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.
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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.
Mr. Ganz: Mr. Shaibel said you play a few games every Sunday. What do you do in between?
Young Beth: I play in my head.
Mr. Ganz: In your head?
Young Beth: On the ceiling.
Helen Deardorff: [to Beth] As much as Methuen believes in excellence, we can’t have you playing chess in the basement.
[after they’ve been forbidden to take the tranquilizer pills]
Jolene: You’re having withdrawal symptoms?
Young Beth: I don’t know. What are those?
Jolene: Withdrawal. Like, I don’t know, you getting edgy? Yeah, you are. You look around, there’s going to be some jumpy orphans around here the next few days.
[after beating the entire high school chess team]
Young Beth: What surprised me was how bad they played.
Young Beth: Mr. Ganz told me I beat them all in an hour and twenty minutes. It felt good. I’ve never won anything before.
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?
[as Beth is signing up for the chess tournament]
Matt: Have you played in a tournament before?
Beth Harmon: No.
Matt: Are you sure you want to do this?
Beth Harmon: I’m sure.
Matt: We don’t have a women’s section. I’ll put you in beginners.
Beth Harmon: I’m not a beginner.
Mike: It doesn’t matter. If you’re an unrated player, you go in beginners with the people under sixteen hundred.
Beth Harmon: Is it against any rule for me to be in the Open?
Mike: Not exactly.
Beth Harmon: Put me in the Open.
Mike: There are three guys in there with ratings over eighteen hundred. And Beltik may show up. They will eat you alive.
Beth Harmon: [referring to the paper] What I do with this?
Matt: Is your match over?
Beth Harmon: Yes, I won.
Mike: That was fast.
Beth Harmon: [referring to Beltik] Is he a Grandmaster?
D.L. Townes: He’s working on it. Takes time. You have to play Grandmasters to become one.
Beth Harmon: I want to play the best.
Matt: You have to get a rating before that happens.
Beth Harmon: How do I get a rating?
Matt: You play thirty games in USCF tournaments, then wait four months. That’s how you get a rating.
Beth Harmon: Well, that’s too long.
Beth Harmon: I want to play Beltik.
Matt: If you win your next three games, and if Beltik does the same.
Beth Harmon: I will win them.
Mike: No, Harmon, you won’t. You have to play Sizemore or Goldman first. You can’t beat either of them.
D.L. Townes: [to Beth] Looks like we’ve been stalking each other.
D.L. Townes: Jesus Christ, Harmon, you’re humiliating my rook.
Beth Harmon: He won’t have to suffer much longer.
D.L. Townes: [as Beth wins] Damn. How old are you? Never mind. Don’t answer that, it’ll just depress me.
Beth Harmon: I’m thirty-six.
D.L. Townes: [chuckles] Thank you. You really are something, you know that?
Beth Harmon: Is something wrong?
Alma Wheatley: Wrong? I’m not Aristotle, but yes, I think something could be construed as wrong. I’ve received a message from Mr. Wheatley.
Beth Harmon: What did he say?
Alma Wheatley: It seems Mr. Wheatley has been indefinitely detained in the Southwest. Somewhere between Denver and Butte. Though Aristotle was a moral philosopher, and I’m just a housewife. Or I was a housewife.
Beth Harmon: Can they send me back if you no longer have a husband?
Alma Wheatley: You put it concretely. They won’t if we lie about it.
Beth Harmon: That’s easy enough.
Alma Wheatley: [to Beth] Though I’m no longer a wife, except by a legal fiction, I believe I can learn to be a mother.
Beth Harmon: [to herself, referring to Beltik] Come on, you ugly piece of trash. You can beat that f***er.
Beth Harmon: I think that’s it.
Harry Beltik: No, I can get out of this.
Beth Harmon: I don’t think so. Maybe, if you’d gotten here on time.
Alma Wheatley: I just didn’t have the faintest idea that people made money playing chess. Beth Harmon: There’s tournaments with much bigger prizes than that.
Alma Wheatley: How much bigger?
Beth Harmon: Thousands of dollars.
Alma Wheatley: [referring to the chess tournament in Cincinnati] I’ve calculated all of it. Even if you only won second or third prize, there would still be a profit.
