'Pawn Sacrifice' film captures chess drama of Fischer-Spassky face-off

Thu Sep 11, 2014 8:46pm EDT
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By Mary Milliken

TORONTO (Reuters) - There might have been something more nerve-wracking than being an opponent to world chess champion Bobby Fischer, and that was being the mercurial man's minder.

"Pawn Sacrifice," a film premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, chronicles not only the rise of the young American grandmaster but how hard it was to get him to his crowning moment, the famous "Match of the Century" in 1972 against Soviet rival Boris Spassky.

Fischer, played by Tobey Maguire, is rude, inappropriate, anti-Semitic, unpredictable, brilliant, and as director Edward Zwick says, "probably paranoid and delusional." He is also a cultural hero ill-equipped to handle his celebrity.

Spassky is, on the other hand, a cool cat who enjoys the privileges as an icon of the Soviet state. He is played by Liev Schreiber, who speaks Russian in much of the film in what the actor called "one of the scariest things I have ever done."

Spassky, the world champion, and Fischer, the challenger, find themselves in a Cold War proxy battle when they agree to the "Match of the Century" to be played in Iceland. On the newscasts, their showdown upstages the Vietnam War and the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in what would become the Watergate scandal.

"I don't think it was about America or the Russian program for either of them," said Schreiber. "I think it was about being No. 1."


Actor Tobey Maguire arrives at the premiere of "Pawn Sacrifice" at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Toronto, September 11, 2014. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill