Elizabeth "Beth" Harmon is a chess prodigy and the main character in the Netflix miniseries, The Queen's Gambit. Orphaned at a young age and scarred from Methuen Home's mistreatment, she is depicted as someone with immense anger and passion, which fuels her chess proficiency—and her susceptibility to substance addiction.
While she accepts herself as someone who breaks gender norms, Harmon has expressed irritation with being renowned solely because of her gender. She experiences difficulty forming relationships with others that are not based on chess because of this.
In addition to chess, Harmon maintains skills in mathematics, sciences, and history. Over the course of five years, she acquires a knowledge of Russian, which allows her to eavesdrop on gossip by people who assume she cannot.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Appearance
- 3 Psychology
- 4 Relationships
- 5 Career
- 5.1 Kentucky State Championship (1963)
- 5.2 Cincinnati Tournament (1963)
- 5.3 Pittsburgh Tournament (1963)
- 5.4 Houston Tournament (1963)
- 5.5 Las Vegas U.S. Open Chess Championship (1966)
- 5.6 Mexico City Invitational Chess Tournament (1966)
- 5.7 Ohio U.S. Championship (1967)
- 5.8 Paris Remy-Vallon Invitational (1967)
- 5.9 Kentucky State Championship (1968)
- 5.10 Moscow Invitational (1968)
- 6 Public Image
- 7 Trivia
- 8 References
After her mother, Alice Harmon, died in a traffic collision, and her father unknown, Harmon is sent to Methuen Home, an exclusively-female Christian orphanage, on July 25th, 1957. On her arrival, she is given uniform clothes and a haircut, and the dress, which her name was embroidered onto by her mother, was apparently burnt.
She meets Jolene; an older, confident orphan who advises her against swallowing the "vitamins" in the daytime. While she ignores this advice at first, Harmon quickly realizes the value in saving them until she can concentrate alone. They become close friends through mutual admiration and understanding of each other.
Meanwhile, during her first night at the orphanage, Harmon has a flashback to when she was five, on the evening that her father officially gave up on trying to see her since Alice had kept "running away". In the same flashback, Harmon realizes that her mother had taken the same vitamins, foreshadowing her susceptibility to abuse sedatives.
Alice rounds up personal belongings that supposedly share a connection to Paul and her past, including the dissertation she wrote to obtain her Ph.D. in mathematics at Cornell University. Harmon watches as she burns these items in a barrel outside their trailer.
Early in life, Harmon expresses proficiency in mathematics, likely thanks to her mother. She solves nine square root problems in an amount of time which seemingly horrifies her teacher, who promptly sends Harmon away to clean the blackboard erasers in the basement.
It is in the basement where her introduction to chess began with witnessing the orphanage's custodian, Mr. Shaibel, playing alone, whereby she became fascinated with the checkered pattern of the eight-by-eight grid.
This is also where her use of Librium to hallucinate begins. She beings hoarding sedatives until nightfall, utilizing them to visualize the chessboard she became obsessed with. Her realization allows her to rapidly improve at chess, yet it has the negative side effect of creating a perceived dependence on them, manifesting the beginnings of an addiction.
The next morning, after they had made their beds, Harmon and Jolene watch as a younger, White orphan, Mary-Sue, prepare to pack, for she had been adopted. Jolene speaks with facetious envy, describing how it was "unfair" that Mary-Sue be adopted before Harmon despite arriving after Harmon. She continues to note that most orphans are "lifers", particularly those who are older or Black. It is unclear if Harmon shares this envy, yet she does compassionately sympathize with Jolene.
During a choir lesson, Harmon lies about needing to use the restroom, storming out of the chapel and tossing her book. Rather, she reenters the basemen, hoping to learn more about the board which she is fascinated with. Mr. Shaibel dismisses her as a "stranger", and Harmon reluctantly leaves after studying the pieces' positions and movements.
That night, her hallucinations develop into a fully-fledged chessboard.
Harmon confides in Jolene the next morning that the vitamins do in-fact work better at night, and that she "likes the way it feels". Jolene cautions her on getting "too used to that feeling", further foreshadowing her addiction.
Later, Harmon confronts Mr. Shaibel that she is not a stranger and she understands how the game works at its bare minimum. Initially, Mr. Shaibel refuses to teach a girl, but her description of how each of the pieces move convinces him to play a single game. She promptly loses as Black to the Scholar's checkmate, yet the loss grants her with only further understanding of chess tactics, notwithstanding Mr. Shaibel's refusal to teach her.
Armed with new information, Harmon recreates the sequence of moves to reach the same position, working through the different possibilities in the position to defend against it.
In her next match, she learns about the sportsmanship concept of resignation, of which she becomes frustrated with and angrily lashes out at Mr. Shaibel for enforcing, calling him a "cocksucker". He locks her out of the basement, and the following days she practices alone.
