Heath Ledger and Chess, Part II

Yesterday I blogged about Heath Ledger’s interest in chess. In the past 24 hours, two interesting items on the subject have appeared in the mainstream press.

From the Los Angeles Times: “For the last year, Ledger also had been gearing up for his directorial debut, working with veteran screenwriter Allan Scott on an adaptation of the Walter Tevis novel ‘The Queen’s Gambit,’ about an orphan girl who becomes a chess prodigy. Scott said they recently offered the part to ‘Juno’ star Ellen Page.

“‘The movie is about chess, and what is a little known fact is that Heath was very close to being on the grandmaster level,’ said Scott, who met and spoke to the actor frequently over the last year in New York and London. ‘He was a chess whiz, and he intended to get his grandmaster rating before he started shooting the picture.'”

Ledger played in chess tournaments as a child in Australia, but it has to be a tremendous exaggeration to describe him as close-to-grandmaster strength. The exaggeration would perhaps be excusable if it weren’t coming from the screenwriter who is turning one of the all-time great chess novels into a film. And the idea of the actor’s getting a grandmaster rating before filming can only be described as fantasy, albeit a delightful one, which fellow chess obsessives can appreciate.

At the other extreme is People.com, which undoubtedly understated Ledger’s chess prowess by portraying him as a mere woodpusher. People quotes a Greenwich Village dog walker who’d watch the insomniac Ledger play chess at 6:30 A.M at the celebrated stone tables in Washington Square Park: “He didn’t seem to be such a good chess player but I’m not sure ….”

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9 Responses to “Heath Ledger and Chess, Part II”

  1. who is he Says:

    I can not find the name on FIDE or USCF website. What country lists his rating?

  2. paulhoffman Says:

    He played in Australia and reportedly did well 18 years ago, when he was 10.

  3. paulhoffman Says:

    Today’s papers include this tribute from Heath Ledger’s father: “Heatho, Beef… my beautiful boy, so loving, so talented, so independent… so no more chess games mate… this is it, couldn’t beat you anyway.”

  4. Vernon Walker Says:

    It’s funny how every now and then some celebrity is reported to be a “strong” chess player, I would be willing to bet that in every case they are actually under 1800 strength.

  5. paulhoffman Says:

    True, Vernon. But he was certainly devoted fan, playing at least one game a day and choosing for his directorial debut a movie about chess.

  6. diana Says:

    An Australian chess blogger (Closet Grandmaster) said: “Australia’s Channel Nine News claims that he had once finished third in the Western Australian State Chess Championships.”

  7. Polly Says:

    The mainstream media never seems to get it right when it comes to evaluating a celebrity’s chess ability. Beam me up Scotty! It will be interesting to see if someone else will take on the directing project. I enjoyed the book very much.

  8. lsatdan Says:

    LOL I think we can safely never take anything Allan Scott says seriously again. That’s priceless.

  9. ALLAN SCOTT Says:

    I am the writer/producer of The Queen’s Gambit which, as you report, was the project Heath Ledger was working on when he died.

    It is quite correct to describe what I said about his chess rating as silly. I know Heath was not a grandmaster though, in my defense, it was he himself who told me that he planned to be ranked at a higher level before we started shooting. Perhaps I had misunderstood. My over-ranking him came from ignorance but it was a convenient short hand to the press under the stress of his then recent death to reveal his passion for and genuine ability at chess.

    There is no doubt he was a talented player and in working on the script of Walter Tevis’ truly wonderful novel – which is as much about loneliness, hope, loving care, addiction and loyalty as it is about the game of chess – Heath demonstrated a profound and enlightening understanding of the game at the highest levels.

    He was a very decent, caring and good person. I am not alone in missing him then and now.

    Allan Scott

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