Mario Martinez: Is He Based on a Real Chess Teacher? Where is He Now?

‘Critical Thinking’ is a 2020 sports drama film that follows a chess coach and a group of students who fight against all odds and try to win the National Chess Championship. The coach, Mr. Mario Martinez, is a chess teacher at the Miami Jackson High School and teaches chess to people who want to take an easy elective and pass the semester. However, amongst these is a group of boys who seem serious about the game.

Martinez encourages their passion and enables them to make something out of it. In the film, Mario Martinez is an ordinary and unassuming character whose extraordinary belief in the boys empowers them to break out of their socio-political status. The character seems grounded in reality and makes us wonder if Mario Martinez is based on a real chess teacher/coach. Well, let us find out.

The Real Mario Martinez: Inspiration Behind the Movie

Yes, Mario Martinez is a real chess teacher/coach. In the film, written by Dito Montiel and directed by John Leguizamo, the real-life figure is essayed by actor-director John Leguizamo. Mario Martinez was a social studies teacher who began teaching chess at Miami Jackson in 1992. After a colleague with whom Martinez used to play chess regularly left for another school, he played with several students. Following this, he realized chess is an important game that teaches kids critical thinking. In essence, he believes chess is a metaphor for life itself, so, he convinced the school authorities and began a chess club.

In the first year, Martinez coached the team to score the county and state championships; they had to share the latter with another team. In 1998, Martinez and his team (Marcel, Sedrick, Gilbert, and Rodelay) won the first national championship title. Interestingly, no other school in Miami had won a national championship in chess. By 2002, Martinez had helped Miami Jackson School bag 8 county championships, 5 state championships, and 5 national titles.

The fictional portrayal of Mario Martinez is very close to the real-life figure and his personality. The belief in students, the idea behind playing chess, and the ultimate zest to show how everyone can be good at something, are a few facets of Martinez that we witness in the movie. The man is portrayed as someone who truly changes the lives of several kids who do not come from privileged parts of Miami and struggle to get to the top.

Mario Martinez Has Retired Today

In a 2020 interview with CineMovie, Mario Martinez mentioned how he retired a few years ago, which was his fourth year of retirement. He also mentioned how he had taught robotics besides social studies and chess. In 2015, Martinez completed 32 years of teaching and spent time with children in Miami with schools partnered with Learning Chess. In a blog for Learning Chess, he wrote about how technology has enabled kids to train better.

Image Credit: Learning Chess

Martinez also described how technology is changing how kids play chess, and he is excited to be a part of it. He also told CineMovie how it is always important to create a space for children to explore and discover what they’re good at and like. Almost every child is good at something, and the only way to find out what that field is is to ensure they can experiment in a safe space and decide what they are passionate about and what they’d like to do with their lives.

Therefore, to reiterate, Mario Martinez is a real-life chess teacher who helped underprivileged kids from Miami to win championships in chess and make something of themselves. Before retiring, he was teaching kid chess with the help of technology and enabling kids to polish their skills in new and evolved ways.

Read More: Is Critical Thinking Based on a True Story?