Beth Harmon: I’ll win.
Alma Wheatley: I have every confidence.
3. Doubled Pawns
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.
Beth Harmon: [referring to the chess board] 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.
Miss Jean Blake: [referring to apophenia] It’s the finding of pattern, or meaning where other people don’t. Sometimes, people with this condition get feelings of revelation, or ecstasies. Sometimes, people find patterns, or meaning where there aren’t any.
Beth Harmon: What does that have to do with me?
Miss Jean Blake: Well, creativity and psychosis often go hand in hand. Or, for that matter, genius and madness.
Beth Harmon: You think I’m crazy?
Alma Wheatley: [reading the Life article] “With some people, chess is a pastime. With others, it is a compulsion, even an addiction. And every now and then, a person comes along for whom it is a birthright. Now and then, a small boy appears and dazzles us with his precocity, at what may be the world’s most difficult game. But what if that boy were a girl? A young, unsmiling girl, with brown eyes, red hair, and a dark blue dress? Into the male-dominated world of the nation’s top chess tournaments, strolls a teenage girl with bright, intense eyes, from Fairfield High School in Lexington, Kentucky. She is quiet, well-mannered, and out for blood.”
Alma Wheatley: I don’t know why my body is so intent on sabotaging my brain, when my brain is perfectly capable of sabotaging itself.
Beth Harmon: [referring to the article] It’s mostly about my being a girl.
Alma Wheatley: Well, you are one.
Beth Harmon: It shouldn’t be that important. They didn’t print half the things I said. They didn’t tell about Mr. Shaibel, and they didn’t say anything about how I play the Sicilian.
Alma Wheatley: Beth, dear, it makes you a celebrity.
Beth Harmon: Yeah, for being a girl.
Beth Harmon: Did you ever think maybe it’s the drinking that’s making you sick?
Alma Wheatley: Oh, please. I’ve flirted with alcohol most of my life. If anything, I think it’s high time I consummated the relationship. To motherhood.
Beth Harmon: I don’t want to plateau.
D.L. Townes: No, plateaus are the worst. And you’re far too old to be called a prodigy anymore.
D.L. Townes: You’ve grown up, Harmon. You’ve even gotten good looking.
Beth Harmon: I don’t even know your first name.
D.L. Townes: Everyone calls me Townes. Maybe that’s why I call you Harmon, instead of Elizabeth.
Beth Harmon: It’s Beth.
D.L. Townes: I like Harmon.
Beth Harmon: [referring to Benny] Anyway, I’m not afraid of him.
Alma Wheatley: I don’t suppose there’s anyone you’re afraid of.
Beth Harmon: There is one player that scares me.
Alma Wheatley: Who?
Beth Harmon: The Russian. Borgov.
Beth Harmon: Beltik could have beat me.
Alma Wheatley: But he didn’t.
Beth Harmon: Yes, but he could have. What’s worse is I didn’t even see it. Benny Watts, just by reading about a player he knows nothing about, he picks it up. I was so proud of myself when I found an error in a Morphy game, and now someone’s done it to me.
Alma Wheatley: Stop thinking about what might have happened in the past, and get some sleep.
Beth Harmon: [after losing to Benny] I thought he could see what I was planning. I thought he could hear my heart beating, and know how panicked I was. He still had time to get out of it. But he took the piece just as I planned. I went into that game with a perfect score. Benny had two draws, so a draw would give me the title. I wanted to win. I wanted to hammer his weaknesses. I wanted to show that f***ing pirate that I could beat him, even though I didn’t play the way he thought I should.
Beth Harmon: The more I looked, the worse it all became. Caught me completely off guard. It was brutal. It’s the kind of thing I did to other people. Kind of thing that Morphy did, and I missed it. I’d been thinking about doubled pawns.
Alma Wheatley: You were thinking about winning.
Beth Harmon: I didn’t see what he was doing.
Alma Wheatley: You can’t finesse everything all the time. Nobody can.
Beth Harmon: You don’t know anything about chess.
Alma Wheatley: I know what it feels like to lose.
Beth Harmon: Yeah, I bet you do.
