Bobby Fischer--American Folk Hero

With the conquest of the world championship Bobby Fischer has deservedly staked out a place for himself as one of chessdom's immortals. Apart from his genius at chess he is also such a colorful and temperamental man that he has done more to advance the popularity of the game than any previous champion. His victory marks an important turning point in the history of the game.

Nothing in his early life could have led anyone to predict his great future. Born in Chicago on March 9, 1943, of a German born physicist and a Swiss mother (Regina, a nurse, teacher, later physician), his childhood years were full of sorrow. The parents broke up when he was two. His father has never been heard from, even now when Bobby is at the height of his fame. Nor will Bobby or his mother talk about him. No one even knows whether he is dead or alive.

His mother, Regina, is a colorful determined person in her own right. Born in Switzerland, she was brought up in St. Louis, where her father was a dress cutter. From 1933 to 1938 she studied medicine at the First Moscow Medical Institute in the Soviet Union, but did not receive a degree that was valid in the United States. She and Bobby's father met while she was on holiday in Germany in 1938. They were divorced in 1945 after two children were born, Bobby and his sister Joan, who is five years older.

When Bobby first became famous, his mother supported his efforts in every conceivable way. She picketed the White House, appeared on TV shows, manufactured trinkets with her son's name, all to cover the meager, expenses for his trips abroad.

Then a serious rift between mother and son developed in 1961. In that year she participated in a much publicized peace march from San Francisco to Moscow. After that she remained in Europe, where she married her second husband, Cyril Pustan, a college English teacher, and resumed her medical studies. In 1968, at the age of 55, she received her medical degree from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, East Germany. Evidently, like Bobby she persists until she reaches her goal.

Her present husband is about 16 or 17 years younger, more or less Bobby's age when the permanent break between mother and son occurred. In an interview with The New York Times, she commented that her marriage was "like robbing the cradle" but that he had made her an offer that she could not refuse.

What led to the battle between her and Bobby no one knows; neither one is in any way communicative. But sometime in his adolescence there was a terrible fight, and since then the two have allegedly not spoken to one another. Even when Bobby won the world championship, his lifelong dream, his mother was not present to congratulate him.

After the divorce Mrs. Fischer moved around to several American cities, finally settling in Brooklyn. Both children and the mother had emotional problems, and there were constant serious strains throughout the years, which evidently erupted openly only when Bobby reached adolescence.

Some time around his sixth birthday Bobby acquired a chess set. Almost immediately chess became the essence of life for him, replacing school, friends, family and even other games. At seven he played against the late Dr. Max Pavey in a simultaneous exhibition, his first public appearance. He lost mercilessly, but this did not prevent him from feeling that he should have won. Apparently even at that age he was cherishing the hope of becoming world champion.

Left very much to his own resources by his working mother, Bobby seems to have done little else besides play chess from the age of six. This accounts for the obvious eccentricities in his character, which led Euwe to remark during the match that "Bobby lives in another world." No one knows what he could do if he devoted his mind to anything else besides chess, but he never has, and shows no inclination to do so now.

His single-minded devotion to chess led to a constant increase in his playing strength. In 1956, when he was only thirteen years old, he won the junior championship of the United States. Since the junior championship included all players under twenty-one, this already marked him out as a player of great promise.

Apparently, though, this success dismayed his mother, who shortly thereafter came to consult me about what could be done to dissuade her son from devoting all his time to chess. At that time I sent him copies of my books, and bad a few talks with him, almost entirely limited to chess.

In retrospect, it becomes one of the ironic twists of history that of the two leading American chess masters of the twentieth century one almost became the psychoanalyst of the other. But Bobby was not receptive to the idea of any kind of help. He came to see me about half-a-dozen times. Each time we played chess for an hour or two. In order to maintain a relationship with him I had to win, which I did. Evidently at that point he was not yet up to his later strength. I do not recall the games, but I do remember that he was not yet strong opposition. My family remembers how furious he was after each encounter, muttering that I was "lucky."

Hopeful that I might help him to develop in other directions, I started a conversation at one point about what he was doing in school. As soon as school was mentioned, he became furious, screamed "You have tricked me" and promptly walked out. For years afterwards, whenever I met him in clubs or tournaments be gave me angry looks, as though I had done him some immeasurable harm by trying to get a little closer to him. By now he may well have forgotten the whole experience.

In the summer of 1956, during a visit to England, I discussed Bobby with Ernest Jones, the famous analyst who wrote the classic paper on Paul Morphy. This was before I had any really personal knowledge of the boy. Jones replied with almost prophetic insight: "Leave him alone; he'll become a second Paul Morphy."

For many years afterwards, chess players approached me with the request to try to help Bobby out of his obvious personal problems. In spite of his genius, he was socially awkward, provocative, argumentative and unhappy.. But in the end his extraordinary self-limitation to chess won out. Chess seems to have been the best therapy in the world for him.

For a number of years Bobby's progress in the chess world was directly upwards. Although he was already sure that he would be world champion some day, indeed he frankly conceded that he was the greatest player who had ever lived, he still had to fight his way through on the chess board. Some of his performances were indifferent, merely indicating that he was a player of great promise, but chess history is full of young players of great promise who strut their brief hour on the stage, moving quietly on into oblivion. Even great masters, like Tal and Keres in this generation, have hit high-water marks, only to decline into the general ranks of leading grandmasters, on a par with many others. On top of that, Bobby's boasting at this tender age, before he had done anything really remarkable in the adult world, led everybody to complain about his "colossal egotism." Later many came to secretly or openly admire him for the same trait.

In 1957 came his first big chance: he was invited to play in the U.S. championship, which was also the qualifying tournament for the Interzonal step on the ladder for the world championship. Reshevsky was the strong favorite, but all the other active American masters were also present. To everybody's surprise but his own, Bobby won first prize in January 1958, shortly before his fifteenth birthday. And without losing a game! And his chess was of a remarkably mature caliber: thorough knowledge of the openings, solid in the middle game, technically perfect in the endgame. Here was an authentic genius, the second such to appear after World War II, the first having been the Russian Mikhail Tal.

Not yet fifteen, Bobby was already ranked as one of the leading grandmasters in the world. The troubled little boy had suddenly metamorphosed into a candidate for the world championship. In his own mind he was already world champion, but to others he had yet to demonstrate this by the hard logic of the score.

It would require a most extraordinary school to offer anything to such a youngster. Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, which he attended, was not extraordinary; many questioned whether it was even ordinary. Small wonder that Bobby dropped out shortly thereafter, with the acid comment, similar to many that followed, that "teachers are all jerks."

