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The Queen's Gambit

The Queen's Gambit

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The Queen's Gambit

4.5/5 (142 ratings)
361 pages
6 hours
Sep 29, 2014

Editor's Note


Can’t get enough of Beth Harmon’s defiant charm and masterful chess-playing? “The Queen’s Gambit” Netflix show is based on this book of the same name, published decades ago and inspired by various elements of author Walter Tevis’ life (he was a Class C chess competitor himself, and describes the game with a rare beauty).


Written by Scribd Editors

American novelist Walter Tevis writes an incredible and compelling story of a seemingly nondescript orphan’s journey to fame in the world of chess.

Painfully shy Beth Harmon becomes an orphan when her parents are killed in a tragic car accident. Growing up in an orphanage in Kentucky, Beth befriends a janitor who introduces her to chess. The young girl is enchanted by this game of skill and soon becomes obsessed with learning more. Beth acquires a habit of stealing, as well as indulging in her foster mother’s tranquilizers. At thirteen, Beth wins her first chess tournament. At sixteen, Beth is competing in the US Open Championship. At eighteen, she is the US Chess Champion. But will her fast-paced lifestyle catch up with her? Navigating normal life while battling a drug addiction is difficult enough. What happens when all eyes are on you?

Fast-moving and elegantly written, The Queen’s Gambit is a thriller impersonating a coming-of-age novel—one that’s sure to keep you guessing her next move.

Sep 29, 2014

About the author

Walter Tevis was born in San Francisco in 1928 and lived in the Sunset District, close to Golden Gate Park and the sea, for the first ten years of his life. At the age of ten his parents placed him in the Stanford Children’s Convalescent Home for a year, during which time they returned to Kentucky, where the Tevis family had been given an early grant of land in Madison County. Walter traveled across country alone by train at the age of eleven to rejoin his family and felt the shock of entering Appalachian culture when he enrolled in the local school. He made friends with Toby Kavanaugh, a fellow student at the Lexington high school, and learned to shoot pool on the table of the recreation room in the Kavanaugh mansion, and to read science fiction books for the first time in Toby’s small library. They remained lifelong friends, and Toby grew up to become the owner of a pool room in Lexington. At the age of seventeen, Walter became a carpenter’s mate in the Navy, serving on board the USS Hamil in Okinawa. After his discharge, he studied at the University of Kentucky where he received B.A. and M.A. degrees in English Literature and studied with Abe Guthrie, author of The Big Sky. Upon graduation he taught everything from the sciences and English to physical education in small-town Kentucky high schools. At that time he began writing short stories, which were published in the Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, and Playboy. He wrote his first novel, The Hustler, which was published in 1959, and followed that with The Man Who Fell to Earth, which was published in 1963. He taught English literature and creative writing at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio for fourteen years, where he was a distinguished professor, and left that post in 1978 to come to New York and resume writing. He wrote four more novels—Mockingbird, The Steps of the Sun, The Queen’s Gambit and The Color of Money—and a collection of short stories, Far From Home. He died of lung cancer in 1984. His books have been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic, Greek, Slovak, Serbo-Croatian, Israeli, Turkish, Japanese, and Thai.

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The Queen's Gambit - Walter Tevis

The Queen’s Gambit

Walter Tevis


The Queen’s Gambit

Copyright © 1983, 2014 by Walter Tevis

Cover art, special contents, and electronic edition © 2014 by RosettaBooks LLC

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Scribner, an imprint of the Simon and Schuster Adult Publishing Group and A. P. Watt Limited for permission to reprint ten lines from The Long-Legged Fly from The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats, Volume 1: The Poems, Revised, edited by Richard J. Finneran. Copyright © 1940 by Georgie Yeats; copyright renewed 1968 by Bertha Georgie Yeats, Michael Butler Yeats and Anne Yeats. Rights outside of the United States are controlled by A. P. Watt Limited, London. Reprinted by permission.

Cover design by Brad Albright

ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795343063

For Eleanora

That the topless towers be burnt

And men recall that face,

Move gently if move you must

In this lonely place.

She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,

That nobody looks; her feet

Practice a tinker shuffle

Picked up on a street.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream

Her mind moves upon silence.

