Here is a little history lesson for those under the age of 40…… No, this isn’t a review of the movie that was released in the 1993 about Josh Waitzkin.
I was taught how to play chess when I was in the 7th grade. I remember it well because it was the last day of school and all exams had already been taken. We were allowed to do pretty much whatever we wanted on that last day. Most students roamed the school. I don’t remember what my plans were for that fateful day in June of 1989. But at some point, a class mate asked me if I’d like to learn how to play. He taught me the moves and that’s about all I remember about it.
The following year I was a senior in Junior High. An earlier teacher of mine had moved from teaching grammar (ie. English) to becoming the librarian. He started up a chess club in the school and I was recruited a couple of times. My free time was spent playing baseball, so I really wasn’t interested. I remember playing in the school’s championship, even though I hadn’t played since I was taught how the pieces move just shy of a year earlier. Needless to say, I lost quite easily.
Fast forward about 6 months. I was a freshman in high school. One morning, I was walking down a hallway, and who do I see? It was my old teacher. He had decided over the summer to bring chess to the local high school. It made sense as most of his chess students were my age and were now attending high school.
I decided to check things out and maybe play a game or two. An old friend from Junior High was in there and challenged me to a game. He would go on to beat me 3 games in a row before we both had to leave. I’m not sure what it was, but something inside of me decided I couldn’t accept defeat. I decided to start attending the club where I was given free lessons from my old teacher, who would turn into my chess coach throughout high school. He was a strong amateur, rated about 1950 or so. He had also bought some chess books for the library and I devoured each one!
The Greatest of All Time
OK, ok. This post is supposed to be about Bobby Fischer, the greatest chess player of all time (arguably…), not Tony, the has-been amateur who has never even reached 2000 ELO. I’m getting to good ole Bobby….
The year is 1992. I’m now MUCH stronger than the young man who had beaten me 3 times in a row about 4 months earlier. I learned to play 3 years earlier, but only started taking it serious for a few months. Before I go on, I should tell you that this young man would grow into being my closest friend and brother during my high school years. We still talk every day and even have a side business together.
Anyways, I was doing a lot of reading about the best players of all time and of course, Bobby Fischer was a hot subject. He hadn’t played a public game in 20 years. I heard rumors (mostly from my coach, who took up chess during the Fischer Boom) about what he was doing those days, from being a hermit, to being dead. It was great drama! I learned how during the 1972 World Chess Championship, Bobby had deliberately thrown the 1st game of the match (“how can you explain the Bishop takes pawn move, right?”) and then deliberately forfeited the 2nd game, “to give Spassky a chance”. I learned how a dispute with the Soviets and the world chess organization had forced Bobby to give up his crown without playing. Years later, I began to think that my coach was either crazy or was just messing with me.
Rumors from chess tournaments were that Fischer would come out of retirement to play the current World Champion (in ’92), Gary Kasparov. I didn’t believe any of it. Perhaps growing up in the inner city of Detroit made me an eternal skeptic.
Lo and behold, a few months later, there was Bobby Fischer! He had agreed to play his old nemesis Boris Spassky, even though the Cold War had ended a year earlier. Now, news didn’t travel as fast back in the early ’90s. We had to wait for the monthly national chess magazine to come out to read about everything that was happening. Everyone was so anxious to find out if Bobby was still Bobby! Could he crush Spassky again and challenge Kasparov for the highest crown – his crown that he never lost?! If interested, you can find a book on the match here.
Reality can sometimes just slap you in the face, especially a young 15 year old.
The Greatest Something
Instead of being the champion we were looking for, we got a miserable joke of a human being. Yes, he still possessed a high level of playing skill, but he was truly a failure at life. Nothing but hate spewed from his month during the ’92 match with Spassky. I know I wasn’t the only person who’s chessic dreams were shattered by this pathetic human being. It was only due to the US Open coming to my town that year that revived my enthusiasm. It helped beating someone rated 700 points higher than me in the 1st round of the Open. Anyway, after the match, Fischer got in deep trouble with the US Government, spat on a document, and was exiled to Hungary.
It wouldn’t be fair not to mention that we can thank Fischer for the time delay clocks we all use during tournaments these days.
Well, not surprisingly, Fischer did not get his fairytale ending. He would resurface on a Filipino radio right after the 9/11 attacks in the US and said things that pissed off the government something awful. They found him in Japan, had him arrested, and would have had him extradited to the United States had Iceland not step in and give him sanctuary. A sanctuary he didn’t deserve if you asked me. He would die a short few years later at 64 years old.
Fischer’s supporters will be quick to say that he was mentally ill and shouldn’t be held accountable for the vile he spewed against entire races. I don’t agree. If he was unfit for society, they should have locked him up. Being great at chess should not have given this man free reign to be hateful, racist, jerk!