t fully connect with any of the characters, even Beth. I wanted more depth, but the only thing that defined them was chess and nothing else.
• The ending wasn’t as satisfying as the series, it felt like the end of a chapter and I still wanted more.
What I didn’t enjoy
• Was anyone shocked about the sexual content at the start of the novel? It was very unnecessary and it was brushed off like nothing happened. It didn’t happen in the series so I was shocked!!
This was such a joy to experience. You do NOT have to love chess or even know anything about chess to enjoy this book. Walter Tevis does a phenomenal job giving you enough information to enjoy the book without that knowledge. However, even with a reader such as I that has basic chess skills, it was thrilling to see how the mind of Beth and other players worked through the entire board sequences and problem-solving techniques in their minds.
Undoubtedly, a masterful player of any game can envision multiple ways to dominate a game and anticipate the other player's movements. The resultant countermoves require a uniquely analytical mind.
This book is honest and shows Beth's obsession with and love for chess as it becomes her survival in the world around her. She is not a perfect character, nor does she ever try to be. All she wants to do is feel the thrill of winning a chess game. Beth struggles to survive outside of the chessboard, and she doesn't do the greatest job, but somehow she finds her self-discipline when needed.
Overall, a well-written story with excellent pacing. The narration on the audio was very well done and helped bring the story to life. And now I can finally watch the show, .haha.
The book takes as its subject the life of Beth Harmon. It traces her troubled childhood, how she grew up and became a world-famous chess player. When she was eight, Beth lost her parents and was obliged to enter an orphanage. The conditions of life in the orphanage and its rules are somewhat reminiscent of Charles Dickens' novels. The headmistress of the house for orphaned girls – a rigorous and self-confident woman with "a sadistic flash in her eyes" – could migrate into one of Dickens’ stories with much ease. Her priority lies in making the girls in her care good Christians, who would go to church every Sunday. However, the life of little Beth is not entirely sad. She gets along well with one of her fellow girls, who, having spent much more time than her in the orphanage, is familiar with its ways. The two girls later develop a friendly relationship. Beth does the best in almost all subjects, but she is especially gifted at math. Here you might ask, “What about chess, isn’t the novel about chess?”
An inadvertent encounter is about to take place in a gloomy attic of the building. This attic is the favorite place of a local janitor, who is accustomed to playing chess there. He does not need anyone to that end; the man plays against himself. His white pieces fight his black ones, creating an excitement hardly comprehensible to outsiders. But this soon changes. One day Beth, who has been watching the man play, offers to play the game with him. The janitor can hardly imagine the will to win that resides in this awkward and apparently shy girl. Such is the starting point of the novel.
The plot unfolds as Elisabeth leaves the orphanage with the people who adopted her and as she grows older. The reader should not expect the girl’s youth to be less complicated than her lonely childhood. She must gain the upper hand over her so-called "inner enemy" if she wants to continue playing chess.
Throughout most of the book, she struggles to overcome her addictions. For Beth, chess is a way of controlling herself and the people that surround her, and the only means for achieving inner stability. The outside world is so inconstant and full of perils. Beth feels safe and experiences a sense of control only when she acts within the limits of a chessboard. Real people, unlike chess figures, are elusive and unpredictable. I hope that it won't be an inexcusable spoiler if I repeat that, in the end, Beth Harmon becomes a renowned chess player. In the final episode, she goes to Moscow in order to participate in a chess tournament. There, she encounters the Soviet chess champion Borgov.
I would like to mention just a few points I personally liked about the novel.
First, the book focuses mainly on chess or, as the writer puts it, on the beautiful ballets danced by chess figures. All other motifs – romantic feelings, relationships with foster parents, the fight for social justice – seem to be secondary compared to chess. The ancient game alone reigns in the pages of this novel.
