This is a movie about a world’s championship Chess match. First, I will tell you that I am the world’s worst Chess player. I once was suckered into a fool’s mate, which I understand is the shortest possible chess game: F3, E5, G4??, Qh4#. If you understand the notation, try it yourself, and see what a total fool I was. I decided right then that I would never touch another chess piece, and I haven’t, and I won’t.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to know a rook from a cookbook to enjoy this movie, because it seems that in big-time chess, the action on the board is really just a sideline to the mind games, fuck-overs, and psyching-out that happens between games. Remember Bobby Fischer, the wacko genius who trounced Boris Spassky in a Cold War tournament in Iceland, in 1972? (You wonder if he was crazy? He was probably the world’s only anti-Semitic Jew.) That was the first view the non-chess public had seen of the machinations that went on in chess. This movie shows a lot of that. It’s a match for the world’s championship between the defender, an old Russian Jew who is controlled by KGB handlers, and a young Turk who defected a few years ago. They both use every dirty trick in the book. It’s fun to watch. Near the end it is tied 5-5. You need 6 victories to win. So who won? I won’t tell you, but it is a satisfying ending. Leslie Caron has a small part, and so does Liv Ullman.