Review of 'The Queen's Gambit' by Walter Tevis

Updated: Nov 12


tl;dr: 'The Queen's Gambit' is a fast-paced and captivating tale of a girl who conquers Chess.


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The story's setting is the United States in the 1950s. Beth Harmon, an 8-year-old girl, who has lost her family in an accident, has joined the Methuen Home orphanage. Beth is socially inept and finds it difficult to make friends. The orphanage gives tranquillizers twice a day to its children and Beth gets addicted. At a low point in her life, she discovers Chess when she finds the janitor playing it in the basement. Soon, she is adept at it, and people around her realize that she is a child prodigy. The rest of the story is about her quest to become the World Champion while fighting the twin demons of alcohol & drug addiction.


'The Queen's Gambit' is an incredibly engrossing book. I finished the book in a single sitting because it gripped me from the first sentence. Beth's character, the fast pacing, as well as the rags to riches story, are the three primary reasons for this.


Elizabeth Harmon's character is so compelling because she overcomes challenges, both self-imposed and external, to become the best at Chess. She always manages to find a way to get what she wants - and what she wants is to get better at Chess and be proclaimed the champion. She doesn't feel even once that her gender is an issue, though some others do. At one point, she feels affronted because a magazine article focuses on her gender rather than who she is, and her achievements. Beth is a savant in some areas but is woefully unprepared to deal with her emotions or relationships with other people. Her battles with her addictions and other self-destructive behaviour, show us that the person she needs to defeat is, not the current world champion but, herself. The author has done a fantastic job in portraying her character - making her sympathetic despite her flaws.


'The Queen's Gambit' is a book about Chess. So there are plenty of references to openings, endgames, tactics and strategies. The book has many references to Chess luminaries like Alekhine & Capablanca along with the legendary games they played. Walter Tevis has made a difficult task seem easy - making chess games exciting to the casual reader. I play Chess, and even my heart was thumping during certain games. But despite the plenitude of games & moves, a passing knowledge of Chess is enough to enjoy the book. I bet many readers have finished it and gone on to play a game - it is that inspiring.


In conclusion, I loved this story. I came upon it thanks to the Netflix series. If you liked the series, then you ought to read this book. If you haven't watched it yet, that is even better, since you will have the joy of getting to know the story for the first time. 'The Queen's Gambit' is an excellent book, and it is a must-read.


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