In later years, Erasmus Hall gave him a special gold medal, while Brooklyn established a special commemorative exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum during the 1972 match. But it does no good to reconstruct history. At that time he simply dropped out, ignored by the authorities, bewildered and uncertain about his future.

At fifteen he was launched on a lifetime chess career. Yet American chess is a particularly unrewarding field in which to become a professional. No American master since Frank Marshall had succeeded in making a living at it for any length of time, and Frank was helped by a fortunate gift of a house from a wealthy patron. No doubt at fifteen the matter of making a living, when he was still living at home with his mother, did not concern Bobby; later it did. Yet he persisted. Not only was he to make a living at it, he was destined to change the nature of the sport in the United States.

Besides scoring an outstanding victory, he had also played a game against Donald Byrne which has gone down in history as an immortal masterpiece. It may well be, as some claim, the game of the century. Since his victory qualified him for the Interzonal the next year at Portoroz in Yugoslavia, he was already an international celebrity. The Russians showed their concern in the usual way by disparaging his achievement. Botvinnik, who made himself look silly for propagandistic reasons by writing about the "Soviet school of chess," commented quite inappropriately: "Both Fischer's strong and weak point lies in that he is always true to himself and plays the same way regardless of his opponents or any external factor:" This comment is much more true of Botvinnik than of Fischer.

After some publicity stunting by his mother, who thereby managed to raise the expense money for his trip, Bobby played in the Interzonal that year (1958) at Portoroz, Yugoslavia. Before the tournament he announced his scheme for qualifying to the Yugoslavian journalist Radojcic: "I can draw with the grandmasters, and there are half-a-dozen Patzer in the tournament I reckon to beat."

As it turned. out, the scheme worked by the narrowest of margins. After an uncertain start, he pulled himself together to carry out his plan. Drawing with the grandmasters proved easier than expected, while beating the "Patzer" proved much harder. His fellow-American Sherwin, not really in Bobby's class, lasted 90 moves. Even the Filipino Cardoso, whom he had demolished in a set match the year before, put up such stiff opposition that the game lasted 62 moves before Bobby scored. At the end Bobby had squeaked through by a narrow margin, tying for fifth and sixth places, and thereby qualifying for the Candidates' tournament the next year.

Impressive as it was to the chess world, Bobby's score left him deeply disappointed. He determined to do better the next time.

Between Portoroz and the Candidates' tournament in 1959 Bobby participated in four tournaments. In the U.S. championship he won with great ease again, with a score of six wins and five draws. But the international scene was different. At Mar del Plata he finished 3-4, Santiago 4-7 and Zurich 3-4. Clearly his "colossal egotism" at this point was justified only by his age, not by his results. On the international scene the masters and grandmasters were a far cry from the pushovers the Americans seemed to be for him.

My feeling, however, is that even at that time his results were not commensurate with his abilities. The foreign masters, with the exception of a few top Russian stars, were not so much stronger than the Americans. It was probably the apprehensions and excitement about being in strange countries, without friends, or even a knowledge of the language, as well as the usual adolescent conflicts, which accounted for his poor scores.

Then came the great test in Yugoslavia, in the Candidates' tournament. All the best players in the world were there, except for the world champion himself, who was scheduled to play the winner. Bobby, overconfident as usual, suffered a severe setback: he finished tied for fifth-sixth in a field of eight. Although still the youngest Grandmaster in the history of the game, twice U.S. champion, and now clearly the best player in the world outside the U.S.S.R., he considered it a defeat rather than a victory. And defeat has always been a bitter pill for Bobby to swallow, from the time that he played his first game of chess to the present.

The winner of that tournament, Mikhail Tal, went on to best Botvinnik the next year, thereby becoming the youngest world champion since Paul Morphy.* In my opinion, Tal is the only true genius Soviet chess has produced since Botvinnik, in spite of the claims made for the others. The Russian strength historically has resided in the large number of fast-class grandmasters whom they can field in any tournament, rather than creative genius at the very top. Like Fischer, Tal is a creative genius. But his superiority did not last long. The next year he lost the return match to Botvinnik, and since then he has merely been one of many also-rans. His decline has been attributed to poor health, but there may well be deeper reasons, which will be discussed in the chapter on Spassky and Russian chess.

* Morphy was the strongest player in the world at age 22, although an official world championship did not yet exist.

In 1959 came his third try in the U.S. championship, now known also as the Rosenwald tournament. Before this contest the other side of his personality came to the fore publicly for the first time, the eccentric and the prima donna. He demanded that the pairings for the tournament be drawn publicly, according to an obscure FIDE ruling. Actually, unless someone is trying to cheat (and it is impossible to see how he would so in such a tournament) it does not make the slightest bit of difference whether the drawings are done publicly or privately. Bobby even went so far as to allow the committee to choose a substitute before he finally consented to play. This was the first of many incidents that helped to shape the image that has since become a legend.

Needless to say, he again won the U.S. championship with ridiculous ease. In American tournaments, except for the match with Reshevsky, he was henceforth without peer. He won eight times running, every time he participated. In the 1963-64 event he won every game, something which had happened only half-a-dozen times before in the history of the game.*

* In 1940 at Dallas and in 1941 at St. Louis I won every game in the U.S. Open, while in 1939 in the North American Championship in New York I won with a score of 10½ out of 11, qualitatively perhaps the equal of Fischer's feat.

Nevertheless, the idiosyncrasies and the eccentricities remained, primarily against the top opposition. In one game against Reshevsky Bobby had his lawyer on the podium to make sure that nothing untoward occurred. A peculiar phobia about lighting developed, which made him state that the lighting was never quite right for his taste.

Since Reshevsky had been the dominant figure in American chess after my retirement, a match between Reshevsky and Fischer seemed a natural. One was finally arranged in 1961, by the wife of the well-known cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. Here for the first time Fischer could not demonstrate his superiority to his leading American opponent. Although he had come ahead of Reshevsky in tournaments, match play turned out to be quite a different story. After eleven games the score stood two wins, two losses and seven draws even. Bobby had failed to prove that he was the top American player in match competition.

Then came one of those incidents that has helped to make Bobby famous. Because of another engagement Mrs. Piatigorsky asked Bobby to rearrange his game one Sunday. When he refused he was forfeited. No doubt this would have been lifted --but Bobby walked out. He quit the match* entirely. The winner's share of the prize money was awarded to Reshevsky. Technically therefore Bobby lost the match. Nevertheless most people continued to rank him as better than Reshevsky, even though Sammy, a master since the age of six, was in his declining years while Bobby still had far to go.