Second, the book deals with some patterns that I would associate with healthy feminism. Beth is extremely talented, and she is forced to show her skills in a predominantly masculine field. In the sixties, when the story takes place, there were very few female chess players, let alone women who beat men. On several occasions, Beth emphasizes that she does not expect any favors because of her gender. Beth is not only obsessed with chess but also concerned with her looks and pays attention to how others look. Appearance, as we well know, may be deceptive. Even so, Harmon tends to think that they sometimes matter. The girl will spend the first prize money she receives on fashionable clothes. In other words, a woman can have excellent cognitive abilities and love looking smart at the same time. It is all about choices and personal preferences.
Third, the author appears to be determined to belie several clichés. Thus, he seeks to represent the USSR not as an evil and utterly gloomy place, but as a country whose people are fascinated by chess. They know all the famous players and follow their games with enjoyment. As to the Soviet government, they are liberal when it comes to financing all the chess-related staff. The stark contrast the novel draws between the attitudes of the American officials and those of the communists. Americans show themselves rather frugal and even refuse to support financially Beth’s trip to Moscow. Of course, there is some idealization in such a benevolent picture, but it may serve as a counterbalance to some stereotypical representations of Soviet people in Western mass culture.
On a not so pleasant note, the book abounds with detailed descriptions of chess moves. Something like “she sends the opponent’s king into check by shrewdly advancing her pawn…” It sounds much more elegant in the novel. Nevertheless, this at times made me yawn. I must add that it may be just my problem because I am bad at playing chess. Perhaps, for someone who is good at it, these elaborations would be truly enthralling. Besides, according to well-informed critiques, the particularities of chess games in the book proved to be quite authentic.
It’s too bad that this book has been so forgotten. If only somebody would do a really good TV adaptation of it then….What’s that? Oh. Never mind.
After her mother dies Beth Harmon is sent to an orphanage, and it’s just as much fun as that sounds. However, she manages to get by thanks to daily doses of tranquilizers they give to all the girls, and she discovers a natural talent for chess thanks to a gruff janitor who reluctantly teaches her the game. Beth is eventually adopted by a less than ideal couple, but she finally manages to make her way to chess tournaments where she’s an instant sensation despite her fondness for her little green pills and a growing taste for booze. As she grows into adulthood she tries to become a player capable of beating the Soviet grand master who is the world champion, but Beth’s personal demons always threaten to overwhelm her as she struggles to live up to her full potential.
The amazing thing about this story is that it sounds like it could be pure misery porn, but it really isn’t. Yes, the lead is an orphan who has a very hard life in many ways including coping with addictions. Yet author Walter Tevis manages to keep the story from feeling grim, even when the circumstances really are.
I think this is because he’s more interested in how Beth reacts and copes with her problems rather than just dwelling on the ugliness of them. Even when she hits rock bottom and goes on an extended bender, we don’t wallow in the seedy picture of a young lady doing her best to drink herself into oblivion. Instead, by being in her head we see how she slides into this pattern because she doesn’t know how to deal with her issues rather than being some kind of narcissistic exercise in self-destruction.
Another thing Beth has to resolve is that the very nature of chess and studying it often means she spends a lot of time alone and in her own head which as a socially awkward person is how she often likes it, but she also has abandonment issues and also doesn’t really want to be alone. Since she’s her own worst enemy this is often a recipe for disaster. Plus, there’s been some chess masters who had mental health problems so for a woman who has her own issues, she’s uneasy about how going deep into the game might not be the best thing for her.
At the heart of the entire story is what it means to be a genius at anything. Beth has a natural talent that allows her to achieve a lot without much training, but because it’s all been easy for her she has to learn how to apply herself if she wants to become the world champion. When it’s been easy to be the best, it’s often hard to dig in and take the next step because talent will only get you so far in any field. When things get tougher, failure is always a possibility, and if there’s one thing Beth is frightened of, it’s failure.
Tevis also manages to make chess interesting in this. Like a lot of people, I know how to play, but I have no particular talent for it. His accounts of Beth’s games and study of it provide a glimpse into what it must be like to be a player at that level, and I actually found myself looking up some famous chess games and finding them fascinating.
It’s an extremely well written and sympathetic portrait of a woman struggling with her past and her talent. I’d already seen the Netflix show based on it, and it’s pretty faithful so there were no real surprises. Yet, I still found myself getting anxious about Beth and how she was doing both in her chess matches and in her life all over again.