Alma Wheatley: And now you do too.
D.L. Townes: I’m sorry.
Beth Harmon: Why?
D.L. Townes: I know how badly you wanted to beat Benny. You’ll get another shot.
Beth Harmon: It doesn’t matter.
4. Middle Game
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.
Alma Wheatley: You need to relax. There’s no player in the world as gifted as you are. I haven’t the remotest idea what faculties a person needs in order to play chess well, but I am convinced that relaxation can only improve them.
Mr. Shaibel: [to young Beth] People like you have a hard time. Two sides of the same coin. You’ve got your gift, and you’ve got what it costs. Hard to say for you what that will be. You’ll have your time in the sun, but for how long? You’ve got so much anger in you. You’ll have to be careful.
Beth Harmon: Aren’t you going out?
Alma Wheatley: No, Manuel’s not coming tonight. He had business in Oaxaca.
Beth Harmon: Oh. How long will he be gone?
Alma Wheatley: At least until we leave.
Beth Harmon: I’m sorry.
Alma Wheatley: I’ve never been to Oaxaca, but I imagine it resembles Denver.
Girev: May I ask you something? In America, I’m told that one sees films inside the car. Is this true?
Beth Harmon: Drive-ins. You mean drive-in movies?
Girev: Yes, Elvis Presley movies. Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor. That happens?
Beth Harmon: It does.
Girev: I would dig that.
Girev: For you, Beth Harmon, I resign the old-fashioned way.
Beth Harmon: I’ve never been to a drive-in either.
Girev: I should not have let you do that. With the rook.
Beth Harmon: No. But you won’t let the next one that tries it.
Beth Harmon: You’ll be sixteen in three years. If you win, what will you do next?
Girev: I don’t understand.
Beth Harmon: If you’re world champion at sixteen, what will you do with the rest of your life?
Girev: I don’t understand.
Beth Harmon: You’re the best I’ve ever played.
Girev: Until you play Borgov.
Vasily Borgov: [Beth overhears Borgov talking about her in Russian] She’s an orphan. A survivor. She’s like us. Losing is not an option for her. Otherwise, what would her life be?
Mike: White has the advantage. And since it always has the first move, it always has the advantage. I read that when computers learn how to play chess, and play against other computers, White will always win because of the first move. Like tic-tac-toe.
Beth Harmon: Borgov’s not a machine.
Matt: That you know of.
Beth Harmon: [referring to her game with Borgov] I didn’t expect it. No one really plays it. It threw me off. Just like he knew it would. From that point on, the whole game was like a foregone conclusion. I couldn’t fight this feeling that I’d already lost. Like in the books, where you know the outcome, but you play it out just to see how it would happen. And, I mean, every move he made was so obvious, so unimaginative, so bureaucratic. And the whole time, I’d look at his face, and there was no doubt. No weakness.
Manager: [after Alma’s death at the hotel] And, of course, the bill will be taken care of.
Beth Harmon: Thank you.
Manager: Including the liquor bill, which was significant. Though, I’m sure none of the many margaritas she consumed was the culprit in your mother’s untimely passing.
Beth Harmon: She did mention something about the quality of the tequila.
Beth Harmon: [referring to Alma] Don’t you want to know how she died?
Allston Wheatley: What was it?
Beth Harmon: Hepatitis. I think. We’ll know tomorrow.
Allston Wheatley: Yeah. She was sick a lot.
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.
Harry Beltik: I saw your picture on the cover of Chess Review, and those pictures Townes took in Las Vegas, for the Lexington paper. They were beautiful. I thought maybe the two of you were…
Beth Harmon: No, we weren’t.
Harry Beltik: Truth is, I was waiting for you to come back. You’re the reason I got my teeth fixed.
Mr. Bradley: [referring to the Chess Review magazine] Are you sure you wouldn’t rather just steal it? Are you going to be there? That tournament?
Beth Harmon: Yes.
Mr. Bradley: Good luck.
Beth Harmon: [referring to her change] Keep it. For the first time.
Harry Beltik: [to Beth] I have taught you everything I know. Which, admittedly, is not a lot. I’ve got to start studying. I’m supposed to be an electrical engineer, not a chess bum.
