Pawn Sacrifice - A Chess Nerd's Review (Spoilers)

Pawn Sacrifice - A Chess Nerd's Review (Spoilers)

NM CoachJKane
Sep 19, 2015, 9:19 PM |

Hi Chess Friends,

I found out that the Bobby Fischer Bio-pic, Pawn Sacrifice was coming out in my area when I received a call from a PR agency, wondering if our chess company wanted to help promote the movie. The PG 13 film probably wouldn't be a good fit for the elementary school kids I ususally work with, but a few of us coaches did enjoy the film yesterday. 

It does a good job dramamtizing Fischer's rise to prominence and troubles with his mental health throughout his career. I think that most chess players (and probably plenty of non-chess players) should see it. It's certainly the best non-documentary chess film since at least Searching for Bobby Fischer. The acting and script were good (ecspecially Liev Schreiber as Spassky) and they did a remarkably good job on the chess for most of the film. Unlike most chess in pop-culture, I think they attempted to recreate real games whenever possible and always set boards up correctly. 

I only noticed a few errors, mostly which were designed to build drama for the film. Here's my run-down of the specific games referenced in the film and how accurately they were portrayed.

1. For a Fischer-Spassky game years before the match, Fischer discusses prepping the Gruenfeld because Spassky plays the Kings Indian and so Fischer doesn't want to try it himself in their game. Sure enough, in a real matchup Fischer played a Gruenfeld and lost in Spassky-Fischer 1966. In the movie, however, I'm pretty sure that Fischer had white in the game, which means it wouldn't have been the same game and he wouldn't have been preparing those openings. 

2. In game one of the match, Fischer famously allowed his bishop to be trapped. To make the immensity of the blunder clear, the movie has him resign immediately when he realizes his error. In real life he struggled on for a while and the position remained highly complicated. The early resignation helps to get the immensity of the error accross to the non-chess playing audience, but was very noticeable to the chess crowd I was with.

2. Game 3 of match featured the risky Benoni Defense and what was then a new plan where Fischer allowed his kingside structure to be broken in return for active play. I found it funny that the film had the Russian and American seconds analyzing right next to each other throughout the game, but the chess part seemed pretty accurate to me.


3. The strangest part of the movie for me, was their decision to make game 6 of a best of 24 match, the climax of the movie. Commentators made statements about the winner of that game being a heavy favorite to win the match. This is absolutely ridiculous because the match still had up to 18 games left after game 6 and the winner would have no more than a 1 point lead. The film's epilogue  indicates that this is considered the greatest game ever played. It's a very high quality game by Fischer and good study material, but I've never heard this game refered to as the greatest game of all time anywhere else. I don't think it's even the best game that Fischer ever played.

Lastly, becuase this is my blog, I wanted to share the one game I've played with a character in a movie! William Lombardy, Fischer's second and a key character in the film is a retired GM and plays some on ICC. Here's the one game I remember playing with him.


Have any of you seen Pawn Sacrifice yet. What did you think?