* In writing this book many memories of my own chess career have come back, and I am amused to see how history can repeat itself. In my second game with Reshevsky at Pasadena in 1932, we adjourned in a position which was a clear win for me. The adjourned time fell on a Jewish holiday and was therefore postponed, over my objections. For the second adjournment the game was rearranged for an early time, which I failed to keep. This time I was forfeited, in spite of my objections. The tournament director, a Dr. Griffith, took me into the men's room and consoled me with a medicinal shot of Scotch (those were still the days of Prohibition). I was then 17 years old, about the same age as Bobby in his match with Reshevsky.

In international competition, as a close study of his record shows, Bobby also behaved in a rather peculiar way. After his defeat (self-judged) in the Candidates' tournament in 1959, he played in two Argentine tournaments in 1960. In the first, at Mar del Plata, he shared first prize with Spassky, a forerunner of things to come. But in the second, three months later at Buenos Aires, he finished thirteenth, the worst result of his life. In their early years Alekhine and Keres had similar swings.

But to Bobby a defeat at the chess board is more than a game lost, it implies a virtual destruction of his way of life. Except for the Interzonals, where he had to participate if he was to play for the world championship, he did not trust himself to play in a really big international tournament outside the U.S. again for ten years, until Buenos Aires in 1970, where he did finish first with a magnificent score of thirteen wins and four draws, although here too the bottom five players were local second-raters.

Although Fischer demanded a match for the world championship in the early sixties, Botvinnik, or rather the Soviet hierarchy, refused to allow it. As I indicated in the first chapter, the present FIDE set-up was designed to prevent the champion from dodging an able challenger on either financial or ideological grounds. After the Yugoslavian tournament in 1959, when Fischer had demonstrated his superiority over all others in the Western world, a match with Botvinnik would have been the logical next step. But the American Chess Federation, which has never treated its masters kindly, did not have the courage to press for it, while Bobby alone could not do it. In one sense it is all for the better, since in 1959 or 1960 the odds would have been heavily in Botvinnik's favor, or Tal's; Tal had won every game against Fischer in the Candidates' tournament.

In any case it was clear to Bobby that to play for the world title he would have to follow the FIDE rules. So he did go to the Interzonal in Stockholm in 1962. Here he finished first with the astounding score of thirteen wins and nine draws. The stage was set for the next step on the ladder towards the world championship, the Candidates' tournament, at Curacao.

Up to this point Bobby's rise had been virtually straight upwards. A few setbacks, such as the inability to beat Reshevsky, or the poor form at Buenos Aires, were inevitable. Clearly he was marked out as the chess phenomenon of the sixties.

At the West Indies island, which to most Americans is known as a warm hospitable tourist resort, Bobby was faced by five Soviet grandmasters and one Czech, with his only ally the naturalized American (formerly Hungarian) Pal Benko. Petrosian won first prize, primarily by not losing, drawing nineteen games out of a total of twenty-seven played. Tal became ill and had to withdraw. Bobby finished fourth, with eight wins, seven losses and twelve draws, behind Petrosian, Keres and Geller. It was a bad blow to his ambitions, since he would now have to repeat the entire procedure of qualifying, waiting at least three years for a match for the world title.

Bobby's reaction was a strong one. "The Russians have fixed world chess" was his sensational accusation, in one of the few articles he has ever written. He claimed that they had conspired with one another to let a Russian win, and that world chess was so rigged by the Russians that no non-Russian could ever get through.

This had been my feeling in 1946-1948, and one reason for my withdrawal from the world championship tournament at that time. Others had made similar charges. Just around that time the bridge expert Tobias Stone, who had started life as a chess player, accused his English opponents of cheating, which earned him a suspension for one year from international bridge competition.

Bobby charged not only that the Russians arranged the results of games in advance, in accordance with a master plan dictated from above, but that they actually consulted during the game with one another. Since there were no American observers on the scene who knew Russian (under similar circumstances the Russians usually put observers on the scene who understood English, to prevent American players from consulting with one another), there is no way of knowing whether this charge is true or not.

It might however be interesting to recall several incidents from my own experience. At the international tournament in Folkestone in 1933, the Americans were fighting for first place with the Czechs, who were headed by Salo Flohr, then the strongest candidate for the world championship. Alekhine, who was about to go off on an American tour, headed the French team; apart from Alekhine they were all terrible Patzer. Instead of playing against the Czechs, Alekhine took a bye, saying that he had to prepare for his American trip. But he remained in the playing room during the entire match, and the French players could all be seen going up to him, and engaging in animated conversation. "Surprisingly" the Czech team lost to the French in a terrible upset. And at the Nottingham tournament in 1936, when I was playing Euwe, then world champion after his defeat of Alekhine in 1935, both Alekhine and Capablanca spontaneously came up to me during the game to suggest moves, even though I had not asked them to do so.

Thus cheating at chess matches is by no means unknown, motivated either by politics or passion. Whether Bobby's charges about Curacao are true or not, they did have a strong impact on the chess world. Keres was given the assignment of replying by the Russian press. In itself this was a surprising choice, since Keres, as an Estonian who had seen his country ravaged by the Soviets after World War II, was almost rabidly anti-Soviet. By rights Keres should have been permitted to play a match for the title with Botvinnik in 1948, but was denied the chance partly for political reasons. His article carried the hidden implication that he had not been discriminated against by the Russians either, so therefore Fischer had no cause for protest.

Nevertheless, the protests did continue. The logic of the situation was too compelling, in addition to which the Soviet Union was in the post-Stalin thaw. On top of everything after Botvinnik lost the tide to Petrosian in 1963, he was denied a chance for a return match himself, which led him to retreat from active chess at the relatively early age of 52. He too objected to the arduous task of climbing up the FIDE ladder all over again.

In spite of all the political machinations involved, eventually the FIDE did change its system to allow more latitude to nonRussians, and to make it impossible for the Soviet players to engage in any kind of collusion beyond the Interzonal level. Set matches among the leading players replaced the older tournament system.

However, this did not satisfy Bobby. Loudly he had cried that he would never again play in a FIDE tournament, that he was the best player in the world, and that a title match should be arranged where he could prove it. When his demands were refused, he retired from FIDE tournaments, sticking to his word. At the Interzonal in Amsterdam in 1964 he just did not show up, in spite of several attractive offers. At the Olympiad in Tel Aviv in 1964 he demanded a fee of $5000 for playing, knowing that this would be refused, so again he did not go.

