Bobby Fischer

by Chris Bertram on January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer has died. I’m disappointed that some blogs and are making a lot of his paranoid ravings. Maybe that’s a generational thing. If you were of the right age—and I was 13 in the summer of 1972—then what you’ll remember is something different. The daily drama in Reykjavík stretched over months, the odd young American taking on the the Russians at their game, and millions of people taking an interest in chess for the first time. I think about playing against my dad, and finally getting good enough to beat him, and challenging others of my own age; of picking up the paper and trying to follow what had happened the previous day, and why. A strange talent who belongs forever in 1972, not since.

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{ 53 comments }

1

abb1 01.18.08 at 10:55 pm

Was he a talent or a sort of autistic savant? Or is it the same thing?

2

bob mcmanus 01.18.08 at 11:43 pm

Whatever Bobby’s pathology might have been, it is most likely irrelevant to his dedication or achievement in chess. He worked harder and better than his contemporaries, and raised the standard of necessary preparation to the point where talent became a lessor factor in competition.

Alekhine & Capablanca didn’t study for 18 hours every day. This doesn’t mean that Fischer was robotic, but that “brilliancy” could come from studying tens of thousands of positions to enable creativity in a new position.

He changed the way chessplayers think, and the way chessplayers change the way they think.

But I’m just babbling. I am shocked at how few serious chessplayers there seem to be in the blogosphere.

3

geoff 01.18.08 at 11:57 pm

I was sorry to hear Bobby had died on the 6:00 am CBC news this morning. He was a great talent if that’s what you’d call his particular type of genius.

His paranoia, what’s to say. Ask anyone who has had a loved one with this interesting mental imbalance whether they are happier to be spared the person or not. I’m still considering how the net benefit could come out with them or without them.

Sorry he is gone. The world doesn’t have enough eccentrics left, I think.

4

Xanthippas 01.19.08 at 12:03 am

I’m disappointed that some blogs and are making a lot of his paranoid ravings.

I don’t get it either. A very, very eccentric fellow had some crazy and noxious ideas. This is news…how?

5

bob mcmanus 01.19.08 at 12:23 am

4:I think the wider world vaguely connected Bobby’s abilities to his eccentricities. The Chess world knew that Grandmasters aren’t any more crazy or assholes than any other comparably intellligent professionals.

Bobby was a hero, a “champion”, in and out of the Chess world, and maybe we resent the way his career narrative played out. Most GM’s, for instance, play til they die.

Is J.D. Salinger, or even Pynchon comparable?

6

bob mcmanus 01.19.08 at 12:33 am

6:Or I’ll ask this? How would we have felt if Michael Jordan had retired after his first ring, or Tiger Woods retired after winning all 4 Majors once each? I think there is a lot of resentment toward Fischer. He wasn’t playing for us.

Fischer is a weird story, but I don’t think he was so crazy, just different. Played his sport twenty years, hit the top, and quit. The fact that most people can’t do that is their problem.

7

Gene O'Grady 01.19.08 at 1:05 am

I seem to want to place Bobby Fisher (rather like Glenn Gould?) forever in the late 50′s. Maybe it just means I’m older? ’72 was an afterthought.

8

Palo 01.19.08 at 2:14 am

Fisher-Spasky was in 1972? Man, I’m old…
I remember in Argentina waiting for the result of the day game on the radio. My father, an unrepentant communist hoping for a Spasky win that would demonstrate the superiority of Socialism. I also remember my grandfather, a former communist turned anti-communist, making what at the time for me (I was 10) was the weirdest comment: “In America there are not many chess players because people with a filled stomach don’t play chess”.

9

aa 01.19.08 at 3:36 am

Seems like a convenient place to say “Bye-bye, Bobby”, paranoid ravings and all. I felt a great affection for this peculiar man. He was a most … peculiar man.

I have the impression he never revealed much of his view of the game. Presumably a study of the games would reveal something about his principles. Steinitz, Lasker, Nimzovich (above all), Capablanca, and many others clearly cared about communicating their own ideas as well as defeating their opponents – Nimzovich even professed pride in losses to people who applied his own view of the game.

Is there anything in the literature that makes a meaningful attempt to figure out what Fisher actually understood about the game? And I don’t mean “Bobby Fisher Teaches Chess”! Or for that matter analyses of the individual games, which would be just the point of departure.

