As Netflix’s ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Captures Fans, Chess App Downloads Have Doubled


Of course, without having played any of the centuries-old game, Taylor-Joy had to study with the experts, including Russian grandmaster and former world champion Garry Kasparov and veteran chess coach Bruce Pandolfini. Taylor-Joy said they had about three competitive players on set when they filmed those scenes. “Understanding the theory and being able to execute that in a real game are two very different things,” Taylor-Joy said. “There was no way that I was going to be able to keep a Rolodex of 350 unique chess sequences in my mind. I just had to learn it before the match, do it, execute it and then move on to the next one.”

The show has been heralded for its accuracy regarding competitive chess. It’s part of the reason that “The Queen’s Gambit” — named after Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel as well as an actual chess opening move, among the world’s oldest–has been a hit in that world. “At least for me, as a novice, it was so wonderful to have all of these details that I’ve never thought of,” Taylor-Joy said. “You know, what does the room smell like when there’s been a whole bunch of dudes sitting over boards and sweating for eight hours? What does it feel like to adjourn and then go back?”

Having played a 17th-century colonial Puritanin The Witch and a 19th-century wealthy English socialite in “Emma,” Taylor-Joy is used to portraying characters from a bygone era. But Beth Harmon was different. “I’ve never had an experience where I was so into a character,” she said. “Every day, her emotions would come up. And I was like, ‘Is this mine? Is this hers? How do I react to this?’”

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In fact, she was passionate about the role from the moment she read Tevis’ book and heard that co-creator Scott Frank wanted to meet with her. “It’s really difficult to explain the compulsion that occurs when a character is meant for you,” she said. “I ended up running to the meeting. Like, I don’t run anywhere. And I ran to meet this man. And I didn’t even say hello, I just stormed into the restaurant and was like, ‘It’s not all about chess. And she has red hair. She has to have red hair.’”


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