Finally at Sousse, in Tunisia, in 1967, he broke his vow and participated. Although he was leading by a wide margin, and was almost certain of first prize, after some ten rounds a dispute erupted about his religious observances, somewhat similar to the fight with Reshevsky in 1961. When he did not appear he was forfeited. Efforts to solve the situation were reportedly blocked by the committee of the FIDE, which at that time was still headed by a Swedish lawyer who was purportedly pro-Soviet.

Once more Bobby walked out of a tournament as his only solution, a senseless one, since even if he had accepted the forfeits he would have ended in first place. Something of the same kind happened in the Spassky match, but fortunately there at the last minute he decided to stay on and win.

By 1962 Bobby was already an international celebrity. That year an article about him by the well-known writer Ralph Ginzburg appeared in Harper's, which drew a lot of attention because it cast more light on his personality than anything that had ever appeared before.

Ginzburg, stating that never before had a chess champion aroused either so much admiration or so much antipathy, reported Bobby's constant boast: "I know that I deserve to be World Champion and I know I can beat Botvinnik. There's no one alive I can't beat."

The interview on which Ginzburg's article was based was arranged for three o'clock. At four Bobby phoned that he didn't feel like coming. When he did appear he was again an hour late (shades of the Spassky match, where he came late for almost every game).

Bobby was remarkably candid with Ginzburg, who included numerous quotes from the interview (the last one Bobby has ever given to any serious reporter).

Ginzburg told Bobby that Lisa Lane considered him the greatest chess player alive. "That statement is accurate," replied Bobby, "but Lisa Lane really wouldn't be in a position to know. They're all weak, all women. They're stupid compared to men. They shouldn't play chess, you know. They're like beginners. They lose every single game against a man. There isn't a woman player in the world I can't give Knight-odds to and still beat."*

* Incidentally an incorrect statement, but the spirit is clear.

When asked whether he considered himself the greatest player that ever lived Bobby said: "Well, I don't like to put things like that in print, it sounds so egotistical. But to answer your question, Yes."

In response to a question about how he made a living, then estimated at about $5000 per year, Bobby uttered his grievances against other chess players. "It's the fault of the chess players themselves [for the lack of support by millionaires]. I don't know what they used to be but now they're not the most gentlemanly group. When it was a game played by the aristocrats it had more like you know dignity to it. When they used to have the clubs, like no women were allowed and everybody went in dressed in a suit, a tie, like gentlemen, you know. Now, kids come running in in their sneakers--even in the best chess club--and they got women in there. It's a social place and people are making noise, it's a madhouse." Even Jews angered him, although he is half Jewish, half unknown. "Yeh, there are too many Jews in chess. They seem to have taken away the class of the game. They don't seem to dress so nicely, you know. That's what I don't like."

After relating how he had broken up with his mother the previous year by having her move out of the Brooklyn apartment, Bobby described a typical day in his life. "Lots of the time I'm travelling around, Europe, South America, Iceland. But when I'm home, I don't know, I don't do much. I get up eleven o'clock maybe. I'll get dressed and all, look at some chess books, go downstairs and eat. I never cook my own meals. I don't believe in that stuff. I don't eat in Automats or luncheonettes, either. I like a waiter to wait on me. Good restaurants. After I eat I usually call up some of my chess friends, go over and analyze a game or something. Maybe I'll go to a chess club. Then maybe I'll see a movie or something. There's really nothing for me to do. Maybe I'll study some chess book." In re[sponse to] the subways he said: " Unfortunately, [I do travel on them]. It's dirty-kids there see I have nice shoes on so they try to step on them on purpose. People come in there in their work clothes and all, people come charging in like animals, it's terrible. People sitting and staring directly across the aisles at you, it's barbaric." (The same fear of being looked at led to the difficulties with the cameras at Iceland, apparently.)

On the subject of clothes Bobby said: "Yeh, I used to dress badly until I was about sixteen. But people just didn't seem to have enough respect for me, you know? They were sort of priding themselves. They would say he beat us at chess, but he's still an uncouth kid. So I decided to dress up." He commented that he had all his clothes made to order, that he had seventeen suits, all hand-made, five pairs of Hungarian shoes made to order at $100 a pair, not counting ready-made shoes, shirts at $25 each, and so on. "I like to dress classy," he explained.

Asked if he had any interests outside of chess and clothes, he said no. A short time before he had dabbled in judo, then gave it up. He regarded palmistry as a definite science, stating that his own palms show a flexible mind and a soul that has been calloused by the hard knocks of life.

At that time he did not believe in God. He agreed with Nietzsche that religion is there to dull the senses of the people (later this was to change).

Since he had so many obvious dislikes, Ginzburg inquired whether there was any group that he admired without qualification. After a short pause Bobby replied: " Well, I ... gee ... I don't know. Wait! There is: the aristocrats! I admire the aristocrats. You know, the millionaires, except they're millionaires the way millionaires should be, not the way millionaires are. They're the European millionaires. The French people, you know. Not like the American millionaires. Here you can't tell them apart from the other people. Some of them even drive Chevrolets. They dress casually and all, like they're afraid to be looked at. They should be setting the standards for other people. Instead, they dress like slobs, you know." He admitted that he had never met any such people, only read about them in books like Dickens' Tale of Two Cities.

On the way back from Ginzburg's office the two stopped at an espresso coffee house for a bite to eat. Bobby ordered a slice of pecan cream pie, a side order of butter cookies, and an elaborate frozen pineapple drink. When he had finished his pie, Ginzburg mentioned that the place was reputed to be owned and operated by homosexuals. This aroused great consternation in Bobby. He said of his drink: "Maybe they put something here. I better not drink it" He refused to eat or drink anything else in the restaurant.

Just before they parted Bobby was asked what he would do if he became world champion. This led to a series of interesting fantasies.

"First of all I'll make a tour of the whole world, giving exhibitions. I'll charge unprecedented prices. I'll set new standards. I'll make them pay thousands. Then I'll come home on a luxury liner. First-class. I'll have a tuxedo made for me in England to wear to dinner. When I come home I'll write a couple chess books and start to reorganize the whole game. I'll have my own club. The Bobby Fischer . . . uh, the Robert J. Fischer Chess Club. It'll be class. Tournaments in full dress. No bums in there. You're gonna have to be over eighteen to get in, unless like you have special permission because you have like special talent. It'll be in a part of the city that's still decent, like the upper East Side.

