How Bobby Fischer Saved Game of Thrones

  • pete
  • | Aug 18, 2014

You might know that Bobby Fischer was responsible for creating unprecedented excitement in the United States chess community when he defeated Boris Spassky to win the 1972 world championship over the Soviet Union.

Fischer’s victory inspired millions of new players to learn chess, and the early 1970s were a golden age for chess across the board. Sales of chess sets surged, and suddenly chess was the trendy and cool game to play. 

Many great American grandmasters got their start during the early ‘70s chess boom, when Fischer was a national hero who had all but single-handedly defeated the Soviet Union’s chess monolith.


But did you know that Bobby Fischer also had an indirect role in the creation of the runaway hit HBO television series “Game of Thrones,” and the epic “Song of Ice and Fire” books on which the series is based?

It’s true. According to a revealing interview with the British newspaper The Independent, Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin was a struggling young writer in the early 1970s. Having not yet achieved the worldwide success and acclaim he has today, Martin still had to make a name for himself in the literary world.  

via pinterest

Needing a reliable source of income, Martin directed local weekend chess tournaments as a means of supporting himself while he strived to break through with his writing.

Fischer’s world championship created enough demand for chess tournaments that Martin was able to work just two days a week as a tournament director, allowing him to write five days per week. According to Martin:

"The importance of chess to me was not as a player but as a tournament director. In my early 20s, I was writing. I sold a few short stories. My big dream was to be a full-time writer and support myself with my fiction, but I wasn't making enough money to pay my rent and pay the phone bill -– so I had to have a day job.

"Most writers who have to have a day job work five days a week and then they have the weekend off to write. These chess tournaments were all on the weekend so I had to work on Saturday and Sunday –- but then I had five days off to write. The chess generated enough money for me to pay my bills."

via geeks of doom

Martin had always been a chess player. According to his interview with The Independent, Martin founded the chess club at Northwestern University, and was his high school team’s captain.

George R.R. Martin is a life member of the United States Chess Federation, with a peak rating of 1905 in January 1990. That makes him a class-A chess player, although he admits he does not play the game seriously anymore:

"You have to study the books and memorize the openings and play constantly, play games every day, over and over again," he sighs. "I wasn't willing to do that. I enjoyed chess, it was fun playing it and doing the tournaments but I didn't want to make it my job. Writing gave me much more satisfaction."

Still, a love of chess is evident in Martin’s writing on many levels. The “game of thrones” political intrigue from which the television show takes its title is a game of tactics and strategy, much like a top-level chess match.

Gambits, sacrifices, prophylaxis, mobility, flexibility, initiative, and control of key territory are ideas that are as important to the Game of Thrones series as they are to the chessboard.

The scheming Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen) is master of coin (head of the treasury) at the start of the series, but he might as well be a grandmaster of chess, with his intricate long-term plans and love of detail in all contingencies.

The fan-favorite Tyrion Lannister (played by Emmy winner Peter Dinklage) is not only similarly steeped in strategy, but he also plays a board game in the books called “cyvasse.” According to Martin, the game is “a bit of chess, a bit of blitzkrieg, a bit of Stratego.”

cyvasse via

The game of cyvasse plays a large role in the later books of the series, and it will likely be featured prominently in upcoming seasons of the television show.

It’s not yet known how Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss will ultimately decide to depict the chess-like game in the show, but one thing is for sure: if Bobby Fischer had not won the 1972 chess world championship, Martin’s career could have gone in a totally different direction, depriving fans of the series they love so much today.

Let us know what you think about Game of Thrones and its connections to chess and Bobby Fischer in the comments and on Facebook.



  • 13 months ago


    Really cool. I don't watch the show but I do like Peter Dinklage. He's was Miles Finch in Elf. "He's an angry elf" lolz.
  • 18 months ago


  • 20 months ago


    Fischer is one of the three all-time greatest players ever produced..the other two being Paul Morphy and Gary Kasparov. The trio is now in for a stiff competition from Magnus Carlsen.

  • 21 months ago


    Very impressive connection here, love it. Just finished reading the book about Bobby and am still playing Petyr Baelish in a role playing group, no wonder I understand him so well.

  • 21 months ago


    Don't have HBO, never saw the show - but I did play in one of the tournies that he directed, years ago in Detroit.

  • 21 months ago


    I still love to watch Game of Thrones

  • 21 months ago


    game of thrones is absolute tosh......just like tolkein etc......if you were playing dungeons and dragons and other fantasy role playing games in the basement hiding from the jocks and associating with other nerds with bad skin in the eighties - then i guess its right up your street...

  • 21 months ago


    Thanks for sharing! After the stark's family got slaughtered, I stopped following the show. However after Bobby's death, I still love chess as I used to.

  • 21 months ago


    Boby Fischer was Tyrion Lannister of R.R. Martin Cool

  • 21 months ago


    Note too that Martin has a chess-themed short story in the collection Pawn to Infinity (out of print).

    (Recommended by Dan Heisman in one of his Q&As) 

  • 21 months ago


    I`m sure Boby Fischer would turn in his grave if he finds out he has had an indirect role in the creation of some of the most profane and disgusting TV series ever

  • 21 months ago


    I love game of thrones!

  • 21 months ago


    Interesting stuff. Thanks. 

  • 21 months ago


    Didn't know Martin was a chess player and a 1905 rating is certianly nothing to sneeze at! 

  • 21 months ago


    Nice article. Easy to read and interesting.

  • 21 months ago


    Interesting stuff, a good read

  • 21 months ago

    NM Petrosianic

    cool!  1905 is pretty good by GRRM

  • 21 months ago


    Interesting article

  • 21 months ago


    Good stuff. Game of Thrones is genius. I do see the chess influence now. Nice.

  • 21 months ago


    Great article, thank you. I had no idea Martin played and how important chess was to ASoIaF.

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