Why Movies Get Chess Wrong

Chess is one of the most popular games on Earth. So why do multimillion-dollar blockbusters keep making beginner’s errors?

Tobey Maguire portrays World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer in ‘Pawn Sacrifice.’ Photo: Bleecker Street

If chess is employed in broadly symbolic ways that neglect the game’s actual mechanics, it’s in part because those mechanics are so tricky to convey on film.

Astronaut Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) is bested by the HAL 9000 supercomputer in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ Photo: MGM

A Classic, Sometimes Clever Storyline Shortcut

Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen in ‘The Thomas Crown Affair.’ Photo: Michael Ochs Archives
Magneto vs. Xavier. Image created with Jin
Finn (John Boyega) contemplates the dejarik board in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens.’ Photo: Walt Disney Studios

The Game That Endures

“There’s something about how the game draws an outline of a social and military structure that’s so elemental. There are only six pieces; a five-year-old can understand it.”

Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) duels with Death (Bengt Ekerot) in ‘The Seventh Seal.’ Photo: ullstein bild via Getty Images

A Victim of (Inaccurate) Stereotypes

John Turturro as the tormented Grandmaster Luzhin in ‘The Luzhin Defense.’ Photo: Sony Pictures

Editor of The Cordova Times, Alaska’s №1 weekly newspaper. Published by the Herald Sun, Quillette and others. Previously headed Chess For The Gambia.

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