You can win a lot of games by making better moves in difficult positions, but Fisher’s games give the impression he had a clearer idea of what was going on than the opponent. I’d like to see that made explicit.

10

rea 01.19.08 at 4:29 am

Is there anything in the literature that makes a meaningful attempt to figure out what Fisher actually understood about the game? And I don’t mean “Bobby Fisher Teaches Chess”!

Fisher’s book 60 Memorable Games would appear to be what you are looking for . . .

11

The Sophist 01.19.08 at 4:46 am

The best explanations of Fischer’s playing style are by a couple of British IM’s (David Levy and Hugh Alexander) and (AFAIK) are long out of print. Perhaps the most profound comment about his style is that he transcended the concept. When the position required tactical fireworks (eg the ’53 Byrne game), he would unleash them, and calculate through the maze better than any of his contemporaries save maybe Tal. If unmatched endgame technique was needed, he’d have that (eg the 6th ’71 game against Petrosian.)
Even today, i’d have to say that ‘My 60 memorable games’ is the 3rd best (chess)book I’ve ever read.
Perhaps the reason for the relative dearth of strong chess players in the blogosphere is that they’re all off studying their Informants, and the blogging is left to folks like me, who quit playing top-level chess because philosophy paid better. (And more meaningful…an evening spent studying the Poisoned Pawn Sicilian teaches me…well, the Poisoned Pawn Sicilain. An evening spent reading Zizek, on the other hand, teaches me…that the words ‘and therefore, obviously,’ will always be followed by a paragraph i don’t understand at all.) :)

12

bob mcmanus 01.19.08 at 5:01 am

The Bobby-Fischer-Approach to Chess Cadogan Chess by Elie Agur, while not by a GM, long had a great reputation as the definitive study of Fischer’s style.

13

Old Leftover 01.19.08 at 5:05 am

“Was he a talent or a sort of autistic savant? Or is it the same thing?”

Fischer is said to have had an IQ of about 185. At first he directed it solely to chess (his chess-specific IQ was probably higher). The New York public school system found him very frustrating; they knew how smart he was, but couldn’t get through to him.

OTOH, a psychiatrist acquaintance of mine said of him “Of course, I don’t make diagnoses without examining the patient; but, he’s schizophrenic.”

“Is there anything in the literature that makes a meaningful attempt to figure out what Fisher actually understood about the game?”

While I’m far from familiar with the chess literature (having stopped playing some years ago) the section on Fischer in Kasparov’s “My Great Predecessors” strikes me as very good, and is directed at precisely that question.

Except possibly for the part about talent, Kasparov agrees with bob mcmanus, above. Naturally, he provides specifics, and some other things.

14

Rachel Pugh 01.19.08 at 5:55 am

BOBBY FISCHER

He was a tower of strength that few could match.
He over leaped his bounds.
He was a harbinger of dreams for our future in chess.
He was a loose branch to which chess itself was the tree.
Leaves lay fallen all around.
It wasn’t the browning of the leaf that caused it to fall:
It was the tone of the season.
Such a season that life bestowed.
Such a life represented (preceding “75”) the best that chess had to offer.
Such an epitaph represents me and perhaps even you.
A great branch has fallen, but not the bulk of the tree.
I marveled at his strength; winched at his weaknesses,
as my mind took over where his left off.

Long Live Fischer
Rachel Pugh

15

Gary Kennedy 01.19.08 at 6:00 am

Was anyone else struck by the weird appropriateness of his going out at 64?

16

Jo Wolff 01.19.08 at 7:32 am

One thing that really stuck in my mind about Fischer was hearing that as a child, or perhaps teenager, he learnt Russian so as to be able to read Russian chess magazines. For someone like me – for whom learning languages was a form of torture – I just couldn’t imagine what it would be to care enough about something to want to do that.

17

Jim Harrison 01.19.08 at 8:19 am

Back in 1966 I had a summer construction job outside the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica during the playing of the 2nd Piatigorsky Cup. Early in the morning, Bobby Fischer would stroll by my work site talking loudly with his second, William Lombardy, another American grandmaster. “I’m going to crush Najdorf and Larsen! Petrosian doesn’t have a chance. Just wait until I get to play Spassky!” The man was already seriously unhinged at age 23, a very great chess player but a ranting megalomaniac.

