Netflix’s new, addictive series The Queen’s Gambit has received much praise for its realistic portrayal of a female chess player’s rise to success, along with her downfalls. Left to her own devices, the orphaned Beth Harmon must find her own way in the world while living with an addiction to substances and victory.
The series has also been praised for making chess an interesting and engaging game for viewers to watch. Since most of the main characters are chess players, many scenes and conflicts come down to a battle of wits and intuition. Here is a list of the main characters of The Queen’s Gambit, ranked by their intelligence.
10 Mrs. Deardorff
Helen Deardorff is the headmistress of Methuen Home, the orphanage Beth ends up spending her childhood in. While sympathetic at first, Deardorff later appears to be more than she seems.
She has a way of knowing what the girls are up to without actually seeing them in the act – for instance, she is aware that Beth has been playing chess with Shaibel and offers to let her play with real chess sets above ground level. Viewers see her once more in the final episode, now walking with a cane. She seems to sense Beth’s presence without seeing her and tells her to get a move on.
Townes is Beth’s first love and heartbreak. She first meets him at a chess tournament, where she knows she can easily beat him. Even so, she is driven by her feelings for him and almost lets him win.
In any case, Townes knows a bit about chess, but he’s not necessarily the brightest character in other areas. For instance, he doesn’t seem to notice Beth’s attraction to him for quite some time, and even in that initial chess game, he is oblivious to her advances.
8 Alma Wheatley
Alma can be reckless and dismissive, but she also offers some wise advice to Beth. At first, she doesn’t believe that Beth as a female should be getting involved in any sort of work, and thinks that chess is out of the question.
She only cares about getting Beth a nice dress, but when Beth proves her chess abilities, Alma supports her wholeheartedly. She tells Beth that intuition can’t be taught, and that Beth’s talent doesn’t come from reading books.
Jolene is without a doubt one of the most influential people in Beth’s life. She first encourages Beth to stock up on the pills and take more at once, but later encourages her to back off.
Jolene proves to be one of the wisest characters in the series, especially after returning to the show in the final episodes. She shares the knowledge she has gained through her life experiences in the time that Beth has been rising to fame within the chess world.
6 Matt & Mike
Matt and Mike are only ever seen together, and they seem to be matched in their intellect, which is why they share their spot on this list. Beth meets these twins at her first chess tournament, and they’re pretty skeptical about her chess abilities to start off with. She doesn’t even know how to use a chess clock, but still somehow ends up wiping out her opposition – every single time.
Matt and Mike come to respect her, even admire her, and realize that she is a far better player than either of them. Nevertheless, they befriend her, following her around the world on her tournaments, and even help her win her final game against Borgov. Only the smartest players in the world could have been able to find a strategy to outwit the Grandmaster.
5 Harry Beltik
Beltik is first introduced as a notorious, formidable opponent who knows secrets about the game that nobody else can figure out. Even so, he proves to be relatively easy prey for Beth.
When Harry comes to live with Beth in the latter half of the series, he teaches her everything he knows about chess, which is actually a lot. He worries that Beth already knows most of it, but she assures him that he has taught her a lot. Viewers may get the sense that she isn’t referring to just chess, though.
4 Mr. Shaibel
Not much is known about Mr. Shaibel, and this fact haunts Beth until the end of the series. He is the one to introduce her to the game of chess, and the one to teach her most of the rules – including how to concede.
Whether or not he himself played tournaments is unclear, though why else he would play against himself in the basement doesn’t make sense. Shaibel’s teachings stay with Beth for the entirety of the season, which proves how clever he was and how much of an impact he has on Beth’s development as a chess player and a person.
3 Benny Watts
Benny is just about the only player who can defeat Beth in chess without it being a fluke. He’s particularly talented at speed chess, though his winning streak doesn’t last.
Benny also has some strict ideals for himself and his life, and these clearly prove to be successful. He’s one of the most gifted and intelligent players in the world, and someone Beth intentionally plans to beat. Of all the mentors that Beth has throughout her career, Benny is undoubtedly the most valuable. He teaches her the most and is the only person Beth is attracted to because of his personality.
2 Vasily Borgov
Beth admits to fearing only one player: Borgov. She fails to beat him on several occasions, each time because his strategy has proved to be smarter than hers.
He’s the best player in the world, and he’s confident in his methods. The reason he’s such a good, unwaveringly dominant player is that he has full faith in his own intellect. He has trained himself and surrounded himself with other tactful players. Outside of chess, it’s unclear who Borgov is.
1 Beth Harmon
In being the only person throughout the series to defeat Borgov, Beth proves herself to be the best player in the world, and as a result, the smartest. Though she gets some help from her friends, the final moves are hers and hers alone.
Borgov makes an unexpected move, which throws her off, but she collects herself and, without the help of any substances, is able to figure out the best way to win. As Alma says, no matter how much Beth studies, she will always have her intuition.
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