Kasparov on Fischer

If you can forgive another chess post, the current issue of The New York Review of Books has a review, by Gary Kasparov, of a new biography of Bobby Fischer. The chessplayers among you won't find much you didn't already know, but the essay is well done nonetheless. Go have a look:

It would be impossible for me to write dispassionately about Bobby Fischer even if I were to try. I was born the year he achieved a perfect score at the US Championship in 1963, eleven wins with no losses or draws. He was only twenty at that point but it had been obvious for years that he was destined to become a legendary figure. His book My 60 Memorable Games was one of my earliest and most treasured chess possessions. When Fischer took the world championship crown from my countryman Boris Spassky in 1972 I was already a strong club player following every move as it came in from ReykjavÃk. The American had crushed two other Soviet grandmasters en route to the title match, but there were many in the USSR who quietly admired his brash individuality along with his amazing talent.

I dreamed of playing Fischer one day, and we eventually did become competitors after a fashion, though in the history books and not across the chessboard. He left competitive chess in 1975, walking away from the title he coveted so dearly his entire life. Ten more years passed before I took the title from Fischer's successor, Anatoly Karpov, but rarely did an interviewer miss a chance to bring up Fischer's name to me. “Would you beat Fischer?” “Would you play Fischer if he came back?” “Do you know where Bobby Fischer is?”


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Strange are the musings of chess players over Bobby Fischer. Despite all the evidence, they assume Bobby is like them, sorta. On that I have an opinion, which is, he differs hugely, in important ways unrecognized. First, he's a winner, which in chess means he has an overwhelming desire to crush and annihilate his opponent, without which desire a player can be formidable, but not a winner so as to be a champion. You academics who think everything comes from books, check Reuben Fine. Second, he is gifted in the total win, far beyond pawn moves, of the type described by Stephen Potter in The Art and Theory of Gamesmanship, great book, for you academics who think all comes from books. And third, he is gifted at self-promotion, an important skill, of high importance as shown by George Washington, Mohammed Ali and Gorgeous George. Enjoy.
Fischer teaches what amounts to that the chess play is ying and yang revolving, you had best watch your opponent. Since you yourself have to do something, and are pursued by the clock, this is indeed high tension, like getting up in the morning when you have no job. And were you to miss a play, either white or black, you must be able to rethink entirely along the lines of if I had done that on purpose what would I have been doing and who or what is this opponent I must massacre, for real or as if, and where has he left me an adjustable line. Obviously Fischer can do this.

So you chess players can think he's crazy if you want, but I don't think so. I have a certain amount of loyalty from his excellent book on B F Teaches Chess and I am grateful for the insights he has freely offered with his life on how to win, really win, even when you are not supposed to win. That colors my opinion. I think he's a great man, not crazy, worthy of intellectual affection which I am glad to give him.

Okay, I've been reading about Bobby Fischer, and I recalled writing this tribute in the comments. I've changed my mind in part. First some perspective, George H. W. Bush or Bobby Fischer, which one is crazy? Or are both? Which more dangerous? Which has killed people but is considered normal?

For parellel, a dog who's been hurt will snarl and snap if you try to touch him, and maybe remain touchy for years. I ask you, is that crazy? Maybe.

The comet of genius requires staying in deep touch with youth, even when old, if the genius is to remain flashing genius. Few or none do it.

But Fischer's anti-semitism is going too far, by far. I thought he himself was Jewish but it seems he renounced that, even denounced it. I have no idea what happened to him in perhaps Brooklyn and Manhattan that would foster that, but it must have been severe. Any stereotyping is childish understanding to be enlarged.

Then I read that the programmed learning book 'Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess' that I liked so much in the 70's for its broad understanding was not written by him but for him. Sigh. It worked for me for years, even against lines, before I renounced the time spent at chess by me.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was supposedly crazy. Nietzsche, Capablanca too. Who's making these judgments and are they themselves like George H. W. Bush in their normal?

I still have intellectual affection for Bobby Fischer, but I see that it's nostalgic, and should not embrace the whole person any more than it would not embrace the whole Richard Wagner.

So I am backing off and my opinion of Fischer is modified into more detail.

Cheers, in case anybody actually happens on this old thread. This comment is mostly for me anyway.