Chess in the movies: James Bond "Spectre"

by André Schulz
11/4/2015 – On Thursday the new Bond film will be released in cinemas all over Europe. British actor Daniel Craig (born 1968) impersonates the ageless Bond who fights an old acquaintance: an organisation named "Spectre". "Spectre" first appeared in the Bond film "From Russia With Love" from 1963 and its chief strategist was a chessplayer. 52 years later Bond is back at the board.

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In 1963 James Bond sent greetings "From Russia With Love". It was the second film of the series which proved to be a lasting success - "Spectre" is Bond film number 24. In Ian Fleming's novel, on which the 1963 movie was based, the English top agent was lured to Istanbul by a Russian counterintelligence organisation called "SMERSH" (Spetsyalnye MEtody Razoblacheniya SHpyonov, kyrillisch: СМЕРШ: Специальные Методы Разоблaчения Шпионов). A woman, who claimed to be a renegade, wanted to give Bond a Russian encoding machine.

In the film the enemy organization is called SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion). Chief strategist of SPECTRE is a man called Kronsteen, or "Number 5". The film right away testifies to Kronsteen's remarkable intelligence and strategic skills by showing how he takes part in a chess tournament. After all, Kronsteen is not only a dangerous spy but also a chess grandmaster. We see how he beats Canadian grandmaster McAdams with a fine combination.

From Russia With Love" (10. October 1963).

Kronsteen-McAdams, 1963

 

The model for this combination was an impressive game by Boris Spassky who beat David Bronstein in the 27. USSR Championship, Leningrad 1960.

Spassky-Bronstein, 1960

 

Two motives in "From Russia With Love", a deciphering machine and chess, allude to the efforts of the English national team at decoding the German "Enigma" during World War II. The chess player Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander played for the English national team and worked in hut 6 in Bletchley Park to crack the Enigma code. Alexander later became director of the cryptology department of the English Secret Service and could no longer play tournaments in communist countries. Ian Fleming, the creator of Bond, had been working for Britain's Naval Intelligence Service during the Second World War, and will have known such things.

Bond is ageless but Bond actor Daniel Craig was not yet born when "From Russia with Love" came out

The new Bond movie is called "Spectre" and agent 007 with a "license to kill" has once again to fight this organisation.

One of Bond's antagonists is "Mr. White" whose very name refers to chess. And indeed, Mr. White likes to play the game. When Bond visits him Mr. White sits in front of a chess board and once again chess is used to indicate an intelligent criminal. However, Mr. White does not have much time to enjoy his brilliant mind. Though he manages to win his final chess game by mating his opponent Mr. White dies soon afterwards.

Mr. White, played by Danish actor Jesper Christensen, also appeared as the evil one in the 21st Bond movie "Casino Royale" from 2006 and in "Quantum of Solace", the 22nd Bond movie from 2008. But unless you happen to be James Bond himself the moment will come when your time is up - no matter who or what you are.

James Bond meets Mr. White

If you reconstruct the position shown in the film on a Fritz-3D board this is the result - if one is kind enough to put White's king on c1. However, in the film the king seems to occupy the virtual square b0. Someone must have pushed him over the edge.

Diagram

But let's forget James Bond and Mr. White, life and death, MI5 and MI6, Queen and country for a moment and deal with more important questions: is the position one sees in the film actually from a real game, as in "From Russia with Love"? It would definitely be possible even though the uninspired mate on b7 and the somewhat strange position of White's king on c1 and White's queen rook on b1 look a little bit artificial.

However, with ChessBase it's easy to find out whether this position has ever occurred before in a serious game. You just open the Megabase, go to "Filter list" and now you define the position in the search mask (or you press Ctrl+F, position). But being too precise leads to nothing here. You only reach a result if you limit yourself to the most essential. Which in this case would be the mate on b7 and the position of the black king. Thus, under "Or-board" we define the position of the white-squared bishop which defends the queen, by marking any square on the diagonal a1-f3 (except a8).

This is what we are looking for in the "Look for" board

And this is the additional condition in the "Or" board: the bishop has to be on one of these squares.

And this is the search result in the Mega Database 2016 (No Bond film without product placement!).

 

Now let's have a look at the games...

Et voilá:

Paulsen-Bird, Vienna 1873

 

Okay, the positions are not totally identical. But the most essential features are the same. And as far as material and the arrangement of the pieces are concerned no other position in the roughly 6.5 million games of the Mega 2016 comes as close to the "Bond position" as this one.

This is how all this might have come about:

When the scene with Mr. White is developed someone has the idea to add a chess board to it. Or maybe the script already wanted to have a chess board in the scene. Having a chess board around is always attractive and it fits Mr. White. But now no one in the film crew has a clue about chess - as happens so often. What to do? If you mess up here, the whole world can see and things can quickly become embarassing.

Parts of the movie were shot in Austria. Maybe there was a library close by, and maybe this library had a chess book on its shelves. And maybe this book was Herrman Lehner's and Constantin Schwede's book about the "Vienna Chess Congress 1873". Or the crew found a chess expert who accidentally had this book at hand.

The Chess Congress in Vienna 1873 was part of the World Fair. Wilhelm Steinitz won the tournament.

The expert came to the set and put up the position from Paulsen - Bird on the board. Then he left. However, the scene had to be shot more than once. And maybe one time, when Daniel Craig alias James Bond sat down, he accidentally hit the board hard. Everything slipped out of position. White's rook and king were in disarray. Where is the expert? Gone already. Fortunately, the mate is still on the board. Now you put the other pieces back on the board as best as you can which makes White's king land on b0. This might be one explanation how the position in the movie came about. But maybe someone has a better explanation?

The end of Mr. White is near. But before he died he mated his opponent.

Others take the bus, Bond prefers the helicopter.

That - and other things about the man - seem to attract attractive women. Léa Seydoux plays Madeleine Swann.

James Bond 007: Spectre, UK 2015, 148 minutes.

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Photos: Sony Pictures



André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.
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henki3 henki3 11/7/2015 11:17
Interesting : the story is a little different now I have seen the film
Bond doesnt even play, the board was there as it was
mr white is confused, dying and living there alone
so he played alone
so the king out of place and the pieces like that when you are alone is actually quite wel thought
Karbuncle Karbuncle 11/6/2015 09:03
With the captured pieces on the wrong side and the white king not even on the board, you still have to give them credit for at least getting the squares in the correct orientation. :-P
Peter B Peter B 11/5/2015 04:10
Nicely spotted, henki3!
henki3 henki3 11/4/2015 10:49
biggest blunder of art department: if you capture white pieces as black you would collect them in front of you....
not your own pieces..
gazpacho gazpacho 11/4/2015 12:40
"Spectre" is already mentioned by Dr. No during the dinner table conversation. Dr. No specifically mentions that he considered inviting Bond to become part of the organization.
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