18

abb1 01.19.08 at 10:14 am

…they knew how smart he was, but couldn’t get through to him

Smart? What about that Daniel Tammet guy Kieran (iirc) wrote about a while ago, the guy who can learn Icelandic language in, like, two hours and spit out, like, 500 digits of Pi without a pause. Anyone calls him ‘smart’?

I’m just curious if Fischer is a similar phenomenon or something completely different.

19

Martin Wisse 01.19.08 at 10:27 am

I think Bob Mcmanus at 6 has it right. Fischer was supposed to be a true American patriot finally licking the robotic Soviet grandmasters who had dominated chess through unfair methods, which he did, but then he made clear he had no interest in playing that game any longer, because he only used it to get what he wanted.

He didn’t fit the script anymore, so he became an official enemy and he himself went along with it. That interview just after the September 11 attacks for example.

What I found annoying about the eulogies I’ve seen, on the internet and on Dutch news is that they all talked about his supposed anti-semitic ravings, but without explaining or showing them.

20

Adam Roberts 01.19.08 at 10:48 am

How do we qualify the difference in a Jew making anti-semitic comments, as against a gentile?

21

a 01.19.08 at 11:05 am

1972, remember it well. An American beat a Russian in chess. The Russians beat the Americans in basketball.

Bobby, rest in peace.

22

JP Stormcrow 01.19.08 at 3:03 pm

Not meaning to dwell upon his paranoid ravings but in answer to Chris, bob and martin on why this part of his life has received attention, here is a glimpse of the extensiveness and vileness of the many public comments of this profoundly disturbed man in his later years.
so he became an official enemy and he himself went along with it and but I don’t think he was so crazy, just different are not apt characterizations to say the least.

For a summary read this 2002 article from The Atlantic. For more first hand evidence look herethis one is a transcript from one of many radio interviews on Filipino radio (this one was 1999). (You will want to scroll quickly to the bottom of the page and turn off the worl’d most annoying music embed.)

They didn’t contact my lawyers. nothing. the fucking Jews want to destroy everything I’ve worked for all my life. There as no Holocaust. The Jews are liars. it’s time we took off the kid gloves with these parasites.

Bobby Fischer: This is the Jewish mentality. These are a criminal people. They torture their prisoners in the worst way. It’s even illegal! They don’t even deny it hardly. Jews were always bastards throughout history. They are liars, they are the worst pieces of shit in the world. They mutilate their own children.
Pablo Mercado: all right.
Bobby Fischer: Fuck the Jews.

Please read them yourself if you suspect I have taken them out of context. I am sorry that he came to this and don’t post the ravings of a deranged man with any joy, but I don’t feel that it is right to leave it at ‘poor, old misunderstood’ Bobby Fischer.

23

Righteous Bubba 01.19.08 at 3:32 pm

Fischer was supposed to be a true American patriot finally licking the robotic Soviet grandmasters who had dominated chess through unfair methods, which he did, but then he made clear he had no interest in playing that game any longer, because he only used it to get what he wanted.

There was a funny interview with Frank Zappa in (I think) Guitar Player magazine. The usual preliminaries started and once the guitar chatter got going Zappa dropped the bomb that he hadn’t picked up his guitar in a couple of years. He had other ways to do what he wanted to do.

24

rea 01.19.08 at 4:04 pm

I’m going to crush Najdorf and Larsen! Petrosian doesn’t have a chance. Just wait until I get to play Spassky!”

That’s fascinating, considering the crosstable from the tournament (a very uneven performance by Bobby):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piatigorsky_Cup

In the double round tournament, Fisher lost and drew with Spassky (the tournament winner), lost and drew with Larsen, lost and won with Najdorf, and drew twice with Petrosian.

25

Anon 01.19.08 at 4:53 pm

gary kennedy: “Was anyone else struck by the weird appropriateness of his going out at 64?” – totally. the number of squares on a chessboard, as well as the name of one of the soviet chess magazines he learned russian to study as a young boy. too bad about fischer. i don’t think there’s really a lesson there, either about chess or about life – he was a super-intense guy who ended up going in a direction no one appreciated or wanted to follow. sometimes things don’t work out in a “happy” way. RIP.

