INSIDE THE CRAZY, SECRETIVE REALM OF THE CHESS KING WHO WANTS TO KEEP THE
WORLD IN CHECK
At the periphery of the Yugoslavian war zone, off the coast of Montenegro,
on the tiny island of Sveti Stefan, in a Carrara-marble
terrazzo-cum-three-star-hotel restaurant, Bobby Fischer sits like an idiot
king with his back to both the setting sun and Boris Spassky, dining alone
two tables over. Spassky, wearing tennis whites, savors the last of his
mineral water as he takes in the pinks and oranges over the Adriatic,
impassive but for an occasional suave pass of a hand through his thick
silver hair. Fischer, sporting a new handmade aquamarine suit, beige shirt,
and a pair of strangely designed clunky black shoes, has every eye in the
restaurant but Spassky's on him. Flanked by three bodyguards and a pair Of
waiters, an elbow on the table and his cheek propped on his fist, he
shovels in a second bowl of melon and ice cream, washing it down with full
glasses of Krstac. He's gained a good sixty pounds since his last public
appearance, and his formerly gaunt and beautiful face, now covered with a
scraggly red-brown beard, has filled out so much as to be almost
unrecognizable. Only the eyes are the same: hazel, wide open, relentlessly
shifting, loaded with confusion and suspicion.
Throughout his four-course dinner, he's been talking in animated flurries
to Eugenio Torre, the serene Filipino grandmaster serving as his second
(all-night study partner and researcher) for his "world-championship match"
against Spassky -- the weird comeback that Bobby, who forfeited that title
in 1975, has dictated to commence twenty years to the day of his famous
victory in Reykjavik in 1972. A hot wind blowing off the hills across the
bay is taking most of his words, but the accent is unmistakably Brooklyn,
the Brooklyn of Ebbets Field, Barbara Streisand, and transistor radios:
"... There's a lot of people without homes now. It's, uh, y'know, like
illegal. Like squattuhs. They should be arrested or somethin'. ..." "...In
America, prisons cost money. In China, they make 'em work. And if they
don't work they beat 'em. Hah. Hah-hah-hah..."
With a thick stench of Havana cigar, a rustle of silk, and the click of
alligator leather over marble, Jezdimir Vasiljevic makes his way across the
terrazzo, trailed by four bodyguards. "Svakako! Svakako!" he's telling one
of them -- "No shit! No shit!" A small man with a farmer's physique,
muttonchop sideburns, and a woolly haircut that looks like the "after"
photo in a Moscow barbershop, circa 1962, he wears a brown, double-breasted
gangster suit that's an inch too long at the shoulder, wrist, and heel, and
carries a rectangular case of expensive brown leather, a mystery accessory
that never leaves his side. Referred to in the Serbian tabloid Borba as
"the paradigm of the new businessman in Serbia-Montenegro" and in the
Croatian tabloid Novi Viesnik as a black-marketeering, arms-dealing
mafioso, he's called Mr. Big on Sveti Stefan, after his bank/holding
company, Yugoskandic B.I.G.: Bisnis-InformacijeGlainur. It's clear that any
infonnacije about this man's bisnis should be double-checked. "I am a
mysterious man," he loves to tell you. "I cannot talk now." -- Like
Fischer, he has a twenty-year hole in his resume -- when he was "abroad" -- giving
rise to mon oncle d'Amerique rumors ranging from smuggling Albanian
mercury to fencing South African diamonds in Sweden and-most often
cited-extensive arms dealing with Israel.
As for glamur, he has pulled off the Serbian publicist's equivalent of
raising Lazarus in bringing Fischer here to play this $5 million "Revenge
Match of the Century," but he doesn't seem very happy just now. Telexes
from the U. S. departments of Treasury and State-threatening huge fines and
prison sentences if Fischer breaks the embargo by playing the match-are
reportedly coming daily, putting Fischer and Vasi1jevic on edge: Half a
mile up the mainland, a pair of high-back swivel chairs and a huge oak
chess table emblazoned with the match logo sit like corpses at the entrance
to the playing site in the Hotel Maestral, the first casualties of
Fischer's demands for perfection. (By the start of the match, he will have
vetoed eleven more tables and two other pairs of chairs.) Hammering and
high-pitched drilling are heard throughout the night from the
seventy-five-yard-long playing hall, as workmen construct the floor-to-
ceiling concrete barricade that will separate Fischer and Spassky from the
audience, leaving only a ten-foot aperture in the center through which the
players can be seen. It's also rumored that a clause in Fischer's
seventeen-page contract stipulates, that no noise from the war shall
interfere with his concentration during a game.
