The two cows visit the chess hustlers in Washington Square Park to dive deep on one of the best sports/parenting movies, Searching for Bobby Fischer. What does the pursuit of excellence demand, and is it ultimately worth it? How should we as parents or mentors advise those who would strive for such greatness? Also discussed: the tragic and cautionary tale of Bobby Fischer, Jordan vs. LeBron, contempt vs. compassion for one’s opponents, and the fashion of IZOD polo shirts.  

Standing as one of the best sports movies of all time, Steven Zaillian’s overlooked masterpiece is a thoughtful reflection on our often unhealthy collective obsession with genius. Young Josh Waitzkin is a talent, assuredly, but thankfully not as singular as his story’s namesake (for unnerving evidence of this, see the HBO doc “Bobby Fischer Against the World”). Our journey as an audience is the same as his father’s, Fred Waitzkin, as he comes to accept that living a normal life is not squandering it, no matter what your gifts.

In a particularly poignant scene, Pandolfini brings Waitzkin senior to a prestigious chess tournament to open the latter’s eyes to some very real possible futures awaiting his son were he to continue deeper into chess. It’s an ominous scene filled with disheveled, sweaty, men hunched over endless rows of chess boards in a smoke-filled room, muttering to themselves, pacing, concentrating. Would Mr. Waitzkin ever knowingly wish such a future on his boy? 

But Pandolfini is careful to intone the magic words, “His [Fischer’s] successor wasn’t here tonight; he’s asleep in his room in your house.” The chance to cultivate such pure talent—maybe even help him reach the heights of genius—might be a possibility few of us could turn down. And yet that vanity, rationalized as some kind of duty to art, is a mistake, one perhaps all parents must come to terms with. 

Maybe it’s better not to be best. Then you can lose and it’s OK.

Josh Waitzkin


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