Our list of best quotes from Netflix’s great period miniseries drama based on novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, written and directed by Scott Frank. Set in the 1960s, the story follows the life of an orphan chess prodigy, Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), on her rise to becoming the world’s greatest chess player while struggling with emotional problems, and drug and alcohol addiction stemming from her childhood.
'Let's play.' - Beth Harmon (The Queen's Gambit) Click To Tweet
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Helen Deardorff: [to young Beth] I know that, at this moment, all you’re feeling is loss. But after grief brings you low, prayer and faith will lift you high. High enough for you to see a new path for yourself. I think, Elizabeth, you’re going to find a much different life here. A better one than you might have had. And I’m sure that you and I are going to be good friends.
Jolene: [referring to the tranquilizers] The green ones are the best.
Young Beth: What are they?
Girl in Line: Magic vitamins.
Jolene: [to Beth, referring to the adopted girl ] That is not fair. She got here after you. Most of us are lifers. Been here a long time. Nobody’s going to come for us now. We’re too old. Or too Black.
Young Beth: I want to know what that is you’re playing.
Mr. Shaibel: It’s called chess.
Young Beth: Will you teach me?
Mr. Shaibel: I don’t play strangers.
Young Beth: [referring to tranquilizer pills] I like the way it feels.
Jolene: I bet you do. You just be careful you don’t get too used to that feeling.
Young Beth: I’m not a stranger. I live here. I already know some of it, from watching.
Mr. Shaibel: Girls do not play chess.
Mr. Shaibel: [as they’re playing chess] You resign now.
Young Beth: Resign?
Mr. Shaibel: That’s right, child. When you lose the queen that way, you resign.
Young Beth: No.
Mr. Shaibel: Yes. You have resigned the game.
Young Beth: You didn’t tell me that in the rules.
Mr. Shaibel: It’s not a rule. It’s sportsmanship.
Mr. Shaibel: [after Beth beats Shaibel at chess] You’re gloating.
Young Beth: I’m not.
Mr. Shaibel: It was close.
Young Beth: I still beat you.
Mr. Shaibel: Could have beat me sooner.
Young Beth: That isn’t one you taught me.
Mr. Shaibel: So?
Young Beth: But is that one of those things, like the Sicilian Defense?
Mr. Shaibel: Those things are called openings.
Young Beth: Is that one of them?
Mr. Shaibel: Yes. The Queen’s Gambit.
Mr. Shaibel: I’ll teach you now.
Young Beth: Am I good enough now?
Mr. Shaibel: How old are you?
Young Beth: Nine.
Mr. Shaibel: Nine years-old.
Young Beth: I’ll be ten in November.
Mr. Shaibel: To tell you the truth of it, child, you’re astounding.
Jolene: What you going to do at night?
Young Beth: I’m going to stay awake as long as I can, reading my book, learning the Sicilian Defense. There’s fifty-seven pages about it in the book, with a hundred and seventy lines stemming from P to QB4. I’m going to memorize them, and play through them all in my mind.
Jolene: Poor mind.
Young Beth: Mr. Shaibel? They won’t let me play anymore. I’m being punished. Please, can you help me? I wish I could play more with you.
Beth Harmon: [referring to her chess book] I left it right here. You didn’t see it, did you?
Jolene: Watch who you go accusing. I got no use for no book like that. Anyway, you don’t need no book. Just say, “Yes, sir,” and “Yes, ma’am,” and you’ll do alright. Tell them you’re grateful to be in a Christian home like theirs. Maybe they’ll put a TV in your room.
Beth Harmon: I’m sorry.
Jolene: About what?
Beth Harmon: That you didn’t get adopted.
Jolene: S**t. I make out just fine right here.
Alma Wheatley: [as she’s playing the piano] I’ve played since I was younger than you. I’d always had it in my mind to one day play in an orchestra. Probably still could. As luck would have it, I’ve also always suffered from a terrible case of stage fright, which does not bode well for an aspiring performer. And then I got pregnant.
Beth Harmon: You have a child?
Alma Wheatley: We did, yes.
Alma Wheatley: [to Beth] I’m going to start giving you forty cents a week allowance. Save up and buy yourself a chess set. Saving is a good lesson for a girl to learn.
Librarian: José Capablanca. He was a Grandmaster. It was quite a long time ago now.
Beth Harmon: What’s a Grandmaster?
Librarian: A genius player.
Beth Harmon: I’m going to replay some of the matches in this book.
Alma Wheatley: But you don’t have a board.
Beth Harmon: In my head. Good mental exercise.
Beth Harmon: I’d like to make some money.
Alma Wheatley: Oh, to buy clothes with, I suspect.
