Grab some snacks and find the remote! Chess Mates hits the couch with you as we walk through four top movies to watch with chess-lovers old and young.
Queen of Katwe (2016)
Our first recommendation comes from the parent of one of our students, who started classes with us after seeing it with her family.
Phiona spends every day with her brother in the alleyways of Katwe, Uganda, selling maize. She is nine years old, and her parent’s can’t afford to put her in school. She cannot read, is covered in the dirt of the street, and is always hungry.
Following her brother to a local church on the promise of a meal, she sees a game she has never seen before. In three years, she became Uganda’s national chess champion, and attracted so much funding for that first chess school that it is now able to support 70 boarding students.
Phiona’s story is inescapably inspiring, humbling, and a great reminder that big achievements can come in small packages.
Knights of the South Bronx (2005)
When we teach, we learn. Down on his life and out of a job, Richard Mason finds work as a teacher at Bronx Community Elementary School 70, where the children of poor families go to be failed by a curriculum that cannot reach them. Richard struggles with this challenge with little success.
One day far from the school yard, one of Mason’s students sees the teacher win fourteen games of chess at the same time, and wants to learn. Word spreads, and soon enough the whole class has taken an interest, learning a key truth: on the chessboard it doesn’t matter how much money you have or what clothes you wear – it’s only the moves you make that count.
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)
This one is something of a classic, and is usually tops “best chess films” lists. It’s about a young boy, Josh Waitzkin, who watches the chess players in Washington Square Park, New York. It’s a coarse, chaotic environment, but he learns.
The first person to make an effort to teach him is a chess hustler, Vinnie, whose games and methods are aggressive, disruptive, and unpredictable. And they work. (Josh even has to quietly let his own father, who isn’t aware of his son’s passion, win a game.)
His parents soon catch on and, despite their worries, send him to lessons with a sharp, harsh master named Bruce Pandolfini, who takes Josh to new levels in the game. The question remains, however – how much of his life can he put into chess without taking too much from everything else?
The film is named after the real-life Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest players in history, whose obsession loses him down a path of obscurity and involvement with a strange religious cult. (Don’t worry, we keep our students on a more balanced path!).