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Chess TV Movie Tonight

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At 8:00pm on A&E, Knights of the South Bronx with Ted Danson. From all the PR info it looks like a nice love letter to chess in the classroom and in general. (It also tells the entire plot for some reason, not that we couldn't have guessed.) Official site here with trailer and a contest. I don't know if I can handle two hours of cute kids and made-for-TV uplift, but I'll put it on the DVR so I can at least skip the commercials. Bonus points to the first commenter to point out a chess mistake in the film. Should take around nine seconds. There's a positive review of the film at the NY Times today:

The inspiring-teacher genre is getting old, but "Knights of the South Bronx" (tonight on A&E) is one of the good examples. This television film's greatest asset is Ted Danson, whose best-known characters have been less than idealistic (an arrogant bar owner on "Cheers," a curmudgeonly doctor on "Becker"). Mr. Danson is a much nicer guy as Richard Mason, a corporate executive who decides to try teaching after losing his job. But Mason never comes across as a wimp, even when his fourth-grade students ignore his instructions. ("I don't feel like it" is a typical response.) ...

The film makes clear but does not dwell on the dangers and pressures in the lives of these children. Walking to school, they may find themselves in the middle of a shooting. Parents may be crack addicts. Jamal Joseph's script rings true, as does the direction of Allen Hughes, who with his brother Albert made the films "Menace II Society" and "Dead Presidents."

Mason's character is based on David MacEnulty, a New Yorker who did take his Bronx elementary school students to a national chess championship and saw them go on to Ivy League colleges, influenced by the life lessons they inferred from chess. Details have been changed, of course, but not that drastically. ... "Knights of the South Bronx" makes its point that influencing one classroom at a time is more efficient than working with one child at a time. And if we can advance to one school or one school system at a time, the possibility for change is unlimited.

Hmm, sounds better than I would have imagined. Direction by Allen Hughes is a surprise. Btw, it runs at 7pm in the Central time zone, apparently. Check your local listings.


Okay, nobody said the movie would be full of ninjas! I'm suing for copyright infringement or something. Hilarious.

Was nice to see the Chess In Schools URL on the screen the entire time the credits rolled at the end. http://www.chessinschools.org. It just hammered their website offline. Ah, when good ideas meet poor planning... 100,000 people getting "operation timed out". Sigh. Still, nice plug. Haven't watched the whole movie yet. They're rebroadcasting it now, back-to-back, at least on the east coast.

All in all, not too bad with some good messages of the life lessons that might be learned from chess and the cognitive skills that are enhanced. Worst real chess offences IMHO were the constant mate-in-one's that none of the players seemed to see and the chess classes seemed a bit advanced with nary a tactic in sight. Some of the racial stuff interesting such as the rich white patron coming to the team's rescue and the other white benefactor buying clocks. I think its based on true story, maybe this is how it happened, seemed a bit Holly wood. However it certainly is a nice promo for chess in the schools. Good press for chess. Curious what others thought.


Here in Nanaimo, BC, they are playing it 4 times in a row, at 5 7 9 and 11 pm PST. Chess errors. Well, in the blindfold game 1.d4 e6 2.e4 d5 (all OK so far) Ted plays 3.Nf3. Hmm. Then 3...Nf6 4.g4. A super Shirov.

The first game in Dallas has the board set up improperly. Black square in the right hand corner. So even though the Q is on her colour, the White K and Q are reversed.

Just a couple that I remembered. So in Canada, why didn't they give the web address of Chess and Math rather than cits?

I think the films overall worthy "message" outweighs the inaccuracies. Let's face it...it's not a film for veteran chess enthusiasts who are obviously well aware of the games positive attributes. It was made for non-chess players. That's ok. Still, I was chuckling at the way the kids kept slamming the pieces down instantaneously at tournaments...loudly and thoughtlessly. The stare downs between opponents were silly (I had the same objection to the over the board scenes from "searching for Bobby Fischer") and perhaps sent the wrong message. It's rude to announce every check loudly with a smartass "in yer face" look on your face unless you're hustling in a park, isn't it? I played a lot of chess many years ago as a junior and don't remember playing anybody that snotty. One more thing..why in the hell did the chess teacher giving the simul vigorously mess up all of the pieces on each board after announcing mate?? Isn't it common practice to shake hands and leave the pieces intact for the loser to have a last look at the position? Still, since it wasn't meant to preach to the already converted I give it a thumbs up. Maybe the director felt that in order to make chess seem "cool" he needed to imply an "IN YER FACE" attitude.