Beth Harmon: To enter chess tournaments. There’s one here. But it’s five dollars for the entrance fee.
Alma Wheatley: The only girls of your age who work are colored.
Beth Harmon: Dear Mr. Shaibel, there’s a chess tournament here with a first prize of a hundred dollars, and a second prize of fifty dollars. There are other prizes too. It costs five dollars to enter, and I don’t have that. If you will send me the money, I will pay you back ten dollars if I win any prize at all.
Beth Harmon: I’m playing in that chess tournament I told you about.
Alma Wheatley: I won’t argue that broadening one’s social life is important for a girl your age. I just wonder whether a dance class, or a girls club, wouldn’t be better for making friendships. I hear Fairfield has pretty good ones.
Beth Harmon: When you were my age, how did you broaden your social life?
3. Doubled Pawns
'It's an entire world of just sixty-four squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it. I can dominate it. And it's predictable. So if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame.' - Beth Harmon (The Queen's Gambit) Click To Tweet
Beth Harmon: What are you two doing here?
Mike: Losing mostly.
Beth Harmon: Oh, I’m sorry we won’t get to play.
Mike: We’re not. You destroy everyone you play, Harmon. I can only lose so much.
Matt: That’s the truth.
Beth Harmon: What about Russia?
Mike: The Soviets are murder. They eat Americans for breakfast there.
Matt: I don’t think there’s been an American with a prayer against them in twenty years. It’s like ballet. They pay people to play chess.
Alma Wheatley: Beth, I was thinking, perhaps you could give me ten percent, as an agent’s commission?
Beth Harmon: Let’s make it fifteen percent. Which would be forty-nine dollars and fifty-four cents.
Alma Wheatley: They told me at Methuen you were marvelous at math.
Alma Wheatley: [during their flight] They’re calling you a wunderkind. I might have to start keeping a scrapbook. How’s your meal?
Beth Harmon: This might be the best Christmas I’ve ever had.
Beth Harmon: I should probably learn how to speak Russian.
Alma Wheatley: Do they teach that at Fairfield?
Beth Harmon: I’d have to take a night class at the junior college.
Alma Wheatley: The kids would all be older than you. And by kids, I mean boys.
Miss Jean Blake: So can you tell the readers of Life how it feels? I mean, to be a girl among all those men?
Beth Harmon: I don’t mind it.
Miss Jean Blake: Isn’t it intimidating? I mean, when I was a girl, I wasn’t allowed to be competitive. I played with dolls.
Beth Harmon: Chess isn’t always competitive.
Miss Jean Blake: No, but you play to win.
Beth Harmon: Yes, but chess can also be…
Miss Jean Blake: What?
Beth Harmon: Beautiful.
Miss Jean Blake: I imagine, it must have been such a distraction from life in such a depressing place. I mean, you must have been very lonely.
Beth Harmon: I’m fine being alone.
4. Middle Game
'My experience has taught me what you know isn't always what's important.'- Alma Wheatley (The Queen's Gambit) Click To Tweet 'Intuition can't be found in books.' - Alma Wheatley (The Queen's Gambit) Click To Tweet
Beth Harmon: [referring to chess] Do you play?
Tim: No, too cerebral. Played a lot of Monopoly though.
Beth Harmon: Never played that game.
Tim: Don’t. It makes you a slave to capitalism. I still dream about making money though.
Beth Harmon: So why are you taking Russian classes if you’re a slave to capitalism?
Tim: I want to read Dostoevsky in the original.
Beth Harmon: [translating his Russian] “You really like the shape of me?”
Tim: I’m stoned. I shouldn’t be speaking a foreign language.
Alma Wheatley: Are you with a boy?
Beth Harmon: I was last night.
Alma Wheatley: Oh, Beth.
Beth Harmon: I’m alright. I had a good time.
Alma Wheatley: Well, chess isn’t the only thing in life. It’s just…
Beth Harmon: I won’t get pregnant.
Alma Wheatley: Famous last words.
Beth Harmon: I thought you were done with tournaments.
Matt: I am. Mike’s still a glutton for punishment.
Matt: Your mom has a new friend.
Beth Harmon: She came in at three o’clock this morning, 2:30 the day before. He’s got a green Dodge that always seems to be at her disposal. And they’ve had lunch and dinner every day this week. I’m pretty sure they’re f***ing.
Alma Wheatley: It’s such a beautiful day.
Beth Harmon: It’s been raining the last two days.
Alma Wheatley: Has it? I hadn’t noticed.
Alma Wheatley: You know, perhaps, Beth, you have to work on yourself. Chess is not all there is.
Beth Harmon: It’s what I know.
