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Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

A prepubescent chess prodigy refuses to harden himself in order to become a champion like the famous but unlikable Bobby Fischer.


Steven Zaillian


Fred Waitzkin (book), Steven Zaillian (screenplay)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 5 wins & 9 nominations. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Max Pomeranc ... Josh Waitzkin
Joe Mantegna ... Fred Waitzkin
Joan Allen ... Bonnie Waitzkin
Ben Kingsley ... Bruce Pandolfini
Laurence Fishburne ... Vinnie
Michael Nirenberg Michael Nirenberg ... Jonathan Poe
Robert Stephens ... Poe's Teacher
David Paymer ... Kalev
Hal Scardino ... Morgan
Vasek Simek Vasek Simek ... Russian Park Player
William H. Macy ... Tunafish Father
Dan Hedaya ... Tournament Director
Laura Linney ... School Teacher
Anthony Heald ... Fighting Parent
Steven Randazzo Steven Randazzo ... Man of Many Signals
Learn more

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Josh Waitzkin is just a typical American boy interested in baseball when one day he challenges his father at chess and wins. Showing unusual precocity at the outdoor matches at Washington Square in New York City, he quickly makes friends with a hustler named Vinnie who teaches him speed chess. Josh's parents hire a renowned chess coach, Bruce, who teaches Josh the usefulness of measured planning. Along the way Josh becomes tired of Bruce's system and chess in general and purposely throws a match, leaving the prospects of winning a national championship in serious jeopardy. Written by Rick Gregory <rag.apa@email.apa.org>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Every journey begins with a single move.


Biography | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for thematic elements | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


Joan Allen and William H. Macy later appeared in Pleasantville (1998) and Room (2015). See more »


When Josh goes off to get a Coke, the Coke machine in Bruce's chess club can be heard off camera dispensing a can down though a chute at the bottom on the machine. When the Coke machine is shown, it is the old style where one had to pull the bottle out from the vertical dispenser and would not have made the sound of a can dropping. The next bottles in line in the row should have been heard rolling down and clinking together as glass bottles did in the older style Coke machines. See more »


[first lines]
Josh Waitzkin: [about Bobby Fischer] In the days before the event, the whole world wondered if he would show up. Plane after plane waited on the runway, while he napped, took walks, and ate sandwiches. Henry Kissinger called and asked him to go for his country's honor. Soon after arriving, he offended the Icelanders by calling their country inadequate because it had no bowling alleys. He complained about the TV cameras, about the lighting, about the table and chairs, and the contrast of the ...
See more »

Alternate Versions

The original film ends with a title card stating that Josh still plays chess
  • along with several other activities, indicating that he has a well-rounded life. When the film was broadcast on NBC in 1996, this title card was updated: it now stated that Josh was working to become a grandmaster, and that he now considered Jack Kerouac, not Bobby Fischer, to be his primary influence.
See more »


Referenced in Chasing Amy (1997) See more »


Green Grass Grows All Around
Performed by Pete Seeger
See more »

User Reviews

Drama about chess, life and staying true to oneself
25 June 2015 | by WuchakkSee all my reviews

Despite the title, "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (1993) isn't about the extraordinary chess champion, Bobby Fischer, but rather true-life chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin (played convincingly by Max Pomeranc). The story chronicles his rise to prominence as a 7-8 year-old in the world of chess competition. The eccentric and reclusive Fischer permeates the proceedings, however, as he's constantly referred to and there's even footage of him being interviewed or beating a dozen experts simultaneously, etc. Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen play Josh's father & mother while Ben Kingsley and Laurence Fishburne play his formal and informal teachers respectively.

I don't think you need to know about chess to enjoy this film, but it wouldn't hurt. It's primarily a drama and, secondarily, a sports film. Being about chess, it lacks the action of conventional sports films, but it's a sports film nevertheless with its inherent formula. Regardless, I was surprised at how suspenseful they made the final match, which isn't easy to do since chess doesn't seemingly lend itself to cinema.

This is a film that'll likely improve on repeat viewings because there are a few interesting subtexts. For instance, Josh's formal instructor and his dad keep trying to mold him into the likeness of Fischer and his misanthropic mindset, but Josh's mother and informal instructor encourage him to be who he is and play naturally. The former two foster rigid discipline and contemptible aggressiveness while the latter two encourage spontaneity and the joy of the game. Perhaps a balance between both is best.

Years ago I informally studied chess for a couple of years, reading books and manually performing all the moves, buying & playing computer sets, etc. but I'd only be considered average at best compared to the child players in the film. The reason I bring this up is because, as much as I knew on the topic at the time, I realized I merely touched the surface and that there were whole new realms to explore, learn and master. This is the way it is with any great sport/art/topic/occupation. To truly grasp any one of them and master it to any degree requires serious determination and great sacrifice. You can't be a jack of all trades and expect to be extraordinary in one.

The movie also seems to be saying that you shouldn't sacrifice everything else to be a chess master and lose the joy of playing, the joy of living. After all, what good is that? While this is true, it only goes so far and Waitzkin's life since the movie proves it: He wanted to do other things than be a chess champion, which is fine, but to do so he had to drop out of chess competition altogether, which he did in 1999. By contrast, Garry Kasparov is considered the most consistent chess champion, holding the record for the longest time as the No. 1 rated player in the world from 1986 to 2005 (two freakin' decades), precisely because of his skill, determination and sacrifices.

The movie inspires you to look up the incredible Fischer who reigned supreme in the 60s through early 70s and then dropped off the face of the earth. In 1981 he stayed with grandmaster Peter Biyiasas for four months where he beat Biyiasas seventeen times in speed chess. Biyiasas later testified in a Sports Illustrated interview: "He was too good. There was no use in playing him. It wasn't interesting. I was getting beaten, and it wasn't clear to me why. It wasn't like I made this mistake or that mistake. It was like I was being gradually outplayed, from the start. He wasn't taking any time to think. The most depressing thing about it is that I wasn't even getting out of the middle game to an endgame. I don't ever remember an endgame. Bobby honestly believes there is no one for him to play, no one worthy of him. I played him, and I can attest to that."

Bobby Fischer never viewed the film, but rightly complained that it was improper to use his name and footage of him without his permission. Fischer never received any compensation from the movie and said he was swindled.

Look for the beautiful Laura Linney in a bit part.

The film runs 109 minutes and was shot in New York City, including Washington Square (where numerous scenes take place), and Toronto.


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Frequently Asked Questions

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Release Date:

11 August 1993 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Searching for Bobby Fischer See more »


Box Office


$12,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$1,121,354, 15 August 1993

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

Production Co:

Mirage Enterprises See more »
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Technical Specs


| (Ontario)

Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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