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Joshua Waitzkin

Joshua Waitzkin, 2005
Country United States
Born December 4, 1976
New York City
Title International Master
Peak rating 2480 (July 1998)

Joshua Waitzkin (born December 4, 1976) is an American chess player, martial arts competitor, and author. As a child, he was recognized as a prodigy, and won the U.S. Junior Chess championship in 1993 and 1994. He is the only person to have won the National Primary, Elementary, Junior High School, High School, U.S. Cadet, and U.S. Junior Closed chess championships in his career. The movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is based on his early life.

Early life

Waitzkin was born in New York City and has a Jewish background. He began playing the game at the age of six, having discovered it while wandering through Washington Square Park in New York City. It was there, while playing blitz chess with the hustlers, that he was "discovered" by Bruce Pandolfini, a chess author and teacher, who later took Waitzkin under his wing for a number of years. During his years as a student at The Dalton School in New York City he led the school to win seven national team championships between the third and ninth grades in addition to his eight individual titles.

The first master he ever defeated was Edward Frumkin, in a game featuring a remarkable sacrifice of Waitzkin's queen and rook in exchange for a checkmate six moves later. Waitzkin was only ten years old at the time.

At age 11, he and fellow prodigy K. K. Karanja were the only two children to draw with World Champion Garry Kasparov in an exhibition game where Kasparov played simultaneously against 59 youngsters. Two years later, he earned the title of National Master, and at age 16 became an International Master.

Waitzkin has not played in a US Chess Federation tournament since 1999 and his last FIDE tournament was before 2000.

Movie portrayal

Waitzkin remains a well-known and popular chess figure, largely owing to Paramount Pictures' 1993 movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. The script for this film was based on a 1988 book by Waitzkin's father, Fred Waitzkin: Searching for Bobby Fischer: The Father of a Prodigy Observes the World of Chess. Waitzkin makes a cameo in the film, in a scene in the last quarter of the movie where his father is watching a young Josh play a character Vinnie from a bench. The real Waitzkin can be seen wearing a green/gray coat over a white shirt and standing behind a boy in a black sweatshirt who is playing chess right next to the film's version of Waitzkin.

JW Foundation

Waitzkin announced the formation of The JW Foundation on April 8, 2008:

The JW Foundation is dedicated to helping teachers, parents, and educational institutions nurture the unique potential of children and young adults. Our mission is to help students discover a creative, resilient passion for learning while embracing and overcoming challenges.

The organization recently launched a new initiative and website, The Art of Learning Project. The site features resources for educators interested in developing a more engaged understanding of the learning process.


Joshua Waitzkin is the author of two books: Attacking Chess: Aggressive Strategies, Inside Moves from the U.S. Junior Chess Champion (1995) and The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance (2008). He is also the spokesperson for the Chessmaster video game series, and is featured in the game giving advice and game analysis.

In The Art of Learning, Waitzkin recounts the story of his years as a chess competitor from his own perspective. He describes how movie fame challenged his concentration on the game, how he took up Tai Chi as a form of relaxation, and then discovered that the same learning techniques he employed in chess enabled him to advance rapidly in martial arts as well. He subsequently studied eastern philosophies and the psychology of learning.

Martial arts

As a young adult, Waitzkin's focus shifted to the martial art T'ai chi ch'uan. He holds several US national medals and a 2004 world champion title in the competitive sport of Tai Chi Push Hands (pushing hands). Waitzkin also became a championship coach, leading Grandmaster William C. C. Chen's US Push Hands Team to several titles at the Tai Chi World Cup in Taiwan, guiding teammates Jan Lucanus and Jan C. Childress to their world titles. Waitzkin is also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under world champion and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu phenomenon Marcelo Garcia. Waitzkin is the co-founder of and The Marcelo Garcia Academy, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school located in New York City.


Waitzkin is active in the fight against Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Although he does not have it himself, a close friend of his, Jonathan Wade, suffers from the medical condition.

On April 23, 2010, Waitzkin married Desiree Cifre, a screenwriter and former contestant on The Amazing Race.