Chess in the Movies

I love seeing chess referenced in Hollywood. Well, a couple of things make me chuckle. For one they lay on the chess tropes with a trowel. Queen sacrifices, and indeed any sacrifices at all, very rarely happen in amateur chess. Maybe we see an exchange sacrifice once in a while in certain openings but trite lines like “You’ve got to be willing to give up everything for checkmate,” are enough for me to groan at the B-Movie actor is saying them. I owe a debt to Bill Wall’s encyclopedic collection of chess games in Hollywood. Here a few of my favorites:

Disney’s Aladdin: “I can’t believe I’m losing to a rug,” the Genie says, as he’s bested by his non-human opponent. However, if you look at the positions from the video on Youtube you’ll notice that the Genie is playing very poorly. Maybe the big, blue denizen of the lamp needs to stop leaving pieces hanging. ┬áHe seems genuinely shocked that he’s in trouble after dropping a major piece. This has been selected because it’s ridiculous and campy.

Match point: Scarjo’s general steaminess often overshadows any mention of chess in the film but this psychological thriller mentions our favorite game. The movie itself is about sacrifices we make for human desire. Unlike many other films chess kind of fits the theme. I won’t spoil the rest for you but I can’t think of a bigger price that a leading lady could pay.

Straw Dogs: Not a spectacular movie but of recent vintage. It works out here. After all the climactic scene is a battle to ‘protect one’s castled position’. While the action sequence has a long buildup and little payoff there is at least thematic continuity with chess, the research on Stalingrad, and the seige of the protagonist’s house.

Men of War: A true cable classic for the ages. Got an oversized tough guy? Check. Got people who have never acted before and never did again? Check. When Lundgren is not being over-the-top he is analyzing chess positions. Most notably this one at 2:43, see this montage here. Unless he’s in a game of giveaway chess I’m not sure what he’s looking at. If this isn’t a clearly won game I don’t know what is. White’s pieces are cramped and basically are a disorganized mess. I can’t tell which pieces are which but it’s quite clear black is a ridiculous amount of material up.

Do you have a favorite chess position from a movie or know one that does the game some serious injustice? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

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