Me and Bobby Fischer (2010) & Pawn Sacrifice (2014)

Bobby Fischer was one of only two non-Soviet world chess champions between 1948 and 2007 and the only American player ever to hold the title.

Most versions of his story present this simple narrative: obsessive, loner chess prodigy beats the world in the seventies, ‘winning the Cold War’, only to get so caught up in his own vanity and the pressure of global stardom to be unable and/or unwilling to defend the title, losing it by default in 1975 and becoming an infamous eccentric, the archetypical reclusive misfit and ranting conspiracy theorist crackpot.

But ‘Me and Bobby Fischer’ gives a more nuanced picture. It focuses on his rescue from a Japanese prison in 2004 by the Icelandic friends he met during his title-winning chess bout in Reykjavik in 1972, and his subsequent repatriation to Iceland. The issue was that the grumpy old chess champ had criticised the George W Bush Government in the wake of the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks, even shockingly expressing approval of them. By the long reach of American international influence he was thereafter detained on trumped-up charges in Japan, by writ and without due process of law. His solution is to pick up the phone and call his old security guy from the 1972 Iceland trip where he won the world championship (who hasn’t heard from him since). It turns out the Icelanders are a force to be reckoned with, and they get him out. But then they have to deal with the reality of an ageing and bitter Fischer as he steps off the plane onto Icelandic soil.

It makes for great reality TV. In between his anti-semitic rambling there’s some great insights into life, death and genius. It’s interesting to note for example that Fischer refuses to keep his money in Icelandic national bank Landsbanki even though as his Icelandic friends argue ‘the interest is higher’. The old curmudgeon was one step ahead of the curve though because shortly after this film was shot in 2008 the global financial crisis smashed the Icelandic banking system to bits and completely destroyed Landsbanki. Such details suggest there may be more to Fischer in Iceland than the washed-up has-been he is usually portrayed as, and the film ends with the strong suggestion that his 2008 death was suspicious and that it may not even be Fischer they buried!

‘Pawn Sacrifice’ is the underwhelming and prosaic movie version featuring Tobey ‘Player X’ Maguire as Fischer, and covers mainly the early, chess-dominating years.

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