"And I'll hold big international tournaments in my club with big cash prizes. And I'm going to kick all the millionaires out of chess unless they kick in more money. Then I'll buy a car so I don't have to take the subway any more. That subway makes me sick. It'll be a Mercedes-Benz. Better, a Rolls-Royce, one of those fifty-thousand-dollar custom jobs, made to my own measure. Maybe I'll buy one of those jets they advertise for businessmen. And a yacht. Flynn had a yacht. Then I'll have some more suits made. I'd like to be one of the Ten Best-Dressed Men. That would really be something. I read that Duke Snider made the list.

"Then I'll build me a house. I don't know where but it won't be in Greenwich Village. They're all dirty, filthy animals down there. Maybe I'll build it in Hong Kong. Everybody who's been there says it's great. Art Linkletter said so on the radio. And they've got suits there, beauties for only twenty dollars. Or maybe I'll build it in Beverly Hills. The people there are sort of square, but like the climate is nice and it's close to Vegas, Mexico, Hawaii, and those places. I 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. Yeh, that's for me. Class. Spiral staircases, parapets, everything. I want to live the rest of my life in a house built exactly like a rook."

The period from 1962, after the Curacao tournament, to 1970, when he began his present comeback, actually represents a partial withdrawal from competitive chess in Bobby's career. He seemed reluctant to play outside the U.S., where however he continued to win every U.S. championship, though another match with Reshevsky was never arranged.

His public utterances merely reflected his grandiose opinion of himself. When in 1964 he picked a list of the ten greatest players of all time he omitted the previous world champion Botvinnik, as well as Emanuel Lasker and a host of other great names. Naturally he waxed enthusiastic about Morphy, adding that he could beat Morphy, thus making him the greatest player of all time. At that time Bobby was merely one of perhaps a dozen international grandmasters of whom any one might win the world title.

Somehow he eked out a living, probably only because he was a bachelor and his needs were minimal. His private life was shrouded in mystery; after the famous interview with Ginzburg he had the sense not to talk to reporters any more. Some time in his teens he had a fight with his mother, who thereupon moved to England; some of her life is described above.

Bobby's aversion to girls became legendary. He even refused to participate in one tournament because the woman's champion Lisa Lane was allowed in. The only woman who has ever been connected with his name is an intriguing Mrs. Grumette from Los Angeles, who is old enough to be his mother. Indeed, if, as in Bobby's case, the mother marries a man young enough to be her son, and the son consorts only with a woman old enough to be his mother, one does not have to be a Greek to recognize a marked Oedipus complex.

In the late sixties he suddenly experienced a religious conversion, joining a sect known as the Worldwide Church of God. This sect, founded in Oregon 40 years ago, is a blend of Old Testament Judaism and fundamental New Testament Adventism. It imposes Hebrew dietary and Sabbath proscriptions and preaches the imminent return of Jesus Christ to set up a superorganized world government. It is said that he lives up faithfully to the rules of his church, and that he contributes twenty per cent of his income to it.

Sudden religious conversions have been a subject of psychological investigation for a long time. Generally they are seen as part of the search for a father. Since Bobby never knew his own father, apparently never even seems to have met him after the divorce, his yearning for a father through a religious group becomes understandable. On top of that since chess competition involves a constant attack on the father-figure, both realistically and symbolically, it must have been important for him to find some father whom he could not destroy.

My contacts with Bobby were rare and superficial. Once we met by accident in a chess club, and played some offhand games. To my surprise they were recorded by someone present, and Bobby even reprinted one in his book My Sixty Memorable Games. To record offhand games is unheard-of in modern times; the last one who did so, significantly, was Morphy. In the official record of all his games, recently published, this game was not included. To the best of my memory the over-all score was slightly in his favor.

In the middle sixties Bobby once approached me with an offer to co-author a book. He had many new variations in the openings, and wanted them incorporated in print. I knew how to write; he offered to revise my Practical Chess Openings. The extent of his erudition and research were indeed amazing. Even the Austrian Gruenfeld, whom we used to refer to as the card index of the chess openings, did not come up to him. Bobby seemed to have analyzed in depth every opening in the books. I urged him to put the moves together, while I would write the introductions; my professional commitments did not allow me more time. " Why don't you give them up?" was his only comment. He declined to undertake the job of putting the moves down; if I did not write the book with him, the deal was off.

At that time, curious how he made a living, I asked him how much he was paid for a simultaneous exhibition. "$500," he said. "And do you give many at that fee?" "No," he replied, "that's too high, so nobody ever asks me. And that's just as well."

By 1970, somehow he got over the feeling about the Curacao defeat, and decided to try it the FIDE way. It became clear to him that his stubborn refusal to compromise his demands was getting him nowhere. Although he had not taken part in the previous U.S. championship because of a senseless demand that it be turned into a double-round affair, the participants graciously permitted him to play as a qualifier in the Interzonal at Palma de Majorca anyhow. But this time it became clear that Bobby had finally moved up another step beyond his competitors. In the last six rounds he won every game. The rest is history: the two six-zero victories against Taimanov and Larsen, and the 12½ to 8½ win against Spassky.

In evaluating a personality and situation as complex as Fischer and the chess world, we can consider Fischer as a chess master, as a champion, as a human being, as a symbol and as a sportsman.


Now that Bobby is champion, the question arises: how does he compare with the great names of the past?

Although the world championship has officially been in existence since 1866, or one hundred and six years, it has largely been dominated by five players in that period: Steinitz for 28 years (1866-1894), Lasker for the next twenty-seven (1894-1921), Alekhine for nineteen (1927-1946, except for the brief period 1935-37 when Euwe was champion), Capablanca for six and Botvinnik for fifteen (1948-1963 with several brief exceptions for Smyslov and Tal).* Certainly in terms of technical skill Fischer should be classed among these giants. That he is better than they were at their best there is no reason to believe as yet. That he may advance again in the future, as he has in his unbelievable spurt of 1970-1972, is quite possible.

* It is best to leave out the pre-Steinitz era. Morphy e.g. could give some of his strongest opponents the handicap of Pawn and move, and even average opponents Knight odds, something which has never been possible since.

What has always been most striking about Fischer is the maturity of his play, even when he was only fifteen. He was a past master of the openings, an expert tactician in the middle game, and sharp as a razor in the endgame. He seemed to have no obvious weaknesses, except for his emotional instability, but that has cost him many a point including some in the current match.

His attitude to chess can best be compared with that of Lasker, who viewed life as a struggle, of which chess was one aspect. And Fischer has said: "I would compare chess to basketball. Basketball players pass the ball around until they get an opening. Like chess, like a mating attack." You play until you find an opening, then you hit him with all you've got. This was obviously his strategy in the present match, a strategy which earned him a well-deserved victory.

