A CHESS champion who lived in Newport was a key player in the production of The Queen’s Gambit.

Netflix’s miniseries The Queen’s Gambit, set in the Cold War era, follows the story of Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) an orphan who struggles with addiction in her quest to become the greatest chess player in the world.

The seven-episode drama is based on a book, of the same name, by Walter Tevis, and involved numerous on-set consultants, including former Gwent junior chess champion Paul Atkinson, who lived in Newport for six years as a teenager.

Mr Atkinson, who now lives in Berlin, where the majority of the series was filmed, explained: "Bruce Pandolfini was helping along with my friend, Iepe Rubingh, who approached me and suggested I could also help, especially as Bruce had to keep flying back and forth.

“I offered advice on adapting the game - sometimes we had to change things live on-set which was exciting, but also a horrifying responsibility - there’d be times I’d argue with the producer like ‘you can’t just change the moves!’

“We’d have to do reshoots and we’d have to remake the boards; you can’t imagine the effort it takes to make the show - it was like chess magic.”

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Paul, Bruce and Iepe working on The Queen's Gambit

Mr Atkinson got involved in August and shooting started in September; he describes the process as being like “improv chess theatre” adding that it was “exciting” to setup the whole chess tournament and scoreboards.

“We had to make sure the games made sense but also fit the script,” explained Mr Atkinson.

“It all had to look right, there was an insane amount of detail - people who’ve watched the show may now consider playing chess because it looked so real that they believed Beth was doing it.”

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On set ensuring the actors play the right moves

Mr Atkinson revealed that many of the actors, including Anya Taylor-Joy, had little or no experience playing chess and it was the job of on-set consultants to ensure the show the actors looked like they knew how to play and that the set was accurate.

“It was an honour and a once in a lifetime experience,” added Mr Atkinson.

“It was a stroke of luck that they were filming in Berlin.

“It was an amazing thrill, but also high pressure knowing that if I got something wrong, I’d be responsible.

“It wouldn’t have been possible without the team.”

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Waiting for the production team while on set

One of the biggest challenges Mr Atkinson faced working on The Queen’s Gambit was for the final episode: a chess game is stopped halfway, with the players set to return the following day. One of the chess players calls their friend to help with analysis on how they should play.

“This was three weeks before this scene went ahead,” explained Mr Atkinson.

“And we had to make it work - we had to make it seem like the character was on their way to the game.”

“I knew I had to define exactly what happened and nothing could be changed - it took a lot of brain strength to cope with the unexpected.”

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The arrangement for one of the final chess games

Although he’s uncertain whether there will be more episodes, since the series is based on a book, Mr Atkinson said he would love to help if it happened, adding it would be easier without having to work around a book.