Sometime later, Jolene amusingly counsels Harmon on what exactly a "cock" is, and what it means to suck it. Harmon is concerned with this concept, yet her studying of it foreshadows her experiments with sex.
Skipping chapel once more, Harmon discovers that the basement is now unlocked, and Mr. Shaibel welcomes her silently to another match. This time, she forces him to resign with a clever sequence that threatens to promote a pawn. They engage in half-friendly banter before Mr. Shaibel resolves that she deserves to learn more about the game, introducing her to the Sicilian Defence.
In between her nightly studies and Mr. Shaibel's guidance, Harmon learns of the Levenfish and the Najdorf variations of the Sicilian Defence. He also teachers her the Queen's Gambit, clarifying that these are all called "openings". However, Harmon's absence from class begins to be noticed by the other members of the staff.
Mr. Shaibel admits that he sees Harmon as a protégée who astounds him. He teaches her the "names of the squares", known today as descriptive chess notation, and gifts her the instructional chess book, Modern Chess Openings (1948) by W. C. Griffith and P. W. Sergeant. This rapidly builds on her existing knowledge.
Disclaimer: These are fan-made recreations of the games based on the positions shown in the show.
Mr. Shaibel brings a guest, Mr. Ganz, the head of the chess club where Shaibel plays and advisor to the high school chess club, into the basement to face-off against Harmon. She plays the Réti Opening against him, which transposes into the Dutch Variation of the Zukertort. Harmon checkmates him in move eight in this strange line:
1. Nf3 f5 2. d3 d5?! 3. e4?! fxe4?! 4. Ne5?! exd3 5. Bxd3 Nc6?? 6. Qh5+ g6 7. Bxg6+ hxg6 8. Qxg6#
Mr. Ganz is impressed with how proficient Harmon is despite playing solely in the basement with Mr. Shaibel and apparently in her head "on the ceiling". As a gesture of kindness, Mr. Ganz reveals that he had bought her a doll, which Harmon inspects with offended judgment. Harmon invites them to play more, including a simultaneous match against them both. She voluntarily plays blind after move six in her game against Mr. Ganz and, to their disbelief, wins.
Mr. Shaibel's game, in this strange opening:
1. e4 e5 2. c3 f5 3. Qh5+ Ke7 4. d4 h6 5. Qxf5 d6 6. Qh5 Qe8 7. Qh4+ Kf7 8. Nf3 Ne7 9. Qh5+ Ng6 10. Bb5 Bd7 11. Bc4+ Ke7 12. Bg5+
Mr. Ganz's game, in the Caro-Kann Defence:
1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Qd3 e5 6. dxe5 Qa5+ 7. Bd2 Qxe5 8. O-O-O Nxe4 9. Qd8+ Kxd8 10. Bg5+
Following this match, Mr. Ganz photographs Harmon next to Mr. Shaibel to show her off to the local chess club.
Some time in the future, Harmon's attendance at an etiquette class at the orphanage is interrupted when Mr. Ganz requests her presence at Duncan High School to play a simultaneous match against twelve members of the school's chess club. Mrs. Deardorff is impressed with her apparent chess proficiency but is displeased that she is playing the custodian in the basement and she suggests that Mr. Fergussen can bring chess sets out from the game closet.
Around the same time, a new state law passes which barres the administration of tranquilizers to children, much to Harmon's irritation. She uses her last pill some nights before her scheduled match at the high school, resulting in her experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which Jolene picks up on.
The afternoon of the high-school match, Harmon's vision is blurry and she is struggling to stay conscious. Jolene, genuinely wishing her luck, slips her two Librium capsules to stave off withdrawals during the match. In the first instance in the show where Harmon crushes arrogant male opponents, Harmon handily defeats all twelve chess players with the King's Pawn opening in a little over eighty minutes, including the top player Charles Levy. Harmon nonchalantly describes her dismay over the poor play of her opponents to Mr. Shaibel over chocolates.
Later that evening, Harmon bluntly asks Jolene who is sitting with a new student if she has any more vitamins, to which Jolene states was rude. She introduces Harmon to the new orphan, Samantha, but Harmon stresses her physiological need for Librium. Harmon's addiction begins to conflict with her everyday life as she formulates a plan to break into the pharmacy, where a large jar of Librium remains.
While everyone else is in the auditorium watching The Robe (1953), Harmon sneaks away to break into the pharmacy. Once in, she gorges on the Librium stores, promptly overdosing just as the episode comes to a close.
Jolene and Harmon reflect on her near-overdose on tranquilizers stolen from the orphanage pharmacy.
Harmon is adopted in 1963 by the Wheatley family. Ms. Deardorff claims Beth is 13, and Beth tries to interject to say she is 15. Mrs. Wheatley claims she doesn't have sufficient funds to last them through October which clues in Beth to ask for a job to obtain chess money, and when Alma refuses, Beth writes to Shaibel promising she'll pay him $10 if he gives her $5 to enter the tournament.