Un roman pentru amatorii de șah. Și, mai precis: pentru fanaticii acestui sport. Cred că îl vor citi cu plăcere. În mare, Walter Tevis (1928-1984) narează fără cine știe ce har biografia unei fetițe orfane prodigioase, care devine cea mai bună jucătoare de șah din lume. Beth Harmon reușește, desigur, să-i bată și pe bărbați, inclusiv pe Marii Maeștri sovietici. Neîndoielnic, Tevis a realizat o apologie a perseverenței feminine.
Din păcate, romanul conține prea mult șah și prea puțină analiză psihologică.
Cei pricepuți în jocul minții vor fi cu siguranță dezamăgiți de faptul că traducătoarea cărții nu a consultat un manual de șah, pentru a învăța terminologia de bază a jocului. Nu e corect să traduci „variația” Levenfish (pp.30, 33, 246, 252 etc.): ar fi trebuit varianta Levenfish sau „atacul Levenfish”. Nu e corect să traduci „rating 1881” (p.169). Chestia asta abisală se numește coeficient ELO. Nu e corect să traduci „Expert”. Mai bine scrii Maestru internațional. „Mikhail Tal” e transcrierea englezească a mai cunoscutului Mihail Tal (p.397). „Alekhine” e probabil Alehin (p.249). În șah nu există „partide pierdute” și „partide cedate” (p.399). Și partidele cedate tot pierdute sînt. Un pion nu „se promovează în regină”, se transformă în regină, sau în oricare altă piesă dorită de șahist, nu și în Rege (p.249). Și așa mai departe.
The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis was given to me as a gift. It is also a Netflix series which I knew nothing about when I received this book. I can honestly say I probably wouldn’t have chosen this book on my own. But I can also honestly say that it’s this book that I will still remember and think about months from now.
Elizabeth (Beth) Harmon became an orphan at age eight. With no relatives, she was sent to Methuen Home, an orphanage in Kentucky. She was alone and scared. The orphanage used little green pills to calm the children and Beth began to depend on those pills a little too much. It was the orphanage’s janitor that introduced Beth to the game of chess. A game she would soon discover she had a talent for.
It would be about five years before Beth was able to leave the orphanage. Now Beth was able to truly study chess and at age thirteen entered her first tournament. This event began both the rise and the fall of Beth Harmon. She was indeed a prodigy. She had a natural intuition for the game. But she also struggled with anxiety. With a feeling of not belonging. A feeling that those little green pills helped to ease. And later, she discovered alcohol did as well.
I can honestly say that this book haunted me. Last night I had to stop around eighty percent because it was late. But found I couldn’t sleep, thinking about Beth and what would happen with the particular situation she was in. I also want to say that some may think of Beth as being weak due to her dependencies. But I think she was unbelievably strong. She was completely alone. She clawed and fought her way up in the chess world. She studied all the players, read books, memorized past matches. She had one goal, to beat the best player of all at the biggest match of all, in Russia.
I pretty much went into this blind. I knew it was about chess and that it had become a television series. I did not expect the impact it would have. It’s obvious that the author did a lot of research regarding chess, chess players, and play strategies. There was a lot of detail of Beth’s chess plays and I did end up skimming a little bit through some of these since I’m not a chess player and I didn’t understand them. I just needed to know the outcome for Beth and what was going to happen next.
During the time’s I needed to set this book down for whatever reason, I thought constantly about Beth. And it’s Beth that I’ll be thinking about months from now. This is one of those books that stays with you. If at some future time I become a Netflix subscriber, I’ll definitely watch the series. But for now, perhaps the book or series will initiate new interest in the game of chess.
I love this book. It’s feeling really challenging to try to start my next (any) book because I doubt I’ll enjoy it as much as I liked this one. I have added this one to my favorites shelf.