26

aa 01.19.08 at 5:27 pm

#11.
A. the first 2 being?

B. an evening spent studying the Poisoned Pawn Sicilian teaches me…well, the Poisoned Pawn Sicil[ia]n. An evening spent reading Zizek, on the other hand, teaches me…that the words ‘and therefore, obviously,’ will always be followed by a paragraph i don’t understand at all.
I’d prefer to read this with the joke in the second half replaced by something more convincing, in which case what we would have would not necessarily be statements about chess and philosophy respectively, but statements about how they are currently conceptualized. One should bear in mind in making this comparison that there was no substantial attempt to conceptualize chess until the 19th century. And in many ways biology stayed at about the same level as chess theory till the 1950′s, with a considerable head start. Obviously (almost) chess theory doesn’t have a magic bullet like DNA in it to be discovered, so the challenge is greater.

I find the process of development of chess theory more interesting than the theory itself, particularly when compared to the way the various natural sciences have developed. And because it is narrowly defined and has limited objectives, it could make a nice case study.

Thanks to 10, 11, 13, 14 and anyone else who has something to add in this vein.

27

Davis X. Machina 01.19.08 at 5:34 pm

I’m going to crush Najdorf and Larsen! Petrosian doesn’t have a chance. Just wait until I get to play Spassky!

Ah, but five years later he was right. Fischer’s shellacking of Taimanov, Larsen, and Petrosian on the way to the match against Spassky, including a run of 20 wins, no draws, no losses, is for my money his most remarkable — and least likely to be replicated — achievement.

As bob mcmanus said elsewhere, it’s comparable to having hit a homer at every at bat through a complete seven-game World Series.

28

The Sophist 01.19.08 at 7:15 pm

Some comments on some comments:
Re:#23. The Rene Chun Atlantic Monthly article is actually truly horrendous. My letter to The Atlantic correcting some of Chun’s more egregious blunders was printed a few months later – I don’t remember is it’s available online.

Re: #28: Thanks for the thoughtful comment. My answer to your first question (the two books better than ’60 Memorable Games’ is ‘Zurich 1953′ (Bronstein), (when I read this as a teenager, my rating went up almost 300 points in 6 months – and it was already high enough that such massive jumps weren’t supposed to happen), and ‘Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy’ (Watson) – by far the most thoughtful analysis of how the game has changed over the past 30 years.
Regarding your second question: I was (unfortunately) serious about philosophy paying better! I guess that what I was trying to say with the second part of that comment is that after reading philosophy (especially the Foucault/Agamben/Butler/Zizek/Badiou nexus) I feel like I’ve learned something about ways to think about the world, and after reading Informant or NIC I don’t. Although struggling through Badio’s Being and Event last summer I was occasionally reminded of the incredibly complex endgame analysis done by Averbakh or Dvoretsky.

One conceptual similarity between the two fields that I will point out – when I first got my Master title (for non-chessplayers reading this, ‘Master’, ‘International Master’ and ‘Grandmaster’ are actually official titles) I wrote an article (not available online – this was pre-internets) about how I’d always assumed that Masters were near-omniscient, but now I was one all I’d learned was how much I didn’t know yet! Philosophy’s the same way, of course – each text I read makes me want to read 5 more.

29

The Sophist 01.19.08 at 7:19 pm

Oh, and one more thing for #28 – Max Euwe’s ‘The development of chess style’ (I think that’s the exact title) is a very good book on what your interest seems to be. It’s especially good on the Morphy-Steinitz transition. I definitely agree with you that a Foucaultian archaeology of chess would be a fascinating study!

30

joXn 01.19.08 at 7:26 pm

I wrote an article (not available online – this was pre-internets) about how I’d always assumed that Masters were near-omniscient, but now I was one all I’d learned was how much I didn’t know yet!

Same thing happened to me upon earning my black belt.

I think that GM-level chess players, and pro-level go players, aren’t playing the same game as us patzers. Really, not even the same game. It seems to me that by the time you get to be that good, you’re playing a meta-game: would I really rather play this sort of endgame or that sort; and you’re making those decisions as early as the opening.

31

JP Stormcrow 01.19.08 at 7:49 pm

My letter to The Atlantic correcting some of Chun’s more egregious blunders was printed a few months later – I don’t remember is it’s available online.