On the other hand, if he is compared with the other five champions, there are noticeable differences. Steinitz lived in an era when chess was still poorly understood; he made it his life work to establish its basic principles, and show how they should be applied. Lasker was an intellectual more than a sportsman, regarding chess as but one of many interests in his life.

Alekhine is perhaps most comparable to Fischer. After the 1917 revolution and his departure from the Soviet Union he made chess his life career. Like Fischer he trained for years to beat a dangerous opponent, Capablanca. But there was the difference that Alekhine's primary goal was as a rule to play beautiful chess rather than merely winning chess; Bobby is satisfied to win, though in the process he produces beautiful games.

Capablanca lost interest in chess when he became champion. This is not likely to happen to Bobby. For Botvinnik chess was always secondary to his major interest in electrical engineering. It is no accident that he has devised a system for computer chess. Further, he had to see himself as a product of the Soviet system, which prompted him at one time to write a pointless article on "The Soviet School of Chess."

Fischer stands out because he has been more devoted to chess than any of his predecessors. He eats, thinks and breathes the game. Hence his total absorption, which has led him to contribute so much to opening theory, but above all led him to make the extra push needed to become world champion. Indeed, one can only admire the dogged persistence with which he has pushed himself to the top. On the other hand Fischer comes at a point in history when the amount of novelty that is involved is highly limited. Steinitz revolutionized all the openings in order to place chess on a scientific footing. Lasker cared nothing about the openings; he just played the board. Alekhine, who once told me that he spent four hours a day studying the game, was full of amazing and ingenious innovations. Capa switched from chess to women. Botvinnik introduced a number of important new lines, though he was not completely rounded in all the openings.

In the meantime, however, a host of masters and home analysts, many of them top-flight, have combed every opening in creation. The game has been pretty thoroughly analyzed up to the twentieth move. To introduce new ideas and new lines becomes increasingly difficult. Fischer stars by correcting old errors. Yet, as this match shows, his repertoire of innovations is also limited by reality. It is not enough to introduce a new move; it must also be good. Actually, careful examination of this match shows that Spassky demonstrated more originality in the openings than Fischer, only to throw away his win at one weak moment or another. Fischer won primarily because of his superb tactical ability. As he put it, you toss the basketball around until you find an opening.

Fischer has had the intuition to realize that it is not enough to have an encyclopedia which describes the best moves; the practical player also has to find those moves over the board. And so he has studied and restudied the openings until they have become second nature to him. Herein lies one of his weaknesses which was exploited by Spassky, and could be exploited by some future opponent: he can be drawn into a prepared variation which has been hitherto thought sound, but one in which the opponent has saved up a resounding refutation.

Among the many myths spread about Fischer is the one that he never plays for a draw. Careful analysis of his style shows that almost the opposite is true. He always chooses openings, or tries to choose them, in which he has at least easy equality. Once the game is on an even keel, he begins to toss the basketball around, giving his opponents a chance to make a mistake, which they do often enough. One of the most characteristic features of his style is precisely that he takes so few chances. In this respect he stands in marked contrast to Alekhine, Keres, and, of his contemporaries, Tal. He has developed a knack for choosing openings which will give him some winning chances, but where the risks are minimal, e.g. the ninth game of the present match.

Perhaps his greatest strength lies in the rapidity and ferocity with which he punishes any mistake. Once in the saddle he pushes home with a vengeance. Apparently this also gives him the greatest personal pleasure. As he told the TV personality Dick Cavett: "I like to see 'em squirm."

Yet, with all due respect to Fischer's genius, it would be a serious mistake to regard him as in a superclass, with no competition. Chess just is not made that way any more. Even in the present encounter, in the first ten games Spassky scored only 3½ points, one by forfeit. But in the next ten he played even: one win, one loss and eight draws. With a little luck and fewer errors, as in the fourteenth game, for example, where he threw away an elementary win, or in the tenth game where he discarded an elementary draw, he might well have won.

The psychology of the challenger is quite different from that of the titleholder. As challenger, he is the son tackling the father. Once in the title seat, he becomes the father. How Bobby will handle that nobody knows. He is not the only man in the world who is out to get to the top, nor the only genius around. Chess masters have a way of gunning for a world champion. It remains to be seen how he will fare against the younger generation.

It is intriguing to speculate on how long Fischer will remain champion. First of all, the historical record shows that shortly after a new champion wins the title, some unknown rises to the top who becomes the main challenger and eventually champion. When Anderssen won first prize at London in 1851, in effect defeating Staunton for the world title, Morphy was unknown. When Morphy beat Anderssen in 1858, Steinitz was unknown. When Steinitz beat Anderssen in 1866, the next challenger Zukertort was unknown. When Steinitz played Zukertort in the 1880's, Lasker was unknown. When Lasker beat Steinitz, Capablanca was unknown. And so on down to Fischer. When Botvinnik won the title in 1948, Fischer, his real successor in a certain sense, was unknown. Certainly someone new will show up to challenge Fischer in the next five to ten years, but who it will be no one can tell.

Apart from the unknown of the future, Fischer's superiority over his present-day rivals is none too secure. As a careful study of his career shows, it is only in the last two years that he has moved ahead of his competitors. They too might decide to study harder and forge ahead further. That was how Alekhine defeated Capablanca after inferior results for many years, as did Euwe with Alekhine, and Tal and Smyslov with Botvinnik.

Conceivably Spassky, if given a chance at a return match (which seems unlikely) might reverse the score, just as in the present match he held his own in the second ten games after a disastrous start in the first ten.

Throughout his life Fischer has been his own worst enemy. It is little short of miraculous that his antics did not lead to a cancellation of the present match. His chess was by no means of the highest order. In another match his opponent might easily take better advantage of his numerous mistakes. Like Muhammad Ali, who is somewhat similar to him in personality, towards the end he seemed to take some pleasure in taunting Spassky. That can become dangerous on the chess board, as the eleventh game shows. And again some other challenger might punish him for his audacities. Yet it is equally possible that Bobby will move ahead even further, overcoming the weaknesses shown in the present match. Only time will tell. Since I do not share Bobby's belief in the occult, I will leave aside further speculation.


From now on and for an indefinite future, this period in chess history will be known as the Fischer Era. His personality, his achievements and even his idiosyncrasies will dominate the game in the same way that previous champions ruled in their day.