I’m so grateful that my book club agreed to read this for our March book. For me it was the perfect book at the perfect time. In fact, some of my book club members were having a hard time getting a copy, so I quickly finished the last couple of chapters so that they could read my library copy before its due date. That was easy to do. This book was easy to pick up and hard to put down. My preference when reading books is to stop reading at the end of chapters or at least at the end of mid-chapter marked breaks, but with this book I was happy to read until I had to put the book down to do something else. Finishing a sentence was enough for me. I didn’t want to stop reading until I absolutely had to stop.
Beth Harmon is an amazing and memorable character. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her life and reading this amazing coming of age story. I loved both the character and the story.
The secondary characters are also very well drawn out, to just the right amount, in my opinion, and they all also contribute to making this story great.
I don’t even play chess and there is so much in this story that is play by play during chess games, and I had no idea what was going on with the relaying of chess pieces moving on the board or what they meant, yet the descriptions completely held my attention; I was riveted. I was hooked for start to finish. I think if I knew the game of chess I might have gotten even more out of the story, though I have no complaints reading it not knowing the game.
I was afraid I wouldn’t enjoy reading about Beth as much when she aged (age 8 to age 19) but I found her always interesting. In fact, even though the book ended in a satisfying way, I’d read a sequel if there was one. Unfortunately, this book was published in 1983, the author’s seventh book, and he died in 1984, so this is his last book.
The book is a really fast read; it has 243 pages and 14 chapters, some long. The story took a few unexpected turns in the last couple of chapters. I appreciated the twists in the storyline.
This is a story about a girl who’s a chess prodigy but if I had a thrillers shelf I’d use it for this book. It did read like a thriller, especially parts in the middle and the end.
I wouldn’t say that the language is gorgeous, and it’s not a particularly quotable book, but I think that it’s beautifully written. The characters, particularly the main character, are completely believable. It’s a brilliantly constructed book. Though it isn’t a long book and the events take place over only 11 years, it felt like an epic to me.
I’ve always wanted to learn to play chess, though I think the fun would be playing at an advanced level. At this point I doubt I could learn to play past a beginner level, and I certainly don’t have the aptitude to play the way the best chess players can play. It seems as though it would be a thrill to be able to play at a top level. I got a bit of vicarious satisfaction from “watching” Beth play the game. This book made me even more curious and interested in the game. If I had read this as a teen or young adult I’ll bet I’d have made an effort to learn and play chess games.
Highly recommended. Particularly recommended for those who enjoy coming of age stories, orphan stories, those have an interest in chess, physical fitness, addiction, mentoring, and feminism.
Gentle readers, I submit, for your rigorous inspection, the idea that Story is the most powerful technology ever devised by the human species. As you have no doubt considered the numerous fictions which hold our society together, (i.e. the indomitable narrative that, circa Hobbes pushing Calvin into a mud hole to demonstrate the consequences of indulging fits of nihilistic pique writ large (i.e. extrapolated to a governing principle of conduct, or in this case, a manner of conduct sans principles), has mercilessly castigated us for weaponizing intermittent bouts of solipsism as an expedient to virtuous alternatives (i.e. making damn sure none of our coarse pubic hair is adhering to the communal soap like the severed limbs of clingy Opiliones (i.e. Grandaddy Long Legs) who have been ripped from their families by an oily, alkaline block, and ground into a mass of twitchy femurs by repeatedly traversing both the sewage and entertainment districts of simian tool users, repeatedly, without contrition.), before exiting the lavatory.), I shan’t belabor the point (unless I do so parenthetically). I merely wish to suggest to you that the most powerful review is also a Story.