Harmon enters the Kentucky State championship despite words of caution from twins who will later become friends of hers. They explain that her prospects are hopeless as an unrated player who has never competed in a tournament because several highly rated players are registered to play, "...and Beltik might show up," a reference to Harry Beltik the current state champion.
Beth is introduced to various details of tournament play, such as the use of chess clocks, in her first match by a kind fellow female player, Annette Packer. Beth easily defeats Annette to the surprise of the twins and a handsome player (Townes) she briefly chatted with before her first match. Beth moves up the ranks, playing progressively more skilled players. Several instances ensure where arrogant, male players who act distracted and slightly put out having to play an unknown female player are surprised by their rapid losses to Beth.
Beth finally faces Beltik in the final match of the tournament. Beltik like the other male players is arrogant and shows up late to the match with his clock running, feigns ignorance of her name, and repeatedly yawns showing his ugly crooked teeth. Beltik is a more skilled player and Beth struggles, and so she soon jumps up from the game and goes to the women's room where she takes two Librium capsules. Beth soon is visualizing the chess board on the ceiling, a sight that we learn portends bad news for Beth's opponents. Beth returns to the match with a new look of confidence and immediately makes plays that put Beltik on the defense. Finally Beth makes a move and states, "I think that's it." Beltik declares that he can get out of it and Beth expresses her doubt and skewers Beltik's arrogance stating, "Maybe, if you'd shown up on time." Beltik makes several weak attempts to get out of his predicament and Beth points out that she can easily brush aside Beltik's efforts, and that his position is hopeless. Beltik angrily tells Beth to move. Finally Beth makes a move that puts him in a hopeless position, and in her final skewering of his arrogance says, "Do you see it now, or should be finish this on the board?" Beltik resigns, Beth becomes the Kentucky state champion, and she wins the $100 prize. Mrs. Wheatley is thrilled with the winnings, and even more excited to learn that there are other tournaments with even bigger prizes.
Harmon meets US Champion Benny Watts in Cincinnati at a tournament shortly after becoming Kentucky state champion, he tells her good luck and she seems smitten by that. Other players are no longer dismissive of her abilities with, for example, her with her first opponent declaring "shit!" when she tells him her name before the match. After the match she runs into the twins who previously dismissed her prospects in Kentucky. They express relief that the won't have to play her because, as they state, she crushes everyone she plays. Beth easily wins the Cincinnati tournament to capture an even larger prize of $500, much to the delight of Mrs. Wheatley.
Harmon has difficulty forming relationships with both male and female peers she would've been a High School Junior. In 1966, she loses to Benny in the US Championship, and is dubbed the US Co-Champion. Beth never fully comes to terms with her loss to Benny and it becomes a point of insecurity.
Harmon's Russian language classmates invite her to a party, resulting in some excessive substance usage and Harmon exploring sex. She seems satisfied with her freedom, yet she is dissatisfied with her relationships once more.
Harmon graduates from Fairfield High School and receives a Bulova watch from her mother.
Harmon loses against Vasily Borgov in Mexico City, and her mother dies in bed from uncertain causes but probably related to her alcohol abuse.
Harry Beltik, a former opponent, asks to coach her upon her return to Kentucky.
Harry helps Harmon cope with grief through attempting to teach her chess. They develop a brief intimate relationship, but they part ways inevitably, due to Harry seeking his own purpose, his recognition that Beth's skills easily transcend his own, and Harmon's self-destructive habits.
In 1967, Harmon identifies further weaknesses in her play during the US Championship in Ohio. She wins against Benny, and they decide to prepare for her international career together in New York.
Under Benny's tutorship, Harmon discovers that she can play even better when sober. While Benny is inebriated, they have a one night stand. Although, when she goes to Paris she meets up with Cloe and Cloe asks her if she liked having sex with Benny, and Beth responds with “Sometimes.” Which could mean that they have done it a couple more times but, probably these times not while being drunk.
In Paris, Harmon is prepared to face off against Borgov once more, but she is held back by relapsing the night before. She gradually spirals: first by cutting her friends off, then by impulse spending, and finally by collapsing into her drug and alcohol addictions. She comes to her senses once Jolene appears on her doorstep.
In 1968, Jolene and Harmon talk about their lives through an adult lens. Jolene reflects on her future as a lawyer and activist, while Harmon revisits her roots. Jolene finances Harmon's trip to Moscow out of pocket.
Harmon wins against seven Russian Grandmasters in Moscow. She leaves to play chess in a public park.
Harmon's most defining feature is likely her unabashed and penetrating looks she gives others—studious, placid, and fierce. Since she was young, Harmon has not been easy to smile or frown, wordlessly absorbing information where others rush to fill in the gaps. What she does say comes off as measured and sharp, as if hand-picked for intimidation.
