(Colorado Chess Informant - April 2004)
By NM Todd Bardwick
Front cover: Can you identify the movies that each of these chess positions is from?
6p1b0phpd} Oscar for:
5dwdwdwdw} Last checkmate on Earth, before it was conquered by aliens
6w)bdwdwd} Oscar for:
5hwdw)whw} Most violent piece captures
6pdwdwdpd} Oscar for:
5dwgwdwdw} Best romantic chess movie
6whwdK)wd} Oscar for:
5dwdw$wGw} Best portrayal of chess bums gambling in a park
6wdwdwdw0} Oscar for:
5dwdwgwdw} Most beautiful setting for a chess game in a spy movie
Best chess game ever played on a trip to Jupiter
Answers: Independence Day (1996), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001?), The Luzhin Defence (2000), Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993), From Russia with Love (1963), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Chess on the Big Screen
By NM Todd Bardwick
has a rich movie tradition through the last century in part due to
famous Hollywood types and strong players as Stanley Kubrick and
Humphrey Bogart (both expert strength players). Ever since Casablanca,
chess has found a part in major motion pictures. The March 1988 Chess
Life has a wonderful article written about the chess exploits of
Hollywood legends including such greats as Katherine Hepburn, John
Wayne, and William Wisdom. The cover of the June 1987 Chess Life
features a photo from a chess scene from an episode of the Cosby Show.
An article about chess and the hit TV show is featured in that issue.
chess is referenced to show the cleverness of one of the characters.
Rarely do we see the actual chess position on the screen.
Hollywood does show us a position, the average chess player can’t help
but notice all the flaws. Usually, for dramatic effect, the players take
turns putting each other in check (without escaping check themselves!),
until one actor announces “checkmate.” Chess consultants have been
hired at times, but even then, movie producers don’t always bother to
take the time to listen to them!
a more in depth study on chess and the movies, here are some interesting
links to chess and movies that Ray Alexis directed me to: http://www.skgiessen.de/movies/
(for chess photos from movies and TV shows) and http://www.geocities.com/siliconvalley/lab/7378/movies.htm
for a listing of movies with chess.
the Top 6 Chess Oscars!
for the “Last checkmate on Earth, before it was conquered by aliens”
INDEPENDENCE DAY, 1996
Jeff Goldblum is
playing white and Judd Hirsch is black. This is the starting position
from their game in the park in New York at the beginning of the movie Independence Day as the
characters are introduced. The chess theme is nicely intertwined
throughout the plot of the movie as the humans eventually
“checkmate” the evil aliens. Notice that black is a piece to a pawn
ahead with an easily won game, if he doesn’t walk into a mating net.
Goldblum played 1.e4
followed by 1…e5 by Hirsch. During the dialog between the
father and son, Hirsch is impatient that his son is taking too much time
for his move. White then plays 2.Qh6+ and in the movie Goldblum
doesn’t say check. Of course it is not required to say check in a
tournament game, but usually Hollywood overdoes saying check in movies
for dramatic effect. Hirsch quickly plays the blunder, 2…Kg8??
(2...Kf7 should be winning for black) and Goldblum, after much thought,
plays 3.Qg6 mate.
references to the chess theme throughout the movie.
Hirsch makes a fairly obvious blunder. However, on the plus side,
the position does work though from a chess perspective.
“Most violent piece captures”
POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, 2001
wizard’s chess scene from Harry
Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,
where giant stone chess pieces crush each other into rubble as they
capture, has created
more chess interest among children than any movie since Searching
for Bobby Fischer.
movie plot has the three children (Harry, Hermione, and Ron) chasing
after the bad guy as they enter a room of giant stone chess pieces. As
they walk across the board, the white pawns stand up, cross their
swords, and block the path.
children must win a chess game to continue their quest.
black pieces are missing at the start of the game. Hermione takes the
place of the black rook on a8, Harry becomes the dark-squared bishop on
f8, and Ron, the best chess player of the three, saddles up on the g8
knight, where he commands the black pieces.
game opens with the first few moves of the Center Counter Game. 1.e4
d5 2.exd5. The white pawn destroys the black pawn and crushes it, in
the spirit of wizard’s chess, to rubble.
middlegame battle scene ensues with pieces smashing each other to bits
as the pieces take turns capturing each other. Curiously, during the
battle, two horses (knights, of course) are crushed. Note that at the
start of the game, there are four knights on the board. There are also
four knights in the diagrammed position below. But two were captured!
