The Story Behind The Real ‘Queen’s Gambit’, The Forgotten Female Chess Star


Chess has gained massive popularity in recent times – and it’s all because of a woman named Beth Harmon.

All the boards are sold out, and the reason behind it is the woman that dominated the typically male-dominated game of chess in the 1950s and 1960s, Beth Harmon.

Harmon is a Kentucky orphan that turned into a chess prodigy, and she doesn’t exist. She’s the main character of Netflix’s new mega-hit show ‘The Queen’s Gambit’, which is based on a 1983 novel b Walter Tevis.

But who’s the real-life Beth Harmon?

It was a Russian woman named Vera Menchik. Vera was born in 1906 in Moscow, but unlike Harmon, her family was prosperous and she attended an all-girls private school. However, with the Russian revolution, everything changed.
The Menchiks were in the middle of the civil war and were living under a strict regime. Their mill was confiscated, and they eventually lost their house.

Vera had to switch schools, and in her new school, there were times without heating, water, or electric light. The students read by the light of a few candles wearing their fur-lined coats and hats, and had an hour’s walk home through the snow.

She was in a vulnerable state after her parents divorced, so she turned to chess for comfort. Her father moved back to Czechoslovakia, and her mother, an England native, returned to England with Vera and her sister Olga.

Vera couldn’t speak English at the time, so she turned to chess. She started taking private lessons and joined a local club, and the game suited her because she couldn’t communicate in English.


In an interview, she said at one instant that she loved chess so much because it’s a quiet game and the best hobby for a person that couldn’t speak the language properly.
She won her first matches just a few months later, and she won the first Women’s World Chess Championship in 1927.
Although she kept winning all of the women’s matches, she set her sights on men, and she became the first woman to play in male tournaments.

And she won against men too!

At the age of 23, she tied Akiba Rubenstein, the Polish grandmaster. Many top male players were still dismissive of her, but she still played in the strongest chess tournament since the end of WWI in 1929.

A top Austrian player named Albert Becker was very cocky before playing her at the event, and told some buddies that they should form a club named after Vera Menchik, and only those who will manage to lose a game to her will become full members of the club.

Guess who became the club’s first member?

Vera continued beating many of the top players at the time, and she only had trouble with the super-elite Russian players.

However, she achieved the unthinkable: she challenged the best men players in chess, and kept winning!

Vera tragically lost her life during WWII, when a Nazi rocket hit her home in London and wiped the whole family in 1944.