Art & Entertainment

‘Pawn Sacrifice’ To ‘The Chess Players’ – Best Films On Chess To Watch Amidst The Chennai Olympiad

As the 44th Chess Olympiad is underway, there is a lot of curiosity around the game. Here are a few films which you might want to watch and savour the flavour of the season. Also, don’t forget to check out the honourable mention at the end.

Tobey Maguire In A Still From 'Pawn Sacrifice'

The 44th Chess Olympiad, which is more so popularly known as the Chennai Chess Olympiad, is currently underway in Chennai. The event organised by the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) is designed to promote the game of chess all over. This is the first time that the Chess Olympiad is taking place in India and that has created a huge buzz around the event which started on July 28 and will continue till August 10.

With the increasing searches about chess, there has been a sudden rise in the number of people wanting to watch films on the much-talked-about sport. Here are a few films around chess that are a delight to watch:

‘The Chess Players’ (1977)

Directed by Satyajit Ray, the film is also known as ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’ in India. It’s based on a short story of the same name by Munshi Premchand. ‘The Chess Players’ is set in 1856 on the eve of the Indian rebellion of 1857. The British are about to annex the Indian State of Awadh. The daily life of two wealthy men (Sanjeev Kumar and Saeed Jaffrey) who are devoted to chess is presented against the background of scheming officials of the British East India Company. The film also depicts the history of the British regime’s relations with the Indian ruler of Awadh (Amjad Khan) at that time. Also, it gave a brilliant portrayal of the ruler's devotion both to his religious practice and the pursuit of pleasure.

‘Searching For Bobby Fischer’ (1993)

Directed by Steven Zaillian, the film is also known as ‘Innocent Moves’. The film revolves around a 7-year-old Josh Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc). After he beats his dad (Joe Mantegna) in a chess match, he gets noticed for his talent. He becomes interested in speed chess at the park and learns the game from a hustler named Vinnie (Laurence Fishburne). However, Josh's parents invest in the services of Bruce (Ben Kingsley), a famous coach who has very different practices. Between Bruce's methods and the stress of the competitions, Josh learns that even a chess prodigy cannot make all the right moves.

‘The Luzhin Defense’ (2000)

Directed by Marleen Gorris, the film was based on the novel ‘The Defense’ by Vladimir Nabokov. Set in the late 1920s, ‘The Luzhin Defence’ revolves around the life of a shambling, unworldly chess Grand Master who arrives in the Italian Lakes to play the match of his life and unexpectedly finds the love of his life. Discovering his prodigious talent in boyhood overshadowed by his parent's failing marriage, Luzhin's unnerving passion for chess becomes his refuge and rendered the real world a phantom. The film centres on this mentally tormented chess grandmaster and the young woman he meets while competing at a world-class tournament.

‘Game Over: Kasparov And The Machine’ (2003)

Directed by Vikram Jayanti this documentary focuses on the infamous match between chess champion Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue, which was a computer designed by IBM to play chess at the highest level. In the years prior to the 1997 match, Kasparov was known as the best talent in chess history, but he grows agitated when Deep Blue opens the contest by playing better than expected. Kasparov argues that IBM is somehow cheating to better its chances of victory, and his contention casts a shadow over the match's dramatic finale.


‘Life Of A King’ (2013)

Directed by Jake Goldberger, the film revolves around an ex-con (Cuba Gooding Jr.). He was determined to help the youths from the ghettos who were at high risk of getting into the wrong things. He tries to help them out to avoid the mistakes he made in his life. In trying to help them the ex-con forms a chess club to offer them an alternative to running with street gangs. He starts the Big Chair Chess Club for the inner-city youths in Washington, D.C. which soon goes on to become a great alternative for the youth to save themselves from getting into the gang life and do something meaningful with their lives.

‘The Dark Horse’ (2014)

Directed by James Napier Robertson, the film is based on the real-life story of Genesis Potini, a brilliant New Zealand chess player. However, he suffered from severe bipolar disorder. The film begins with him (Cliff Curtis) walking down a street in the rain, before walking into an antique store and playing a chess game with himself. The film showcases his entire life journey in flashbacks and shows how he fights the demons of his past and his mental disorder and eventually comes out victorious at the end as a terrific chess player.

‘Pawn Sacrifice’ (2015)

Directed by Edward Zwick, the film revolves around American chess legend Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) and Soviet Grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). The film shows how the two, at the peak of the US-Russia cold war, enthral the world with their intense battle of wills and strategy during the 1972 World Chess Championship. This match caused the two nations to fuel their respective agendas. The film also delves into the dark side of Fischer's paranoia. The mental stress that Fischer put himself through right from his childhood leading up to his participation in the world championship probably hampered his mental health even further. Soon afterwards, he disappears from the public and goes into hiding.


‘Magnus’ (2016)

Directed by Benjamin Ree, the documentary revolves around the early life of Norwegian chess prodigy Magnus Carlsen. It goes on to talk in detail about how he ended up becoming a Grandmaster at the age of 13. Thereby, he ended up winning the FIDE World Chess Championship in 2013. The film features Carlsen’s showdown with other Chess Grandmasters like Gary Kasparov and Viswanathan Anand. It became the first Norwegian feature documentary to have its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

‘Queen Of Katwe’ (2016)

Directed by Mira Nair, the film is based on a book of the same name by Tim Crothers. The film revolves around a 10-year-old Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) living in the slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda along with her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong'o) and the other members of her family. Life is a constant struggle for Phiona and her family. However, her world changes one day when she meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a missionary who teaches children how to play chess. Phiona becomes fascinated with the game and soon becomes a top player under Katende's guidance. Her success in local competitions and tournaments opens the door to a bright future and a golden chance to escape from a life of poverty.

‘Critical Thinking’ (2020)

Directed by John Leguizamo, the film is based on the real-life story of the 1998 Miami Jackson High School chess team. The film revolves around a dedicated teacher (John Leguizamo) who inspires the Miami Jackson High School chess team to become the first inner-city team to win the United States Chess Championship.


Honourable Mention:

‘The Queen’s Gambit’ (2020)

Directed by Scott Frank, the limited series is based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. It is a coming-of-age period drama which follows the life of an orphan chess prodigy, Elizabeth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), during her quest to become an elite chess player while struggling with emotional problems, drugs and alcohol dependency.

In the recent past, there have been talks about a biopic on the life of Indian Chess Grandmaster, Viswanathan Anand. During one event, Anand himself suggested that someone like Aamir Khan might be the perfect person to portray him onscreen in the biopic. However, there hasn't been any official word as of yet on the same.

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