Fischer is standing with his palms open in great drama as Vasiljevic
approaches his table, and they leave the restaurant immediately in a
phalanx of bodyguards, Vasiljevic swinging his briefcase, Fischer toting a
leather pocket chess set and two books. "I got so much to do tonight," he
says as he heads up the stairs toward his villa on the other side of the
island. His walk is unnatural -- left arm and left leg together -- and
driven-looking. Some nights, a small motorcade rushes him and Spassky
across the causeway to play tennis on an old, dimly lit clay court
surrounded by blue spruce and cypress. They say that Fischer is
phenomenally competitive and that his agonized screams are heard echoing
down the hillside when he loses difficult points.
Spassky gets up to leave a few minutes later and I try to make
conversation. "Of course, you want to talk to Bobby," he says, his Bela
Lugosi baritone swelling and falling with immense irony and self-doubt.
"But this is impossible. He does not like the media."
"Why do you think Bobby has decided to play this match here?" I ask. "And
why now, in the middle of a war, after twenty years of refusing. Do you
think he's still a great player?"
"These, of course, are the crucial questions," Spassky says portentously.
"I can say only-Bobby wants to create the very special atmosphere of
Reykjavik. He was the great hero of the West then."
The crucial questions of why here and why now feel increasingly moot with
each war-weary photographer, wire stringer, and television crew that checks
into the various Sveti Stefan hotels the day before the match's opening
Dejan Anastasijevic, a UPI stringer from Belgrade, tells me about the
farmer he met in Sarajevo who sold his combine and bought a Russian T-55
tank from the Federal Yugoslav Army, which he drives into the hills after
work each evening so he can fire on Muslims. "The day I met him it was a
cease-fire, but it didn't matter. This tank is my private property,' he
said. 'No one can tell me how to use it. Communism is over. I'm living in
the West now.' While he was talking, I finally understood that Hannah
Arendt phrase, the narcissism of small differences. That's exactly what
this war is."
For twenty years of intractable, Perry demands, Fischer personified this
narcissism exactly. A strange boy with an IQ of 181, he grew up in small
rooms, studying chess with the radio on, refusing to wear anything but
corduroy pants and striped sport shirts, developing strange ideas about
people -- particularly those he loved to call "Commies" and "world Jewry."
He shares a small difference -- half-Jewishness -- with two Commie world
champions, Spassky and the current champion, Garry Kasparov (born Garik
Weinstein), whom Fischer has accused of "pre-arranging" the games of his
matches with Anatoly Karpov. Fischer's father, a German-born physicist (who
may have worked for the Wehrmacht in the early stages of the war), and his
phenomenally strong-willed, Swiss-born Jewish mother, Regina, separated
bitterly after news of the Holocaust in 1945, when Bobby was two. The
father is said to have moved to South America. Regina, Bobby, and his older
sister, Joan, lived in various parts of the Southwest before settling in a
fourth-floor walk-up in Brooklyn, when he was six. The following year, Joan
bought him a cheap chess set at the candy store on the first floor of the
apartment building. He became freakishly single-minded. "All I want to do
is play chess," he announced. "Ever."
