A "Pawn Sacrifice" is a move in chess in which a player sacrifices his pawn for a soft advantage such as more space for his pieces or positioning them in better squares in order to develop an attack subsequently. It aims to create unbalanced positions so if the player who is committed to the pawn sacrifice did not capitalize on his temporary advantage, he would lose the game at the end due to his inferiority in material.
Bobby Fischer was wanted in the United States of America for violating economic sanctions against the former Yugoslavia by playing a chess match there in 1992. He fled to Japan and was arrested in July 2004 for trying to leave Japan on a revoked U.S. passport. Thus, he was detained in Japan awaiting deportation to the USA. He renounced his U.S. citizenship and tried to become a German citizen, but was denied. Finally, in March 2005, Iceland's parliament voted to grant him Icelandic citizenship. He remained a fugitive from the USA until his death.
In preparing to write the movie's script, screenwriter Steven Knight read many of the books that have been written about Bobby Fischer and the "Match of the Century", as well as speaking with people who knew him. "The most useful material was archival footage of him being interviewed," said screenwriter Knight. "Bobby spoke and moved oddly, and to see that was helpful. If you noticed him walking down the street, you'd think, 'there is a curious person'. He might have ended up just another homeless person, but he was just so good at chess that he was saved by it. And, of course, cursed by it as well."
Though Bobby Fischer hated Soviet players for what he considered collusion i.e. drawing matches between themselves so they could concentrate on beating non-Soviet players like Fischer, Bobby Fischer liked and respected Boris Spassky. In turn, Spassky returned the affection and esteem.
The young Bobby Fischer grew up without a father with his mother and older sister. It was his sister who whet his appetite for chess when she bought a chess set when Bobby was six year old. Reportedly possessed of a super genius I.Q. of 180, Bobby had a remarkably retentive memory. A monomaniac when it came to chess, his memory combined with an uncanny knack for the game and a determination to win transformed him into the greatest chess player in the world.
In 1968, Bobby Fischer began an 18-month-long sabbatical from the game, which included sitting out the '69 American Championship tournament as he was dissatisfied with the prize money and the tourney format. Failing to compete should have disqualified him from the 1969-72 Championship cycle, but he was able to compete for the world title when an American Grand Master surrendered his own spot for Fischer.
Of the famous chess games between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, producer Gail Katz said: "It was the most important thing going on during a time when there were incredible political events happening in the world. I remember the top of the news every night was about what happened that day in Reykjavik [Iceland]. Nothing like that has happened since. We were so aware that there had never been an American world champion. Here came a brash young upstart from Brooklyn [in New York, USA], who became a rock star. He was the perfect American hero for the time. His reputation for being difficult only added to the aura."
Post-World War II tensions between the two superpowers of the USA and the USSR were heightening and playing out in disparate arenas, producer Gail Katz' said. She added: "There was the space race, Vietnam, China, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then in 1972, improbably, we were fighting it out on the chess board. The match became a symbolic battle over which system of government was superior. Chess was a Russian pastime, and they were often world champions. The United States had never had a world champion and our political leaders felt we finally had a chance with Bobby [Fischer (Bobby Fischer)]. Henry Kissinger, who was the U. S. National Security advisor at the time, called to urge him to play this match. Considering the events' historical significance and Bobby's mystique, I saw this as the perfect subject for a movie. The more I read about the outlandish details of the match, the better the story became."
Due to his anti-American and anti-Semitic statements, Bobby Fischer became a controversial figure in the final decades of his life. He, for example, in 1984 asked the editors of Encyclopedia Judaica to remove his name from the publication because he was, and has never been, Jewish and denied the Holocaust in several interviews. On a radio show shortly after the 9/11 attacks, he proclaimed them "a wonderful news".
Starting with the 1970 USSR v. Rest of the World tournament in which he beat former World Champion Tigran Petrosian, the master who had been defeated by Boris Spassky in 1969, Bobby began his march to the world championship. Through 1971, he had won 20 straight games in international tournament play, the second-longest win streak in the history of the game. Petrosian broke the streak but was in turn defeated by Fischer to win the right to challenge Spassky, a player he had never beaten, for the world title.
Producers Tobey Maguire and Gail Katz brought in veteran British screenwriter Steven Knight to pen the screenplay. Katz said: "He wrote a script that knocked our socks off. It struck a brilliant balance of Cold War politics and gripping personal drama."
As a 14 year-old on the cusp of his 15th birthday, Bobby Fischer won the U.S. Chess Championship in 1958, giving him the title of International Master. Later that same year, he broke future opponent Boris Spassky's record to become the youngest World Chess Federation Grand Master; Bobby was 15, and Boris was 18 when he set the distinction. The two names would become linked forever in chess history. When the two first played each other in 1960, Fischer lost during an Argentine tournament, though the two tied and were co-winners of the tourney. He would not beat Spassky until their famous world title match in Iceland in 1972.
