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Film / Pawn Sacrifice

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"After only four moves there's more than 300 billion options to consider. There's more 40-move games than there are stars in the galaxy, so... it can take you very close to the edge."
Father Lombardy

Pawn Sacrifice is a 2014 biopic directed by Edward Zwick and starring Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, and Peter Sarsgaard.

The movie depicts the career of Bobby Fischer, a chess prodigy who rose to fame during the Cold War, specifically his attempts to defeat the world champion chess player of the time, Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. At the same time, Fischer is struggling with increasing feelings of paranoia.

Tropes featured in this movie include:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Minor example. In Game 1 of the World Championship, Fischer did indeed play the pawn grab blunder depicted, and Spassky did play the pawn push that effectively sealed the victory. In Real Life, however, Fischer didn't resign immediately as shown in the film. Instead, he played it out all the way to the inevitable lost endgame for black before resigning.
  • Anachronism Stew: One scene shot on Santa Monica Beach shows the Pier and other buildings in the background, including famous attractions such as the West Coaster, which were not built until many years after the film's time frame.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Fischer rails against the Jews, despite his own Jewish ancestry.
  • Brooklyn Rage: Fischer grew up in Brooklyn, has a strong accent and short fuse.
  • Challenge Seeker: Fischer is always trying to play somebody better to prove that he is the best in the world.
  • Confusion Fu: In Game 6 of the world championship, Fischer plays seemingly random moves to prevent Spassky from figuring out his strategy. Bit of a dramatization - in the actual game, Fischer played an uncharacteristic opening so any preparation Spassky had for Fischer's customary plays would be worthless. After that, Fischer simply played a superior positional game.
  • Conspiracy Theorist:
    • Fischer. He thinks that his phones are tapped, that the Russians will try to blow up his airplane, that he is being followed, you name it.
    • Spassky also shows signs, thinking that his rooms are bugged by agents of his own government.
  • Crazy People Play Chess: Bobby Fischer is the best chess player in the world. He also suffers from extreme paranoia, thinks that the Russians and the Jews are out to get him, suspects his phones are being tapped, and moves the world championship chess tournament into a ping-pong room because the main theater was too loud. Even Spassky shows hints of this - he thinks that his rooms are bugged by agents of his own government, and later he gets distracted by the buzzing of a fly trapped in his chair. It's even suggested that it might be an Inverted Trope - that playing chess makes crazy people.
    Father Lombardy: This game... it's a rabbit hole.
  • Downer Ending: Fischer manages to beat Spassky in the World Championship, but doesn't seem to feel the elation he hoped. On top of that, he's alienated and pushed away everybody who cared about him, leaving him alone and empty. The "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue makes it even bleaker, revealing that Fischer's madness left him homeless and penniless by the time of his death in 2008.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Even though Fischer was a paranoid jerk who railed angrily against any perceived slight, and he detested the Soviet chess system, he is shown being courteous and respectful to Spassky during their match. Those who knew him have uniformly reported that, for all his quirks, Fischer always displayed perfect etiquette over the chessboard.
  • Glorious Mother Russia: One of the reasons Spassky is urged to play against Fischer, for his superiors believe that it will be a testament to Soviet chess ability.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Lombardy is a Jesuit priest and prior chess master who accompanies Fischer on his travels to serve as his minder and practice partner, though he has shades of Evil Jesuit when he advises against medicating Fischer, saying it would destroy his chess ability.
  • Historical Beauty Update: The real Father Lombardy was less handsome than Peter Sarsgaard.
  • Lonely at the Top: The ending gives the indication that this is the final result of Fischer's victory.
  • Refuge in Audacity: In the championship tournament against Spassky, Fischer employs game openings that he has never previously used in order to make his strategy unpredictable.
  • Sexy Priest: Peter Sarsgaard, anyone?
  • Power Born of Madness: It's unknown how much of Fischer's ability comes from his obsessive and paranoid mindset. His friends won't take him to be diagnosed because they don't want to chance him losing his ability.
  • Slow Clap: By Spassky when he realizes Fischer has beaten him.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Fischer plays simultaneous games against multiple people and mental chess against Lombardy to practice.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: This appears right before the credits, detailing Bobby Fischer's life after the World Tournament. It's not a very pleasant one.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Fischer is shown taking Boris Spassky's abilities in chess very seriously.
    • When Spassky realizes that Fischer has won, he stands up and gives him a Slow Clap.