"Bobby was simply a boy with no relations outside chess," says Viktor
Korchnoi, the former challenger for the world championship that Fischer
vacated in 1975 to Anatoly Karpov. He met Fischer for the first time in
1960, in Buenos Aires. "Bobby is not crazy like they say. And believe me, I
know crazy. He simply failed to keep up normal relations," adds Korchnoi,
who recently finished a game -- via a psychic -- with the 1920's Hungarian
grandmaster, Geza Maroczy. "Normal relations, for a boy that age, is
School for Bobby was a blur. A science teacher at Erasmus Hall High School
wrote "not satisfactory' on a test he got a 65 on. "Tough," wrote Bobby,
who believed his teachers were "all mental cases." At fourteen, already
U.S. champion and a year shy of becoming the youngest grandmaster in
history, Bobby filled his notebooks with drawings of grotesque heads and
mindless radio babble: "Hey, everybody, gather I round, C'mon, let's dig
their Rockin' Sounds, we got the rugs on the floor. ... Come on now, I
wanna swim with you." He dropped out at sixteen. "The stuff they teach in
school," he said, "I can't use." The radio was his source of truth: "I was
with Bobby in Yugoslavia in 1968," says the prolific British chess writer
Bob Wade, one of the few people Fischer ever trusted (Bobby once hired him
to research an opponent's games -- something he normally did on his own).
"His only real interest was listening to the news on the radio." Even now,
in Sveti Stefan, he carries a green sports radio almost everywhere.
He developed a passion for Yugoslavia in 1958, when he came to play his
first international tournament, an elimination qualifier to determine the
next challenger for the world championship. The Yugoslavs, who are chess
crazy, unconditionally took in the Corduroy Killer, as he was known in New
York, and Bobby played brilliantly, earning a return to Yugoslavia the
following year for the final qualifying tournament. Mikhail Tal, the
Magician from Riga, who won the tournament and became the next world
champion, defeated Fischer decisively, however, enraging him. Tal, a
relentless joker, walked past Fischer on the bridge outside the playing
hall, flapping his hands and saying the word cuckoo in a high-pitched
voice. "Bobby," a journalist here named Miluivka Lazarevic tells me, "ran
back to his room in tears, developed a cold, and went to bed. Bent Larsen
[the Danish grandmaster who served as Fischer's second in the tournament]
had to read him Tarzan and Mickey Mouse stories until he got better."
When Fischer returned here in 1961, he got even with Tal in a beautiful
game in which he sacrificed his queen. Now eighteen years old, he had a new
look. After lengthy barnstorming in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile (during
which, a South American grandmaster tells me, Fischer saw his father for
the only time), he had given up his corduroys for suits: seventeen, all
handmade, in Argentina, England, Trinidad, New York, California, and East
and West Germany. "If you got seventeen suits," he'd told a reporter a week
before coming to Yugoslavia, "you can rotate them. They wear a long time.
That's where the poor man gets it coming and going. His suits wear out
Fischer's second adjustment is said to have come a year later, over the
radio, when he joined the Worldwide Church of God after hearing a sermon by
Garner Ted Armstrong. It advocated a mixture of Jewish Sabbath and dietary
ritual and apocalyptic Christianity, the Second Coming, the end of the
world, regenerative baptism (from which Fischer apparently abstained), and,
of course, tithing. He did this in a big way $93,315.35, according to a
1976 interview. He followed the church in the late 1960's to its
headquarters in Pasadena and has remained there, despite his eventual
break. That came, depending on whom you ask, after the failure of the world
to end in 1972, of Jesus to appear in 1976, or, more credibly, over his
disillusionment with the alleged fiduciary and moral profligacy of church
The break was bitter: There was a flurry of leafleting by Fischer outside
the church's Ambassador College in 1976, a late-night incident of assault
on an ex-church woman he felt had violated his confidence (he later settled
with her out of court), and a $3.2 million lawsuit. It left him essentially
homeless (he had lived, after his victorious return from Reykjavik, in the
basements of the luxury homes of various ministers) and penniless. After
1975, when he resigned his title (because only forty-three of his
forty-four demands for a title-defense match had been met), the rare
accounts of his situation all mention cheap rooms in Pasadena and L. A.,
months of his crashing on former friends, and days spent riding the orange
city-bus between L. A. and Pasadena, analyzing chess games on his pocket
set. At the end of Fischer's one public statement since Reykjavik, a four-
teen-page, Gogolesque pamphlet titled I Was Tortured in the Pasadena
Jailhouse! (he had it printed in 1981 after a case of mistaken identity led
to his two-day incarceration), he wrote: "When I left home that Tuesday I
had nine dollars in case and well over another dollar in change ... either
a five-dollar bill and four ones plus well over a dollar in change or nine
ones plus well over a dollar in change (I'm 99 percent sure it was the
Other than royalty checks for his 1969 collection, My 60 Memorable Games --
probably the greatest chess book ever written -- he seems to have depended
on the curiosity of strangers. Through back channels, one could place a
phone call to Fischer for $2,500; $5,000 was the fee for a meeting. One
also had to pay him $1,000 to open the letter requesting the meeting, and
that letter had to be addressed: MR. ROBERT JAMES FISCHER, WORLD CHESS
CHAMPION. Yasser Seirawan, the highest-ranked American grandmaster since
Fischer's abdication, knows of at least twenty fanatics who plunked their
money down, including a rabid chess player and fellow religious recluse
named Bob Dylan, whose tour manager is said to have bought him the meeting
as a birthday present.