The match has already set off a chess craze the like of which has never been seen before in the Western world. Sales of sets, books and other chess equipment have been soaring. The membership of the U.S. Chess Federation has increased astronomically. Chess has become a big-time sport.

Certainly Fischer's personality has contributed enormously to this trend. He is, despite his difficulties, an easy person to identify with. Play chess and win--what else is there to life? There is even a Horatio Alger twist to his life story which makes him all the more interesting. A kind of childlike simplicity makes him easy to understand, even if some do not sympathize with some of the devices he has used.

Still, his behavior to date creates a certain uneasiness about future world championship matches. Certainly Fischer will never retire from chess, as Lasker did for many years. But it is possible that he will set such extraordinary conditions for any future challenger that it will be impossible to meet them. He may not even realize himself that they are impossible, much as he seems to have been unaware of the nature of some of his actions in the present match. If that does happen, the official world body will have to decide whether he really wants something or whether he is dodging a challenge. It certainly seems desirable to clarify the conditions surrounding a title match before any incident occurs.


Some of Bobby's behavior is so strange, unpredictable, odd and bizarre that even his most ardent apologists have had a hard time explaining what makes him tick. Apart from the interest in chess which he helped to spark he has therefore also sparked an interest in the psychology of chess.

When I wrote my book The Psychology of the Chess Player almost twenty years ago the chess world paid little attention to it; they were much more interested in my technical writings. But in the past four or five years there has been a considerable change. No doubt part of this is due to the vastly increased interest in psychology. But part of it is also due to the attempt to grasp what Bobby Fischer is up to.

During the match I was approached by a variety of journalists who had read my book and wanted to ask some questions about Bobby. The range of persons eager to find out more was amazing: from the Wall Street Journal to the London Times.

Bobby is a completely one-sided genius, with everything in his life devoted to chess. At one time Tal recommended that he expand his education, to which Bobby replied with some disparaging remarks about Tal's intellectual pretensions. Since the age of six chess has been the be-all and end-all of his existence, the final goal being what he has now achieved: the world championship.

Deserted by his father when he was two, and by his mother when he was in his teens, Bobby has for much of his life been parentless. No doubt hurt by these rejections, he has retaliated by becoming a social isolate. It has generally been very difficult even to communicate with him. He has lived in hotels, shifting from room to room and from hotel to hotel, receiving his mail at the Manhattan Chess Club or some other public locale. Even people who have been ready to offer him money have had a hard time getting through to him.

The social isolate necessarily is turned in upon himself. He does not develop the skills and graces with which to handle other people. Frequently he builds up grandiose notions about his own abilities or future, which he is reluctant to put to the test. He becomes all the more cautious and suspicious about future social contacts, since any further rejection is all the more painful.

All of this certainly holds for Bobby. Throughout the years he has had extreme difficulties in handling human beings. These have been publicly commented upon by scores of people, many of whom have excoriated him unmercifully.

Contrary to expectations the social isolate suffers from terrible anxieties. He feels lonely wrapped up in his own cocoon, yet to approach others means to court a rejection similar to the awful ones that have occurred in the past. So he is caught up in endless conflict and in reassurance which does not reassure.

Few people realize how insecure Bobby really is; he may very well deny it to himself. His boasting, arrogance, disparagement of others are typical ways of covering up his deep inner insecurities. They jar others only because they do not realize how much he is on the defensive.

Chess is almost his only way of making contact with people, yet by beating them he destroys the contact. In his younger days, when he was still coming up in the world, he frequented the chess clubs and coffee houses where he could find opponents. When he got to be too good for that, he spent many long hours alone in his room.

Let it be clear that none of this explains his genius. There are many such social isolates in the world, but few become chess masters. What it does explain however is the persistence with which he pours everything into the game.

For months before the present match Bobby retreated to Grossinger's, allegedly absorbed in the big book of Spassky's games, with few if any friends, little if any female companionship and almost incommunicado. Presumably he was preparing himself thoroughly.

Yet a close review of the match reveals little of his innovative genius in the openings. Quite the contrary: almost all the innovations, as for instance in the 4th, 5th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 15th and 16th games, came from Spassky, who seemed to be thoroughly familiar with Fischer's opening style. One gets the impression in fact that Bobby hardly prepared at all, relying only on his fantastic ability in across-the-board play. In public pictures of what he was doing at Grossinger's he was more often seen with a punching bag than with a chess board.

It could also explain his peculiar behavior before the match and in the first two games. Had Jim Slater not come through with the additional $125,000, Bobby stood to forfeit not only the match but his entire chess future, since no matter how much of a genius a man is, if you cannot deal with him you sidestep him. There is a saying in chess that when a move is unclear you wait until the end of the game. If you win it was a sacrifice, if you lose it was a blunder. Bobby won, so many people think that he was engaged in a brilliant maneuver to bring chess into the realm of big-time sports.

This explanation does not seem plausible. It seems more likely that Bobby was enormously apprehensive about the match. For his opponent not too much was at stake. He had lost to Petrosian in 1966, he had won in 1969. Nothing threatened his life of ease in the Soviet Union; he would remain a popular hero as long as he lived. But for Bobby it was almost literally a matter of life or death. So his great anxiety is understandable.

It is in fact a minor miracle that Bobby did get away with what might well have been a bluff. With much less provocation the Soviets had walked out of tournaments and matches before. Had they insisted on the forfeit of the first game, demanding that Euwe either forfeit Bobby or call off the match, it might indeed never have taken place, and this time they would seem to have had some justification for their actions.

Perhaps fortune favors the fearless. Perhaps it was a result of Nixon's visit to Moscow and the apparent thaw that has developed in U.S.-Soviet relations. Or perhaps the Russians, used to a quarter of a century of easy victories, simply underestimated their opponent and overestimated their own strength. Nobody will ever know. At any rate the Fischer Gambit succeeded.

On the other hand, Bobby's forfeit in the second game is in an entirely different category.. No chess player likes to lose, Bobby least of all. The loss in the first game must have been a bitter blow. Enter the usual string of alibis about noise, TV, cameras, etc. His behavior in the second game has all the earmarks of an attack of panic. He stayed alone in his room, talking to nobody, tore the telephone out of the wall, was reported to be very agitated, and forfeited the game.

His recovery after that was all the more remarkable, revealing the deep strengths in his character and his capacity to spring back from defeat. But his recovery should not blind one to the abyss in to which he had sunk before.

Primarily Bobby has found his adjustment as a sportsman. It can be seen that in the few contacts he makes apart from chess he tries to engage in a game with somebody: tennis, ping pong, skiing. Much less is involved for him in these other games, still they are his preferred means of dealing with other people.

