A prepubescent chess prodigy refuses to harden himself in order to become a champion like the famous but unlikable Bobby Fischer. 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 Park in New York City, he quickly makes friends with a hustler named Vinnie who teaches him speed chess. His parents hire a renowned chess coach named Bruce, who teaches him the usefulness of measured planning. Along the way he 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.