Trigger warning: this episode of the GRID contains recollections of abuse, suicidal ideation and rape. Please share the National Suicide Prevention Line 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 for 24/7 help.
Over the past few weeks, hundreds of articles have been written about the Queen’s Gambit and “real life Beth Harmons” or “the IRL Queen’s Gambit.”
In a holiday bonus episode of the GRID, we welcome someone with more than an incidental resemblance to Beth Harmon, chess champion and games player Diana Lanni. Diana intersected with Walter Tevis in the 80s in New York City, where they were both regulars at clubs like the Game Room and Washington Square Park. Diana was the only strong female player in those arenas, where she drew huge crowds to watch her blitz prowess.
In this podcast interview, we delve deeper into Diana’s wild New York days, while also surveying some of her adventures and triumphs on the tour from her US Championship outings to playing 2nd board for the US in the 1982 Olympiad.
In a blog for chess.com, Batgirl, hits on key parallels between Beth and Diana. “(Walter) Tevis was undoubtedly quite aware of Diana, her childhood, her problems and her obvious talent. In a world populated almost entirely of men, a woman stands out.”
Diana also details trauma, abuse and addictions she overcame in this episode, which is not appropriate listening for children.
My first book, Chess Bitch, also covered Diana’s life in some detail, from a high stakes chess game for cocaine in a Miami strip club to a rehab stay at the Bellevue Hospital in New York. Diana later got involved in sports betting and even had a stint in jail while in California, after which she was inspired to walk a very straight line.
Diana credits chess itself for her recovery, as the “The logic of chess was an alternative system to the chaos of life.” This mirrors Beth Harmon’s passion for the chessboard, “It’s an entire world of just 64 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.”
The GRID itself is about how artifice and structure can make sense of chaos and endless possibilities. And how in the best cases, games like chess and poker offer the solace of deep focus and a community that can become like family. And in both the Queen’s Gambit, and Diana Lanni’s story, we see that side of chess, and its potential to lift and connect, when traditional structures fail.
Thank you for listening to the GRID and we look forward to clicking off more cells while also posting more bonus episodes in 2021. Till then, don’t forget to subscribe and share your favorite GRID episodes, and a little holiday cheer.
Chess Bitch, Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport
Batgirl’s Blog on chess.com
Walter Tevis by David Hill for the Ringer https://www.theringer.com/tv/2020/11/9/21555790/the-queens-gambit-netflix-book-walter-tevis