‘Searching For Bobby Fischer’ Is About This Young Chess Prodigy – But He Quit the Game and Here’s Why

At the mention of the game of chess, many people will immediately think of great players such as Garry Kasparov or current Netflix hit series The Queen’s Gambit.

The 1993 film, Searching for Bobby Fischer, about young chess champion Josh Waitzkin, also comes to mind. In the film, 7-year-old Waitzkin gets noticed for his mastery of the game and is eventually put on course to train to play with the prowess of Bobby Fischer.

It’s a true story and ultimately, Waitzkin dropped chess. Here’s why, and what he’s doing today.

Max Pomeranc (left) as chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin in a scene from 1993's 'Searching For Bobby Fischer'
Max Pomeranc (left) as chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin in a scene from 1993’s ‘Searching For Bobby Fischer’ | Michael A. Smith/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

The film ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer’ was based on a book

The film Searching For Bobby Fischer is the story of Fred and Bonnie Waitzkin (portrayed in the film by Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen), parents to chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin played by Max Pomeranc. It was based on Fred’s 1988 memoir, Searching for Bobby Fischer: A Father’s Story of Love and Ambition.

The Waitzkin family sacrificed and made necessary changes to their lives to enable Josh to pursue his love and clear skill for chess as far as it would take him (thus, the title of the book and film). The question throughout the film was, “is it Josh’s dream? Or his father’s?”

Chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer in 1971
Chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer in 1971 | David Attie/Getty Images

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Josh Waitzkin’s father on his son’s skill and ambition

Fred Waitzkin, answered that question in a 2013 conversation with Scientific American.

“Josh was the complete package,” Fred said. “He had a passion to play the game. It was what he wanted to do. He didn’t need to be forced to play after school games in the park. He was a great competitor.”

As much as Josh didn’t need to be talked into competing, Fred clarified, it was still up to him and his wife to help their son remain disciplined.

“On the other hand a little kid needs to be brought to great teachers, needs to be brought to tournaments or to piano recitals or to ice skating lessons,” he said. “He or she needs to be reminded to study or practice. A little kid can’t do it by himself. I think we were a great team of three. We loved our lives in the chess wars. I still can’t believe it is long in the past.”

Josh Waitzkin left chess for this

Waitzkin stopped competing in chess tournaments in the late 1990s and turned his attention to the area of martial arts. In fact, he co-founded MGInAction.com and The Marcelo Garcia Academy, a New York City-based Brazilian jiu-jitsu school.

The author of The Art of Learning spoke in 2007 with NPR about his decision to leave chess and what he’s discovered about himself since then.

“What I love from chess, about chess, was that pure, pure relationship to the game,” he said. “When I went into the martial arts, I moved away from a purely ambitious relationship with chess, which was what I had in the last couple of years of competition in the game, I returned to my love for the game again as this channel for internal growth.

“I have no disappointment. I had wonderful times in chess, and I still learn from it every day.”