Alma Wheatley: Well, my experience has taught me what you know isn’t always what’s important.
Beth Harmon: And what’s important?
Alma Wheatley: Living and growing. Living your life.
Beth Harmon: [quietly] With a sleazy Mexican salesman.
Alma Wheatley: Treating yourself. Adventure.
Alma Wheatley: You’re what they call an intuitive player, are you not?
Beth Harmon: Yes, I have been called that before. Sometimes, the moves come to me.
Alma Wheatley: I’ve noticed the moves they applaud the loudest are the ones you make rather quickly. And there’s a certain look on your face. Intuition can’t be found in books.
'The strongest person is the person who isn't scared to be alone.' - Alice Harmon (The Queen's Gambit) Click To Tweet 'Anger is a potent spice. A pinch wakes you up, too much dulls your senses.' - Harry Beltik (The Queen's Gambit) Click To Tweet
Alice Harmon: Dark’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, I’d go as far as saying there’s nothing to be afraid of. Anywhere. The strongest person is the person who isn’t scared to be alone. It’s other people you got to worry about. Other people. They’ll tell you what to do, how to feel. Before you know it, you’re pouring your life out in search of something other people told you to go look for. Someday, you’re going to be all alone, so you need to figure out how to take care of yourself.
Harry Beltik: [to Beth] Would you like some training? I know you’re better than me. But if you’re going to play the Soviets, you need help.
Harry Beltik: [to Beth] What happened to that gawky kid who kicked my a** five years ago? Apparently, she grew up.
Beth Harmon: You think I’m a prima donna, don’t you?
Harry Beltik: It’s chess. We’re all prima donnas.
Harry Beltik: So I’ve replayed your match with Benny Watts a dozen times now.
Beth Harmon: Why? That’s ancient history.
Harry Beltik: Well, it’s not that ancient.
Beth Harmon: I’m a different player now.
Harry Beltik: In some ways.
Harry Beltik: You’re stubborn, so you get mad. And when that happens, you can only see what’s right in front of you.
Beth Harmon: Anger clears my head.
Harry Beltik: Anger is a potent spice. A pinch wakes you up, too much dulls your senses.
Beth Harmon: Where did you get that from, a fortune cookie?
Beth Harmon: You know, you’re not the same person you were five years ago either.
Harry Beltik: No?
Beth Harmon: No. But I can’t figure out what’s different.
Harry Beltik: I’ve become more profound?
Beth Harmon: That’s not it.
Harry Beltik: And I got my teeth fixed.
Beth Harmon: Yeah, that’s it. It’s the teeth. It was driving me crazy.
Harry Beltik: Okay, tell me, what was your endgame?
Beth Harmon: You just saw it.
Harry Beltik: What was your plan?
Beth Harmon: To beat you? I don’t know what it was.
Harry Beltik: Exactly, you’re still just improvising.
Beth Harmon: I just wiped you out five times.
Harry Beltik: I’m a master, and I’ve never played better in my life.
Beth Harmon: So modest.
Harry Beltik: But I’m nowhere close to what you’ll be up against in Paris.
Beth Harmon: I could beat Borgov with a little more work.
Harry Beltik: You can beat Borgov with a lot more work. Years more work. Borgov’s not some Kentucky ex-champion like me. He is a world champion who could have beaten both of us when he was ten.
Harry Beltik: So Philidor was doing blindfold exhibitions, and burning out his brain, or whatever it was they thought you did in the 18th century. Anyway, Diderot wrote to him, and said something like, “It’s foolish to run the risk of going mad for vanity’s sake.” Now, I think about that sometimes, when I’m analyzing my a** off over a chess board.
'It takes a strong woman to stay by herself, in a world where people will settle for anything, just to say they have something.' - Alice Harmon (The Queen's Gambit) Click To Tweet 'I would say that it's much easier to play chess without the burden of an Adam's apple.' - Beth Harmon (The Queen's Gambit) Click To Tweet
Alice Harmon: [to youn Beth] Men are going to come along and want to teach you things. Doesn’t make them any smarter. In most ways, they’re not, but it makes them feel bigger. They can show you how things are done. You just let them blow by, and you go on ahead, and do just what the hell you feel like.
Alice Harmon: [to youn Beth] It takes a strong woman to stay by herself, in a world where people will settle for anything, just to say they have something. So you never forget who you are.
Benny Watts: [to Beth] You read game books like Reinfeld that are full of queen sacrifices and melodrama. You know from your tournament experience you can’t rely on your opponent setting himself up for a queen sacrifice, or a surprise mate with a knight and a rook. But that’s who you are. You’re bored with ordinary chess, even when it’s played by Grandmasters. You’re bored in the way you probably were when you read Reuben Fine’s endgame analysis. And then the counter analysis in Chess Review that pointed out the errors in Reuben Fine.
