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GM Rogers: We’re All Crazy Now

GM Rogers: We’re All Crazy Now


Thursday’s gala screening in Saint Louis of the new Hollywood depiction of the life of Bobby Fischer – Pawn Sacrifice – evoked mixed feelings from the audience of Grandmasters and chess fans.

Pawn Sacrifice is well made and stays reasonably close to the well known facts of Fischer’s rise and rise to ultimately win the World Championship title against Boris Spassky in 1972.

However rather than document the milestones of Fischer’s journey to the top of world chess as the documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World had done, Pawn Sacrifice centres around the development of Fischer’s mental illness; paranoia in particular.

As such, the film is closer to Shine than Bobby Fischer Against the World and, like pianist David Helfgott’s relationship with music in Shine, there is a tension between whether chess is primarily a cause of Fischer’s mental illness or a refuge from it.

Ex-Spiderman Tobey Maguire is a surprisingly convincing Bobby Fischer (if one accepts the film’s premise that Fischer was crazy), though to hint that Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) was also mad in 1972 (though on a lesser scale to Fischer) is manifestly unfair to the Russian former World Champion.

The person who emerges best from the film is Bill Lombardy, Fischer’s second (played by the – far less chunky – Peter Sarsgaard). Lombardy’s role in keeping the match on track is well known but in Pawn Sacrifice Lombardy, a Catholic priest at the time, is seen almost as a saint – a voice of reason without ulterior motive in a hotbed of insanity and manipulation.

When asked if he liked the film or not, Garry Kasparov’s short comment was “Could be worse.” He explained “My main worry is if the film promotes chess or not,” clearly fearing that the answer was not.

Kasparov also took issue with the screenwriters’ choice of game 6 of the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match as pivotal and, according to the film “still regarded as the greatest game of all time”.


 “There were two great games in the 1972 match – games 10 and 13 – which could have been the climax of the film,” said Kasparov.

Kasparov then revealed that Fischer’s one-sided victory in game 6 was based upon Spassky failing to remember some of his pre-match preparation. Referring to the opening of game 6, Kasparov said “{Efim] Geller told me that his 14…Qb7! idea was discovered by him when preparing with Spassky before the match. Spassky simply forgot it.”

 The position Kasparov was referring to arose after the following moves:

 Reykjavik 1972

White: R.Fischer

Black: B.Spassky

Opening: Queen’s Gambit Declined

1.c4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 0-0 6.e3 h6 7.Bh4 b6 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.Nxd5 exd5 11.Rc1 Be6 12.Qa4 c5 13.Qa3 Rc8 14.Bb5!?

Blog 59


The following year, Geller unveiled 14…Qb7! against Jan Timman and after 15.dxc5 bxc5 16.Rxc5 Rxc5 17.Qxc5 Na6! had ample compensation for the pawn. Black crashed through soon afterwards via 18.Bxa6 Qxa6 19.Qa3 Qc4 20.Kd2?! Qg4! 21.Rg1 d4!! 22.Nxd4 Qh4!.

Instead Spassky went down in a fine positional crush after.

15.dxc5 bxc5 16.0-0 Ra7 17.Be2 Nd7  18.Nd4! Qf8 19.Nxe6! fxe6 20.e4! d4?! 21.f4 Qe7 22.e5 Rb8 23.Bc4 Kh8 24.Qh3 Nf8 25.b3 a5 26.f5 exf5 27.Rxf5 Nh7 28.Rcf1 Qd8 29.Qg3 Re7 30.h4 Rbb7 31.e6! Rbc7 32.Qe5 Qe8 33.a4 Qd8 34.R1f2 Qe8 35.R2f3 Qd8 36.Bd3 Qe8 37.Qe4 Nf6 38.Rxf6! gxf6 39.Rxf6 Kg8 40.Bc4 Kh8 41.Qf4 1-0

After the Saint Louis screening, the producer, Gail Katz, came to the front of the theatre and answered questions. Some questions focussed on factual errors in the film, with Katz explaining most of them by the need to compress and maintain the dramatic flow of the film.

Yasser Seirawan, who knew Fischer better than any of the Grandmasters in attendance at the Saint Louis preview, praised the incidental humour in the film – “Funny things always seemed to happen when Bobby was around,” he said. However Seirawan queried whether Fischer’s paranoia really started, as the film suggests, with his awareness of his mother being tracked by the FBI. Katz acceded that this may have been overblown but pointed to documentation that, as a child, Fischer had been warned by his mother what to say if he ever ran into an FBI agent.

From this writer’s viewpoint, Pawn Sacrifice was an enjoyable film, accessible to chessplayers and non-chessplayers alike, though unlikely to be bound for Oscar glory as was Shine.


However, similarly to Kasparov, I could not help wondering if Hollywood’s constant depiction of persons involved in intellectual pursuits as intrinsically weird – The Imitation Game and A Beautiful Mind are other examples – acts as a general discouragement to the take-up of science and mathematics (and chess). Mind you, Hollywood is not alone in such stereotyping, as was evident in Guy Rundle’s throwaway comment on mathematicians and chessplayers within his obituary of Australian IM Greg Hjorth.

The following clip, slightly longer than the official trailer, gives a reasonable feel of the film.

Pawn Sacrifice will be released in Australia on September 16.



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