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Bobby Fischer movie — maybe

Variety has reported that a new movie about Bobby Fischer has been greenlit by Columbia Pictures. The film is titled Pawn Sacrifice, with the script penned by Steven Knight.

Quite a few of the film’s details are still sketchy and mired in rumor. Actor Tobey Maguire (best known as Spider-Man*) is listed as a co-producer of the film, leading to speculation that he might also star as the American World Chess Champion who won the title in 1972. There has been no official confirmation of this rumor, however, despite widespread reporting of it earlier this week.

Bobby Fischer in a photo from the mid-1960's (courtesy ChessBase GmbH)

We do know that the picture will cover Fischer’s early life from his “child prodigy” days through the end of the Reykjavik match which earned him the world title and the start of his subsequent (and self-imposed) seventeen year exile from public life. I’m sure that this was a conscious decision on the scriptwriter’s part; considering the increasingly bizarre demeanor, actions, and world view which marred Fischer’s image after his 1992 return, the omission of that period of his life will doubtless make him a more sympathetic character to the average moviegoer.

As for chess fans, many have been clamoring for a “biopic” on Fischer for nearly forty years. But Fischer’s reclusive nature (as well as his penchant for filing lawsuits at the drop of a hat) made such a venture all but impossible. Many of the printed biographies of Fischer have fired controversies of their own; the first and foremost of these, Frank Brady’s Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy was seen by many (including myself) as more “apologia” than biography, and it seemed to obscure as much as it illuminated (even at that it occasionally seemed to draw Fischer’s ire).  The road forward on the movie project was doubtless made smoother by the ex-champion’s death in 2008.

David Fincher (who directed Fight Club) has been tapped for the directorial chores on Pawn Sacrifice.

When can chess and movie fans expect to see Bobby Fischer’s story hit the screen? Not for a while yet, if ever. According to the Internet Movie Database, Pawn Sacrifice is just one of more than 12,000 films listed as “in production”, which can mean anything from the approval of a preliminary first draft script up through the final stages of pre-premiere distribution. The earliest the movie will begin shooting is this fall, and it won’t hit your neighborhood cinema’s big screen until 2013 at the earliest.

* Here’s a bit of useless Tobey Maguire “chess trivia”. There’s a scene in the first Spider-Man movie showing Peter Parker (Maguire) in his bedroom. A copy of the classic I.A. Horowitz book Chess Openings: Theory and Practice is plainly visible in a bookcase in the background.

ChessCentral carries several books and DVDs related to Bobby Fischer, including Susan Polgar’s DVD Bobby’s Fischer’s Most Brilliant Instructional Games.

Have fun! — Steve

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