Despite the efforts to make the chess scenes believable, there are still areas in which the series comes up short. The most apparent is in how fast the players move during the tournaments. As one tournament director tells Beth before a competition in Cincinnati, each player has two hours to make 40 moves, which was, and still is, a standard time control for such games. But in every match, Beth and her opponents make each of their moves after taking only a few seconds to think about them. At such a tempo, they would finish their games in minutes, not hours. The speed is understandable for filmmaking because watching players sit at a board for hours, barely moving, is not riveting. But it is also not accurate.
Nor is having competitors talk during some of the games. Other than offering a draw — essentially agreeing that the match ends in a tie — players do not speak to each other during matches. It is not only considered bad sportsmanship, it is also against the rules. But several times, as in Beth’s game against Harry in Episode 2, in which she gloats near the end, and in her game against a young Russian prodigy in Mexico City in Episode 4, Beth and her opponents engage in verbal exchanges. The dialogue makes the games more understandable and spices up the drama, but once again, it is not true to life.
Though “The Queen’s Gambit” is a work of fiction and the characters that appear in it never existed, there are passing references to players who did, among them the world champions José Raúl Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, Mikhail Botvinnik and Boris Spassky.
There is also a curious moment when Harry compares Beth to Paul Morphy, an American, who played that famous game at the Paris Opera in 1858 and who is widely considered the greatest player of the 19th century. The comparison seems like a misdirection. Despite her self-destructive tendencies, Beth does not resemble Morphy. She is closer to a female version of another champion: Bobby Fischer.
That may not be accidental. Walter Tevis, who wrote the 1983 novel on which the series is based, was a passionate and knowledgeable amateur player. In making the protagonist a woman playing a game that had long been dominated by men — and which continues to be today, though no one knows the reason — Tevis may have been expressing a hope that one day there might be true equality of the sexes over the board.