Pawn Sacrifice - movie of the 1972 match

by Albert Silver
6/11/2015 – Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky are coming to a theater near you in a film based on the life of the recluse genius and his epic 1972 showdown for the world title. Whatever one may think of it, the all-star cast leaves nothing to be desired, with Edward Zwick, director of The Last Samurai, and Tobey Maguire who championed the project for ten years.

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Films on chess are few and far between as a rule, and that is to be accepted as understandable. Even chess players realize that for all its glamour, it is not the easiest topic to translate to the silver screen for the non-playing public.

The official movie trailer of "Pawn Sacrifice" (2015) 

The screenplay by Steven Knight was zeroed in by Tobey Maguire a decade ago, and as he himself explains, it was the idea of portraying a character as complex as Fischer in a sports environment that fascinated him. One of the challenges he will be facing of course, in terms of acceptance, is breaking past the image of his role as Peter Parker and the high-profile Spiderman trilogy that pushed him to the top of the pecking order. Some actors are better able to handle this break from a standout character or role than others. Ask Leonard Nimoy how difficult it can be.

Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer

Edward Zwick (director) and Tobey Maguire (producer/actor) talk about "Pawn Sacrifice" 

As to his counterpart, Boris Spassky is taken up by Liev Schreiber, also famous as a comicbook character, but less marked by it than his colleague. It isn’t just that Victor Creed, Wolverine’s brother, had less impact overall, but that Schreiber sports Spassky’s trademark hair, a very different appearance to his other roles, which help smooth the transformation.

Liev Schreiber plays Boris Spassky

Bringing it all together is director Edward Zwick, whose credentials include the epic Legends of the Fall with Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, or The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. He is no stranger to grandiose films with larger-than-life stories, and it remains to be seen whether this will be enough to make the film the success all chess players hope it becomes. Young players such as Magnus Carlsen have certainly gone a long way into helping make chess sexy, but there is nothing quite like a box office hit.

A young Bobby Fischer is first discovered

Some lovely sets promise quality production values

Pawn Sacrifice was first screened at the Toronto Film Festival last year, where it was still trying to find a distributor for the production. For that very reason there were no film posters or trailers available, and the screening was to showcase and market the film.

The official poster

A number of newspapers and magazines posted reviews of the film based on that initial screening with positive but slightly mixed opinions.

Variety wrote, "Zwick does what he can to render an inherently uncinematic activity onscreen in as stimulating a manner as possible, focusing compulsively on shots of the players clicking their game clocks back and forth, the pieces shifting forward one move at a time (sometimes in dramatic black-and-white inserts). Scenes of Fischer and Lombardy running through practice games in their heads, rapidly reciting board moves at each other, convey merely a hint of the mental agility required to understand the game in all its permutations and possibilities, let alone to master it. Absent the ability to really get the audience’s heads in the game, the film succeeds better at presenting chess as a subtle metaphor for the psychological warfare being waged behind the scenes."

Still, it is quite possible the film will undergo further edits before its release in September in the US. Whatever the case, it is not a movie any chess player can afford to miss.

