The Queen’s Gambit: meet the real Beth Harmon… Bobby Fischer

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At the height of the Cold War in the 1960s a young American chess prodigy called Bobby Fischer single-handedly took on a Soviet chess machine that had dominated the game for decades. As a teenager he taught himself Russian so he could read magazine articles about his rivals. His relentless rise culminated in 1972, when he took the crown of reigning world champion Boris Spassky in a clash that was dubbed “the match of the century”. Such was the beauty of one of Fischer’s victories in their head-to-head, the defeated Spassky joined the crowd by rising from his seat to applaud his opponent.

If you are one of the millions of people who have watched the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, this story might sound familiar. Much has been written about Beth Harmon – the fictional chess talent played so superbly by Anya Taylor-Joy – being a role model for budding female chess players. Yet ironically her character was largely based on a man who once dismissively suggested he could give any woman “knight odds” – or a piece headstart – and still beat her every time.

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