It looks like it might be on the website, but only available to subscribers. (Although chessmaniac has some letters and a response here, don’t know if they are the ones that appeared in The Atlantic or a separate group.)

32

fifi 01.19.08 at 8:06 pm

He was a great chess player but Fritz is better, so much for that. #19, Fischer, too, had a phenomenal memory, even by chess grandmaster standards; he was like a human tape recorder for foreign languages, for example. I don’t know how smart he was really but to judge from his curiosity (he had none except for chess) and from interviews he gave in the 60s and 70s, he was very stupid as well as unbelievably shallow.

33

fred lapides 01.19.08 at 8:27 pm

…and Hitler was a good artist and military st ategist and brought the German people together and on and on…now for this:Email to A Friend

Friday February 5, 1999

Bobby Fischer spews more anti-Semitism

BUDAPEST (JTA) — Chess legend Bobby Fischer came out of hiding last week by launching an anti-Semitic rant during a rare live i
His comments prompted station officials to pull the plug.

Ignoring the interviewer’s questions about chess, Fischer also claimed that Jews had invented the Holocaust to make money. When the interviewer asked why he was saying such things, noting that Fischer is himself Jewish, the former chess champion said, “Shall we go to the toilets and prove it?”

When the interview was later repeated, Fischer’s anti-Semitic comments were omitted.

Fischer has long been regarded as an eccentric genius. One of the world’s greatest chess players, with a reported I.Q. of 180, he wrested the world chess championship away from the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky in a 1972 match. But he lost the title when he refused to show up to defend his title three years later.

Since then, he’s been a recluse. Indeed, the interview represented Fischer’s first public comments since a 1992 non-title rematch against Spassky, which Fisher won despite having been away from professional chess competitions for two decades. At that time, he said he had not paid U.S. income taxes for 15 years and asked why economic sanctions were not being imposed against Israel.

34

rea 01.19.08 at 9:55 pm

Fred Lapides–Fisher’s antisemitsm resembles that of John Forbes Nash–insanity got the better of him. His public statements like those you quote were digusting and horrifying, but they do not represent someone in their right mind talking.

Ther are few sadder spectacles than watching a great mind self-destruct in this fashion . . .

35

diana 01.19.08 at 10:40 pm

#30 – Are you suggesting that the anti-Semitic quotations were erroneous?

36

The Sophist 01.20.08 at 4:12 am

#37: No, not at all. The bad parts of the Chun article were every time he talked about chess or chess tournaments, and it was those errors that my letter to The Atlantic sought to correct.

37

caissanist 01.20.08 at 10:01 am

For those who want to hear about Fischer’s rants firsthand, this Youtube video includes a minute and a half of his notorious 9/11 interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbtWuwQX8Is. To me, he comes across as an insecure teenager trying to boost his self esteem by shocking people with the most vicious hateful, things he can think of. Fischer does not, though, appear to have been crazy–he was extraordinarily deluded and stubborn about many things, but those who dealt with him even at the very end of his life uniformly claim that his overall behavior as sane, even normal.

To me, Fischer is a cautionary tale of what monomania can lead to. Chess was his redemption–it gave him meaning and purpose, and an arena where he could focus his extraordinary mind. But it was also his curse, because he was so good at chess that he was able to ignore real life completely, and never really “grew up” in the sense that most of us understand the term. What a waste.

38

Mike 01.20.08 at 3:25 pm

It seems pretty likely to me that Fischer had Asperger’s syndrome, and probably suffered manic/depressive and psychotic episodes, as many people so affected do. Learning chess and multiple languages at a young age is a giveaway.

His antisemitic rantings are quite likely the product of the associated psychosis, and no doubt seemed to him quite reasonable. Had he been born 30 years later, he quite probably would have been properly diagnosed and treated, and would have lead a reasonably normal life. Would he still have been a chess master? Who knows?

In any event, hooray for Iceland.

39

Bernard Yomtov 01.20.08 at 4:20 pm

jp stormcrow and Fred Lapides have it right.

Fischer’s defenders are blinded by his skill at chess.

We are horrified when public personalities make vastly less offensive remarks, yet Fischer is excused. This is just a particular status system – the world of chess – letting those at the top do whatever they want.

It’s fundamentally no different than the high school football star being indulged for all sorts of misbehavior as long as he produces on the field.