This was probably an oversight by the producer, but can be explained by
the highly unlikely event of two (!) pawn under promotions to knights.
Master Jeremy Silman cleverly composed this chess scene to be accurate
from a chess perspective and to fit the movie plot.
Here is the
unedited middlegame chess position designed for the movie with white to
move. This position is one move before the diagrammed position shown at
the start of this article.
Harry Potter is the
black bishop on a3, Hermione is the black rook on f8, and Ron is riding
the black knight on g5. The object of the game is to checkmate the white
king AND to prevent Harry from getting captured (or else the next movie
in the series would be called “Hermione Granger” or “Ron Weasley”)!
this position where white would play 1.Qxd3
and, in the spirit of wizards chess, smash the black pawn to bits.
This move also defends against the 1…Nh3 mate threat and
threatens to capture Harry.
Black would then
respond with the brilliant 1…Rc3!,
attacking the queen, shielding Harry from attack, and threatening
2…Bc5+ leading to mate.
The actual climatic
movie position begins here as white plays 2.Qxc3,
destroying the black rook.
The white queen is
an overworked piece, and must guard both c5 and h3 against mate threats.
Ron nobly sacrifices himself by playing 2…Nh3+. Note that Harry could force mate in two, but would be
captured in the variation 2…Bc5+, 3.Qxc5 Nh3 mate.
White plays 3.Qxh3
as the queen stabs Ron’s horse and knocks Ron to the ground.
move” rule is cleverly incorporated into to the scene as Hermione
starts to move off f8 to help Ron. Harry yells to her not to move off
her square because the game is still in progress. She obeys and centers
herself on f8.
Harry moves 3…Bc5
and, in the movie, announces mate.
The king drops his sword and Harry and Hermione go to help Ron.
Actually, this is not checkmate, as white can interpose the queen
by playing 4.Qe3. Silman
intended that black would respond 4…Bxe3 mate allowing Harry to take
revenge on the powerful white queen who captured Ron, the rook, and the
pawn. The movie editors probably didn’t check out this final
“checkmate” position with Silman, before cutting down the scene.
Oops! (A nice article on this chess position can be found in the
September 2002 edition of MUSE magazine.)
Jeremy Silman did a
masterful job of designing a position that works nicely from a chess
perspective and the movie plot.
is too bad that they edited out the nice move, 1…Rc3!
checkmate, when it wasn’t checkmate is tragic!!
Moral of the
you go through the trouble of hiring a chess consultant (a smart move),
at least consult him before initiating changes in the position!
for “Best Romantic Chess Movie”
LUZHIN DEFENCE, 2000
The Luzhin Defence,
released in 2000 and based on the book, The Defense, by Vladimir
Nabokov, combines every chess player’s passions…chess and love.
portrays Alexander Luzhin, an eccentric genius Russian chess master
whose unstable childhood has made him incapable of relating to others.
Chess is Luzhin’s only escape until he meets and falls in love with
the caring Natalia at an Italian resort where he is the favorite in a
prestigious chess championship.
This story of love
and obsession features simultaneous chess exhibitions, a blindfold
exhibition, and a fabulous giant chess set on the lawn of the resort.
The final game
between Luzhin and Turati, his archenemy, and is brilliantly played and
realistic from a chess perspective thanks to British grandmaster Jon
Speelman, the movie’s chess consultant.
