29 February 2020 | hooftr
Great movie, spoiled by inaccuracies
This is a great and original spy thriller that cleverly knits together real historical events: the Cuba crisis, the Cold War and a politically laden chess match between a Russian and an American. But the film could have been much, much better if the writers had incorporated more realistic elements. As for other movies: fewer special effects, and more consultants (or a bit of Wikipedia), please...
To begin with, the narrative of the Cuba Crisis is outdated. The crisis had in fact been triggered by the earlier American deployment of nuclear SM-78 Jupiter missiles in Turkey, right on the border with the Soviet Union. The Soviets simply responded in kind to the aggression. And Kennedy did not 'stare down' Khruschev, saving the Free World. The crisis was resolved when he negotiated a then-secret treaty that included dismantling his Jupiters. Secrecy was important because Kennedy was very concerned with his re-election, and perhaps less so with annihilating the planet...
The chess match did indeed take place, but it was ten years after the crisis. Sadly, the movie gets few chess details right, even if many elements are indeed taken from the chess world. To begin with, top level players are not old men. These days, as in 1972, it is all healthy guys in their twenties. And you don't just come out of retirement for this; top players must constantly follow and study opening theory, and their opponents' repertoires and styles. Also, during such a match, top players have seconds, to help prepare games. Such a match could never have taken place behind the Iron Curtain; the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match was played in Reykjavík, Iceland. The movie also suggests that players move immediately after one another. This never happens, except in time trouble or during (very) obvious exchanges. When a player offers a draw, he may call an arbiter, not a "judge", and these offers are made after one has moved, not before. Players never, ever discuss the position during a game; you refuse a draw offer simply by making a move. There never are/were '15 minute breaks' in chess- the clocks just keep ticking. Games could be adjourned for the next day, where one player would secretely note down his next move in a sealed envelope that was kept by the arbiter. Finally, the chess talk in the movie is mostly nonsense- knights and bishops are equivalent pieces that are exchanged, is never a "sacrifice". Nonexistent gambits and other openings are cited.
What is true is that a world champ (Max Euwe) was a math teacher (not a professor), another had an alcohol problem (Aljechin) and players (Korchnoi, a dissident, playing Karpov) complained being 'hypnotized' by people in the audience. Also, in the famous 1972 match the paranoid and boorish (but brilliant) Bobby Fischer indeed failed to show up for (and forfeited) a game.
Perhaps more importantly, the movie's epilogue highlights the dangers of the nuclear arms race; the US and Russia have indeed recently torn up their treaty on intermediate missiles, following violations by the latter. Also, nuclear powers are obliged to reduce their nuclear arsenals, says the Nuclear Proloferation Treaty that many countries signed, but that is not quite happening while the SALT agreements are expiring ("do as we say, not as we do") making threats against rogue states that also want nuclear power (Iran, N-Korea) sound hollow.