—W. B. YEATS, Long-legged Fly


The superb chess of Grandmasters Robert Fischer, Boris Spassky and Anatoly Karpov has been a source of delight to players like myself for years. Since The Queen’s Gambit is a work of fiction, however, it seemed prudent to omit them from the cast of characters, if only to prevent contradiction of the record.

I would like to express my thanks to Joe Ancrile, Fairfield Hoban and Stuart Morden, all excellent players, who helped me with books, magazines and tournament rules. And I was fortunate to have the warm-hearted and diligent help of National Master Bruce Pandolfini in proofreading the text and helping me rid it of errors concerning the game he plays so enviably well.

















Beth learned of her mother’s death from a woman with a clipboard. The next day her picture appeared in the Herald-Leader. The photograph, taken on the porch of the gray house on Maplewood Drive, showed Beth in a simple cotton frock. Even then, she was clearly plain. A legend under the picture read: Orphaned by yesterday’s pile-up on New Circle Road, Elizabeth Harmon surveys a troubled future. Elizabeth, eight, was left without family by the crash, which killed two and injured others. At home alone at the time, Elizabeth learned of the accident shortly before the photo was taken. She will be well looked after, authorities say.


In the Methuen Home in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, Beth was given a tranquilizer twice a day. So were all the other children, to even their dispositions. Beth’s disposition was all right, as far as anyone could see, but she was glad to get the little pill. It loosened something deep in her stomach and helped her doze away the tense hours in the orphanage.

Mr. Fergussen gave them the pills in a little paper cup. Along with the green one that evened the disposition, there were orange and brown ones for building a strong body. The children had to line up to get them.

The tallest girl was the black one, Jolene. She was twelve. On her second day Beth stood behind her in Vitamin Line, and Jolene turned to look down at her, scowling. You a real orphan or a bastard?

Beth did not know what to say. She was frightened. They were at the back of the line, and she was supposed to stand there until they got up to the window where Mr. Fergussen stood. Beth had heard her mother call her father a bastard, but she didn’t know what it meant.

What’s your name, girl? Jolene asked.


Your mother dead? What about your daddy?

Beth stared at her. The words mother and dead were unbearable. She wanted to run, but there was no place to run to.

Your folks, Jolene said in a voice that was not unsympathetic, they dead?

Beth could find nothing to say or do. She stood in line terrified, waiting for the pills.


You’re all greedy cocksuckers! It was Ralph in the Boys’ Ward who shouted that. She heard it because she was in the library and it had a window facing Boys’. She had no mental image for cocksucker, and the word was strange. But she knew from the sound of it they would wash his mouth out with soap. They’d done it to her for damn—and Mother had said Damn all the time.


The barber made her sit absolutely still in the chair. If you move, you might just lose an ear. There was nothing jovial in his voice. Beth sat as quietly as she could, but it was impossible to keep completely still. It took him a very long time to cut her hair into the bangs they all wore. She tried to occupy herself by thinking of that word, cocksucker. All she could picture was a bird, like a woodpecker. But she felt that was wrong.


The janitor was fatter on one side than on the other. His name was Shaibel. Mr. Shaibel. One day she was sent to the basement to clean the blackboard erasers by clomping them together, and she found him sitting on a metal stool near the furnace scowling over a green-and-white checkerboard in front of him. But where the checkers should be there were little plastic things in funny shapes. Some were larger than others. There were more of the small ones than any of the others. The janitor looked up at her. She left in silence.

On Friday, everybody ate fish, Catholic or not. It came in squares, breaded with a dark, brown, dry crust and covered with a thick orange sauce, like bottled French dressing. The sauce was sweet and terrible, but the fish beneath it was worse. The taste of it nearly gagged her. But you had to eat every bite, or Mrs. Deardorff would be told about you and you wouldn’t get adopted.

Some children got adopted right off. A six-year-old named Alice had come in a month after Beth and was taken in three weeks by some nice-looking people with an accent. They walked through the ward on the day they came for Alice. Beth had wanted to throw her arms around them because they looked happy to her, but she turned away when they glanced at her. Other children had been there a long time and knew they would never leave. They called themselves lifers. Beth wondered if she was a lifer.


