In an article on the news website LRT.lt, Viktorija Lideikytė tells us about a Lithuanian connection in this series about a young chess prodigy, Beth Harmon, who becomes a world champion. As Lideikytė says, we all love looking for Lithuanian details in big Hollywood productions – and apparently there are several to be found in this show on Netflix, The Queen’s Gambit.
In the very last scene of episode seven, the protagonist, Beth Harmon, is walking in Moscow and comes across a group of ordinary people playing chess in a park. One of them recognizes Beth and challenges her to a match before the end credits roll. The character, identified in the credits simply as “Old Man”, is played by Juozas Budraitis, a legendary Lithuanian stage and film actor known for his numerous roles in Lithuania and Russia. While his appearance on screen in The Queen’s Gambit is short, Budraitis recalled that it took a week to shoot the scene in Berlin.
He said he was glad to see a Netflix production from within and work with Hollywood people. In particular, he was impressed by the Oscar-nominated director Scott Frank, one of the creators of the series but did not have many opportunities to interact with the star of the show, Anya Taylor-Joy, who played Beth. The Queen’s Gambit revolved around chess, and Budraitis said he played the game in childhood and as a young man, but “never achieved mastery”.
Budraitis’ performance was not the only Lithuanian detail in the series. In episode five, another character mentions a game variation named after the Lithuanian chess player Vladas Mikėnas.
Born in 1910, Mikėnas was the first professional Lithuanian chess player, an international referee, journalist, and author of books about chess. Mikėnas became Lithuanian champion several times, won the Estonian Championship in 1930, and played in the finals of the USSR chess championship 10 times.
In 1987, Mikėnas was awarded the title of Honorary Grandmaster by the International Chess Federation FIDE. The Mikenas System, also called Flohr-Mikenas System or Mikenas-Carls System, is named after the Lithuanian player. The defence of the queen’s horse is also called the Bogoliubov-Mikenas defence.
The Netflix miniseries is based on Walter Tevis’ novel. The chess scenes in the series have been praised for their authenticity. The chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, as well as chess coach Bruce Pandolfini were consultants.
Adapted from LRT.lt