40

seth edenbaum 01.20.08 at 6:01 pm

“We are horrified when public personalities make vastly less offensive remarks, yet Fischer is excused.”

I don’t give a damn if someone says something offensive, all that matters is that we’re able to agree that it’s offensive. Beyond that the response becomes more about insecurity and irrational fear than reason, as if racism, or insanity, were an infectious disease that could be caught. Another reason to hate the terminology of “memes.” Still if you want to follow such a passive logic, the only way to inoculate yourself against disease is by being exposed to it.
The point is to understand Fischer. Embarrassment is a symptom of humanity, but defending it is silly.

41

Gary Duchoslav 01.20.08 at 6:03 pm

# 28:

“I find the process of development of chess theory more interesting than the theory itself, particularly when compared to the way the various natural sciences have developed. And because it is narrowly defined and has limited objectives, it could make a nice case study.”

Respectfully: My FIDE-equivalent rating is roughly 2350 and I am reasonably literate in the sciences, as well as the history of science, the philosophy of science, etc. etc. Nevertheless, I have no idea whatsoever what you are talking about. None. I would be interested in playing you a few games via sundry Internet Chess websites to gauge your understanding of the game, and perhaps form a simple opinion on your qualifications. I would consider myself unqualified. With further respect: Your expressions call to mind I. A. Horowitz on Chess, or C. Sagan on formal astrophysics. Neither were taken seriously. Convince me otherwise.

It is impossible to understand Fischer.

I studied -and became friends with- Lombardy in the late 90′s. Bill is a well-educated and extremely brilliant renaissance-type man. He kept his thoughts to himself on Bobby, but once simply said to the effect: ‘he’s crazy’. Now go ahead and take that one word ‘crazy’ and project into it WHATEVER your genetics and experience compel you to.

We’ll miss you Bobby. Now go have ‘a few’ with Misha and pick up where you left off…..

42

Don 01.20.08 at 6:06 pm

I have heard that he died of kidney failure, a complication of an unspecified illness that he had refused to be treated for. Is there any additional information on the net?

43

Bernard Yomtov 01.20.08 at 6:47 pm

as if racism, or insanity, were an infectious disease that could be caught

Well, racism can be caught, as a matter of fact. Young people are especially susceptible.

Beyond that, I don’t understand your point.

44

F 'Paco' Franco 01.20.08 at 9:04 pm

Back in 1966 I had a summer construction job outside the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica during the playing of the 2nd Piatigorsky Cup.

Woudn’t have got that today, Jim Harrison, don’t have the right surname, si sabes lo que quiero decir.

45

belle le triste 01.21.08 at 12:34 am

re 5: bob m’s comparison seems WILDLY harsh on pynchon, who — after an admittedly notorious long gap (73-90) — has published three fairly hefty novels, one (vineland, 1990) perhaps somewhat slight in content but often very funny, one (against the day, 2007) certainly very funny so far (p.113) and the middle one the best thing he wrote so far (er unless AtD pans out awesomely) = mason & dixon, 1997

also: pynchon seems fairly on top of HIS paranoias, and his ability to travel below media radar is as admirable as it’s enviable

back in the day i always felt sorry for spassky and wanted him to win: i think this is because he was called “boris”; i disapproved of bobby f’s misbehaviour — i was a very judgmental 12-yr-old

46

Gary Duchoslav 01.21.08 at 4:52 am

Re: #30 (with Redux to #28)

Philosophy pays more? REALLY? So does delivering newspapers. Please forgive me, but although you seem less artificially transcendent (to be polite) than “aa”, and -to be sure- given the limits of my edumacation (Studied Kant with Tonelli and Chess with Lombardy, in terms of the subject matter at hand), the only thing I agree with is 66% of your Chess Book ranking. Beyond that,you BOTH clearly need to go to the Cadillac Ranch for a month. I’ll foot the bill.

“I definitely agree with you that a Foucaultian archaeology of chess would be a fascinating study!”

OMG. Give me a break. Ask for Myra at the Cadillac. She’ll “deconstruct” whats ailing you.

“A Foucaultian aerchaeology of Chess”. I don’t need any more humor for 2008. This will keep me laughing for the entire year….

47

James Hamilton 01.21.08 at 8:41 am

“I’m disappointed that some blogs and are making a lot of his paranoid ravings.”