Harmon's auburn hair has been mentioned once or twice as a highlight of her character as well, noting that this feature may make her more or less attractive to others. As she grew older, her hairstyle had evolved into upwards-facing side curls.
She is lithe and moves with determined elegance, as her actress wished to stress in her character.
Her fashion primarily revolves around dark, matte colors with fabrics that are fitted to her body, although she has worn off-white coats and blouses before. She wears trousers only in the winter, opting for skirts and dresses any time else.
In the final scene, as she walks through an urban park, Beth is dressed all in white. Complete with a white domed hat consisting of series of soft peaks and a single huge pompom in the middle of its top. In short, she's dressed as if she’s a white queen chess-piece come to life. The coat's belt even gives the shape of the chess piece’s middle. By this point, we all know the queen’s gambit opening is played by white. One can't help but suspect this is a winking choice by Beth as a character, or one added by the costume designers. In either case, a well chosen final costume to close the series.
The style of makeup and additional cosmetics she chooses may vary depending on her given mental wellbeing, but she generally applies a simple eyeliner without much concern for how what impressions she give off. Harmon desires to be seen as a professional before she is interpreted as a woman, yet she does not have any inherent resentment for her femininity.
A 1964 interview from Chess Review remarks her as, "A young, unsmiling girl, with brown eyes, red hair, and a dark blue dress ... with bright, intense eyes ... She is quiet, well-mannered, and out for blood".
Over the course of the series, many characters become attracted to her outside of her chess career, particularly Townes, Harry, her college peers, Benny, and Cleo. Oftentimes, with these romantic interests, Harmon finds herself struggling to balance her desire for intimacy with her passions for chess, highlighted especially through her relationships with Harry and Benny; the former craved intimacy yet disappointed in both areas, whereas the latter satisfied both of her needs but wholly focused on chess. Both of these relationships ended shortly after the climax, yet she appears satisfied with their friendship nonetheless. Harmon remains single at the end of the series (see Relationships).
Beth is a complicated woman and many of the show’s episodes revolves around this. The characters complexity is shown numerous times throughout the series as her destructive nature reaches the surface when she feels as if her past lost games have ruined her reputation. The audience then sees another side to Beth Harmon, as not only an addictive personality with destructive tendencies but also an incredibly competitive player, resulting in a character flaw, as its unknown what she will do and the lengths she will go to in order to win.
Due to the fact that she has been addicted to pills at such a young age the exact same theme of her life is brought up time and time again, which as a viewer is fascinating to see her, as more than just a sharp and intelligent young woman but also as a human being with psychological trauma, and tendencies.
When Beth arrives at the orphanage she meets the janitor. She calls him Mr. Shaibel. He taught her some chess plays and contacted a friend. His friend was a teacher at a high school who coached students with chess. He teaches her some valuable things in life. After getting adopted, she asks him for money to enter a chess competition, to which he loans her some. She gets annoyed when an interview didn't mention Mr. Shaibel and only the fact that she was a girl.
As Beth enters the Kentucky State Championship in 1963, she is greeted by D.L Townes, who she befriends despite going up against him in one of her matches. After their intense game, Townes is mesmerized at her for her victory against him.
3 years later, She finds herself in the Las Vegas U.S. Open Chess Championship (1966), she meets Townes again and he offers to picture her for an issue of the Sunday paper. Later on, he tries to comfort her about her draw with Benny Watts as she leaves the city.
In the Moscow Invitational (1968), after Borgov adjourns from his match with Beth, she is bombarded by reporters. Townes then reveals himself from the crowd, supporting and caring for her in the morning of the rematch.
He is introduced as the Kentucky State Champion in the beginning of the series, becoming Beth's rival at her first tournament. She defeats him and achieves the title of becoming the Kentucky State Champion.
5 years later, he encounters Beth at her low point and helps her by training together in her home. Harry tries to profess his admiration for her after a few sessions but she cuts him short when she continues to discuss about various chess techniques.
Later on, Harry comes to realize that he doesn't love chess as much as he once did because of her. He tells Beth that he'd much rather pursue his dream to become an electrical engineer, not a chess bum who was obsessed with winning. While exchanging thanks, he gives a book to Beth and compares her to Morphy. He fears that she'll end up the same way as Morphy did, being a famous player, retiring at the young age of 22, and eventually falling to an untimely death.
A few months after, Beth loses to Borgov in the 1967 Paris Remy-Vallon Invitational, wherein the results were influenced due to her state of inebriation. Soon after, Beth is sent into a self-destructive spiral where she bottles up her grief and disappointment by drinking excessively. She is seen entering the Kentucky State championship again in her intrusive state, only to be greeted by Harry when she exits the school to smoke before the tournament. He continues to worry for her but Beth responds in a cold way, insulting him and shuts him down when he claims that she could be sick from the drinking.
He is later seen at the end of the series, supporting Beth right before her the continuation of her rematch against Borgov.
