‘The Queen’s Gambit’: Is Benny Watts a Real Person?

Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit has renewed a dazzling interest in the game of chess. The dramatic series has introduced the world to Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), a chess prodigy, at a time when women in the professional chess world were non-existent.

One of the people Beth meets On her journey to the top is a fellow chess prodigy, Benny Watts. But is he based on a real person?

Inside Netflix’s ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

With over 62 million streams in its first 28 days on Netflix, The Queen’s Gambit has become the platform’s most successful miniseries to date. The show is set in the 1950s and 1960s and follows Beth, a young girl abandoned at a Kentucky orphanage following her mother’s tragic death.

After being introduced to chess by one of the orphanages’ custodians, Beth becomes enamored and nearly obsessed with the game. She soon begins competing in the all-male chess world, making quite the name for herself.

However, as she gains more recognition in the chess world, Beth’s addiction to alcohol and tranquilizers begins to spiral out of control.

‘The Queen’s Gambit’ is a fictional story

The Queen’s Gambit is based on Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel of the same name. It was one of The Hustler and The Color Of Money author’s last novels before he died of lung cancer in 1984.

Before his death, Tevis spoke with The New York Times about the inspiration write Beth Harmon. “In the past, many women have had to hide their brains, but not today,” he explained.

He was also inspired by his own love of chess and his past when it came to addiction issues. He said,

I first began to play chess with my sister and the kids on my block. I once won a prize of $250 and became a Class C player. I now play against a computer, so I don’t have to face a real-life opponent sneering at me—I can always pull out the plug. I’ve played well enough to know what a good game is. I can beat the average person, but I’m afraid to play those guys who set up boards in the street on Broadway.

The Queen’s Gambit (L to r) Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny and Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon
The Queen’s Gambit (L to r) Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny and Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon | Phil Bray/Netflix

Will ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Have A Season 2?

Benny Watts is based on a real-life person

Though The Queen’s Gambit is fictional and based on some of Tevis’ personal experiences, the author actually based Benny on a real-life person. In the series, Benny Watts is a fellow child prodigy that Beth crosses paths with. However, by the time the two have crossed paths, Benny has already become so successful that he’s no longer interested in competing in the chess world.

Tevis actually based Benny on Bobby Fischer, a real-life child prodigy chess genius. In 1956, when Fischer was 13, he won a match dubbed “The Game of the Century.” He set a record at the U.S. Chess Championship, with 11 wins in 11 games.

Later he would defeat Boris Spassky of the USSR. By the time Tevis was writing The Queen’s Gambit, Fischer was in his 30s, and he’d retreated from the global stage. Benny was, in many ways, a tribute to him.