Searching for Bobby Fischer was inspired by the life of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, as written by his father Fred Waitzkin. Josh (Max Pomeranc) is a "regular kid" who begins evincing signs of being a genius at chess. His father (Joe Mantegna) encourages this, hoping that it won't fundamentally change his son's healthy outlook on life. But Josh is taken under the wing of cold-blooded chess instructor Bruce Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley), who indoctrinates the boy in the "Bobby Fischer" strategy. Unfortunately, Pandolfini emphasizes all of Fischer's negative traits, especially his contempt for his opponents. Josh is in danger throughout the film of sacrificing his essential decency, but in a rousing conclusion, the boy is able to successfully blend ruthless competition with good sportsmanship.
Josh Waitzkin is just a typical American boy interested in baseball when one day he challenges his father at chess and wins. Showing unusual precocity at the outdoor matches at Washington Square in New York City, he quickly makes friends with a hustler named Vinnie who teaches him speed chess. Josh's parents hire a renowned chess coach, Bruce, who teaches Josh the usefulness of measured planning. Along the way Josh becomes tired of Bruce's system and chess in general and purposely throws a match, leaving the prospects of winning a national championship in serious jeopardy.