How ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Star Anya Taylor-Joy Learned to Play Chess for the Netflix Series

In The Queen’s Gambit, the latest drama to hit Netflix, Anya Taylor-Joy plays Beth Harmon, a young chess prodigy who becomes one of the world’s greatest players. The actor isn’t a chess master like her character, and she recently revealed how she learned to play so effortlessly for the series. 

The Queen’s Gambit (L To R) Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon In Episode 104 Of The Queen’s Gambit
Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon In ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ | Phil Bray/Netflix

‘The Queen’s Gambit’ features real chess moves

The Queen’s Gambit is centered around chess. So for creator/director Scott Frank, it was important to make every game look and feel as authentic as possible. 

“They’re always real moves and it’s always very accurate,” Frank told Entertainment Weekly. “You can freeze frame anything, and it’s a real chess setup. There’s even a whole sequence where you never see the board, but they’re still actually moving the pieces where they’re supposed to. The actors always knew exactly where every piece was supposed to go.”

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‘The Queen’s Gambit’ showrunner focused more on the characters than the actual games

Being a chess player himself, Frank knew bringing the game to life was important. But he also wanted to make each game feel compelling. When talking to EW, the showrunner noted that he opted to focus on the players during the games, rather than the board itself.

“The chess was my biggest worry,” Frank said. “It was the thing I spent the most amount of time on in prep. I was obsessed with finding a way to capture the games, but make them dramatic for people who don’t know a whit about chess.”

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He revealed that each game seen on the series was set-up by “chess consultants,” which include some of the world’s greatest players. But he credited the intensity of the games to Taylor-Joys captivating performance. 

“She has eyes in the back of her head,” Frank added. “If the camera moves, she knows how she needs to move. She knows where to be, always, and she’s not afraid to be still and to be quiet.” 

Anya Taylor-Joy learned the moves like choreography

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Taylor-Joy revealed how much she identified with her character. “She’s the character that I’ve had the least amount of skin between,” Taylor-Joy said. “I understood her so immediately, and she came forth to me so quickly that it was like, this is slightly harder to handle, because it means that when Beth has a bad day, I will have a bad day.”

The actor noted that she didn’t have much chess experience before filming The Queen’s Gambit, so she trained with world-renowned chess teacher Bruce Pandolfini to learn the basics. But, because of the complexity of the games, she had to memorize the moves like choreography before each scene. 

“It was important to me to understand the theory of chess,” Taylor-Joy revealed. “I didn’t think I could, in any good conscience, show up and not know what I was talking about. But then the actual reality of playing the game, I couldn’t hold all of those sequences in my head without going insane. So I would learn the matches five minutes prior, and I kind of saw it as dance choreography for my fingers.”

The Queen’s Gambit is currently streaming on Netflix.