The Queen's Gambit (novel)

The Queen's Gambit is an American novel by Walter Tevis, discussing the life of a chess prodigy. A bildungsroman, it was originally published in 1983 and covers themes in feminism, chess, drug addiction, and alcoholism.


The novel's epigraph is "The Long-Legged Fly" by William Butler Yeats. This poem highlights one of the novel's main concerns: the inner workings of genius in a woman. Tevis discusses this concern in a 1983 interview, and never wrote the sequel he mentions in the interview.


The Queen's Gambit traces chess prodigy Beth Harmon's life from her childhood in an orphanage through her struggles with tranquilizer and alcohol addiction to her triumphant rise through the Grandmaster ranks.
Eight-year-old orphan Beth Harmon is quiet, sullen, and by all appearances unremarkable—until she plays her first game of chess. Her senses grow sharper, her thinking clearer, and for the first time in her life she feels herself fully in control. By the age of sixteen, she's competing for the U.S. Open championship. But as she hones her skills on the professional circuit, the stakes get higher, her isolation grows more frightening, and the thought of escape becomes all the more tempting.

Literary significance and reception

The novel is difficult to classify, occupying a space between thriller, sports/game novel and bildungsroman. It has cult status for its addictive plot:
and for the technical accuracy of its depictions of chess:
Tevis based the chess scenes on his own experience as a class C player and on his long study of the game, and he elaborates on this in the Author's Note:

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

In 1983, an attempt was made to turn the novel into a feature film when The New York Times journalist Jesse Kornbluth acquired rights for a screenplay; nearly every actor and director that he knew was interested in participating. When Tevis died in 1984, rights to the film were sold to another studio and the project was called off due to financial concerns.
In 1992, Scottish screenwriter Allan Shiach acquired rights for a screenplay of a planned art house film. Among the directors who were involved at some point included Michael Apted and Bernardo Bertolucci, but each eventually moved on to other projects. In 2007 and 2008, Shiach was working with Heath Ledger on what would have been Ledger's directorial debut, and who was set to star alongside Ellen Page. Production and principal photography were planned for late 2008 but were put on hold following Ledger's death on January 22. Shiach is planning to find a new director.
In March 2019, Netflix ordered a limited six-episode series based on the novel. Anya Taylor-Joy plays the lead role of the series, while Scott Frank serves as writer, director, and executive producer.

Publication history