Searching for Bobby Fischer
|Searching for Bobby Fischer|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Steven Zaillian|
|Produced by||William Horberg|
|Written by||Steven Zaillian|
|Music by||James Horner|
Conrad L. Hall
|Editing by||Wayne Wahrman|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Release date(s)||August 11, 1993|
|Running time||110 minutes|
Searching for Bobby Fischer is a 1993 drama film based on the life of prodigy chess player Joshua Waitzkin, played by Max Pomeranc. Adapted from the book of the same name by Joshua's father Fred, the film was written and directed by Steven Zaillian. In the United Kingdom the film was released under the title Innocent Moves.
In the film, Josh Waitzkin's family discovers that he possesses a gift for chess and they seek to nurture it. They hire a strict instructor, Bruce Pandolfini (played by Ben Kingsley) who aims to teach the boy to be as aggressive as chess legend Bobby Fischer. The title of the film is a metaphor about the character's quest to adopt the ideal of Fischer and his determination to win at any price. Josh is also heavily influenced by Vinnie, a speed chess hustler (Laurence Fishburne) whom he met in Washington Square Park. The two coaches differ greatly in their approaches to chess, and Pandolfini is upset that Josh continues to adopt the methods of Vinnie. The main conflict in the film arises when Josh refuses to accept Fischer's misanthropic frame of reference. Josh then goes on to win on his own terms.
- Max Pomeranc as Josh Waitzkin
- Joe Mantegna as Fred Waitzkin
- Joan Allen as Bonnie Waitzkin
- Ben Kingsley as Bruce Pandolfini
- Laurence Fishburne as Vinnie
- Michael Nirenberg as Jonathan Poe
- Robert Stephens as Poe's teacher
- David Paymer as Kalev
- Hal Scardino as Morgan Pehme
- Vasek Simek as "the man who beat Tal"
- William H. Macy as Tunafish father
- Dan Hedaya as tournament director
- Laura Linney as Josh's school teacher
Some famous chess players have brief cameos in the film: Anjelina Belakovskaia, Joel Benjamin, Roman Dzindzichashvili, Kamran Shirazi, along with the real Joshua Waitzkin, Bruce Pandolfini, and Vincent Livermore. Chess master Asa Hoffmann is played by Austin Pendleton; the real Hoffmann did not like the way he was portrayed. Chess expert Poe McClinton, still a park regular, is seen throughout the film. Pal Benko was supposed to be in the film but his part was cut out. Waitzkin's real mother and sister also have cameos.
The Russian player in the park, played by Vasek Simek, who holds up the sign "For $5 a photo or a game with the man who beat Tal", was based on the real life of Israel Zilber. Zilber, Latvian chess champion in 1958, defeated the teenage Tal in 1952, and during most of the 1980s was homeless and regarded as one of the top players in Washington Square Park.
Sarwer versus Waitzkin match 
|This section uses algebraic notation to describe chess moves.|
At the end of the film, Josh is seen playing a tough opponent named Jonathan Poe in the final tournament. The character Jonathan Poe was not the actual name of Josh's opponent; his real name was Jeff Sarwer (a boy younger than Josh). Near the end of the game, where Josh offers Poe a draw, Poe rejects the offer and play continues. Sarwer rejected the draw offer in the real-world game as well. Josh played Sarwer to a draw (the two kings were the only remaining pieces on the board), and they were declared co-champions.
Poe versus Waitzkin endgame 
The diagram depicts the game position in the film, with Waitzkin playing the black pieces, before Waitzkin offers Poe the draw. This position did not occur in the real Sarwer–Waitzkin game; it was contrived by Waitzkin and Pandolfini specially for the film. The following moves are executed:
1... gxf6 2. Bxf6 Rc6+ 3. Kf5 Rxf6+! 4. Nxf6 Bxf6 5. Kxf6 Nd7+ 6. Kf5 Nxe5 7. Kxe5??
- In the October 1995 issue of Chess Life, Grandmaster Larry Evans stated that the position and sequence were unsound; Poe (playing White) could still have drawn the game by playing 7.h5 instead.
7... a5 8. h5 a4 9. h6 a3 10. h7 a2 11. h8=Q a1=Q+ 12. Kf5 Qxh8 0–1 (White resigned)
Alternate endgame 
An alternate endgame position had been composed by Pal Benko. It was to have been used in the film, but was rejected on the day before the scene was filmed because it did not use the theme that Josh overused his queen.
In this position, Black should play:
The book and the film have each received positive reviews from critics. Waitzkin's book was praised by Grandmaster Nigel Short, as well as chess journalist Edward Winter, who called it "a delightful book" in which "the topics [are] treated with an acuity and grace that offer the reviewer something quotable on almost every page." Screenwriter and playwright Tom Stoppard called the book "well written" and "captivating".
The film currently has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 34 reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film a score of four stars (out of four), calling it "a film of remarkable sensitivity and insight", adding, "by the end of [the film], we have learned [...] a great deal about human nature." James Berardinelli gave the film three stars (out of four), calling it "an intensely fascinating movie capable of involving those who are ignorant about chess as well as those who love it."
The film was nominated for Best Cinematography (Conrad L. Hall) at the 1993 Academy Awards. It won the category at the American Society of Cinematographers the same year. The film also ranked No. 96 in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers.
- Wall, Bill. Searching For Bobby Fischer Trivia. Retrieved May 26, 2007.
- The Games of Israel Zilber at chessgames.com. Retrieved May 26, 2007.
- Mikhail Tal vs. Israel Zilber, 0-1 at chessgames.com
- pp. 214-22 of the book
- Jeff Sarwer vs Joshua Waitzkin at chessgames.com. Retrieved August 17, 2011.
- Bruce Pandolfini, Endgame Workshop: Principles for the Practical Player, 2009, Russell Enterprises, ISBN 978-1-888690-53-8
- The Spectator, April 8, 1989, p.30-31
- Searching for Bobby Fischer review, Edward Winter, Chess History, 1989
- The Observer, April 2, 1989, p.45
- Searching for Bobby Fischer, Rotten Tomatoes
- Searching for Bobby Fischer review, Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, August 11, 1993
- Searching for Bobby Fischer review, James Berardinelli, ReelViews, 1993
- Searching for Bobby Fischer at the Internet Movie Database
- Searching for Bobby Fischer at AllRovi
- Updated article from 2006 by award-winning Esquire (UK) journalist Eamonn O'Neill