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Some Jewish facts about Netflix’s ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

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The popular Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, centered around a fictional chess prodigy set in the 1950s, who rises to the top of the competitive world, has unbeknownst to many Jewish connections, as detailed in a Kveller report on Sunday.
While Jews have long been prominent in the chess world, with many becoming top world champions, the series itself focuses on the story of Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, an orphan seeking to become world champion amid struggles with drug addiction and alcohol. Notwithstanding the non-explicit mention of Jews or Jewish culture, here are some interesting Jewish connections to the acclaimed series:

Firstly, the show’s co-creator, Scott Frank, is Jewish, and has an extensive history in the film and television industry, which includes getting nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, and other shows of his featuring topics with Jewish influences, such as the miniseries Godless. 

Another, according to an AFP report, is the fact that the manor house used in one scene, showing Beth’s orphanage, once belonged  to the Israels, a wealthy and prominent Jewish family during the 1740s in Berlin. Sadly, the family would experience the hardships of the Nazis’ rise to power in the 1930s, with some family members perishing in the Holocaust. 

The actress who plays the character of Alma, Beth’s adoptive mother, is well known actress Marielle Heller, who comes from a Jewish background via her father. The actress has also been featured in the biographical drama, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, depicting the life of Mr. Rogers. She also enrolled her son in the local JCC while in Pittsburgh. 

In the fifth episode of the series, the character of Harry Beltik speaks of two real-life Jewish chess players, George Koltanowski and Wilhem Steinitz. The former, who died in 2000, holds the world’s blindfold chess record, first set on September 20, 1937. The latter, Steinitz, was the first official world chess champion, a title he held from  1886 to 1894.

The name of the show, The Queen’s Gambit, originates from an opening chess move, which was popularized Steinitz and  Siegbert Tarrasch, a Prussian Jew considered one of the best chess players of the time, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The darker elements of The Queen’s Gambit were allegedly inspired by Bobby Fischer, an erratic chess player of Jewish ancestry himself via his mother, whom towards his later years often made antisemitic, in addition to misogynistic and racist, statements. 

A consultant on the show, Gary Kasparov is a well known chess champion with a Jewish father, as well as human rights advocate in Russia. 

 



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