During a stop-over in Japan, Bobby Fischer was arrested for traveling with an invalid U.S. passport. He promptly renounced his American citizenship. The arrest meant he could not leave Japan as he was a stateless person wanted by the United States. Facing a potential extradition to the country of his birth, Iceland came through and granted him citizenship, which allowed him to leave Japan. The country was still grateful for the publicity he had brought to its then-unknown capital of Reykjavik. Thus, Fischer moved to Iceland, the place where he had became part of not only chess lore, but of world history.
Producer Gail Katz' pitched her idea to actor Tobey Maguire, who was immediately intrigued. After some initial research, he signed on not only to star as Fischer but also to produce, and he and Katz began to develop the script together. Maguire proposed approaching it like a classic sports story. Maguire said: "I'm fascinated by challenging people, and Bobby was nothing if not challenging. We watch as he develops his passion for the game, rises to the top at a very young age and ultimately goes for the world championship. Within that, there was room for a fascinating character study."
Bobby Fischer's World Championship was heralded by the U.S. media as a victory for the individualistic America over the collectivist U.S.S.R., whose players had dominated chess since the end of the Second World War. It was front page news, and it made Bobby Fischer a celebrity. He reportedly turned down a $1-million offer to endorse a chess set brand as he faded from the public spotlight.
In 1992, Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky, winning $3.35 million in prize money (approximately $5.65 million in 2012 dollars, when factored for inflation), but because the United States of America intended to enforce the U.N. sanctions, he had violated American law, and could have served up to ten years in jail upon returning to America. A defiant Fischer went into exile instead, living in Hungary before moving to the Philippines and then Japan.
The chess legend Bobby Fischer was born Robert James Fischer on March 9, 1943 in Chicago to Regina Wender Fischer. His mother was a Jew who had been born in Switzerland but raised in St. Louis who became a naturalized U.S. citizen. The actual identity of his father is unknown. Regina listed German biophysicist Hans-Gerhardt Fischer, her first husband, as the father on Bobby's birth certificate, but they had been separated since 1939. Bobby's actual father likely was Hungarian physicist Paul Newmenyi, who like his mother, was Jewish. As his mental stability broke down late in life, Bobby became a vicious anti-Semite, insisting he wasn't Jewish.
After "The Game of the Century", Bobby Fischer did not play competitively until 1992 when he met Boris Spassky for a rematch on the resort island of Sveti Stefan in in Montenegro, which was part of all that remained of Yugoslavia along with Serbia. The match was held in defiance of United Nations sanctions against Slobodan Miloseviæ's Serbia for war crimes.
The title of the movie, screenwriter Steven Knight pointed out, is also the name of a classic chess gambit that reminded him of Bobby Fischer's situation. "A player will sometimes sacrifice a pawn for the greater good," Knight explained. "In a sense, that's what Bobby was. He was a pawn in a huge international game and he was sacrificed. He was emotionally unstable. If he'd gotten treatment, he probably would have been a happier human being. But he definitely wouldn't have won the chess game."
Bobby Fischer quit high school at the age of 16 to earn his daily bread by the sweat of his brow as a chess player. In a 1961 match against American champ Samuel Reshevsky, Bobby dropped out of the match claiming a scheduling dispute with the match organizer after tying Reshevsky in 11 games. Such eccentric behavior heralded his future.
By 1972, Bobby Fischer was in the position to make good his boast that he was the greatest chess player in the world. His difficult nature when it came to setting match and tournament conditions flared up again, and though he wanted to play in Yugoslavia, he accepted Boris Spassky's suggestion of Iceland for the world title match. Negotiations were so prickly, President Richard Nixon's national security adviser, Henry Kissinger intervened, personally contacting Bobby to ensure that he should not drop out of the match, which was seen as a proxy battle in the ongoing Cold War between America and the Soviet Union.
Though Bobby Fischer later denounced the United States of America, at the time, Bobby embraced the Cold War rhetoric, declaring the match "The Game of the Century" was "the free world against the lying, cheating hypocritical Russians."
Screenwriter Steven Knight clearly remembered the real-life chess match and the publicity that surrounded it. "What a stir it caused!" he said. "It was one of the first real global events that the media picked up on. The Bobby Fischer story has so many different stories within it that it was a question of choosing which bits to tell. It's not solely a biopic, but it's a story that's dominated by one character. Getting him right was critical to getting the film right."