Gym was bad, and volleyball was the worst. Beth could never hit the ball right. She would slap at it fiercely or push at it with stiff fingers. Once she hurt her finger so much that it swelled up afterward. Most of the girls laughed and shouted when they played, but Beth never did.

Jolene was the best player by far. It wasn’t just that she was older and taller; she always knew exactly what to do, and when the ball came high over the net, she could station herself under it without having to shout at the others to keep out of her way, and then leap up and spike it down with a long, smooth movement of her arm. The team that had Jolene always won.

The week after Beth hurt her finger, Jolene stopped her when gym ended and the others were rushing back to the showers. Lemme show you something, Jolene said. She held her hands up with the long fingers open and slightly flexed. You do it like this. She bent her elbows and pushed her hands up smoothly, cupping an imaginary ball. Try it.

Beth tried it, awkwardly at first. Jolene showed her again, laughing. Beth tried a few more times and did it better. Then Jolene got the ball and had Beth catch it with her fingertips. After a few times it got to be easy.

You work on that now, hear? Jolene said and ran off to the shower.

Beth worked on it over the next week, and after that she did not mind volleyball at all. She did not become good at it, but it wasn’t something she was afraid of anymore.


Every Tuesday, Miss Graham sent Beth down after Arithmetic to do the erasers. It was considered a privilege, and Beth was the best student in the class, even though she was the youngest. She did not like the basement. It smelled musty, and she was afraid of Mr. Shaibel. But she wanted to know more about the game he played on that board by himself.

One day she went over and stood near him, waiting for him to move a piece. The one he was touching was the one with a horse’s head on a little pedestal. After a second he looked up at her with a frown of irritation. "What do you want, child?" he said.

Normally she fled from any human encounter, especially with grownups, but this time she did not back away. What’s that game called? she asked.

He stared at her. You should be upstairs with the others.

She looked at him levelly; something about this man and the steadiness with which he played his mysterious game helped her to hold tightly to what she wanted. I don’t want to be with the others, she said. I want to know what game you’re playing.

He looked at her more closely. Then he shrugged. It’s called chess.


A bare light bulb hung from a black cord between Mr. Shaibel and the furnace. Beth was careful not to let the shadow of her head fall on the board. It was Sunday morning. They were having chapel upstairs in the library, and she had held up her hand for permission to go to the bathroom and then come down here. She had been standing, watching the janitor play chess, for ten minutes. Neither of them had spoken, but he seemed to accept her presence.

He would stare at the pieces for minutes at a time, motionless, looking at them as though he hated them, and then reach out over his belly, pick one up by its top with his fingertips, hold it for a moment as though holding a dead mouse by the tail and set it on another square. He did not look up at Beth.

Beth stood with the black shadow of her head on the concrete floor at her feet and watched the board, not taking her eyes from it, watching every move.


She had learned to save her tranquilizers until night. That helped her sleep. She would put the oblong pill in her mouth when Mr. Fergussen handed it to her, get it under her tongue, take a sip of the canned orange juice that came with the pill, swallow, and then when Mr. Fergussen had gone on to the next child, take the pill from her mouth and slip it into the pocket of her middy blouse. The pill had a hard coating and did not soften in the time it sat under her tongue.

For the first two months she had slept very little. She tried to, lying still with her eyes tightly shut. But she would hear the girls in the other beds cough or turn or mutter, or a night orderly would walk down the corridor and the shadow would cross her bed and she would see it, even with her eyes closed. A distant phone would ring, or a toilet would flush. But worst of all was when she heard voices talking at the desk at the end of the corridor. No matter how softly the orderly spoke to the night attendant, no matter how pleasantly, Beth immediately found herself tense and fully awake. Her stomach contracted, she tasted vinegar in her mouth; and sleep would be out of the question for that night.

Now she would snuggle up in bed, allowing herself to feel the tension in her stomach with a thrill, knowing it would soon leave her. She waited there in the dark, alone, monitoring herself, waiting for the turmoil in her to peak. Then she swallowed the two pills and lay back until the ease began to spread through her body like the waves of a warm sea.


Will you teach me?

Mr. Shaibel said nothing, did not even register the question with a movement of his head. Distant voices from above were singing Bringing in the Sheaves.

She waited for several minutes. Her voice almost broke with the effort of her words, but she pushed them out, anyway: I want to learn to play chess.