..which is quite out of character, both for yourself and CT. If you don’t mind my saying so.

48

Bob 01.21.08 at 8:54 am

Since I don’t watch much television, I stumbled across an article on the net that said Bobby Fischer had died on Thursday. I discovered this on three days later on Sunday. Fischers passing brought me back to my youth. Having learned the game at 10 from an uncle I gave it up a short time later. Then 9 years later I read about a dynamic American player who was going to play a Russian master. I was curious and learned chess notation and bought a book by Fred Reinfeld and delved more deeply into the game and subsequently followed the great match in Iceland. Fischers my Sixty Memorable Games was my next book and the mans love for the game showed all through this book. So,love for something beautiful is what Fischer inspired in me and I still play and love the game. Why he became hatefull is a mystery and I believe sincerely that the man was ill. He railed against the U.S. and Jewish people for no apparent reason. He had to be mentally unbalanced to do this, because the mere fact that many Jewish folks shared his love for this game could not possibly have made him hate them, so, I honestly believe it was mental problems that caused his apparent anger.

49

seth edenbaum 01.21.08 at 3:27 pm

Fischer was not a political leader or a political intellectual. His ravings had nothing to do with what he was known for and by and large he was a recluse. He hadn’t been a “public” figure since the headlines faded 30 years ago. He wasn’t a father and he had no children to corrupt. This all sounds like liberal civic-mindedness and superego run amok.
As ex-girlfriend says, describing the ethos of her homeland: not too rich, not too poor, not too smart, not too dumb. “The middle is the ideal.” Jonah Goldberg wants to call it liberal fascism. My ex calls it Sweden.

50

Steven Hart 01.22.08 at 12:37 pm

Celebrity is a deeply weird condition, but one of its strangest aspects is that a given celebrity oftens ends up being remembered the least for the very thing that made him famous in the first place. So in many of the various writeups on the recent death of Bobby Fischer, less space is devoted to his brilliance as a chess player than to the long pathetic endgame that was his life following his 1972 faceoff against Boris Spassky in Reykjavik.
The rest is here.

51

Gary Duchoslav 01.22.08 at 6:13 pm

Steven –

“less space is devoted to his brilliance as a chess player than to the long pathetic endgame that was his life”

Indeed. But the far greater measure of this slant is in America; the lesser so in Europe (save Russia’s Pravda, in which (transliterated) he is labeled a “Chess Scandalist”. Draw your own Sociological conclusions.

52

Henry Doctor D 01.23.08 at 9:27 am

“There is a fine line between genius and madness.”

Bobby Fischer was a chess genius who was so strong he fought the entire Russian chess machine and his own demons to excel and set new standards in the field. His brilliance, creativity and strength in all areas of the game are to be treasured.

I was a teenager in the seventies; to me he seemed like the combination of all my favorite players: Harry Pillsbury; the devastating attacks of Paul Morphy; the great attacking style of Alexander Alhekine (without the drinking); the psychological determination and great positional play of Emanual Lasker (“the best move is the one which most unsettles the opponent”); and the easy, casual excellence — especially in the endgame — of Jose Raoul Capablanca (though Capa never trained or studied seriously, and Bobby showed that hard work REALLY paid off).

He clearly was mentally imbalanced. But one can separate great talent from other, obviously negative aspects of their personality.

I compare him, in a fashion, to Pete Rose – - great baseball player, but deeply flawed by betting on the game and then denying it forever. Or Michael Ray Richardson – - terrific basketball player who could not get his drug problems under control.

And of course, John Nash – - great physicist whose mental illness led him to anti-Semitic rantings.

In contradistinction, I refer to Henry Ford. Clearly a business genius, yet also an unrepentent anti-Semite. No mental illness here. He is one I do NOT forgive!

I want to remember the chess genius, and my heart goes out to him for the many years he suffered — tormented by his demons, often quite lonely, and who knows how happy?

Rest in peace – - baruch dayan emes.

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abb1 01.23.08 at 1:49 pm

He is one I do NOT forgive!

But what’s there to forgive, none of these people has done anything to you. This is exactly analogous to some Muslims hating some Danish cartoonists.

You might say that you don’t like Henry Ford as a person, but you’d probably like Bobby Fischer even less.

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