Nona Gaprindashvili, Chess Legend, Sues Netflix Over Portrayal in 'Queen's Gambit'

The suit says the show falsely suggested that the former female world champion never played competitive chess with men.

Georgian chess legend Nona Gaprindashvili has filed a $5 million defamation suit against Netflix, saying her depiction in the hit TV show The Queen's Gambit was "sexist and belittling." A copy of the lawsuit filed Thursday with a California court accuses Netflix of distorting Gaprindashvili's achievements in the fictional series.

It says the show falsely suggested that the former female world champion never played competitive chess with men, and states that Gaprindashvili, now 80, competed against dozens of top male players, beating 28 of them.

The suit focuses on a specific scene in the season finale where a commentator name-checks Gaprindashvili while narrating a match between protagonist Beth Harmon and fictional Russian Grandmaster Viktor Laev at the Moscow Invitational tournament.

“Elizabeth Harmon’s not at all an important player by their standards,” the commentator says. "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 27-move thrashing Beth Harmon just gave him."

"Netflix brazenly and deliberately lied about Gaprindashvili's achievements," the lawsuit says. "The allegation that Gaprindashvili 'has never faced men' is manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling."

"Piling on additional insult to injury, Netflix described Gaprindashvili as Russian, despite knowing that she was Georgian."

Netflix said in a statement to CBS News that it has "only the utmost respect for Ms Gaprindashvili and her illustrious career, but we believe this claim has no merit and will vigorously defend the case."

Born in 1941 in Georgia's western town of Zugdidi, Gaprindashvili has played chess since she was 13.

She won the female World Championship at age 20 and defended her title successfully four times, before losing her crown to another Georgian, 17-year-old Maia Chiburdanidze, in 1978.

Nona Gaprindashvili, women's world chess champion, plays against 28 men at once in Dorset, United Kingdom, on Jan. 11, 1965. - Woods/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

That same year she became the first woman to be awarded the title of grandmaster by the International Chess Federation (FIDE).

Netflix says The Queen's Gambit has become its "biggest limited scripted series ever" with 62 million households watching the miniseries in its first 28 days. The series follows the orphaned Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor), who becomes the best chess player in the world. 

As of July 2021, the California-headquartered streaming service provider had 209 million subscribers.

This story was originally published by CBS News on Sept. 17, 2021 at 11:25 a.m. ET.



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