Mr. Shaibel reached out a fat hand to one of the larger black pieces, picked it up deftly by its head and set it down on a square at the other side of the board. He brought the hand back and folded his arms across his chest. He still did not look at Beth. I don’t play strangers.

The flat voice had the effect of a slap in the face. Beth turned and left, walking upstairs with the bad taste in her mouth.

I’m not a stranger, she said to him two days later. I live here. Behind her head a small moth circled the bare bulb, and its pale shadow crossed the board at regular intervals. You can teach me. I already know some of it, from watching.

Girls don’t play chess. Mr. Shaibel’s voice was flat.

She steeled herself and took a step closer, pointing at, but not touching, one of the cylindrical pieces that she had already labeled a cannon in her imagination. This one moves up and down or back and forth. All the way, if there’s space to move in.

Mr. Shaibel was silent for a while. Then he pointed at the one with what looked like a slashed lemon on top. And this one?

Her heart leapt. On the diagonals.


You could save up pills by taking only one at night and keeping the other. Beth put the extras in her toothbrush holder, where nobody would ever look. She just had to make sure to dry the toothbrush as much as she could with a paper towel after she used it, or else not use it at all and rub her teeth clean with a finger.

That night for the first time she took three pills, one after the other. Little prickles went across the hairs on the back of her neck; she had discovered something important. She let the glow spread all over her, lying on her cot in her faded blue pajamas in the worst place in the Girls’ Ward, near the door to the corridor and across from the bathroom. Something in her life was solved: she knew about the chess pieces and how they moved and captured, and she knew how to make herself feel good in the stomach and in the tense joints of her arms and legs, with the pills the orphanage gave her.


Okay, child, Mr. Shaibel said. We can play chess now. I play White.

She had the erasers. It was after Arithmetic, and Geography was in ten minutes. I don’t have much time, she said. She had learned all the moves last Sunday, during the hour that chapel allowed her to be in the basement. No one ever missed her at chapel, as long as she checked in, because of the group of girls that came from Children’s, across town. But Geography was different. She was terrified of Mr. Schell, even though she was at the top of the class.

The janitor’s voice was flat. Now or never, he said.

I have Geography…

Now or never.

She thought only a second before deciding. She had seen an old milk crate behind the furnace. She dragged it to the other end of the board, seated herself and said, Move.

He beat her with what she was to learn later was called the Scholar’s Mate, after four moves. It was quick, but not quick enough to keep her from being fifteen minutes late for Geography. She said she’d been in the bathroom.

Mr. Schell stood at the desk with his hands on his hips. He surveyed the class. Have any of you young ladies seen this young lady in the ladies’?

There were subdued giggles. No hands were raised, not even Jolene’s, although Beth had lied for her twice.

And how many of you ladies were in the ladies’ before class?

There were more giggles and three hands.

And did any of you see Beth there? Washing her pretty little hands, perhaps?

There was no response. Mr. Schell turned back to the board, where he had been listing the exports of Argentina, and added the word silver. For a moment Beth thought it was done with. But then he spoke, with his back to the class. Five demerits, he said.

With ten demerits you were whipped on the behind with a leather strap. Beth had felt that strap only in her imagination, but her imagination expanded for a moment with a vision of pain like fire on the soft parts of herself. She put a hand to her heart, feeling in the bottom of the breast pocket of her blouse for that morning’s pill. The fear reduced itself perceptibly. She visualized her toothbrush holder, the long rectangular plastic container; it had four more pills in it now, there in the drawer of the little metal stand by her cot.

That night she lay on her back in bed. She had not yet taken the pill in her hand. She listened to the night noises and noticed how they seemed to get louder as her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. Down the hallway Mr. Byrne began talking to Mrs. Holland, at the desk. Beth’s body grew taut at the sound. She blinked and looked at the dark ceiling overhead and forced herself to see the chessboard with its green and white squares. Then she put the pieces on their home squares: rook, knight, bishop, queen, king, and the row of pawns in front of them. Then she moved White’s king pawn up to the fourth row. She pushed Black’s up. She could do this! It was simple. She went on, beginning to replay the game she had lost.

She brought Mr. Shaibel’s knight up to the third row. It stood there clearly in her mind on the green-and-white board on the ceiling of the ward.