Beginning as rivals, Benny and Beth share a strong relationship in the show. Benny is the first one to defeat Beth after many years. He later becomes her mentor. They enjoy playing chess and speed chess together and it proves to be quite the turn on for both of them, so much so that they become lovers. They have a fall out when Beth spirals, using sedatives and alcohol which Benny seriously worries, but she distances herself from him. Ultimately he supports her in her match against Borgov along with the other boys.
Borgov is the only chess player that Beth fears. She has been afraid of Borgov and his brilliant chess plays for most of her chess career.
This is not a comprehensive list. Harmon is implied to play many other tournaments off-screen, and there were likely more people playing in any given tournament. Below is every game that Harmon herself has been explicitly shown playing or discussed playing.
Played in November, 1963. Harmon discovered this tournament through a Chess Review magazine that she stole from a local corner-store. It was held at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Kentucky, for state residents and bona-fide members of state clubs only. The entry fee was five dollars.
Harmon and her mother had no money to afford the tournament entry fee, thus Harmon reached out to her former coach, Mr. Shaibel. He provided her with the money via letter with the stipulation that he receive ten dollars in return. Harmon ended up not paying him back, likely due to forgetfulness.
According to Mike: "There are three guys in there [the Open] with ratings over 1800." This is referencing Goldman (1900), Sizemore (2050), and Beltik (2150). Harmon plays and wins against Sizemore and Beltik.
According to Townes: "They arrange it [the matches] by ratings on the first round. After that, winners play winners, and losers, losers." Nonetheless, Harmon experienced bias against her, where she was paired with another unrated woman the first day and paired with the lowest rated winner the second day.
Harmon's performance in the tournament superseded all of the other players, including Townes (1724), who she begins a flirtatiously friendly connection with. This win garnered her local fame as a child prodigy.
She is shown to only play six games, though it can be assumed that she plays two more, given the time control and her noting that she "won four games" on the first day.
During the last game, Harmon E. vs. Beltik H., Harry arrived fifteen minutes late, much to Harmon's irritation.
Interestingly, Harmon claimed to be fifteen before the tournament, despite having yet to pass her birthday. Whether she rounded up due to the relative proximity is unknown.
Time Control: 50 moves/120 minutes.
Prize Fund (Open): First ($100), Second ($50), Third ($25), Fourth ($10).
Prize Fund (Under 1600): First ($20).
Harmon, E. vs. Packer, A.
Harmon, E. vs. Cooke
Unknown vs. Harmon, E.
Unknown vs. Harmon, E.
Townes, D.L. vs. Harmon, E.
Sizemore vs. Harmon, E.
Harmon, E. vs. Beltik, H.
Results: Elizabeth Harmon wins the 1963 Kentucky State Championship.
Played sometime in November, 1963. Harmon is 15. Harmon discovered this tournament through Mrs. Wheatley, who initially took a solely monetary interest in chess, yet she grew fond of the art after watching Harmon's games in this tournament. It was held at the then-Gibson Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Word of Harmon's achievements had reached chess organizers in Cincinnati, with the front desk of this tournament explicitly recognizing her as Kentucky State Champion. She informally meets Grandmaster Benny Watts during a small exhibition of the Caro-Kann Defence.
Harmon's notoriety immediately intimidates her first opponent at table fifteen.
The details of the games played are largely undisclosed on-screen. She is shown to only play three games, though it can be assumed that she plays a fourth, given the time control.
Harmon is shown to win against National Master Rudolph as the last game in the tournament.
Harmon walks away with a $327.70 profit, including $49.54 she pays her mother as an agent's commission.
At the time of this tournament, her birthday likely would have passed, and she would be fifteen.
Time Control: 40 moves/120 minutes. 2 rounds/day.
Prize Fund: First ($500).
Unknown vs. Harmon, E.
Harmon, E. vs. Unknown
Harmon, E. vs. Unknown
NM Rudolph vs. Harmon, E.
Results: Elizabeth Harmon wins the Cincinnati Tournament.
Played in 1963. According to a Chess Review magazine that Mrs. Wheatley reads on a plane, Harmon wins against an unnamed Grandmaster in this tournament:
Schoolgirl beats Grandmaster in Pittsburgh. Onlookers were amazed at her youthful fine-points of strategy. She shows the assurance of a player twice her age.
Mrs. Wheatley promptly boasts that this counts as national recognition, to Harmon's satisfaction.
The details of the games played are largely undisclosed on-screen.
GM Unknown vs. Harmon, E.
Results: Elizabeth Harmon wins the Pittsburgh Tournament.
Played in December, starting on the twenty-sixth. Harmon and Mrs. Wheatley discuss this tournament on a plane, musing over the convenience of travelling during the holidays.
In a Chess Review magazine, Harmon is referred to as a "wunderkind", meaning "wonder child" or child prodigy in German. Whether this is remark from a German person (and thus international recognition) is undisclosed.
