Tobey Maguire To Star As Troubled Chess Prodigy Bobby Fischer, But Who Was He Really?

Maguire will also produce the Ed Zwick (“The Last Samurai”) directed movie that might just skip over some of the more complicated elements of the one-time American hero’s legacy.

During the Cold War, we fought the Soviets on nearly every available front: from the race to the moon, to the arms race, and even in the arts. Chess was one of those battlefields and for a while there, Bobby Fischer was in a weird way, one of our country’s Cold Warriors.

Yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter provided the first details of the chess champion’s story which will follow him up to his 1972 match against Soviet player Boris Spassky. Fisher won that match and took the World Championship title. Think about that for a moment: in the middle of a global conflict between the United States and those evil Commies (so it would be framed at the time), an American, a boy from the heart of the U.S. of A. was the best in the entire world in what was called The Game of the Century.

The movie will look at Fischer’s career in the 60’s (which started at the age of 13) through the ’72 match from a script by Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises”). Spassky was the Soviet Chess champion twice while Fischer was the youngest grandmaster at the age of 15 1/2, and would be going head-to-head with a player six years his senior. I can almost see the sports movie trajectory it could take, “Miracle” on a chess board (although Fischer had a pretty flawless win record, so a montage of him always being good at chess might be a bit of a drag).

It’s Fischer’s life after the win that’s ripe for exploration. He stopped defending his chess title officially after a dispute with the World Chess Federation in ’75, and later got in trouble with the IRS over unpaid taxes from his winnings in a ’92 rematch against Spassky. Here’s where it gets rocky: Fischer, a Chicago native, never returned home to the States, living as an expatriate in Hungary, the Philipines, and Germany, among other countries while becoming increasingly prickly and reclusive.

What Zwick and Knight will be missing out on in confining the story to the ’72 match is the impact the sudden rush of fame and success had on Fischer and how it effectively broke him in later years. In the few interviews you can find with him in his later years, he not only becomes critical of his home country but outright anti-American, and laced through all of that is a weird strain of anti-Semitism (he actually disavowed his own Jewish roots at one time, and you can read an interview where he discusses discovering the doomsday evangelical sect the Worldwide Church of God here).

Fischer died in 2008 in Iceland after a bunch of back and forth with his visa.

So I’m really curious how Zwick, Maguire, and Knight will tackle the material–Fischer was a complicated guy, and it would be a real shame to just focus on such a narrow slice of his story.