Having overexposed myself to certain Netflix program centering around the travails of a chess prodigy who struggles with chemical enslavement to high grade hippopotamus barbiturates and inferior or illicit whisky (i.e. Hooch) (i.e. Queen’s Gambit), I began to see certain parallels between me and the lead character, owing, perhaps, to cognitive deficits brought on by copious ingestion of byproducts associated with yeast fermentation (i.e. ogre swill) and a recently acquired cognitive prosthesis (i.e. an idea) called Consilience (i.e. the concept that seemingly disparate domains of systematized abstraction (i.e. fields of knowledge) possess a surprising amount of overlap, and that the balkanization of academic disciplines is a product, in the main, of any one individuals limited time and bandwidth), I surmised that, due to an inordinate amount of time spent both doing calculus and calculating how best to navigate the pitfalls of the Circus Modernity, (i.e. obtaining fruitful sexual congress with women attached to large, developed, nulliparous breasts which shout, from the ramparts of the world, their remarkable fecundity (i.e. boobas), not aspirating masticated particulates of dead tissue stripped from the bones of muscular quadrupeds deep into my lungs and dying (i.e. developing venison consumption), not falling head first through a glass table encumbered with “tasteful” erotic picture books in an attempt to answer the summons of a telemarketer while wearing only a bath towel, not producing my Glock 19 and gut-shooting someone loitering in the middle of the cereal isle. Etc.), I would have certain natural advantages in a game consisting of iterated calculations. In fact, I reasoned, I could very well be the best chess player on earth based on how long I had contemplated Cellular Automata, (i.e. a collection of "colored" cells on a grid of specified shape that evolves through a number of discrete time steps according to a set of rules based on the states of neighboring cells.), and lately Wolfram’s Rule 30 (i.e. one such collection of discrete units obeying simple local rules which display aperiodic, chaotic behavior), it is no exaggeration to say that I have spent several months of my life watching black and white pixels marching across my screen while extremely effin high.
So it came to pass that I penetrated the paltry encryption of my dad’s high-level, online chess account, (i.e. correctly guessing that the password would be some combination of his name followed by the year of his birth), changed his screen name to something more suitable (i.e. 666_TotalFuckingJenicide_666), placed, as my avatar, the image of Lady Lilith (i.e. an oil painting by one Dante Gabriel Rossetti) and queued up. It wasn’t long until I had my first match and cordial dialogue issued forth from my first victim.
CryingGandalf63: nice to meet you glhf XD
666_TotalFuckingJenicide_666: Prepare to fucking die.
CryingGandalf63: oh my
It’s my move. Already my brain is on fire with past images of cellular automata devouring one another in John Conway’s Game of Life, (i.e. a cellular automaton devised by the British mathematician John Horton Conway in 1970, which, in addition to the fascinating property of having Turing completeness, (i.e. a property that describes that a programming language, a simulation or a logical system is in principle suitable to solve every computing problem), can be counted upon to produce what could only be described as belligerent, pixelated bacterial flagellum which flock together and often kick off tremendous rows without provocation.
In keeping with the spirit of this; my initial strategy unfolds.
1.e4 e5. 2.Ke2?
Unbeknownst to me, this opening constitutes what is widely understood by chess aficionados to be the ‘The Bongcloud Attack’ (i.e. an unorthodox chess move that has surged in popularity after reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen used it in a competitive match. The name "Bongcloud" refers to cannabis use (i.e. capsizing cannabinoid receptors in the brain with a tidal bong rip which makes you stagger into the bathroom and piss flaming hot Cheetos from the noisy flap on your brain stalk), with the implication that someone would have to be under the influence of drugs in order to make such a bad move. The Bongcloud can also be seen as a taunt, with the implication that the user does not consider their opponent to be up to their level of skill, and so they balance the game out with an act of self-sabotage.
CryingGandalf63: ROFL okay ill be ur nakamura :)
My opponent begins to mirror my moves. I extrapolate the outcome of this memetic dance. This can only lead to the eradication of all future morphological potential in grid-space. I take a big pull from my flask and hiss between clenched mammalian dentition as the Rotgut sets off pork chop related grease fires in my gullet. I type feverishly.
666_TotalFuckingJenicide_666: Don’t you see what you’re doing, you idiot? This isn’t how the game is played! Those squares adjacent to my automata can’t be occupied by yours. Fucking CHEATER!