Harmon also determines that she should learn Russian during this trip.
The details of the tournament are largely undisclosed on-screen.
Harmon is still fifteen when she wins.
Played in 1966. Although the month is not clarified, Harmon is most likely seventeen at the time, as the weather appears warmer and therefore before her birthday in November. It was held at the Mariposa Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Harmon meets with her friend Townes here, who is present as a journalist for Chess Review and the Lexington Herald-Leader. She remarks that the tournament is "not as important" as the U.S. Championship, although notes she had planned to attend the U.S. Open in 1965. She has a brief interview with Townes.
Harmon notes that she played "the Marshall" against an opponent from San Francisco, which included a queen sacrifice reflecting games from Paul Morphy. It is unclear which Marshall Gambit this is referring to.
Harmon is shown to play three games, though it can be assumed she played at least one more off-screen.
Harmon refused to shake Benny's hands prior to their final game. She lost against the Caro-Kann Defence, a noteworthy callback to their disagreement on its strength in 1963.
The tournament was point-based; each win was one point, while each draw was a half-point. A loss meant no points. Benny won all of his games except two draws, whereas Harmon won every game except one loss. This resulted in a tie. According to a newspaper article on Mr. Shaibel's wall, this was her first loss on record.
Harmon, E. vs. Unknown
Harmon, E. vs. Unknown
Harmon, E. vs. Unknown
Harmon, E. vs. GM Watts, B.
Results: Benny Watts ties Elizabeth Harmon for the 1966 Las Vegas U.S. Open Chess Championship.
Played in 1966, sometime in June (based on when Harmon graduated two weeks prior). During the commentary of her games, Harmon is said be to be seventeen years old. It was held at the Aztec Palace.
Harmon is shown to play six games, though it can be assumed she played many more off-screen.
Harmon plays against at least two international Grandmasters; GM Octavio Marenco, of Italy, and GM Vasily Borgov, of Russia. If Diedrich is also a Grandmaster from Austria, or if Georgi Girev is a Grandmaster of Russia, then this tournament may qualify as one of FIDE's International Master or Grandmaster norms. This may be evidence to Harmon being a Grandmaster herself.
The tournament appeared to be single-elimination; any player who loses is immediately eliminated from winning first prize. Harmon most likely won a prize for second place, yet what this is monetarily is unclear.
During her adjournment game with Georgi, Harmon paced around the hotel impatiently and knowingly, seemingly prepared for his every move.
Harmon plays the Rossolimo against GM Borgov, attempting to throw them both out of book. Inevitably unprepared and psyched out from intimdation, she loses the game and the tournament.
After the tournament, Harmon loses her adoptive mother to unknown causes, and she returns home to Lexington, Kentucky, to grieve and to organize her finances.
GM Marenco, O. vs. Harmon, E.
Harmon, E. vs. Unknown
Unknown vs. Harmon, E.
Harmon, E. vs. Diedrich
Girev, G. vs. Harmon, E.
GM Borgov, V. vs Harmon, E.
Results: Grandmaster Vasily Borgov wins the 1966 Mexico City Invitational Tournament.
Played in 1967. Although the month is not specified, it is unlikely that Harmon spent more than a year without playing a tournament, and this was probably around September. Harmon would have been eighteen. It was held in an unnamed, "second-rate" university in Ohio.
One round was played each day, with a free period prior to the final game.
The details of the tournament are largely undisclosed on-screen. Benny and Harmon connected well after the tournament, notwithstanding the fact that Harmon bested Benny for the title of sole U.S. Champion. Benny determines to coach Harmon in preparation for her international career.
The U.S. Championship winner was invited to the Moscow Invitational as a secondary prize.
Harmon, E. vs. Manfredi
Harmon, E. vs. Friedman, D.
Harmon, E. vs. Weiss, D.
GM Watts, B. vs. Harmon, E.
Results: Elizabeth Harmon wins the 1967 U.S. Championship.
Played in 1967, during a cold month of the year, likely October. Harmon would have still been eighteen. It was held in Hotel de Ville in Paris, France.
The tournament was a single-round robin event; each player plays every other player once. With six players, there are five rounds over the course of one round per day, plus an additional one day for any adjournment.
Players included: IM Alec Bergland, of Norway; IM P. Darga, of France; IM S. Malovicz, of Yugoslavia; IM R. Uljanov, of USSR; US Champion Elizabeth Harmon; and GM Vasily Borgov, of USSR. Considering this line-up, Harmon's participation most likely qualified for an International Master FIDE norm.
Harmon had a perfect winning score until her loss with GM Borgov, the results of which may have been influenced by her inebriation the night prior. Neither of them had any draws.
Time Control: 40 moves/150 minutes. 1 round/day.
Harmon, E. vs. IM Darga, P.
IM Uljanov, R. vs. Harmon, E.
Harmon, E. vs. IM Malovicz, S.