The noises had already faded into a white, harmonious background. Beth lay happily in bed, playing chess.


The next Sunday she blocked the Scholar’s Mate with her king’s knight. She had gone over the game in her mind a hundred times, until the anger and humiliation were purged from it, leaving the pieces and the board clear in her nighttime vision. When she came to play Mr. Shaibel on Sunday, it was all worked out, and she moved the knight as if in a dream. She loved the feel of the piece, the miniature horse’s head in her hand. When she set down the knight on the square, the janitor scowled at it. He took his queen by the head and checked Beth’s king with it. But Beth was ready for that too; she had seen it in bed the night before.

It took him fourteen moves to trap her queen. She tried to play on, queenless, to ignore the mortal loss, but he reached out and stopped her hand from touching the pawn she was about to move. You resign now, he said. His voice was rough.


That’s right, child. When you lose the queen that way, you resign.

She stared at him, not comprehending. He let go of her hand, picked up her black king, and set it on its side on the board. It rolled back and forth for a moment and then lay still.

"No," she said.

Yes. You have resigned the game.

She wanted to hit him with something. You didn’t tell me that in the rules.

It’s not a rule. It’s sportsmanship.

She knew now what he meant, but she did not like it. I want to finish, she said. She picked up the king and set it back on its square.


You’ve got to finish, she said.

He raised his eyebrows and got up. She had never seen him stand in the basement—only out in the halls when he was sweeping or in the classrooms when he washed the blackboards. He had to stoop a bit now to keep his head from hitting the rafters on the low ceiling. No, he said. You lost.

It wasn’t fair. She had no interest in sportsmanship. She wanted to play and to win. She wanted to win more than she had ever wanted anything. She said a word she had not said since her mother died: Please.

Game’s over, he said.

She stared at him in fury. You greedy…

He let his arms drop straight at his sides and said slowly, No more chess. Get out.

If only she were bigger. But she wasn’t. She got up from the board and walked to the stairs while the janitor watched her in silence.


On Tuesday when she went down the hall to the basement door carrying the erasers, she found that the door was locked. She pushed against it twice with her hip, but it wouldn’t budge. She knocked, softly at first and then loudly, but there was no sound from the other side. It was horrible. She knew he was in there sitting at the board, that he was just being angry at her from the last time, but there was nothing she could do about it. When she brought back the erasers, Miss Graham didn’t even notice they hadn’t been cleaned or that Beth was back sooner than usual.

On Thursday she was certain it would be the same, but it wasn’t. The door was open, and when she went down the stairs, Mr. Shaibel acted as though nothing had happened. The pieces were set up. She cleaned the erasers hurriedly and seated herself at the board. Mr. Shaibel had moved his king’s pawn by the time she got there. She played her king’s pawn, moving it two squares forward. She would not make any mistakes this time.

He responded to her move quickly, and she immediately replied. They said nothing to each other, but kept moving. Beth could feel the tension, and she liked it.

On the twentieth move Mr. Shaibel advanced a knight when he shouldn’t have and Beth was able to get a pawn to the sixth rank. He brought the knight back. It was a wasted move and she felt a thrill when she saw him do it. She traded her bishop for the knight. Then, on the next move, she pushed the pawn again. It would become a queen on the next move.

He looked at it sitting there and then reached out angrily and toppled his king. Neither of them said anything. It was her first win. All of the tension was gone, and what Beth felt inside herself was as wonderful as anything she had ever felt in her life.


She found she could miss lunch on Sundays, and no one paid any attention. That gave her three hours with Mr. Shaibel, until he left for home at two-thirty. They did not talk, either of them. He always played the white pieces, moving first, and she the black. She had thought about questioning this but decided not to.

One Sunday, after a game he had barely managed to win, he said to her, You should learn the Sicilian Defense.

What’s that? she asked irritably.

She was still smarting from the loss. She had beaten him two games last week.

When White moves pawn to queen four, Black does this. He reached down and moved the white pawn two squares up the board, his almost invariable first move. Then he picked up the pawn in front of the black queen’s bishop and set it down two squares up toward the middle. It was the first time he had ever shown her anything like this.

Then what? she said.

