The Queen’s Gambit, currently streaming on Netflix, is based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel. The drama follows Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who becomes an orphan at a young age.
The viewer sees the girl’s life in the orphanage and afterwards once she has been adopted. The story focuses on her incomparable chess abilities in the 1950-60s as a young woman and how a female could excel in the extremely competitive and heavily male dominated sport.
This plotline is similar to the Polgár girls who were chess prodigies competing in and making headway for women in the sport in real life in the late 70s and beyond.
The three Polgár girls; Zsuzsa, Zsófia, and Judit were part of an educational experiment based on their father’s thesis that “geniuses are made, not born.” László Polgár, a chess teacher and educational psychologist with the help of his wife educated their girls at home with chess as the specialist subject. He attempted to prove that children could make excellent achievements if trained in specialists subjects from early on. He has noted that people like Einstein and Socrates put in work and had fortunate circumstances, they weren’t born geniuses.
All three of the sisters won serious competitions due to their fathers experiment.
The Queen’s Gambit, however, closely resembles that of Judit Polgár’s career. In her prime she was among the top ten in the world.
Judit, like main character Beth, refused to participate in women’s tournaments and preferred to compete against men. Judit, similarly faced backlash during her career from a reigning world champion competitor that said chess is not for women.
She was the youngest player ever to break into the FIDE top 100 players rating list, ranking 55 in 1989 at the age of 12. In 1991 at 15 years old, she became the youngest ever grandmaster previously held by World Champion Bobby Fischer and in 2005 she became the only woman to qualify for the World Championship tournament.
In the show Beth has a peculiar view of the chess board when she goes to bed, as she is bombarded with the pieces that appear to be on the ceiling. Something similar happened to László Polgár’s daughter. In 2019, he said that one night he had found his daughter Sophia in the bathroom with a chess board on her knees saying that the “chess pieces won’t leave me alone.”
Although the show is based on Tevis’s 1983 novel there are some major similarities to the famous Polgár girls lives and careers. The sisters are still as important today as they were when they were breaking records at such a young age.
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