Harry Beltik: I guess you’ve helped me too. You’ve helped me realize something.
Beth Harmon: What?
Harry Beltik: That I don’t love chess. No, it’s okay. I just don’t love it as much as I once did. I’m not obsessed with it the way one has to be to win it all. The way you are.
Harry Beltik: Yeah, it’s too bad Morphy fell into a muttering paranoia and died. He would stay up all night, in Paris, before his games, drinking in cafes, and talking with strangers. And then he’d play the next day like a shark. Well-mannered, well-dressed, moving the pieces with these small, ladylike hands. Crushing one European master after another. You know what they called him? “The pride and the sorrow of chess.” And then he retired at twenty-two.
Beth Harmon: And you think that’s going to be me?
Harry Beltik: I think that is you. I think maybe it’s always been you.
[shows Beth her bottle of tranquilizer pills]
Harry Beltik: Be careful, Beth.
Benny Watts: I read about your game with Borgov. That must have felt terrible.
Beth Harmon: I felt like a fool.
Benny Watts: I know that feeling. Helpless. It all goes, and you just push wood.
Benny Watts: [to Beth] Highest-rated players in the whole f***ing country, and yet here we are at some second-rate university, playing on cheap plastic boards with cheap plastic pieces. I mean, if this were a golf, or a tennis tournament, we’d be surrounded by reporters, as opposed to whoever these people are.
Benny Watts: You should see the places they play in the Soviet Union.
Beth Harmon: I’m planning on it.
Benny Watts: You have to get past me first.
Beth Harmon: I’m planning on that too.
Benny Watts: So what did you do to that poor guy you played in the third round? He looked like he wanted to kill himself.
Beth Harmon: Which poor guy are you talking about?
Benny Watts: Touché.
Benny Watts: It’s going to be you or me.
Beth Harmon: Are you trying to psych me out?
Benny Watts: No, I don’t need to do that to beat you.
Benny Watts: You’re the best player here. And I’ve been watching your games. You attack like Alekhine.
Beth Harmon: You held me off well enough yesterday.
Benny Watts: But that doesn’t count. That’s speed chess. I’m better at speed chess than you. I play a lot of it in New York.
Beth Harmon: Do you ever go over games in your head? When you’re alone. I mean, play all the way through them?
Benny Watts: Doesn’t everybody?
Beth Harmon: [after she wins their game] I really appreciate the way you’re taking this.
Benny Watts: I’m raging inwardly.
Beth Harmon: Well, it doesn’t show.
Benny Watts: [referring to her drinking] You know, if you keep doing this, you’re going to end up washed up by the time you’re twenty-one.
Beth Harmon: I like your hair.
Benny Watts: Uh-huh. Yeah, sure you do.
Beth Harmon: Borgov made me look like a fool.
Benny Watts: That’s because you weren’t ready.
Beth Harmon: I don’t even know if I’m good enough.
Benny Watts: You’re the best there is. You beat me.
Benny Watts: [after Beth agrees to stay with him] We’ll leave from here. I’ll drive us.
Beth Harmon: When?
Benny Watts: Tomorrow. Afternoon. Once everything here finishes up. Oh, and about sex? Beth Harmon: Forget it.
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.
Benny Watts: [after they’ve had sex] One more thing. They never say “check” at the big tournaments.
Beth Harmon: Are you serious?
Benny Watts: Yeah, very. They never lay their kings down, either.
Beth Harmon: I meant, “Are you serious? This is what you’re thinking about right now?”
Reporter: Miss Harmon, what do you say to those in the Chess Federation who accuse you of being too glamorous to be a serious chess player?
Beth Harmon: I would say that it’s much easier to play chess without the burden of an Adam’s apple.
Beth Harmon: [referring to Paris] If I lived here, I would go to plays, and concerts, and I would eat lunch in a different cafe every day. And I would dress the way that women do here, you know? So smart with their nice dresses, and their perfect haircuts.
Cleo: You already have so much more than they do. And something that none of them have. Talent. And that can give you a life that anyone would envy.
Cleo: And have you ever been in love?