Most of the other known meetings involved multimillion-dollar offers from
various fascists and despots to play chess in their countries.
"Dictatorships," the English grandmaster Raymond Keene tells me, "have an
enormous weakness for chess, and especially for Bobby." Ferdinand Marcos
offered $3 million, the Shah of Iran $2 Million, and Qatar, South Africa,
Chile, and Argentina are said to have put up similar amounts. Last year, a
Francoist millionaire from the south of Spain sent a chess-playing
representative with a $4 million offer. The man spent a few nights walking
around Pasadena with Fischer before he was told, "Nah. The figure's too
"Bobby," says Bob Wade, "never cared about money, though. His only desire
was to prove that his choices were correct: He wanted chess to be
important, because he was a chess player, and he wanted to be important.
Bobby knew money was important, but he didn't have a clue why, outside of
clothes and status. The only way he could accomplish what he wanted was to
fight for a lot of money. Once he got it, he gave it away. He did not know
how to spend it. And once he'd become champion, after, essentially,
sacrificing his life for it, he didn't know how to spend his time."
Time does seem to be the key to Fischer's return. In 1990 he registered a
patent in New York for the Bobby Fischer Anti-Time Pressure Chess Clock.
Unlike standard chess clocks, this one awards what Fischer calls bonus
minutes every time a move is made. "It is a gross overstatement," says
Korchnoi, "but in chess, it can be said I play against my opponent over the
board and against myself on the clock." With the Fischer clock, the faster
you move, the more time you gain. Only a man who lost twenty years of his
life could have conceived it. Since registering his patent, Fischer has
spent much of his time abroad, staying with families outside Brussels,
Manila, and, for more than a year, in the Bavarian countryside outside
Bamberg. Each of the three families had a young child Fischer developed
great affection for. It's said he spent hours teaching each one how to play
James Kubat, press director of the match, speaks of "a fairy-tale motive":
a series of "it's never too late" letters sent to Fischer, who's about to
turn fifty, by a Hungarian chess master, Zita Rajcsanyi, his girlfriend,
occasionally referred to as his fiancee. I spent an afternoon playing chess
with Zita -- an incredibly patient, mothering nineteen-year-old who wears
thick glasses, a ponytail, long, wrinkled skirts, T-shirts, and Converse
high-tops she laces all the way up her calf-and find it easy to believe
Kubat's fairy tale. Not only does she let me win every game, she makes
Fischer seem like an open book. "He's completely natural. He plays no
roles," she says. "He's like a child. Very, very simple."
"We've waited twenty years," says Nebosa Dukelk, the moderator of the
match's opening press conference. "It's good we wait some more."
Flanked by Fischer, Spassky, Vasiljevic, and a Serbian engineer who has
perfected the model of the Fischer clock that will be used in the match,
Dukelic has a huge, helpless smile as Fischer, in a #663300 business suit,
off-green shirt, and floral-print tie, keeps some 175 members of the media
sweating for fifteen minutes under the arc lights while he leafs through
the questions he has insisted be put to him in writing. Swiveling in his
chair and raking a finger through his beard with bizarre lese-majeste, he
smiles, grimaces, and raises an eyebrow: "Hah-hah. That's a good question,"
or, "Who typed these up anyway? There's a real lot of typos." He never
looks at us.
"Perhaps there is a question for Mr. Spassky?" says Dukelic.
"Nah, I'm first," says Bobby.