The movie was another affirmative action apology. The poor multi-ethnic kids from The Bronx beat the evil rich White kids from the Upper West Side. I heard Ted Danson is filming a sequel in which everyone loses to the poor White Jewish kids from Russia.

Yes, it is curious, wr, that only the S.Bronx kids seemed to be having any fun. All the other kids were so dour.

With regard to scrunching the pieces, it is just another way of dealing with the problem that when you come around to a board, you want to know instantly whether it is still going or not. You don't, for example, want to come to the board and find the ex-opponent analyzing the game he just lost. Or to start looking at a position and after a few seconds to realize that it's one that the opponent has finally resigned. That's distracting. And since he wasn't about to start any second games.... Of course with such a small simul, and umpteen checkmates in a row, it should not have been an issue.

Another movie in the same vein was "Chess Mates". I haven't looked at that one in years, but I'd have to agree with other posters that the quality of acting (and the "cuteness factor") are both strong in "Knights".

Thanks for the piece scrunching explanation JB. It's curious that the director would be accurate about a detail like that. Obviously a reasonable amount of effort went into the film. Uhh...one more thing..I've never seen coaches and parents at tournaments decked out uniformly in such nice suits. One of the messages of the film pertained to chess not caring whether your clothes were fancy or not. Most chess Fathers I've seen dress more like Al Bundy. HHmmm.


The movie was based on a friend and mentor of mine, David MacEnulty, who taught me a hell of a lot about successful chess coaching. When the team that was being covered in the movies was in elementary school, I was in junior high, the highest-rated player in our school district, and knew all of the players. (FYI, those players still keep in contact with each other to this day, which is one of the great things that we all got from chess. The lifelong networks have been a great reqard.)

All names were changed for the movie, and a few of us had a blast talking over the phone and trying to figure out which character was based on which player. The movie will never be accused of portraying an accurate account of what went on, because the progress of the team was not so instant. People did not just sit down at the board and become dominant forces without ever learning tactics, endgames, or anything resembling the tools necessary to play decent chess. (MacEnulty introduced students to these things and stressed them like hell, which I know from having had him help coach a team of mine in 2003.) Predictably, nobody sat down three weeks before Nationals and started playing blindfold chess flawlessly, and the kids at the private schools (such as Hunter's Samson Benen) were not exactly known for being boring people and have grown to be interesting characters today. Finally, that unit never won the National Championship, although they did win States; they would win it all as a group in 1998 in the Junior High Nationals in Arizona, but the elementary school's NCs came with the development of the character who is portrayed as the kindergarten student.

Overall, I must say that I did not find the movie overwhelmingly realistic (partly because I know the actual players and how much of the story was embellished or outright fabricated), but also because just pure logic would dictate that things would not go so. (Why is it that no planning has been done for Nationals a month before the tournament? Why are these supposedly good players unable to recognize mate in 1? How are kids who just learned the very moves of the game so able to collectively destroy competition in a national championship tournament without even being introduced to real strategy?). Nevertheless, I was glad to see a movie based on the life of a man who has done so much for me and for the kids for whom he has helped to create a path to success. The storyline was forced (many a cheesy line was uttered in the name of getting across some moral of the story), but the actual story deserved attention, so I can accept the liberties taken. Congrats to David MacEnulty, congrats to the CES 70 chess program that the movie was based on, and congrats to the students who did so well when given the opportunity to show what they could do. (Why is it that people seem to forget the students themselves when discussing all of this?)



Did all their successes come in under-750 sections?


Well, as annoying as I know you are aiming to be, fisher, the actual answer is that those sections didn't exist then. When I played junior high school nationals in 1993, there were three sections: K-9 Open, K-8 Open, and K-8 U1300. In an attempt to reduce the massive size of the U1300 section, the 1994 tournament in Rye, New York saw the first U1100 section in that tournament, and that was the beginning of the trend of expanding number of sections and lowering rating requirements for each. The team that was being spoken of won the overall Junior High School National Championship in 1998 (had they won one of the rating class sections, I would have specified that). Incidentally, in MacEnulty's final year at the helm of the CES 70 program, his team won two National Championships, one in the U900 section and one in the Open section of the elementary school tournament. This is what is known as going out with a bang!





This is so wierd, as I was databasing articles in Chess Life magazine, I noticed the advert for this movie (I don't have A&E, long story) so I did some Internet digging. I tried the official movie link (http://www.aetv.com/knightsofthesouthbronx/) but it comes back as page not found. What's up with that, have A&E stopped promoting one of this films?!?

Hunter College H.S., where Samson Benen went, isn't private.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on December 6, 2005 6:13 PM.

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