Pawn Sacrifice

Regina Fischer (Robin Weigert), a Russian Jew emigre raising her two children by herself in Brooklyn, New York, and her anti-establishment acquaintances are being watched. Bobby, her son, is growing up in this environment, but his refuge and passion is the game of chess.

He’s so good at chess that soon, he begins to play against older kids and later, adults. At 12, he defeats the American Chess Master Donald Byrne in what has been called The Game of The Century. From then on, the world would know Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) not only as one of the sharpest minds in the history of that game but also one of its strangest, rebellious, and wierdest players ever.

He’s unbeatable. Although able to play several matches against different players at the same time, he hasn’t defeated the Russian champion Boris Spassky (Liev Schrieber). When he finally gets the opportunity, his mental deterioration, unnoticed before, begins to show. He sees conspiracies everywhere. Paranoid, he also thinks the Russians have bugged every phone in the hotel rooms where he stays. His insanity becomes evident to the public and he angrily quits.

Every time Fischer visits his favorite bookstore where he keeps track of Spassky’s victories as reported in Russian magazines, the FBI is also tracking him. One day, this Washington lawyer convinces him to get back in the game. Now, the chess genius is used as a pawn in what this lawyer calls a war of perception. What he doesn’t suspect is the extent of Fischer’s serious mental health issues. No argument convincing enough would make a sharp but deeply entrenched psychotic mind like Bobby’s, reason and do what’s expected of him.

Finally, after some antics by this talented player, the highly anticipated matches between Fischer and Spassky take place, but not before the bizarre almost overtakes the whole event.

In this interesting 2015 film by Edward Zwick, the final scene shows how out of the darkness, for a brief moment, a luminous spark of a brilliant man playing chess made the world watch in awe. The story concludes with the irony of this man’s destiny whose bright mind was overshadowed by mental illness but whose genius left a mark in the world of chess.

See also with Tobey Maguire: Seabuiscuit (2003), The Cider House Rules (1999).

See also directed by Edward Zwick: Glory (1989), The Last Samurai (2003), Blood Diamond (2006).

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