Both players are in
time pressure and neither is keeping score as they reach time control at
move 40. Luzhin’s flag falls. The tournament director notes that they
passed move 40 and asks Luzhin to seal a move. The game is adjourned.
adjournment, Luzhin has a nervous breakdown and after promising that he
will give up chess and marry Natalia, he is overcome by the pressures of
his life and jumps out a window to his death, his final defence. Nabokov
may have taken a page from the death Kurt Von Bardeleben (from the
famous Hastings 1895 game against Steinitz) who jumped from a window to
his death in 1924.
While Natalia is
grieving and packing his clothes, she finds a note in his pocket with
the winning variation from the adjourned position. Turati agrees to let
her finish the game, using Luzhin’s notes.
game continued, 43…Re3+ 44.Kg4 (44.Kf2 loses to 44…Rxc3+) f5+
45.Kg5 (45.Kh4 Be7 mate) 45…Kg7 (threatening 46…Be7 mate)
46.Nd5 Rh3! (a brilliant rook sacrifice threatening 47…h6 mate) 47.gxh3
h6+ 48.Kh4 Bf2 mate
The final position
with the rook sacrifice is nicely done. Luzhin is totally engulfed by
“the chess bug” that many tournament players experience from time to
time. In the time scramble
before the adjournment, they do a nice job moving the pieces in fast
motion to show his analysis and thoughts.
the credits, they said the chess consultant was John Speelman,
not Jon Speelman!
Moral of the
to your chess consultant and all is well with the world.
for “Best portrayal of chess bums gambling in a park”
SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER, 1994
True story by Fred Waitzkin,
whose son Josh, captured the 1986 National Elementary School
Championship at age 8. Is he the next Bobby Fischer? Josh is a normal
kid who discovers his talent for chess watching players in New York’s
Washington Square Park.
Note that the movie
varies quite a bit from the book.
The movie has nice
footage of Bobby Fischer and some real life grandmasters. Bruce
Pandolfini, Josh Waitzkin’s real life coach, also made a cameo
appearance in the movie and says, “Young Fischer”, to Ben Kingsley
(who plays Pandolfini in the movie) as Josh is playing in the park.
In the critical
last round, Josh offers a draw after he sees a win, but his opponent
rejects it and goes on to lose the game.
In real life,
Josh’s opponent was Jeff Sarwer, another chess prodigy who went on to
win the under-10 World Junior Championship before emotional problems
crippled his chess game. Waitzkin and Sarwer drew in the actual game in
In the climatic
game position composed for the movie, Josh’s coach (Kingsley) tells
his parents that he has a chance to win. As Josh thinks, Kingsley talks
through the winning line, which he says is twelve moves away.
position is good (especially the skewer at the end), but the line
isn’t forced and there are three theoretical draw opportunities for
The movie continued, 1…gxf6 2.Bxf6 Rc6+ 3.Kf5 Rxf6+ (3…Bxf6 4.Ra5 Bxh4 5.Rxa7 is a theoretical draw with R+N+B vs. R+N) 4.Nxf6 Bxf6 5.Kxf6 (5.Ra5 Bxh4 6.Rxa7 or the better 5.Rc5+ Kd3 6.h5 are drawing) 5…Nd7+ 6.Kf5 Nxe5 7.Kxe5? (White misses his last chance to draw. 7.h5! Nf7 (or 7…a5 8.h6 a4 9.h7 a3 10.h8=Q a2 11.Qxe5 Kb1 draws because a rook pawn on the 7th vs. a queen is a draw with the white king too far away to help) 8.Kg6 Ne5+ 9.Kf5 Nf7 is a draw as the annoying knight prevents white's pawn from advancing.) 7...a5 8.h5 a4 9.h6 a3 10.h7 a2 11.h8=Q+ a1=Q+ 12.Kf5 Qxh8 13.Resigns
I liked the actual footage of Bobby Fischer that was interspersed
into the movie. The subplot battle between Laurence Fishburne and Ben
Kingsley about taking the queen out early was well done and well as the
occasional real life portrayal of some parents who become obsessed with
their children’s chess achievements.
chess-bathtub scene, at the beginning of the movie and the locking up
the parents during the tournament games so they wouldn’t interfere
with the games were cute.