"Yes, it's right, the world champion goes first," Dukelic immediately
apologizes. "Perhaps I can help you eliminate some repetitive questions?"
"I wanna choose 'em. That's my agreement," Fischer says, looking over at
Vasiljevic. "Awright. We'll start with some typically impudent questions
from The New York Times." He says new so that it sounds like Jew Lest
anyone miss the point, he identifies the man as "a Mr. Roger Cohen."
Sitting next to me, Josef Lapid, an elderly Yugoslavian who emigrated to
Israel in 1948 (he's the editorial writer for the Tel Aviv daily Ma'areev),
starts murmuring: "He can't get away with this. He must answer for this."
On Cohen's fourth question: "If you beat Spassky, will you go on to
challenge Kasparov for the world championship?" Bobby brings the house down
by swiveling i8o degrees and pointing to a sign that reads THE WORLD CHESS
CHAMPIONSHIP. "Can he read what it says behind here?"
The laughter turns to dumbstruck applause when Fischer, looking remarkably
like Lenny Bruce reading transcripts of his obscenity trials, answers a
question about defying sanctions: "Just one second," he says, rifling
through his briefcase until he finds the Treasury Department's August 21,
1992, Order to Provide Information and Cease and Desist Activities. "So!"
he bellows. "This is my reply to their order not to defend my tide here."
He hurls a gob of spit on the order, thick enough to leave a smudge when
it's Xeroxed and circulated to the media a week later.
And on he goes: twenty years of private vituperation squeezed into his
sessions here. He accuses Kasparov, Korchnoi, and Karpov -- "really
the lowest dogs around" -- of prearranging the seven world-championship
matches they have contested since 1977; world Jewry of blacklisting him for
twenty years; the Moscow publisher Physical Culture and Sport (which
published a Russian edition of My 60 Memorable Games) of owing him
royalties of "let's say $100,000, just to open discussions"; and the U. S.
Government and Time, Inc. of conspiring to defraud him of "tens, maybe
hundreds of millions" -- this dating to his mid-1970s $3.2 million
breach-of-contract lawsuit against Time, Inc., over an exclusive Fischer
sold them for Reykjavik. The suit was thrown out of court when Fischer,
representing himself after firing his lawyers, refused to answer questions
such as his name and age, on grounds that it was private information. To
understand "why I was singled out for such treatment," he says: "Well, you
have to understand a lot about the world scene and who controls America ...
what kind of religion they have."
When he begins to analyze communism as "basically a mask for bolshevism,
which is basically a mask for Judaism," Josef Lapid is on his feet and
hollering: "No. We can't leave this anti-Semitic outburst unanswered." He
has a puzzling expression -- a mixture of righteous indignation and bemused
amazement at Bobby's chutzpah. Fischer looks at the audience -- for the
first time -- and begins to swivel in his chair, a small but extremely
satisfied smile playing itself out on his face. "Yuch, he's just crazy,"
Lapid tells himself and sits back down.
Seven hours later, forty-five minutes before the $1 million "opening
spectacle" on Sveti Stefan, he still has that knowing smile as he marches
ceremonially across the causeway to the music of a Montenegrin
twenty-five-piece brass band, shoulder to shoulder with the promoter
Vasiljevic; his girlfriend, Zita; and Spassky and his wife, Marina. Falling
in line with the procession, five feet behind him, I pick up his marching
beat, a self-conscious lope that from moment to moment looks like a stutter
step at a New Orleans funeral, or a goose step. Lapid, the Israeli
journalist, steps into the procession twenty paces later with a fragile
eighty-two-year-old man named Sadik Danon, the chief rabbi of Yugoslavia.
"Bobby was the greatest," Danon tells me, unconsciously picking up the
goose step as he looks at the back of Fischer's head. "But he's crazy."
"Are you going to file a protest against his remarks?" I ask.
"No," he says. "I don't want to hurt Bobby. He's just crazy."
Vasiljevic leads the procession to a cafe two hundred yards from the
causeway. With a flourish of both hands he invites Fischer, Spassky, Zita,
and Marina to sit down, and as two dozen bodyguards form a half-circle
around the table, he instructs a waiter to bring big bottles of mineral
water. It's an incredibly hot, still evening.