He picked up the king’s knight and set it below and to the right of the pawn. Knight to KB 3.

What’s KB 3?

King’s bishop 3. Where I just put the knight.

The squares have names?

He nodded impassively. She sensed that he was unwilling to give up even this much information. If you play well, they have names.

She leaned forward. Show me.

He looked down at her. No. Not now.

This infuriated her. She understood well enough that a person likes to keep his secrets. She kept hers. Nevertheless, she wanted to lean across the board and slap his face and make him tell her. She sucked in her breath. Is that the Sicilian Defense?

He seemed relieved that she had dropped the subject of the names of the squares. There’s more, he said. He went on with it, showing her the basic moves and some variations. But he did not use the names of the squares. He showed her the Levenfish Variation and the Najdorf Variation and told her to go over them. She did, without a single mistake.

But when they played a real game afterward, he pushed his queen’s pawn forward, and she could see immediately that what he had just taught her was useless in this situation. She glared at him across the board, feeling that if she had had a knife, she could have stabbed him with it. Then she looked back to the board and moved her own queen’s pawn forward, determined to beat him.

He moved the pawn next to his queen’s pawn, the one in front of the bishop. He often did this. Is that one of those things? Like the Sicilian Defense? she asked.

Openings. He did not look at her; he was watching the board.

Is it?

He shrugged. The Queen’s Gambit.

She felt better. She had learned something more from him. She decided not to take the offered pawn, to leave the tension on the board. She liked it like that. She liked the power of the pieces, exerted along files and diagonals. In the middle of the game, when pieces were everywhere, the forces crisscrossing the board thrilled her. She brought out her king’s knight, feeling its power spread.

In twenty moves she had won both his rooks, and he resigned.

She rolled over in bed, put a pillow over her head to block out the light from under the corridor door and began to think how you could use a bishop and a rook together to make a sudden check on the king. If you moved the bishop, the king would be in check, and the bishop would be free to do whatever it wanted to on the next move—even take the queen. She lay there for quite a while, thinking excitedly of this powerful attack. Then she took the pillow off and rolled over on her back and made the chessboard on the ceiling and played over all her games with Mr. Shaibel, one at a time. She saw two places where she might have created the rook-bishop situation she had just invented. In one of them she could have forced it by a double threat, and in the other she could probably have sneaked it in. She replayed those two games in her mind with the new moves, and won them both. She smiled happily to herself and fell asleep.


The Arithmetic teacher gave the eraser cleaning to another student, saying that Beth needed a rest. It wasn’t fair, because Beth still had perfect grades in Arithmetic, but there was nothing she could do about it. She sat in class when the little red-haired boy went out of the room each day with the erasers, doing her meaningless additions and subtractions with a trembling hand. She wanted to play chess more desperately every day.

On Tuesday and Wednesday she took only one pill and saved the other. On Thursday she was able to go to sleep after playing chess in her mind for an hour or so, and she saved the day’s two pills. She did the same thing on Friday. All day Saturday, doing her work in the cafeteria kitchen and in the afternoon during the Christian movie in the library and the Personal Improvement Talk before dinner, she could feel a little glow whenever she wanted to, knowing that she had six pills in her toothbrush holder.

That night, after lights out, she took them all, one by one, and waited. The feeling, when it came, was delicious—a kind of easy sweetness in her belly and a loosening in the tight parts of her body. She kept herself awake as long as she could to enjoy the warmth inside her, the deep chemical happiness.

On Sunday when Mr. Shaibel asked where she had been, she was surprised that he cared. They wouldn’t let me out of class, she said.

He nodded. The chessboard was set up, and she saw to her surprise that the white pieces were facing her side and that the milk crate was already in place. Do I move first? she said, incredulous.

Yes. From now on we take turns. It’s the way the game should be played.