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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daftarche daftarche 6/12/2015 10:50
russians are some cold jerks as usual in this movie i guess! i hope i am wrong because i like spassky's character. but i guess we will see the same old stereotype about russians and soviets in hollywood.
Kpawn Kpawn 6/12/2015 07:58
"Ask Leonard Nimoy how difficult it can be." ??? Update: He's dead.
jhoravi jhoravi 6/12/2015 04:33
Spassky is EVIL in the movie LOL!
dysanfel dysanfel 6/12/2015 12:26
@Bountyhunter82 No, but he certainly was the most interesting.
dysanfel dysanfel 6/12/2015 12:21
It is about time this story had a proper and serious look. American are generally ignorant of perhaps the greatest gamesman in history besides Mohammed Ali. I hope this movie increases awareness of the game and does not let Fischer's mental instability spoil the beauty of our beloved game.
fons fons 6/11/2015 09:45
Say welcome to every cliche the mainstream can think of about chess.
Maybe it's the same with movies about other sports, only too bad the main chess cliche is mad genius. Movies like this don't really do chess any favors.
Truffaut Truffaut 6/11/2015 07:21
You can't judge a movie by it's poster, especially when you haven't even seen the movie yet!
Bountyhunter82 Bountyhunter82 6/11/2015 06:07
Is Fischer the only ever chess player? They already made a documentary about him on HBO.Now a movie-
Was Spassky that evil!! Did chess die after 1972??
If only there was a real Anti-Russian Hero in chess like an alcoholic and morphine addict literature professor who defeats the scientific/engineer chess champion...if only there were other chess players who deserved movies.
Oh mishatal!
stephen brady stephen brady 6/11/2015 05:14
Bertman, thanks for the comment and that's a good point. Since seeing this last night, I have begun to be disappointed that Tobey McGuire is playing Fischer, because I think of McGuire as a scrawny guy and think of Fischer as larger than life, broad shouldered, domineering guy. I think this adds to the psychological factor of sitting at the board with this guy domineering over you, which Mcguire probably can't pull off. But, I guess I'd rather have McGuire playing the part if it means getting the movie done. Maybe he will impress, but I am skeptical.
NJD NJD 6/11/2015 04:47
Overly dramatic. Real life wasn't like that. And, there's something sick about watching a paranoid schizophrenic going downhill...
KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 6/11/2015 04:31
Lady Gaga looks more like Fischer than Tobey Maguire does.
Bertman Bertman 6/11/2015 03:18
For those complaining about Maguire's resemblance, or lack thereof, to Fischer, it bears remembering that it is a movie, not a documentary. As to choosing him, he chose himself. He is single-handedly responsible for making the movie happen, and ran after the project for ten years. He's entitled, and deserves all the credit in the world for it.
GregTelepniovsky GregTelepniovsky 6/11/2015 03:15
Looks promising, not easy to convey chess on film in any form. I thought cap letters in poster was good middle ground between old chess notation of Fischer's time (eg, P-K4) and modern e4
MHBChessFan MHBChessFan 6/11/2015 03:10
Based on a true story, a botched notation, and a plagiarized soundtrack (remember Philip Glass, anyone?)
daftarche daftarche 6/11/2015 01:01
how difficult it is to make a movie about life of a chess player indeed! what is interesting for public?
Anthony Migchels Anthony Migchels 6/11/2015 12:23

I hope we can be spared all the faux 'oh so sad, the genius went crazy'.

Let Bobby tell what he thought of the Jews, doctors and pharmaceuticals, 9/11 and all the other outrages of the modern age!
thlai80 thlai80 6/11/2015 11:10
Haha, the movie doesn't pass chess fans. Not only the poster had the notation wrong, even the in the thriller, the moves were shown with capital letters! It would have been great if the movie features Tal, whom Fischer seem to get along the best. Heck, maybe a movie about Tal would be way more fun. The road to world champion by a whacky but genius Tal that rocked the whole chess world.
Offramp Offramp 6/11/2015 11:02
The best person to play Fischer would have been Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbuck's. Here he is with Kramnik in the background.
Dean Arvidson Dean Arvidson 6/11/2015 10:47
Schreiber looks a lot like Spassky in that photo! Maguire just a little like Fischer.
algorithmy algorithmy 6/11/2015 08:48
oh boy, not another movie!
and why did they pick a short actor to play Fischer?
PaulPena PaulPena 6/11/2015 08:33
So Hollywood NOW thinks this is an interesting story? It took movie execs over 40 years to realize this was actually fairly dramatic (US vs USSR chess match during cold war). Ok...better late than never.
alekhina alekhina 6/11/2015 05:41
There is a mistake in official poster --- using all capital letters of chess notation?
Anyway , this is an interesting movie and a big movie in the world!
The D M G The D M G 6/11/2015 04:38
The tournament would end with a big explosion offcourse! Then Tom Cruise would cameo in the ruins as Max Euwe, then FIDE President, with some hearty speech about confrontation, intellect and humanity, while Eye Of The Tiger fades in with the closing credits... :]]]
The D M G The D M G 6/11/2015 04:33
Hmm, just occured to me: wouldn't it be great if, during their great OTB fight scene, Fischer suddenly ejects web from his wrists and starts swinging around the hall, while Spassky runs behind, trying to bite him?
karavamudan karavamudan 6/11/2015 04:29
The D M G The D M G 6/11/2015 04:13
Can't wait! Can't wait! :)
HubertKnott HubertKnott 6/11/2015 04:02
In the scene of the trailer when the actor playing Bobby Fischer uses a pocket chess set (about 1:51), the viewer can clearly see that Fischer uses the Ultra-Wallet chess set currently marketed by chessmate-dot-com. The chess notation graphics also intersperse conventions of both Descriptive and Algebraic systems. That sort of nitpicking should not, of course, detract from what seems a very promising film.