Bobby Fischer: Chicago 3/9/43 – Reykjavik 1/17/08

Robert Fischer, March 9, 1943, Chicago, Illinois – January 17, 2008, Reykjavik, Iceland. A tormented genius who won the 1957 US Open, Cleveland, Ohio; USA Championships 1957/58, 1958/59, 1959/60, 1960/61, 1962/63, 1963/64, 1965/66, 1966/67. Won the World Championship Match in 1972 from Boris Spassky: W7 L3 D11. FIDE declared Anatoly Karpov world champion after Fischer refused to defend his title in 1975. Fischer defended his title in 1992 by winning a match from Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia: W10 L5 D15. Before the match there were two other “World Championship” Matches scheduled: Karpov – Timman and Kasparov – Short. Kasparov said that the winner of the match with the most prize money should be considered the “real” world champion. Fischer won more money than Kasparov and Karpov combined. That was Fischer’s only serious chess as world champion. Because he had achieved his one goal in life, he could not play any more serious chess because he might lose. It’s amazing that a person who was irrational to the point of being insane could be one of the best players of all time. You must understand that the object of the game is to out-wit your opponent and take advantage of his weaknesses. Fischer’s strategy was to take advantage of each individual opponent’s weaknesses. His opening play was forceful and creative, but he wasn’t trying for a theoretical advantage. Like Emanuel Lasker he was trying to out-wit his opponent and said that accuracy in a winning position was the most important factor in chess. He wasn’t perfect and like Lasker played poorly against the French Defense. After obtaining an advantage in every tournament game against Botvinnik and Spassky he only drew with Botvinnik and drew two and lost three to Spassky. The self-imposed pressure of trying to win caused him to make mistakes. Surprisingly, Fischer also misplayed many endings and lost or drew when he could have won. Let us forgive his bizarre behavior and remember him as a great player who did a great service for professional players by demanding better playing conditions and more prize money. He did not ask more money for himself, but for the winner of the tournaments and matches when he played. When the prize money for the 1972 World Championship Match was doubled from $125,000 to $250,000 that meant that the winner, who received $156,200, could have been Spassky. For the past twenty years World Champions Garry Kasparov (1985-2000) and Vladimir Kramnik (2000-2007) have been incredibly greedy and selfish, demanding huge amounts of money for “appearance fee”. When they get fifty thousand dollars just for playing it means there is a lot less prize money for other players.

Fischer’s behavior when playing chess was impeccable, as was his dress after he became a grandmaster and he would buy tailor-made suits, shirts, shoes, etc. I met Fischer at the 1957 US Open when he was tall, skinny, “gawky” and nervous. I met him again in 1964 and he had a marvelous physique, eating steak, working out at a gym and doing a lot of swimming. He and Mark Spitz, the great Olympic swimmer, were on the Bob Hope TV show together and it was Fischer who looked like Superman! Unfortunately, he didn’t take care of himself and in 1992 looked horrible. In recent years he had a full white beard, neatly trimmed, and looked like Old Man Mose.

Let us remember that Fischer gave free simultaneous exhibitions in prisons and was a gentle, non-violent man, despite his violent outbursts of obscene language. Arnold Denker from The Bobby Fischer I Knew and Other Stories: “In 1969 I asked Bobby to play for the Manhattan Chess Club against arch-rival Marshall Chess Club and in the process inquired about his fee. He never hesitated and said: ‘I wouldn’t charge you anything because you’re a friend.’ Knowing chess professionals all too well, I was stupefied.” Fischer won his game from Anthony Saidy.

Because of severe life-time mental illness it would have been best if Fischer had died after becoming world champion, as he had no other reason to live.

© Copyright 2008 James Schroeder

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