"I wanted the, uh, you know, individual bottles," Fischer says when the
waiter comes out with a tray. 'The small kind."
A minute later, when the waiter brings out five small bottles, Fischer's
talking about bug repellent. "It's natural, your stuff?" he keeps asking
Marina. "Is it natural?" He has a large mosquito bite on his forehead and a
crazed look in his eye. "I bet it's chemicals, right? I've got a machine
that kills them with a beep. You know, they fly in. Bzzzzz. Then, beep,
pow! Bye-bye bug. Hah."
"Mine you put on your skin," Marina tells him.
"Right, the roll-on," Fischer says with great distaste. "See, that's
chemical." Sweat is beading up on his forehead, and Spassky offers him a
tissue from a packet, which he accepts with a feeble chess joke as he wipes
his whole face: "Usually, I avoid exchanges in the opening. Hah-hah."
Spassky offers another two tissues, then the whole packet. Fischer repeats
his joke about chess openings as he examines the packet thoroughly. "Ah.
Yeah," he finally says approvingly. "German."
Vasiljevic comes to the table with two tall, dark, and heavily bearded men,
Milo Djukanovic and Momir Bulatovic, the prime minister and the president
of Montenegro. Fischer looks distrustful as they are introduced -- they
look like the Smith Brothers, and he clearly doesn't believe Montenegro has
a president -- and offers the tips of his fingers by way of a handshake.
The crown prince fares no better a minute later. Fischer wants to talk
about "the fixed games of those criminals."
"I'm not a specialist on the prearranged business," Spassky says. "But I do
believe Kasparov and Karpov agreed beforehand to a draw, the nineteenth
game in Lyon, 1990. This time, I agree, was a fix."
"What you're saying now, Boris," says Fischer, "is just a pinprick. I'm
going to demonstrate it all in a book. Proof positive." He has to stop to
explain what pinprick means to Spassky. "See, the nineteenth game in Lyon
is where it gets really ingenious. They made that one look obvious, so
you'd say, 'If'" -- he raises an index finger, and a terrible, manic glint
comes into his eye - "'Maybe. just that one.' And you'd forget about all
that other injustice."
"It's like the Mafia," says Spassky.
"Nah, Boris, the Mafia's got honor."
Vasiljevic comes over to explain the procession back to the opening
spectacle, or as he says it, spectock-ck. "We will march back to the
bridge, where we drink the schnapps, then, through my town, past the
dancers and the circus people, to the spectock-ck!"
"Through your town?" Fischer asks.
"Yes," says Vasiljevic. 'The town on my island."
"Your island." Fischer looks hypnotized. The idea of being able to isolate
yourself, on an island, in a castle, whatever, has long appealed to him.
Thirty years ago, at the age of nineteen, he told a reporter: "I've got
strong ideas about my house. I'm going to hire the best architect and have
him build it in the shape of a rook.... Class. Spiral staircases, parapets,
everything. I want to live the rest of my life in a house built exactly
like a rook."
The match itself, finally, is something of an anticlimax. The crucial
question of Fischer's greatness is left unanswered: His play, which through
his sixteen-year career showed a steadily developing logic of its own ("It
began to feel," the international master Walter Shipman once told me, "as
though you were playing against chess itself"), now has no signature. The
first game is absolutely brilliant: "Every move perfect," says Yasser
Seirawan. "Terrifying." More to the point, however, is that its perfection
and terror are pure Kasparov and Karpov. It has Kasparov's trademark
pyrotechnic attacks on both sides of the board at once (on bookend pawn
pushes -- his nineteenth and fortieth moves -- you can practically feel
Kasparov's hand moving the pieces) and Karpov's patented suffocation
technique, where the life of the opponent's pieces is slowly squeezed
out. It reads like a successful but very didactic attempt to show that
even though he's spent twenty years in the wilderness, chess hasn't yet
passed him by.
His wretched performances in the next five games have the same feeling.