IM Bergland, A. vs. Harmon, E.
Harmon, E. vs. GM Borgov, V.
Results: Grandmaster Vasily Borgov wins the 1967 Paris Remy-Vallon Invitational.
Played in 1968. It was held at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Kentucky.
Harmon fled the tournament before it started, forfeiting the title of Kentucky State Champion.
Played in 1968, at the end of the year. It was held in Moscow, Russia.
According to Benny, four top Russian players and four top players from other countries played. These were supposedly FIDE International Masters and Grandmasters. Thus, this may qualify as Harmon's third norm towards earning a FIDE title herself, fulfilling one of her character arcs.
Players include: US Champion Elizabeth Harmon; Laev, of USSR; Hellstrom, of Sweden; Duhamel, of France; Shapkin, of USSR; Luchenko, of USSR; Flento, of Italy; and GM Vasily Borgov, of USSR. Strangely, Shapkin is not introduced on screen before the first round.
Harmon's performance throughout the tournament garnered her even greater international fame. Her skill was continuously compared to that of the chess-superpower of the Soviets.
In the first game, Harmon bested Laev in a mere twenty-seven moves, attracting a local following outside of the building. After Harmon's second win, GM Borgov had left his ongoing-game to study her board, and her local Russian following grew across several autographs.
Harmon's fifth game with former-World Champion Luchenko was her first to be adjourned, where Harmon opened with an Alekhine's Defence and Luchenko replied with the Omega Gambit, transposing into the Indian Game (1. e4, Nf6 2. d4). Her following continued to grow, eventually to the point where crowds would interrupt her commute. During the adjourned game, Harmon made a decisive win against him, despite her time and attack disadvantage, further impressing the entire world.
Meanwhile, Harmon's Four Knights English Variation against Flento dragged on for nearly four hours before his inevitable resignation. This left her exhausted before her final game against GM Borgov.
Disclaimer: There are many ways to interpret the final game between Harmon and Borgov. For instance, the game is actually based off of a real-world Queen's Gambit Accepted, as shown in this YouTube video. Still, the canonical continuation transposes into that game as follows:
Main Article: Harmon vs. Borgov (1968)
In her final game, Harmon plays the Queen's Gambit —a queen's pawn opening, which she normally does not attempt, and the namesake of the Netflix series. Borgov declines with the Albin Countergambit, contradicting his solid style as well. Harmon replies with a complete deviation from Albin theory at the time by pushing her king's pawn, which transpoes them into the Queen's Gambit Accepted: Central Variation, McDonnell Defence.
Curiously after 36. h3, Borgov called for an adjournment in English, despite him not speaking the language fluently. This could be seen as a "signal" that he wished to talk to Harmon personally. Regardless, the game was adjourned, and Harmon was interviewed by several news outlets including Dick Evans from Times Magazine and, surprisingly, Townes from the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Harmon's likely best friend and former love interest, Townes opted to be her second during the adjournment. Moreover, the following morning, Harmon received help from GM Benny, Mike, Matt, Harry, Hilton Wexler, GM Arthur Levertov, and others over the phone. It was a turning point in her career, whereby before Harmon would study alone.
The adjournment ends, and Borgov's move is revealed. They both are prepared.
Shortly following a repeat of moves, World Champion Borgov uncharacteristically offers Harmon a draw, which she declines. Harmon pushes for the win until the very end, therein Borgov is forced to resign after she queens her king's pawn.
Winning the tournament impresses Borgov, and they share a friendly moment with a standing ovation. The world sees Harmon as an "ambassador" to the USSR, and she garners undeniable, international fame at twenty.
Laev vs. Harmon, E.
Harmon, E. vs. Duhamel
Hellstrom vs. Harmon, E.
Harmon, E. Shapkin
GM Luchenko vs. Harmon, E.
Harmon, E. vs. Flento
Harmon, E. vs. GM Borgov, V.
Results: U.S. Champion Elizabeth Harmon wins the 1968 Moscow Invitational.
That's okay, I've heard enough. It's mostly about my being a girl. ... It shouldn't be that important. They didn't print half the things I said, they didn't tell about Mr. Shaibel, and they didn't say anything about how I play the Sicilian.
Fairfield High School's chess club was founded in her name, although whether it is named after her as an alumni is unspecified.
Harmon is frequently referenced by others as a political icon throughout the show, with people around her enforcing a dichotomy between women and men, young and old, American and Soviet, etc. Although she shows an understanding of her existing beyond the norm, and the magnitude which her success carries, Harmon has displayed nonchalance towards making these choices herself, opting to focus purely on the tangible skill of a given chess player rather than their sex, age, or nationality.