Beth Harmon: Not with Benny.
Cleo: Of course not. No woman can compete with Benny’s love for himself.
Cleo: So we are still in love? What’s his name?
Beth Harmon: Townes.
Cleo: To unrequited love. And to stupid men.
Beth Harmon: Exactly.
Benny Watts: [after Beth loses to Borgov] There is a rumor you were drunk.
Beth Harmon: I wasn’t drunk.
Benny Watts: Or hungover then.
Beth Harmon: I could have been stone-cold sober. It wouldn’t have made the slightest difference.
Benny Watts: I don’t believe that.
Benny Watts: You shouldn’t be by yourself. You know what happens.
Beth Harmon: Maybe that’s what I want.
Benny Watts: What, to get drunk?
Beth Harmon: Yeah. Good and drunk. F***ing bombed. And maybe high too. Why not?
Benny Watts: Well, You wouldn’t if you were with me.
Beth Harmon: I know.
Benny Watts: What if I said, “Okay. Go ahead, get drunk”? Would you come then?
Beth Harmon: Benny, I don’t know what I’m doing. Or going to do.
Beth Harmon: You adopted me. I didn’t ask you to. You’re my legal father.
Allston Wheatley: The money in this house is mine! No smart-a**ed orphan is going to take it away from me.
Beth Harmon: Well, I’m not an orphan. I’m your daughter.
Allston Wheatley: Not in my book, you aren’t.
Allston Wheatley: I thought the piano would help, it didn’t. So here you are. It’s all so pathetic.
Beth Harmon: Did you ever hear her play?
Allston Wheatley: Of course.
Beth Harmon: Yes, but did you ever really listen? Alma was not pathetic. She was stuck. There’s a difference. She didn’t know how to get out of it. Pathetic, well, I’m looking at pathetic.
Annette Packer: I was your first official win. You cleaned my clock. The whole thing lasted about fifteen minutes.
Beth Harmon: Sorry.
Annette Packer: Don’t be, it’s an honor. I’m always telling people that I was there for two of your big firsts. I knew you were going places, and that meant something to me. You know? That it was possible, for us.
Beth Harmon: [referring to seeing her at the supermarket] You’ve never said hello.
Harry Beltik: Well, you didn’t seem approachable.
Harry Beltik: You need help.
Beth Harmon: What kind of help would that be? Help with my chess? Because we tried that…
Harry Beltik: That’s not what I’m talking about.
Harry Beltik: My dad drank. He wasn’t mean, or anything. He just got quiet and fell asleep in his clothes.
Beth Harmon: Okay.
Harry Beltik: You smell just like he did. Your eyes are just like his eyes, and your skin is…
Beth Harmon: My skin?
Harry Beltik: Like I said, I’m worried about you.
Beth Harmon: Sounds more like you’re feeling a little sorry for me.
Harry Beltik: I didn’t say that.
Beth Harmon: And I’m not the one supposed to be in college, not working in a supermarket.
Harry Beltik: I’m doing both. You know what? Yeah, I like working there. It’s a good job, and the people are nice.
7. End Game
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.
Beth Harmon: So what will your fellow radicals think? You being with a rich white lawyer?
Jolene: F*** them if they can’t take a joke.
Jolene: [to Beth] A trailer? Wow, you really were the gold standard for white-trash girls everywhere, weren’t you?
Beth Harmon: [at Shaibel’s funeral] I feel bad. I owed him ten dollars.
[as Beth is in tears from finding the old photo of her and Shaibel in his basement]
Jolene: Oh, honey. Did you bite off more than you can chew?
[after she’s turned down Christian Crusade’s sponsorship]
Beth Harmon: Benny, come on. I don’t want to go to Russia by myself. Benny?
Benny Watts: Are you kidding me?
Beth Harmon: What?
Benny Watts: First, you don’t come back to New York, and you basically tell me that you’d rather be a drunk than be with me. And now you pull this crap? No, you can f***ing well go alone.
Beth Harmon: Maybe I shouldn’t have done it. Maybe I didn’t have to give the money back.
Benny Watts: Maybe? Maybe is a loser’s word, Beth.
