Film: Searching for Bobby Fischer

Searching For Bobby Fischer is a 1993 film about chess. Fred Waitzkin (Joe Mantegna) discovers that his young son Josh (Max Pomeranc) is a chess prodigy. The Waitzkins send Josh to a special school and start chess lessons for Josh despite the misgivings of Josh's mother (Joan Allen), who is worried about stunting his social development. Ben Kingsley plays Josh's strict chess tutor Bruce Pandolfini, and Laurence Fishburne is a chess hustler in the park that Josh learns a more aggressive style of chess from. Josh must reconcile the lessons from his two teachers, retain his humanity instead of becoming a chess robot, and play for the youth championship against Jonathan Poe, a merciless opponent.

This film contains examples of:

  • Artistic License Sports: The climactic game was designed for the movie by Waitzkin and Pandolfini but it still doesn't really work. It is not actually a forced checkmate but requires Poe to make a serious error on his seventh move after Waitzkin offers the draw. See here.
    • Possibly Fridge Brilliance: Waitzkin offers the draw to throw Poe off his game, hoping to force him into the serious error, following Vinny's advice to play the man.
      • And it works, as Poe begins moving very quickly, playing right into Waitzkin's hands thanks to his speed-game experience in the park.
  • Big Applesauce
  • Big Game: Ends with a championship match between Waitzkin and Jonathan Poe.
  • Child Prodigy: Waitzkin, Poe, and all the chess-playing kids are this.
  • History Marches On: Bobby Fischer surfaced, mad as a hatter, not long after this movie was released.
  • Nonindicative Name: Bobby Fischer isn't a character.
  • Oh Crap!: "Check."
  • Serious Business: Chess. Players are seen driven to excel to the point they either become emotionless calculating machines - which Poe seems to be developing into - or else they crack from the pressure. Part of the story's conflict is how Josh's parents try to find a way to let Josh play the game while enjoying life the way a kid should.
  • Shout-Out: While playing chess with Josh, Vinny tells him, "Never play the board, always the man." Bobby Fischer was known to say exactly the opposite.
  • Surprise Check Mate: Kind of. The climactic match does not end with a checkmate, but a player of Poe's caliber would have realized that he had lost well before Josh puts him in check at the end.
    • Happens earlier during Josh's rematch with his father, after it was found Josh threw the first game fearing his dad would hate him. While Josh is away from the board taking a bath, Fred makes a move and tells his son down the hall what it was. Josh replies "Can we go do something else now?" Fred answers that the game isn't finished. "Yes it is," Josh answers back, and Fred slowly realizes his son can already see the checkmate.
    • As a practical matter, it might be impossible to present an endgame situation that would be complex enough to fool an expert player like Poe, yet simple enough that non-expert moviegoers could understand what happened without a lot of exposition.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The Waitzkins were real people as was Pandolfini, but for Rule of Drama the importance of Vinny the chess hustler was greatly exaggerated and the Poe character is basically invented. In Real Life the match between Waitzkin and the (younger) boy that Poe was based on did in fact end with a draw and a shared championship.
  • Villainy-Free Villain: Jonathan Poe is just trying to win the match like Josh is. So the film makes Poe as obnoxious as possible while having Josh offer him a draw.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: "He's not afraid of losing! He's afraid of losing your love!"