CryingGandalf63: Let me ask you something: Have you ever, while conducting Middle-earth LARPing exercises with your dearest comrades in the mountains behind your childhood home whilst collectively hallucinating due to massive psilocybin ingestion, envisioned your enraged father cresting the nearest hill as the front-line lieutenant of Morgoth and shouted to your elven entourage, “Lo there, he who hath slain two of the High Kings of the Ñoldor, the Lord of Balrogs; Gothmog approaches to besiege the Hidden City of Gondolin with his fiery whip, but I, Ecthelion, shall cast him into the fountain and douse his infernal flames forevermore. (?)
CryingGandalf63: And as your friends and allies, who were significantly less discombobulated due to reasonable restrictions on how much of their macronutrient profile could accommodate mushroom consumption, fled into the surrounding woods at the fury of your father’s countenance and his white knuckled grip around a pair of jumper cables, did you nervously apprehend the situation and yet could only bolster yourself by channeling the great wizard Gandalf, striking the ground with your foam staff and shouting: “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun. Go back to the Shadow.” (?)
CryingGandalf63: But this did not stop your dad from laying you low with those jumper cables and commencing to beat your ass so severely that your shoes were never found. While all around you panicked voices receded into the old forest and you could only cry and shout: “Fly, you fools!” (?)
I hadn't heard much about "The Queen's Gambit", the book or the Netflix series, until last November, when two different colleagues insisted that I watch the show immediately, as the main character reminded them of me so much. How, I wondered, could the story of a chess prodigy possibly make anyone think of me? I am a beginner chess player (I started teaching myself in lockdown: it sounded like an interesting way to keep my brain active when I couldn’t focus on a book) and the only pills I pop are iron supplements... As it turns out, it was the vintage wardrobe, pointy chin and deadpan attitude that were strikingly similar. But by the time I realized that, I had binged the show and ferretted a copy of Tevis' novel (as well as a lovely vintage Soviet chess set that would probably make my Russian ex-boyfriend green with envy). I had heard of Tevis as a writer of essentially philosophical science-fiction, and I was curious to see how someone who wrote "The Man Who Fell to Earth" would pull off what is essentially a feminist coming-of-age story.
I will not beat around the bush: I loved this book. The prose is lean and precise, yet manages to capture Beth’s thoughts and feelings beautifully, and I was instantly invested in her story and the very realistic evolution of her character.
When Beth’s mother dies in a car crash, she is sent to live in an orphanage in Kentucky. Life there is bland and boring to her until she meets the custodian, Mr. Shaibel, who plays chess by himself in the orphanage basement. Not one to take no for an answer, Beth hangs around until he accepts to teach her the game, and to the old man’s surprise, she displays a natural gift for it. He teaches her as much as he can, but besides chess, Beth has a fondness for the little green pills dispensed by the orphanage pharmacy, which predictably gets her in trouble...
Beth is eventually adopted by a couple who turn out to be estranged, and she goes to live with her aloof but kind and open-minded adoptive mother Alma Weathley, whom, upon finding out that her new daughter might just be a prodigy, becomes her de facto agent. As Beth becomes an increasingly famous chess player, her relationship with pills and alcohol becomes harder and harder to manage, and haunts her just as much as she is haunted by her rivalry with the world champion, Vasily Borgov.
It was easy for me to root for Beth: she’s an introvert who has a hard time socializing but gives everything to her passion and her determination is admirable. Her difficulties bonding with those she cares for was both heartbreaking but understandable, as is her slide with substances. I enjoyed the fact that while the sexism Beth has to deal with is often pointed out, it manages not to be didactic: Tevis simply highlights the situation Beth finds herself in and describes her annoyance with it. For Beth, her gender is not a significant part of what she does, and she can’t understand why everyone insists on making a big deal about it. And I loved, loved, loved the resolution.
I do think that a basic knowledge of the game of chess contributes to one’s enjoyment of this novel. If I had read it before I started studying and playing myself, I might have found the game descriptions very tedious, but knowing the mechanics discussed in the text made those passages very interesting. If game notations had been provided, I would have been tempted to set up my board and try them out.
