Last year saw the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit become something of a lockdown hit: the show, based on a 1981 novel by the same name, follows chess prodigy Beth Harmon on her journey from playing in basements to playing the world’s best in the Soviet Union. The show is a work of fiction. In portraying the journey of a young woman player in an ‘authentic’ 1960s chess scene, however, the show now stands accused of denigrating the history of a woman who actually did it.
In the show’s final episode hero Beth, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, takes part in a high-level tournament in Moscow (then the epicentre of the chess world). An in-universe commentator says the following over the match at one point: “The only unusual thing about [Beth], really, is her sex, and even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”
Nona Gaprindashvili was indeed the female world champion, as well as the first woman to be named an International Chess Grandmaster by FIDE (1978), and she not only faced plenty of men but beat them handily. She competed in men’s tournaments in the 60s, and won them outright. Gaprindashvili, now aged 80 and living in Tbilisi, Georgia, is not impressed that a fictional chess show has overwritten her achievements.