Where failing, inexplicably, to win an easy endgame in game two (in the
audience, Zita shows me the win on a pocket chess set), losing wretchedly
in games four and five (in which he actually seems to fear the
complications on the board), or nearly losing in game six (at one point in
that endgame, he seems to have dozed off), it's not that Fischer has lost
it -- or, as Kasparov rather hopefully opined on Finnish television, "The
legend of the best player of chess has been destroyed." He's simply playing
like one of those well read, overfed, and insufferably solipsistic
lunch-counter philosophers he sounds like in some of his rants.
On doctor's orders, however, after the sixth game, he reduces his daily
caloric intake from five thousand to a maximum of twenty-five hundred, and
his form improves steadily. By his final win in Sveti Stefan, a brilliant
attacking game that puts him firmly ahead with five wins to Spassky's two
before they move to Belgrade for the second half of the match, he looks a
bit like the Fischer of old -- precise and playing with what can only be
called appetite: for complications on the board and for Spassky's ego.
But it just doesn't seem to matter. There's no tension, except for a few
comical demands: to have the first three rows of seats removed, and to have
a sign placed behind the board reading WORLD CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP -- three
times -- so that no photos can be taken without that vital information. He
has a blue curtain placed over the ten-foot aperture; the curtain rises
with him and Spassky already seated. They're chatting away happily, as
though at the beginning of some domestic comedy, and you quickly realize
this is no chess match. And when Fischer shrugs his shoulders after his
first defeat, saying, "That's what chess is all about. One day you give
your opponent a lesson, the next day he gives you one," you get the feeling
this isn't Fischer either: The old Bobby. would have been foaming.
At the airport, heading back to Belgrade, I watch Vasiljevic and four
bodyguards enter a police captain's office and check their 9-mm pistols.
Vasiljevic reluctantly snaps open his rectangular case and surrenders the
Hechler & Koch machine gun inside. He sees me and waves his hand
imperiously, saying, "Go 'way."
At, the gate, however, he comes over and sits with me. "Now you know my
business secret," he says. "I am no longer mysterious? The Jerusalem Post
says I am of mysterious origins."
"Did you sell weapons to Israel?"
"No," he says with a big smile. "Stupid, stupid. I sold medicine to Israel.
Printing paper. I saw you at the cafe, before the spectock-ck.
If Bobby knows you are press, he runs twenty-five meters. And if he knows
you are Jewish, he runs fifty meters."
"Tell me about yourself."
"No, nothing. I am mysterious. I have two sons, named David and Levy. I
invited Sadik Danon to the spectock-ck. Why don't you ask how I know you
"Was your sons' mother Jewish?"
"Don't ask. I tell Bobby, 'My two sons are Jewish. You can tell me about
your chess table. You can tell me about your chess pieces. You can tell me
about the light in the chess hall. But my guests, my family, you
stay away.' He respects. How can he no? It's my town."
"Do you think he's crazy?"
"No. Not crazy. Irrational judgment. Trauma of the childhood."
"No, the father. If you mention the father, he will not speak the whole
night. Mother, he calls every day. And the sister. I like you," he suddenly
says. "I could give you exclusive with Bobby. But it doesn't matter. I talk
with him twelve hours, all night, no stopping, -- he says, shrugging his
shoulders as he gets up to board plane. "It's one word, maybe two. Trauma
of the childhood. Bad instruction. Poor Bobby."
Poor Bobby. The last time I saw him, he was perched awkwardly on a
four-foot stone wall in a tiny piazza in Sveti Stefan surrounded by dancers
who shook their Montenegrin booties in his face and by a giant
contortionist who undulated, twisted, and literally bent over backward for
him. The spectacle had been for benefit, and yet it seemed to strike him as
just so much noise and distraction. For a moment, at least, his entourage
had abandoned him. As he eyed the performers with an uneasiness approaching
paranoia, he fondled a tiny leather pocket chess set. After decades in
exile, years of demands, sacrifice, and silence, he'd finally gotten the
rematch he'd long claimed was his due. But he still seemed restless,
dissatisfied. A dancer sashayed within ten feet him, intruding on his
bubble of isolation, and Fischer recoiled. He jumped up, announced to no
one in particular, "Gotta get so stuff done," and bolted from the piazza,
the bodyguards closing ranks around him, a middle-aged man with a miniature
chess set heading back to his villa to be alone again.