There is something simple and straightforward about this book, in a way I find distinctive of modern American literature, and I loved that such trimmed prose can be used to describe complex characters and situations as well as they are in this little book. If you liked the show, as it is an almost flawless adaptation of the book, you will definitely enjoy it. A fantastic novel about a unique and unforgettable character.
dnf!!! this book was written by a man so to have the main character who was EIGHT and sexually assaulted by the only black character in this book at 5% was absolutely disgusting. even if you take out the fact that it was the black character doing it, having an eight year old be subjected to this literally only pages within the book (or at all really) is just fucking insane i’m not understanding how people rated it 4 or 5 stars after that.
“The Queen’s Gambit” by Walter Tevis is a freebee for me on Audible Plus. My niece has been trying to get me to watch it on Netflix, and I just don’t choose Netflix as my entertainment, I choose books. After listening to this fine production, narrated by Amy Landon, I intend to watch the series.
Landon’s narration is rather monotone. At first, I thought I wasn’t going to like it. But after a moment, I realized that her tone is perfect for the protagonist Beth. Beth is in an orphanage in Kentucky where they tranquilize the children. The administration calls them vitamins, and they are administered daily. Of course Beth becomes addicted. Beth is sullen, depressed, and the monotone voice is perfect.
While at the orphanage, a janitor teaches her to play chess. She steals away as often as she can to play with him. He provides her with an old library book about chess and she becomes addicted. She can clearly imagine a chess board in her head, and she plays chess in her mind whenever she can. The janitor and her roommate are the only people there who she speaks to. It’s very bleak.
A couple comes to the orphanage and adopts her. Beth soon learns that they adopted her so she would be a companion to the woman and provide housekeeping services. She goes from one dysfunctional situation to another. But Beth is a survivor.
Beth finds some chess games to play and realizes she can make money playing chess. The rest of the novel is about Beth and her struggle between addiction and playing chess. Her adoptive mother introduces her to liquor, so she has another addictive substance that she becomes attached to. The story is about a lonely girl who is a chess prodigy, who struggles to make friends, who struggles to survive in the world.
I am not a chess player, and I am truly amazed that I was caught up in the thrill of the chess games she played. I didn’t understand any of the moves she played or defended against,. Yet, I was absorbed in the game, rooting for her. This is an unlikely suspenseful story. I would never have thought I’d be so involved in chess matches!
I shall be watching the Netflix series ASAP. Listening to the story is amazing. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
11/15/20 Update: After listening to this book I watched the Netflix adaptation and loved it.
Review: This novel was my "waiting for election results" choice. I tried 3 books previous to this one but was too distracted to become engaged in them. This story, though, heavy on plot, was perfect; I was able to become engaged immediately. I won't discuss the plot because there are already so many reviews of this book on GR. I'll just say do yourself a favor and don't listen to the Audible recording. The audio narrator had in turns a robotic or a sing-song style that constantly drew me out of the story. She also gave emphasis where possibly the author didn't mean for there to be emphasis. Listening to this book was like listening to a beautiful piece of music played by an amateur who constantly hits the wrong note. This is a perfect case of how an audio book narrator can ruin a story. Because it is such a short book I decided to finish it.
There was a lot to like about this story: it was fun to watch a female child prodigy, Beth Harmon, win match after match in a completely male "sport" and to go on to win at higher and higher levels as she grew older, re-dedicating herself to chess as it became more and more stressful. Many of the chess games were intriguing and even riveting at times. I learned a lot about serious chess players and chess matches as well as the level of preparation and dedication involved to become a champion.
Utterly loved this novel -- every bit as much as I savored the TV series. Who knew chess could be so freaking tense? Also, Beth Harmon is a fascinating creation: a savant with deep scars. Charismatic and messy. Every page of the novel is alive with both possibility and dread. PS: Once again I simply forget to post my review here weeks ago. Trust me, this isn't a month-long read. I devoured it in days.
Se qualcuno non l'ha ancora vista, guardatela (la miniserie TV su Netflix), ma soprattutto, se qualcuno non lo ha ancora letto, leggetelo.
Cosa c'entro io con gli scacchi?
Assolutamente niente, ma questa è una storia il cui minimo comune multiplo tra la maggior parte dei lettori che l'hanno amata è quello di non saper assolutamente giocare a scacchi.
