'The Queen's Gambit': Anya Taylor-Joy's Character is Inspired By Real Men

The Queen's Gambit is the next limited series for Netflix, starring The Witch's Anya Taylor-Joy as female chess champion Beth Harmon. Though Harmon is a fictional character taken from the Walter Tevis novel The Queen's Gambit, the author revealed in multiple interviews that he had taken inspiration from numerous people in crafting the character.

Though the author, who died in 1984, called his 1983 novel "a tribute to brainy women," in a New York Times article, most of the inspirations for Beth were actually men.

In particular, Tevis, a keen chess player based some of the character of Beth on himself. He told the Times: "I first began to play chess with my sister and the kids on my block. 'I once won a prize of $250 and became a Class C player."

For those less familiar with the world of competitive chess, a Class C player is the average club or tournament player with a rating of between 1400-1599—with ratings determined by the probability of winning a game against any other player.

In other words, though he was a competitive chess player for a time, he was not in the same league as Beth, who as a player who plays professionally internationally will have a rating of at least 2400.

In fact, it seems that Tevis may have stopped playing chess against others because of intimidating players like Beth. "I now play against a computer so I don't have to face a real-life opponent sneering at me—I can always pull out the plug."

The author added: "I've played well enough to know what a good game is. I can beat the average person, but I'm afraid to play those guys who set up boards in the street on Broadway."

queens gambit true story
Anya Taylor-Joy's character Emma Harmon was inspired by chess champions like Bobby Fischer and the author Walter Tevis. Netflix

The Netflix series, meanwhile, takes inspiration from another real-life chess player—the American grandmaster Bobby Fischer. Or more specifically, the 2014 biopic of Fischer, Pawn Sacrifice starring Tobey Maguire.

Queen's Gambit writer-director Scott Frank said of this movie in an Entertainment Weekly interview: "I'd watched Pawn Sacrifice, Ed Zwick's film [about Bobby Fischer], and he made me believe that I didn't have to show the board a lot. So much of that was on Liev Schreiber's face or Tobey Maguire's face that you got everything you needed to know."

The Queen's Gambit tells the story of Beth Harmon's rise, culminating in a trip to Russia to take on that country's greatest players. Similarly, Fischer became world champion in 1972 in a battle against the USSR's Boris Spassky—though in reality, this took place in Iceland rather than the USSR itself.

However, it should be noted that the more sensational elements of the Netflix show are entirely an invention of the book. Fischer was essentially a teetotaller, something that definitely cannot be said about Beth.

That element of Beth, however, may have come from Tevis' own life. The author had his own battles with alcohol, with the author describing his book "The Man Who Fell to Earth" about an alien who becomes an alcoholic, "a very disguised autobiography."

In his wife, Jamie Griggs Tevis' self-published memoir "My Life with the Hustler," she writes how her husband had been given heavy doses of phenobarbital three times a day as a child while recuperating in a hospital from rheumatic fever, perhaps explaining where he got the idea for Beth's childhood of tranquilizers. She also wrote of how their marriage broke up after he entered detox at Ohio State University's Talbot Hall and joined Alcoholics Anonymous in the late '70s.

She says of his drinking: "He could drink and teach, but he could not drink and write...One drink and the typewriter was completely out of the question." This is contrast to Beth's (for the most part) high-functioning alcoholism that sees her still able to play chess while drinking heavily, in what might have been a moment of wishful thinking for Tevis.

The Queen's Gambit is streaming now on Netflix.