The Chessmill

Ramblings and ruminations on chess in Milwaukee,

SE Wisconsin, theUSA and the World.

I'm always staggered when I see a 300 page book containing an in-depth analysis of some sub-variation of the Sicilian Defence - who actually reads all that?

 — David Norwood

The Passing Of An Icon

Bobby Fischer is dead.There's a lot that could be said at this point, both good and bad. There's the brash young kid who wanted to be the youngest world champion ever. There's the bitter old man, spewing invective at everyone.

People will tell stories. And, in the end, we'll all remember what we choose to remember.

I've always felt an affinity for Fischer, probably because like him, I grew up in a single-parent household. At the same time, his behavior embarrassed me. How could anyone make such tantrums a normal part of their life?

For me, there will always be two Fischers: the chessplayer, and the man. I may not have enjoyed watching Robert J Fischer the man's slide into madness, but I could understand it. I had a relative get involved with Armstrongism, like Bobby did. It drove him to attempt suicide. Fischer only let it drag him into a world of lies and deceit.

It's not all that unusual for people with fine minds to let themselves get deluded. More recently, Gary Kasparov bought into the "new chronology" being peddled in Russia, whose basic claim is that the last two millennia of world history is a complete fiction, the ostensible goal of which was to hide the importance of Russia's domination of the west during that time (in fact, according to these folks, we had to make up two entire centuries from whole cloth just to accomplish that feat, so it's only been 1800 years, not two millennia). Fischer declined to turn his critical mind, even for a few moments, from debunking unsound chess variations to considering the claims of the historical revisionists of a different stripe, and so bought the Great Jewish Conspiracy Theory peddled by Blavatsky and others.

Yes, I can understand the failures of the man, though I cannot condone them. But Fischer the chessplayer? No, that one I will never understand. The player who walked through an entire US Championship without giving up so much as a single draw? The player who scored over 75% over all the Interzonals he played, where the best of the world challenge for the crown? The player who, in his final Interzonal appearance lost only two (and drew seven) out of 22 games? The player who only lost one game out of 21 against the top players in the world in the matches that followed? Who spotted the reigning world champion a 2-0 lead and yet leveled the match by game 5?

No, that man I will never understand, and I further suspect that anyone who says they do understand Fischer's chess is lying. If, as Larry Evans once said, he makes grandmasters look like children, then I'm probably somewhere around the earthworm in that comparison. When I was young I tried to play what he played. It wouldn't dawn on me until much later that Fischer didn't win because of the openings he played; the exchange Ruy Lopez wasn't an overpowering opening. Fischer would have won no matter what he played, because Fischer was, well, Fischer.

Fischer will be talked about. It can't be avoided. He was a small man who was larger than life. Certainly his chess was. A 13 year old boy, walking in a circle, defeating a club filled with grown men. A young man, confident to the point of arrogant, who had a laser-like brain seeing through to the conclusion of the game. Who could write "...pry open the h-file and it's sac, sac, mate."

What is there to be said, that will matter? For a few brief years, a giant walked among us. He performed many prodigious feats (who could forget the Queen sacrifice against Donald Byrne, at the ripe old age of 13?) which showed his might. Then the giant came to a sticky end.

No amount of details will change anyone's mind about it. It's up to each of us how we will choose to remember him: as the young man who stood toe to toe with the Soviet machine, and who faced them down; or as the bitter old man, lost in his delusions.

I've made my decision as well, as I sit here, once again marveling at 17. ... Be6!!

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