È una bella storia di solitudine e disagio, di crescita e formazione, di scompiglio interiore e apparente impenetrabilità. Beth Harmon ha soli otto anni quando, già orfana di padre, le muore la madre e, sola al mondo, viene portata nella Methuen Home in Kentucky. È una bambina solitaria, ripiegata su se stessa alla quale interessano solo due cose: le pillole verdi che ogni giorno vengono date ai piccoli ospiti dell'orfanotrofio per calmarli e farli dormire e il gioco degli scacchi che scopre fortuitamente nel seminterrato e che il custode Shaibel le insegna a giocare. Il talento di Beth nel gioco degli scacchi è prodigioso e nel corso degli anni le apre le porte dei tornei nazionali e internazionali più prestigiosi. Ma gli scacchi, come in quasi tutti i romanzi in cui sono protagonisti, sono anche una metafora della vita che Walter Tevis rende mai retorica o scontata; Beth, che nel corso della storia viene adottata da una coppia scoppiata, è sempre più introversa e apparentemente, anche quando inizierà a stringere rapporti con l'altro sesso, anaffettiva e imperturbabile; in realtà è semplicemente disabituata alle relazioni umane alle quali nessuna l'ha mai "allenata" e priva di quell'istinto che spinge a stringere legami piuttosto che ad isolarsi. È in grado di giocare partite difficilissime proiettando la scacchiera mentalmente e visivamente (e questo non può che ricordarmi il protagonista de "La Novella degli scacchi" del mio amato Zweig), ma non è in grado di capire che nella vita, proprio come sulla scacchiera, ad ogni parola corrisponde una reazione, o un sentimento, e che una vita di successo non può essere rappresentata da un punteggio espresso in migliaia. Così Tevis, senza mai dare spazio a sentimentalismi gratuiti o vittimismo esasperato, ci regala un personaggio indimenticabile, Beth, unica donna in un mondo di uomini, senza farne però un'eroina femminista, capace di toccare dall'alto del suo genio i gradini più bassi della propria solitaria esistenza: la sua è una partita doppia, e quella con la vita è la sfida che ne farà una Regina a prova di scacco.
Despite Walter Tevis being the author of so many books that have been made into popular movies I have never read one of them before. I also haven’t watched the Netflix series made from this book and I’ve also never read a novel featuring a chess player before.
As a child my father taught me the basic game of chess, but I would never had the patience to learn the finer points of strategy. Fortunately, you don’t need to know much about the game to enjoy this book, although it would probably make the descriptions of games more interesting. I enjoyed the journey that eight year old orphaned Beth Harman took from learning chess from the janitor at an orphanage to becoming obsessed to learn everything she could about the game, teaching herself in the absence of any help, and then climbing to the upper echelons of chess and beating Russian grandmasters. I thought it was interesting that Tevis made his child prodigy a girl, and an American at that, a nation that celebrates, funds and rewards sporting prowess, but unlike Eastern European countries, doesn’t support those who excel in more cerebral pursuits such as chess. Beth was on her own as regards training and finding funding to compete in world class competitions, even after she became the US champion.
With that in mind, I checked out female chess players and discovered that the most famous is Judit Polgár from Poland, the top ranked woman in world chess from 1989 to her retirement in 2014, with a top overall ranking of 8 in 2004. She achieved the title of grandmaster at 15 and four months, two months younger than Bobby Fischer, and has defeated eleven current or former world champions including Karpov, Kasparov and Spassky. Those names of male players are well known, but I wonder how many of us have heard of Polgár. Even more amazing is that her sister Susan is also a grandmaster and another sister, Sofia is an international master. Why have we never heard of this talented family? I’m sure it would be different if their skill was instead in tennis, swimming or basketball.
What an exhilarating read! Though, I must admit, I felt like the beginning of the book was stronger than the end. That said, the overall story was unique and fast-paced. And the characters, which if anyone knows me understands that's the most important aspect of a novel (in my eyes), were flawed and realistic, which I absolutely loved.