Beth Harmon: Benny.
Benny Watts: Don’t call me anymore.
[after Jolene offers to pay for Beth to go Russia]
Beth Harmon: You’re like my guardian angel.
Jolene: For crying out loud. Hey, Beth. F*** you. Shaibel isn’t the only one who kept after you all these years. I know how you lost to Benny Watts in Vegas, and then beat him in Ohio. I read the papers. Even on a group trip into town, I spent my ice cream money on the damn chess magazine had your ugly face on it.
Jolene: For a time, I was all you had. And for a time, you was all I had. We weren’t orphans. Not as long as we had each other. You understand what I’m saying? I’m not your guardian angel. I’m not here to save you. Hell, I can barely save me. I’m here because you need me to be here. That’s what family does. That’s what we are.
Jolene: Someday, I might need you. It’s doubtful. But you never know. But if I do, you’ll come, won’t you?
Beth Harmon: [jokingly] I might.
Mr. Booth: [as they’re going to Russia] Three, no drinking.
Beth Harmon: You just offered me a drink.
Mr. Booth: That was a test.
Russian Limo Driver: [in Russian] That the chess player? She looks like Ann-Margret.
Mr. Booth: Let’s hope the Russians like redheads.
Mr. Booth: Do not leave the hotel unless you’re with me. I’ll come get you in the morning.
Beth Harmon: Will you knock two times fast and one time slow?
Mr. Booth: Good one. Welcome to Russia.
Commentator: Elizabeth Harmon’s not at all an important player by their standards. The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex. And even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion, and has never faced men. My guess is, Laev was expecting an easy win, and not at all the twenty-seven move thrashing Beth Harmon just gave him.
Mr. Booth: [referring to her game with Luchenko] I don’t understand. Did we win, or did we lose?
Beth Harmon: We adjourned.
Mr. Booth: Meaning?
Beth Harmon: Meaning we didn’t finish.
Luchenko: [to Beth] Excellent. What a brilliant recovery. I resign with relief.
Luchenko: I went over your games at this tournament. You are a marvel, my dear. I may have just played the best chess player of my life.
[Beth smiles with embarassment]
Luchenko: You will get used to it.
Mr. Booth: [to Beth, referring to the reporters] You’re bigger than The Monkees.
Reporter: [referring to Borgov] Are you going to beat him?
Beth Harmon: I haven’t made any mistakes so far.
Reporter: Neither has he.
D.L. Townes: I know you were angry with me. And I’m sorry. I should’ve told you the whole story.
Beth Harmon: No. I’m sorry. I should have let you.
D.L. Townes: I will admit, I was a little confused. You really are something. But what I really wanted was for us to be friends. And you kind of broke my heart.
Beth Harmon: I have a way of doing that. Do you forgive me?
D.L. Townes: Clearly.
D.L. Townes: What do we need to do to help you beat Borgov?
Beth Harmon: Well, what I need are the pills. The booze. I need my mind cloudy to win. I can’t visualize the games without them.
D.L. Townes: Really? You think that’s what brought you here?
Beth Harmon: I think that’s what I’m used to.
[after getting a call from phone call from Benny and the team to help her]
Benny Watts: It’s 7 AM here, but we’ve been working on it for three hours.
Beth Harmon: We?
Harry Beltik: Hi, Beth.
Beth Harmon: Hi, Harry. It’s really nice to hear your voice.
Beth Harmon: [after Benny and the team help her] Benny, it’s almost five here.
Benny Watts: Okay. Go beat him.
Commentator: [after Borgov offers Beth a draw] Borgov is death on endgames. He’s famous for it. Harmon, on the other hand, is not. She’s more known for coming up early and strong, demoralizing her opponents from the start. So I think she should accept the draw. The world will see it as a solid achievement. A draw, however, is not a win. The one thing we know about Elizabeth Harmon is that she loves to win.
Vasily Borgov: [to Beth] It’s your game. Take it.
Mr. Booth: [as Beth’s been invited to meet the President] It’s a big deal. Beating the Soviets at their own game.
Beth Harmon: [in Russian, as the elderly townsfolk invite her to play chess] Let’s play.