She seated herself and moved the king’s pawn. Mr. Shaibel wordlessly moved his queen bishop’s pawn. She hadn’t forgotten the moves. She never forgot chess moves. He played the Levenfish Variation; she kept her eyes on

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What people think about The Queen's Gambit

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  • (4/5)
    Classic. Set in the 1950's this story of a female chess prodigy makes chess enthralling, even if you don't play it. I love the way Tevis introduces us to this world, where Beth Harmon, 8 years old and given daily tranquilizers by the orphanage, discovers chess in the basement by watching the janitor. The tone is dry but gripping, as we follow Beth and her discoveries of world and self via chess. I read this book when it first came out (early 80's?) and it hasn't dated a bit, it's still wryly riveting and well worth spending time with. It's a keeper, buy it you won't regret it.
  • (5/5)
    Easy read, wonderful story. Doesn’t matter if you don’t play chess, that isn’t really what it is about.
  • (4/5)
    An interesting story of an obsessed young woman. A very good read.
  • (5/5)
    A great read simple but expansive, very easy to get through with fine points about chess and life.
  • (5/5)
    This is a wonderful book about a chess prodigy and how she conquers her own demons while taking the chess world by storm. There is a great Netflix series of this, but I felt that the book gave you more insight to the character of Beth Harmon. It is a fast read and is very well written.
  • (5/5)
    Great read!! Exciting story. Gotta love Beth Harmon. Loved it
  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Great book, lacking only in that it's a little predictable as far as the games go. The story is easy to follow and it does get you involved. I mainly read the book because I wanted to read it before watching the Netflix series, but I'm glad I did. It was well written. I would recommend this book.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    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.

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  • (5/5)

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    I found this book lying on a table at the library one day and started reading it. A great story--I keep recommending it to people but I don't think anyone's taken me up on it yet.

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  • (3/5)

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    As Marcel Duchamp once described it, chess is a pure language-- although one can try to deceive, they can never lie. Every aspect of the conversation is clearly spelled out on the board, chess tests the players' abilities to listen to that conversation and to respond. Many have said that chess is the language of obsession, but in The Queen's Gambit, it is an addiction. Beth Harmon is a child prodigy whose skills aren’t discovered until she’s old enough to be just another chess player. The problem with Tevis's heroine is that she never develops in anything besides chess. Life is a continual disappointment which she buffers with drugs and chess. Throughout the book the reader watches as her skills improve (and it is surprisingly exhilarating to read about her study sessions or her tournament matches) but she never grows as a person. Beth plays the game for the sense of control it gives her-- she plays because she wins. As a child, chess is a surrogate parent for Beth, a way for a girl with no power to affect the outcome of something in her life. Unfortunately for Beth, chess isn't the only thing which ahs that affect on her. Early into the novel Beth discovers that tranquilizers give her the same type of pleasure as she gets from winning at chess. Both of these habits turn into addictions without Tevis ever making a clear moral judgment on either. If chess takes as much of a toll on all its players as the top American ones who he describes, then the reader’s left wondering whether or not Beth’s better off with her addiction to pills than with her addiction to both.Consistently, he takes us into the lives of the top American chess players and it's the same case every time: they're losers. They all barely keep their lives in order, moving from place to place or doing just enough to maintain a one room apartment with more chess sets than furniture. Although Tevis goes to great efforts to make these sorts of observations, he never makes Beth question whether she's obsessed with the game or whether she's addicted to victory, and as a result that problem’s never adequately explored. This novel is frustrating because Tevis has easily created one of the fastest paced chess novels ever written (just behind Zweig's Chess Story/The Royal Game), yet by the time the reader puts it down they're left wondering "so, what then?" Is an obsession worth following if you can be the best? Is Beth any better off playing chess than popping pills? These questions are never answered; if knowing whether or not Beth can beat the world chess champion can hold your interest, pick this book up. But if you care more about the how and the why of human behavior, this book's better left on the shelf.

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  • (5/5)

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    I had thought this was a book for children, since it is about an 8 year old girl who learns chess. However, it is an adult novel, with interesting characters. The girl, an orphan in Kentucky in the 1950s, is given a daily tranquilizer, along with the other orphans, to keep them quiet. This starts an addiction that develops along with her Chess prodigy skills. She becomes an US Chess champion, and later faces the Russian Chess Grandmasters, who really frighten her. The pacing is good, the characters are realistic, and you soon begin to care for the people in the book. A little knowledge of chess will help understand what is going on, but the tension is not shown in the moves, but the reactions to the games and positions the players put themselves in to. A good book.

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  • (4/5)

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    Great psychological suspense - who would think chess game descriptions could be so revealing or riveting. Very compelling reading.