Benny Watts: And you haven’t done anything like what I’m making you do now. We’re playing serious chess. Workmanlike chess. The kind of chess that is played by the best players in the world, the Soviets. And you know why they’re the best players in the world?
Beth Harmon: They have the best suits?
Benny Watts: It’s because they play together as a team, especially during adjournments. They help each other out. Us Americans, we work alone because we’re all such individualists. We don’t like to let anyone help us.
Beth Harmon: [yawns] You’re helping me now.
Benny Watts: Am I? Because it looks more like I’m putting you to sleep.
Beth Harmon: Are you here with Arthur or Hilton?
Cleo: Both of them. Neither of them. The two of them are better than one, if you know what I mean.
Cleo: Fashion is exciting. Modeling and models are insipid. But it pays for my studio in the Marais.
Cleo: [to Beth] You could never be a model. You are pretty enough, but you are much too smart. Models are empty creatures. The camera lens fills them with color and texture, and, once in a while, even mystery. But just like there is no mystery to a vacant lot, it is just there until you put something interesting on top of it. Models are the same. They are just what you put on them. You know, most are terrible in bed. But then, anyone who doesn’t eat is terrible in bed, don’t you think?
Benny Watts: [after Beth beats him at speed chess] Nobody has done that to me in fifteen years.
Beth Harmon: Not even Borgov?
Benny Watts: Not even Borgov.
Beth Harmon: And I’m sober as a judge. As Alma would say.
Benny Watts: I, myself, am not.
Benny Watts: [to Beth] Do you still like my hair?
Beth Harmon: [after having sex with Benny] That’s what it’s supposed to feel like.
7. End Game
'Most times when people tell us something is for the best, it's for the worst.' - Alice Harmon (The Queen's Gambit) Click To Tweet 'You've been the best at what you do for so long, you don't even know what it's like for the rest of us.' - Jolene (The Queen's Gambit) Click To Tweet
Alice Harmon: [to young Beth] You know, most times when people tell us something is for the best, it’s for the worst. This time it’s true, okay?
Jolene: [to Beth] You’re no orphan. Not anymore.
Jolene: I’m saving up for law school. I know. Me, a lawyer, but the world is f***ed up. And if I’m going to change it, I can’t spend all my time teaching white girls how to hold a badminton racket. I’m going to be a radical.
Beth Harmon: Didn’t know that was a career choice.
Jolene: It will be.
Jolene: Looks like you’re doing a lot more than pills, honey.
Beth Harmon: I haven’t had anything today.
Jolene: Not yet, anyway.
Beth Harmon: I’m supposed to go to Russia at the end of the year. I’m afraid.
Jolene: Then don’t go.
Beth Harmon: I have to go. If I don’t, there’s nothing for me to do. I’ll just drink.
Jolene: Well, looks like you do that anyway.
Beth Harmon: But what I want is a drink. If you weren’t here, I’d probably have a bottle of wine right now.
Jolene: You sound like Susan Hayward in one of those movies.
Beth Harmon: I read about this pop artist once. Bought an original drawing by Michelangelo. When he got it home, he took a piece of art gum, and just erased it, leaving nothing but a blank page. I remember being really shocked by that. Now, I wonder if I haven’t somehow erased my own brain.
Jolene: Let’s pretend that you didn’t just compare yourself to Michelangelo. And let’s look at where you’re at. Which after being here all of five minutes, looks like it’s at the bottom of a f***ing hole. And it’s looking a lot like you dug it yourself. My advice, stop digging.
Jolene: [referring to Beth’s old chess book] It was me all along. I was pi**ed at you for being adopted.
Beth Harmon: What about for being a white trash, cracker b**ch?
Jolene: Who could forget?
Beth Harmon: How much does a paralegal make, anyway?
Jolene: Not enough to buy this car, if that’s what you’re wondering. it was a gift from one of the partners at the firm.
Beth Harmon: Was it, now?
Jolene: He wants to marry me. Soon as he divorces the wife he’s already got.
Beth Harmon: Sounds like a real peach.
Jolene: They hired me to keep up with the times. Instead of the usual Black cleaning woman, they wanted a clean, Black woman, with a nice a**, and a good vocabulary.
Beth Harmon: And you are very clean.
Jolene: When I did the interview, I made sure to use a lot of words like “reprehensible” and “dichotomy.” They perked right up. But I’m gone the second I pass the bar.
Jolene: [to Beth] What I want is what you got. You’ve been the best at what you do for so long, you don’t even know what it’s like for the rest of us.