Searching for Bobby Fischer: The Father of a Prodigy Observes the World of Chess
by Fred Waitzkin
Conrad L. Hall
Seven-year-old Josh Waitzkin becomes fascinated with the chess players in Washington Square Park. Josh's mother, Bonnie, is initially uncomfortable with her young son's interest, as the games in the park are rife with illegal gambling and homeless players, but eventually allows Josh to play a game with a disheveled player for $5. Although Josh loses, Bonnie is amazed that Josh understands the rules of chess, despite having never been taught them. Another park player, Vinnie Livermore, alerts Bonnie to Josh's advanced talent in the game.
Josh's father, Fred, asks to play a game with his son and swiftly defeats him. It emerges, however, that Josh deliberately lost to spare his father's feelings. When Fred prompts Josh to play a rematch honestly, Josh effortlessly defeats him.
A friendship blooms between Josh and Vinnie, who becomes a mentor to Josh. Fred seeks out the services of Bruce Pandolfini, as a formal chess tutor for his son. Bruce takes an immediate liking to Josh, but disapproves of many of the maverick tactics he has adopted from Vinnie's tutelage. In particular, Bruce disapproves of Josh's tendency to bring out his queen too early, and warns Fred that such careless tactics will weaken Josh's performance in organized chess tournaments.
Against Bruce's advice, Fred enrolls Josh in a chess tournament. Josh wins; the first in a slew of tournament victories for him. Fred develops an unhealthy obsession with Josh's chess career, causing friction between Fred, Bonnie, and Josh's school teacher. Josh, upset by the changes he has noticed in his father, begins losing tournaments.
As a remedy, Fred dedicates Josh entirely to Bruce's teaching regimen, and at Bruce's request, Josh is forbidden from playing any more games with Vinnie. Bruce's relationship with Josh grows cold and misanthropic as Bruce seeks to harden Josh's competitiveness. When Bruce berates Josh by showering him in "meaningless xeroxes" of a certificate that Bruce had previously told Josh was a special award, Bonnie kicks Bruce out of the house.
Fred and Josh reconcile, with Fred assuring Josh that he loves his son, even if he isn't a chess champion. Josh is allowed to resume playing chess with Vinnie and his enthusiasm for the game returns.
Josh attends the National Chess Championship tournament, where he and Bruce reconcile. In the final game, Josh faces off against Jonathan Poe, another young prodigy whose talent has intimidated Josh throughout the movie. Josh's use of Vinnie's reckless tactics causes him to lose his queen early in the game; however, they later earn him an advantage when he is able to claim Jonathan's queen.
Jonathan makes a late-game blunder and Josh draws on Bruce's disciplines to recognize that he can seize an inevitable victory. Instead, Josh offers his opponent a draw. Jonathan, not realizing his own predicament, refuses. The game proceeds and Josh wins.
The film ends with Fred and Bonnie looking on proudly, as Josh encourages his young friend, Morgan, by telling him: "You're a much stronger player than I was at your age."
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