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  • (5/5)

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    Elizabeth "Beth" Harmon started as an orphan after her mother is killed in a car accident. Having lived a sheltered life she is scared of everything. Having no friends and no security she finds comfort in institution-issued tranquilizers and learning to play chess with the janitor in the basement. As a 12-year-old she is adopted by a strangely distant couple, Mr. & Mrs. Wheatley. I was disappointed by the lack of character development for Beth's adoptive parents. Their actions throughout the story are confusing and I found myself second-guessing their intentions. But, The Queen's Gambit is not about the Wheatleys. It's about Beth's rise to fame as a top notch chess player in a male dominated world. With Mrs. Wheatley's support Beth gets involved in the tournament scene and starts her catapult to the top, beating out the best of them. The only thing holding her back is her past. She never loses the addictions she found at the orphanage. As she struggles to keep sober she learns valuable lessons about what it means to need people.

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  • (5/5)

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    A wonderful and truly gripping account of a gifted girl's life in a state orphanage, and her struggle to manage in society as a professional chess player. Beth's story is touching and her interaction with the other characters throughout this novel realistic and thought-provoking. On top of this, Tevis' writing fills every page with suspense and drama. Somehow, this is edge-of-your-seat stuff and a real lesson in unputdownability.

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  • (4/5)

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    I picked this up because I was reading somewhere about the Queen's Gambit as an evolutionary theory, and somehow led me to this book. When I saw it was written by the guy who wrote The Hustler, The Color of Money and The Man Who Fell To Earth, I thought I would pick this up about an extraordinary prodigy chess girl. Surprisingly, he wrote well from a girl's perspective - he didn't screw it up like a lot of male authors do, nor make it seem he wrote about a guy character with a girl's name - and also realistically described the drive someone with a crazy talent like her would be like, and the way their talent can lead them to crazy self-destruction.Makes you wonder why this book wasn't made into a movie like the others - is it because it's about a girl who is talented but isn't "sexy"?

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  • (4/5)

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    I chose this book because of the chess theme. I'm trying to read all chess fiction available. Walter Tevis is well-known because three famous movies are based on his books, The Hustler, The Man Who Fell To Earth and The Color Of Money. I think this one too would make a great movie. Tevis' style is very cinematic. However, contrary to what other reviewers - as well as the introduction to my edition by Lionel Shrivel - say, I don't think the book or a movie made out of it appeas to a non-chessplaying audience to be honest. How can someone understand the feeling of realising an oversight, making a strong move in a crucial situation or finding yourself in time-trouble without being a tournament player himself/herself is beyond me. And the book is filled by such moments. All other fragments of the story - the orphanage, Mrs. Wheatley, the pill addiction etc - are there to provide the background for the chess struggles, studying the openings, fighting against the anxieties of tournament life, overcoming the fear of losing - things that only a chess player can really comprehend. To sum it up, the books gets a 5/5 for chess players, but I'll give it a 3.5/5 for the general public.

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  • (2/5)

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    One thing I found particularly distasteful about this book was Tevis's treatment of the quasi-lesbian relationship between Jolene and Beth in the orphanage. Now I do NOT mean by this that I find anything distasteful about lesbianism per se. My problem is its nature in this novel as a somewhat non-consensual sexual experiment by an older girl on a younger, which borders (at the very least) on child abuse and which is apparently seen by Tevis as innocuous or even as something positive. I get a sense of Tevis as a very creepy voyeur writing sexually provocative material about children.I also have a hard time making sense of Beth's use of pills and alcohol – more precisely, of Tevis's reaction to Beth's addictions. He obviously wasn't presenting them as something desirable, but he doesn't depict Beth as making any particular attempt to conquer them, except to the extent that she goes on the wagon from time to time when excessive use interferes with her chess abilities. This is an issue, in fairness, that Tevis might have intended to address in his never-written sequel; but for The Queen's Gambit as a stand-alone, the treatment of Beth's addictions leaves the reader with a real sense of incompleteness in the story.The lengthy descriptions of chess moves are positively tedious – but, then, I'm no chess aficionado. These lengthy passages made the book quite a quick-read for me since I barely skimmed over them.

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  • (3/5)
    that it isn't even funny. One of the most neglected of 20th century American writers, in my opinion.