'I loved it': The childhood drug addiction that inspired The Queen's Gambit 2 years ago

'I loved it': The childhood drug addiction that inspired The Queen's Gambit

"It's an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it."

So says teen prodigy Beth Harmon of chess, the game she comes to dominate in new Netflix show The Queen's Gambit.


The drama series, which landed on the streaming service earlier this month, has become a surprise hit, setting viewership records and boosting sales of chess sets.

This quote sums up Beth, illustrating her need for security as she grapples with both success and addiction.

As it turns out, this dark story of a troubled orphan was inspired by the life of the writer who created Beth's story.

Walter Tevis published his novel The Queen's Gambit in 1983, following a life of alcoholism that had its roots in his early years.


Tevis, originally from San Francisco, learned to play chess as a young boy but fell ill at the age of eight. He was put in a nursing home and abandoned by his parents, who moved across the country to Kentucky, reports The Ringer.

In The Queen's Gambit, we watch as eight-year-old Beth is put in an orphanage and becomes addicted to the tranquilisers she and the other girls are forced to take.

Similarly, Tevis was drugged with sedatives when he was left in the nursing home as a child. He was given barbiturates three times a day, starting him on a path to dependency.

“I loved it,” he told the San Francisco Examiner years later. “That may be one reason I became a drunk.”


Tevis was later taken back in by his strict mother and alcoholic father and struggled to fit in at school in Lexington; just like Beth, an outsider among her peers.

As an adult, he got married and had two children. He became prolific short story writer, as well as a drinker and a gambler.

"He gambled my milk money away, and the way he got it back was by selling short stories to various magazines," his son William later said.


He did eventually manage to beat his alcoholism and to survive two suicide attempts. He sadly lost his battle with lung cancer at the age of 56 in 1984, just a year after The Queen's Gambit was published.

In the last years of his life, Tevis had returned to playing chess - and started writing about it.

Many players of the game, he told Chess Life, are loners.

"I like writing about people who are somewhat outcasts from society. … Highly intelligent, out of place characters. I like to write about alienation.”