At one point Fischer describes the Soviet school of chess: "Russians are like boa constrictors; if you do nothing, they strangle you to death. If you confuse them, battle them from all angles, then all they can do is react", suggesting they were all extremely positional and not given to initiative. It is not clear what year he is saying this words, but it is not an accurate description of the Soviets of his time. It fits like a glove the style of Tigran Petrosian (World Champion from 1963 to 1969), but it is the opposite of the games of Mikhail Tal (WC 1960-1961), famous for his speculative sacrifices and far more offensive then Fischer himself. The other two Soviet champions of the era, Botvinnik and Spassky, were famous for their "all around" style, balanced between initiative and defense. It is safe to say that Fischer, an avid student of Soviet chess, was well acquainted with the styles of all those great players, and would not lump them together.
It was while living in the Philippines during the opening days of the new millennium that Bobby Fischer established himself as a world-class crank. After the 9/11 attacks on the United States of America, he praised the attacks and spewed forth anti-Semitic drivel on radio broadcasts. The Soviet hater of the Cold War era had become a rabid America hater and Jew-basher at the start of the global war on terror. His anti-Semitism became so extreme, he renamed himself "Robert James" and insisted he wasn't Jewish.
The year 1972 was packed with watershed events across the globe, including the winding down of the war in Vietnam, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union, the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, the Watergate break-in and Richard Nixon's groundbreaking trip to China. But it was an international event of a very different kind that dominated headlines that summer. In Iceland, Bobby Fischer, America's foremost chess player, faced the reigning champion, Boris Spassky of Russia, in a series of matches that held the world spellbound. Around the world, people were captivated by a mano-a-mano fight between two masters of the so-called "game of kings." Eastern European players dominated the chess scene, and Fischer unknowingly became an avatar for the United States and its Cold War battle for dominance with the Soviet Union. This movie chronicles Fischer's pursuit of the chess world's ultimate prize and the price he paid for his victory. This is the major subject of this movie. Fischer is played by actor Tobey Maguire and Spassky is portrayed by actor Liev Schreiber.
Actors Tobey Maguire and Liev Schrieber' have both played Marvel comic book characters before starring together in this film. Maguire played Peter Parker / Spider-Man in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy and Schrieber played Sabertooth / Victor Creed in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).
Although Paul Morphy, the New Orleans Genius is considered to be the greatest American player by no less than Bobby Fischer, some believe Bobby Fischer was the greatest American chess player in history and might have been the most talented chess player ever to play the game. His career and legacy were marred by eccentricities that developed into what likely was full-blown mental illness that made him an exile from his country of birth that he represented in the greatest proxy battle of the Cold War and from the game he loved.
Bobby Fischer became a National Master at the age of 12 and won America's Junior Chess Championship at the age of 13, making him the youngest Junior Champ in history. The 13 year-old Bobby defeated 26-year-old Donald Byrne, winner of America's chess championship, in a 1956 game heralded as "The Game of the Century." By this age, Fischer was showing gifts for improvisation and innovation that marked him as a chess genius.
By 1962, Bobby Fischer was considered the best non-Soviet chess player in the world. Bobby came to hate the Soviet players, whom he claimed colluded with each other to keep him at a disadvantage. In 1966, Bobby placed second behind Boris Spassky in a super-tournament held in California. A year later, he withdrew from the tournament cycle that culminated in the World Championship, again over a scheduling dispute. The cycle ended in 1969 with Spassky crowned as the World Chess Champion.
Academy Award-winning producer and director Edward Zwick was brought in to helm the film by producers Gail Katz and Tobey Maguire. Katz said: "A lot of top directors were interested. We knew Ed had a history of doing historical pictures with great accuracy that were also very commercial. He knows how to make a truthful and compelling film."
Although several times in the movie (especially at the beginning) it is pointed out that Bobby Fischer hated the draws, preferring to go for a clear win or a loss (all or nothing), during "the Game of the Century" with Boris Spassky in 1972 he finished with 11 draws in 19 games, incurring just one loss and winning 7 games, ultimately winning the World Chess Champion title.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Bobby Fischer won the third game of the match series, the first time he had beaten Boris Spassky in twelve years. For the rest of their play in 1972 and their 1992 rematch, Fischer never fell behind Spassky in terms of play or points. Spassky was baffled by Fischer's innovative moves, as he played new lines and combinations that Boris had never encountered before. Fischer won the match and became World Chess Champion by a score of 12.5 points to 8.5 on seven wins, one loss and 11 draws in 19 games.
"The Game of the Century" was held in Reykjavik, Iceland from July through September 1972, the drama of the world championship boosted the image and popularity of chess to new heights. Bobby Fischer lost the first two games, the first on a bad end move and the second by forfeit when he refused to participate. Because of his eccentric demands, he came close to forfeiting the match, but Boris Spassky agreed to his demand to play in a new room with no TV cameras, the presence of which had upset Fischer.