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Saturday, September 12, 2015

A brief review of Pawn Sacrifice

I was fortunate enough to see an advanced screening of the new movie "Pawn Sacrifice", based upon Bobby Fischer's life and the 1972 World Championship. (The advanced screening is one of the benefits of being an AMC Stubs Member) Overall, both me and my wife enjoyed the movie; they took a few liberties, but produced a good, engaging movie about chess that got a lot of details correct.

First, the details. As far as I could tell, all of the boards were setup correctly (White on Right, Queen on Color); a detail that a significant number of movies and other media get wrong. I also could recognize some of the positions as accurate from the World Championship games; 29...Bxh2 from Game 1 and the significance of that move is highlighted in particular. Attention was also paid to Game 3 (particularly the daring 11..Nh5), Game 5, and of course the beautiful Game 6 (One of my other favorites, Game 13, was not mentioned).

A few minor details were slightly inaccurate; for example, the film depicts the 1966 Piatigorsky cup in Santa Monica as Fischer's return to tournament play. Although this is true in some sense (first OTB international tournament of the return, depending on how you define it), Fischer played in and placed 2nd at the 1965 Capablanca Memorial. That tournament was held in Havana, but due to poor USA-Cuba relations, Fischer played remotely. I may have missed this detail, but I think they also misrepresented the games and orders in which he played at Santa Monica (i.e. He didn't win his first round match, and it wasn't against Ivanovic; although he did beat Ivkov in round three). They also chose not to highlight or mention the incredible nature of Fischer's achievement in the candidates tournaments (two 6-0 match victories as part of his 20 straight wins), even though they do a montage that details which opponents he beat in this run.

Although I have read a bit about Bobby Fischer (For example, the excellent book 'Bobby Fischer Goes to War' is in my personal library), I cannot claim to be an expert historian. Therefore, I am not sure how accurate the representation of Fischer is; certainly, his paranoia is given a lot of attention in the film. I also question if the scene of Fischer calling out Spassky on the beach is accurate. Even if it caricatures this aspect of Fischer's personality to some extent, it is not surprising given the drama it helps introduce, and in how it helps convey the idea of who Fischer was to an audience that may not be familiar with him. Indeed, I think that is a good summary of the movie; it may take liberties on some details, but it is accurate in spirit and tells a good story.

The acting, production, and drama in the movie were great. Although she has a passing interest in the game, and has even observed some of my tournaments, my wife does not play or study chess regularly. Therefore, she acted as proxy for the non-chess playing audience, one that was not familiar with all the aspects and drama surrounding the story of the 1972 world championship. Even still, she was engaged during the movie and thoroughly enjoyed it, praising the acting and drama. Perhaps most telling, after the movie she wanted to see historic footage of Fischer (with Dick Cavett and Bob Hope) and learn a bit more about him.

As far as dramatic movies about chess go, this was excellent; personally, I thought it was better than The Search for Bobby Fischer and Queen to Play (although I did enjoy the latter a lot). This is a movie for the chess-playing and non-chess public alike, and is one both (especially the latter) should see if they aren't familiar with the story of Fischer. 

Despite writing several book reviews for Chesscafe in the past, I don't consider myself a critic. Please feel free to share your opinion about the movie, or ask me questions about details that I may have left out if you want to know before the general premier of the movie.

The image used for this post is not mine and I claim no rights; I 'borrowed' it from Pawn Sacrifice LLC. Seeing as I am positively reviewing their production, I hope they don't mind.