She expresses distaste for people who perceive chess players as arbitrarily different based on these factors—for instance, Harmon complains when the two female players are put against each other, and she criticizes Chess Review for focusing on her abilities as a "bloodthirsty" woman rather than as a hard-working chess player. As such, she has had a negative perception of the media, save for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
When Christian Crusade requested she make a public statement against communism and, supposedly, thus atheism, Harmon declared that she was a chess player before she was Christian, proclaiming their request as "fucking nonsense".
When Mr. Booth stresses that she should say she is "proud to be an American" to the press, Harmon chooses to focus on how she is proud to be trained by Mr. Shaibel. Further, when her victory was construed as "beating the Soviets at their own game", Harmon turned down all invitations regarding this, instead leaving to play chess with her public following in Russia.
Harmon openly recognizes her responsibility as a young, female, American chess prodigy. However, throughout the show, she prioritizes the beauty and art of chess above all stereotypes and perceptions of her character. It is blatant that she deeply wants her presence in the public to be felt as a genuine artist rather than a spiteful celebrity. Even in the way she moves the pieces, Harmon deliberately shows that she does not need to choose between traditionally feminine or masculine traits, and she plays with grace in addition to ferocity.
- Throughout the show, Harmon is implied to play a meager seventy-four games, including thirty-eight official games. Only twenty-eight official games have named players.
- Of these twenty-eight, she won twenty-five games.
- Curiously, none of these games were drawn, despite draws being the most common result of professional chess games. It is unknown if Harmon has ever drawn a game.
- According to Mr. Shaibel's wall in End Game, her first loss was in-fact Benny Watts in the 1966 US Championship. This implies that she went three years without a loss on record, thus every game must have been won or drawn.
- It is shown in Adjournment that Harmon is attracted to Cleo, and Cleo is shown sleeping in her hotel bed after a night drinking. Considering her previous attraction to male characters as well, Harmon is implied to be bisexual.
- Harmon is never called any official titles besides Kentucky State Champion and U.S. Champion. However, considering she is last shown winning against several FIDE Grandmasters, it is possible she had been awarded titles by the USCF or FIDE off-screen.
- Notably, in Doubled Pawns, during a pledge party at Margaret's house, Harmon says that her rating is above 1800 as of circa 1964. This would qualify her for a USCF Class A title.
- It can be assumed that her rating steadily climbed in the following years, potentially reaching 2200 ELO or more by 1968. This would qualify her for USCF National Master. Moreover, given she wins against FIDE Grandmasters, her rating could be even higher.
- In Adjournment, it is implied that she loses the title of Kentucky State Champion in 1968 due to absence. It is unknown whether she reentered the tournament later.
- Notably, in Doubled Pawns, during a pledge party at Margaret's house, Harmon says that her rating is above 1800 as of circa 1964. This would qualify her for a USCF Class A title.
- According to Mr. Shaibel's wall in End Game, Harmon competed in FIDE's "challengers tournament for woman" sometime in the fall of an unknown year. It is unknown if she won this, or what real-world equivalent this is referring to. It is unlikely that this is the Candidates Tournament for the Women's World Chess Championship, as that would have occurred in Russia, where Harmon was yet to visit.
- In an interview with Maire Daire, Anya Taylor-Joy compares her style of moving the chess pieces to her childhood experiences learning ballet. Mike's comparison of Soviet chess to ballet in Doubled Pawns may be a reference to this.
- Author Walter Tevis denied Harmon's character was directly inspired by any particular player. The Hungarian grandmaster Judit Polgár has sometimes been mentioned, but at the time he wrote the novel she was only 7 years old and unknown outside of Hungary. She would only later emerge as a threat to the top male grandmasters, becoming the first female player to compete for a world championship and to be rated in the top ten players in the world. Polgár rarely attended female-specific tournaments and made a point out of competing in open tournaments dominated overwhelmingly by men.
- Unlike Polgár, Harmon is portrayed as someone who neglects the importance of gender and does not frequently compare herself to male players. According to an interview with NPR, Polgár states, "I always say that women should have the self-confidence that they are as good as male players, but only if they are willing to work and take it seriously as much as male players."
- In a 1983 interview with Chess Life, Tevis predicted the rise of woman players capable of taking on the best in the world, saying they were in no way inferior to men in intelligence, and that woman only tournaments should be abolished. Since then, Judit Polgár and the Chinese Hou Yifan have fulfilled his prediction, and both have tended to avoid woman only tournaments.
- Diana Lanni, an attractive and promising player from New York who was probably known to Tevis, has also been suggested as a possible inspiration for Harmon. Lanni represented the United States at the 1982 Chess Olympiad in Lucerne, but struggled with addiction and mental health issues.
|Beth Harmon • Alma Wheatley • Benny Watts • Jolene • Harry Beltik • William Shaibel|
D.L. Townes • Allston Wheatley • Vasily Borgov • Alice Harmon • Helen Deardorff • Annette Packer • Borgov's wife • Cleo • Christopher • Dave Friedman • Mr. Ganz • Janet • Margaret Johnson • Paul
- Openings 00:09:05