The movie also
accurately portrayed many top-level chess players, who are brilliant at
chess, but social misfits and often bums (the crazed player in the scene
at the chess club and the hustlers in the park).
Although there are
some drawing lines for white during the movies’ climax in the final
chess game, the scene is well done, especially as Ben Kingsley talks
through the final line as Josh thinks in the tournament room.
Too many chess errors
were made during the chess scenes. Did they ask Pandolfini for his input
or did they just ignore his suggestions?
In the movie’s
tournament games, the children don’t keep score, slam the clocks
(Hollywood can’t resist this!), and where are the tournament directors
during the final game?? Also,
while I am nitpicking rampage, note that the first time control set on
the chess clock is at 12:00, not the standard 6:00.
During the final
game, Josh sticks out his hand to offer a draw, without making his move
first (the proper procedure). This is another Hollywood failed attempt
at dramatic effect. Of
course in real life, a player offers a draw verbally, not by blocking
his opponent’s view of the board with his hand. Unfortunately, many
kids who have seen the movie picked up this bad habit and stick their
hand out to offer a draw.
In one of the
opening scenes as they introduce the Laurence Fishburne character in the
park, he is trying to hustle a grandmaster, played by Kamran Shirazi.
Most chess players know that Shirazi is an IM, not a GM.
Another error on
the chessboard occurs just before Josh loses his queen in the early
middlegame during the final game. Kingsley and Fishburne are arguing
about bring the queen out early. Josh plays …Qa5+ and his opponent
responds with Bd2. If you look closely, in one scene white has a bishop
on f1, the next move it is a rook…a few moves later is a bishop again!
After Bd2, Josh retreats his queen…to e7! (illegal). After Rf2 (the
bishop on d2 magically ends up back on g5), Josh moves his pinned (!)
knight on f6 to take the e4 pawn and white plays Bxe7 (Q). Ironically,
Josh didn’t lose his queen because it came out early, but because he
moved a pinned knight. Having the game follow the opening book moves of,
say, a Poisoned Pawn Sicilian would be both simple and realistic.
for “Most beautiful setting for a chess game in a spy movie”
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, 1963
1963 James Bond movie, “From Russia with Love,” may be the most
famous movie of all time that incorporates chess.
movie opens with S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agent Grandmaster Kronsteen
(Czechoslovakia), Bond’s archenemy, brilliantly defeating a Canadian
grandmaster Macadams in what they call the Venice Invitational
setting is a beautiful old castle with a large demonstration board where
the pieces are moved with long sticks (looks like a magnetic type of
board). A large audience
watches the game in this classic chess setting.
of the time when the movie was made, the moves are called out in
descriptive notation…I’ll use algebraic notation below.
The intended critical position shown in the movie is from Spassky-Bronstein, 28th USSR Championship, 1960. Here is the game score in algebraic notation.
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d5 4.exd5 Bd6 5.Nc3 Ne7 6.d4 0-0 7.Bd3 Nd7 8.0-0 h6 9.Ne4! Nxd5 10.c4 Ne3 11.Bxe3 fxe3 12.c5 Be7 13.Bc2 Re8 14.Qd3 e2 15.Nd6! Nf8 16.Nxf7 exf1=Q+ 17.Rxf1 Bf5 18.Qxf5 Qd7 19.Qf4 Bf6 20.N3e5 Qe7 21.Bb3 Bxe5
position after 21…Bxe5
is the position shown in the movie. If you play out the moves in the
actual game above, you will see a huge mistake in the chess position…
are the white pawns on d4 and c5???!!
selecting a great game to base the movie position on, they forgot two
critical center pawns!!! Ooops!
are the final moves in the movie, which mirror the actual game: 22.Nxe5+
Kh7 (22…Kh8 23.Qg4 threatening both 24.Rf7 and 24.Rxf8+ followed
by 25.Ng6+) 23.Qe4+ Resigns
curiosity is that Kronsteen says check after playing 22.Nxe5+, but
forgets to say check after 23.Qe4+. Of course, this is legal and all,
but how about consistency?
Here is a photo of Vladek Sheybal, who portrayed Kronsteen, in From Russia with Love.
Where else can you see the royal game played in such a royal
setting? Introducing the Kronsteen character through chess is well done.
missing white center pawns on d4 and c5 make the scene inaccurate from a
for “Best chess game ever played on a trip to Jupiter”
A SPACE ODYSSEY
- Stanley Kubrick, producer
Kubrick is well known as Hollywood’s strongest chess player. He was
probably of strong expert level strength, somewhere in 2100’s.
Humphrey Bogart would be a close second, by most accounts a weak expert
theme of this movie is the power struggle between man and machine, on a
long, top-secret space trip to Jupiter on board the ship, Discovery One.
Dave Bowman is the commander of the mission. Frank Poole is his
deputy. Three other members of the crew are in hibernation: Jack
Kimball, Charles Hunter, and Victor Kominsky. The last member of the
crew is the HAL 9000 computer, which controls the ship.
An interesting note
is that by adding one letter to each letter in “HAL” and you get
IBM. A coincidence?!
Before the mission
goes awry, Frank and HAL are engaged in a friendly chess game to show
how intelligent HAL is because he can beat a human. Keep in mind that
back in 1968, unlike today, computers were extremely poor chess players
(if computers even played chess back then?!).
The first chess
reference in the movie is introduction of an insignificant character by
the name of … Dr. Smyslov! (Vassily
Smyslov was World Chess Champion in the late 1950’s.)
The movie chess
game between Frank and HAL is based on this real-life game from 1913:
Roesch (Frank) –
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6
3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Qe2 b5 6.Bb3 Be7 7.c3 0-0 8.0-0 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5
10.Nxe5 Nf4 11.Qe4 Nxe5 12.Qxa8 Qd3 13.Bd1 Bh3 14.Qxa6 Bxg2 15.Re1 Qf3!
16.Resigns (16.Bxf3 Nxf3 mate or 16.h4 Nh3+ 17.Kh2 Ng4 mate)
Position after 13…Bh3
Here is the
position that opens the chess scene. It is a little difficult to make
out the pieces on HAL’s flat computer monitor from the camera distance
in the movie. In 1968, of course, descriptive notation was commonly
Here is the dialog
between Frank and HAL (without the move numbers which I include for
HAL: “I’m sorry
Frank, I think you missed it. 15…Q-B3 16.BxQ NxB mate”
like you are right. I resign.”
you for a
very enjoyable game.”
Their are two chess errors in this sequence.
First, is HAL’s 14…BxNP. Of
course, this is the only pawn that can be captured by a bishop and the
shorter, 14…BxP, would suffice.
Secondly, is Black's 15...Q-B3. Since it is Black's move, the move
should be stated from his perspective - and be 15...Q-B6. Since it is
highly unlikely that Kubrick, an accomplished chess player, would miss
this, it has been suggested that perhaps it was intentional and HAL was
testing Frank to see if he would notice. You decide!
Secondly, is Black's 15...Q-B3. Since it is Black's move, the move should be stated from his perspective - and be 15...Q-B6. Since it is highly unlikely that Kubrick, an accomplished chess player, would miss this, it has been suggested that perhaps it was intentional and HAL was testing Frank to see if he would notice. You decide!
Good choice of games. Nice incorporation of chess into the movie
The camera angle shows the game
looking over Frank’s shoulder from a long distance away.
You can barely make out the pieces and moves from the camera.
They could have zoomed in a little more on the position, for the benefit
of the chess players.
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