Apart from the inner insecurities, the main external problem in the isolated man comes up in his relations with women. Everybody has agreed that there is much amiss for Bobby in this area The only woman mentioned in his life is the mysterious Mrs. Grumette, apparently more of a substitute mother figure than anything else. As Bobby gets older the pressure to form a satisfactory love relationship with a woman is bound to become increasingly acute.

Because of his well-known antipathy to girls, every time Bobby has a date it becomes almost front-page news. Larry Evans got him a girl in Argentina; he got married in Yugoslavia; he danced with a girl in Iceland; the rumors are both silly and frequent. None of his predecessor hero- champions, whom he resembles most closely, had a particularly happy time with women. Bobby has a long way to go in this variation.

On the surface Bobby may now seem like an ebullient boyish young man who is enjoying the greatness which he has deservedly earned. Yet he now remains a troubled human being. Whether the world championship will mellow him, or whether he will at some point need professional help only time can tell.

Incidentally, it is not at all unusual for men with great achievements to suffer from serious neurotic or even psychotic difficulties. Isaac Newton is a prime example. He was a depressed, paranoid man who never managed to relate to women. After the epoch-making discoveries of his early years (theory of gravitation and the calculus) he really never did anything else of scientific value in his life, wasting his time in useless quarrels with the Royal Astronomer Flarnsteed and in exploring obscure religious questions which have long since been forgotten.


In the current chess craze which Fischer has set off he seems to have acquired symbolic value for many people. He belongs to the "hero" group of world champions, in which I include Morphy, Steinitz, Capablanca and Alekhine, as contrasted with the non-hero group which would include all the others.

Heroes are created, in a sense, by their admirers. Morphy is popularly looked upon as "the greatest chess player of all time." Steinitz as "the father of modern chess." Capablanca was known as "the chess machine" and publicly announced that he bad mastered the game once and for all, advising the world to move on to another game. Alekhine came to be talked about as "the greatest attacking player of all time."

Needless to say, all these superlatives derive from the chess player's need to find some hero whom he can worship. But the champions themselves played into the hands of their worshipers and derived great satisfaction from the idolatrous groups which grew up around them.

Fischer is well on his way to becoming one of the folk heroes of our time, if that has not already happened. Technically, the claim that he is "the greatest player of all time" does not stand up to serious scrutiny as yet; the same applies to Morphy. But there is a deep need on the part of many people to project their own grandiose ambitions on to him.

Certain external facts lend themselves to his symbolic value. For a quarter of a century the Russians have dominated the chess world; champion and challengers have all been Russian. Perhaps half the chess players in the world live in the U.S.S.R. They mount tournaments with a million players, print books with first editions of hundreds of thousands of copies (although the Russian chess literature is surprisingly skimpy). To beat the Russian champion thus acquires the symbolic meaning of defeating the Russians.

Bobby is a man who is devoted heart and soul to chess. Experts may see in this some kind of neurotic maladjustment, but to the average person the fact is more important than its motivation. There are hardly any other professional chess players in the U.S., nobody really who makes a living at playing chess, as golf, tennis, basketball and other champions live from their sport. The few Americans who are professionals make money by writing about the game, not by playing.

Since the champion thinks about almost nothing but chess, the hero- worshiper in turn can by identification devote all of his energies to chess, forgetting the cares of wife, children, work, health and everything else.

Chess is an outlet for aggression, like all sports. It differs from other sports in that it is an intellectual outlet, involving, as a rule, no physical violence. In a war-weary world, millions hope for a peaceful resolution of all the pent-up aggressions in the world, rather than a military one. Legend has it that chess started out as a substitute for war, and many people see it that way. A peaceful battle between an American and a Russian, rather than the bloody one which has been a nightmare since World War II, is especially symbolic of this hope.

The entrance of high political figures at certain stages lent added meaning to the symbolic interpretation of the match. Brezhnev was personally in contact with Spassky, it was said; Kissinger was coaching Bobby. In fact, it was even announced during the match that Nixon had invited Bobby to visit him at the White House.

Money played a role as well in the symbolism. Who cares about a sport in which the first prize is $100 (as it was in my first tournament forty years ago)? But push it up to a quarter of a million, or even a million, as the talk is now,* and matters look different. At the moment these vast sums have to come from individual patrons. But once the possibility of TV transmission of games is worked out, they may well come from the general public, as is the case in other sports.

* A Las Vegas hotel reportedly offered $1.4 million for a return match with Spassky, which Fischer refused, demanding $10 million. I have also challenged Fischer to a match for a purse of $1 million. Some are now openly wondering whether Fischer will ever play again.

My feeling is that the chess craze now going on is due partly to Fischer, and partly to a social revolution which results from changing world conditions. Sports generally have become much more popular, and the rewards for the top players have skyrocketed. Chess is the universal game of the Western world. It is played all over Europe, the U.S., Canada and Latin America, but not in Asia or Africa (except for small groups). It thus serves as a symbol of the unity of Western civilization.

Previous champions have largely been intellectuals, which led to the idea that chess is a "smart man's" game. They have been plagued with doubts about whether to play chess or not. Chess, they felt, was too hard to be a game, and too easy to be a science.

Not so with Fischer. He has discarded all intellectual pretensions. Chess is a sport, like basketball, like tennis. You toss the ball around until you make your point. You move the pieces around until you find a weak spot.

Fischer's anti-intellectual stance is incredibly pronounced. One newspaper report bad him to the right of the John Birch society politically. After centuries of religious freedom he reverts to a Bible-thumping revivalist sect. In an age of sexual revolution he looks for a virgin. He seems to be almost illiterate in world affairs.

So it becomes easy for Fischer to symbolize a shift from chess as a pastime for intellectuals to chess as a popular sport which anybody can play. Nor is this particularly to be deplored. Whatever its intellectual merits or demerits, chess is after all a sport in which two men fight it out, and let the best man win.

It is in this sense that Fischer's victory marks a turning point in the history of chess. The codification of the openings does not have far to go before it is complete; the middle game is well understood, the endgame is a matter of precise analysis. With the theoretical problems of the game resolved, what remains is how well the individual can handle himself over the board.

The "pure player" which Fischer is, almost the purest in chess history, lends himself readily to the identification with sport. He is in the style of other sports figures, like Bo Belinsky, Joe Namath, Lee Trevino and Muhammad Ali. A recent article in The New York Times about the Rumanian tennis star Ilie Nastase compares him to Bobby Fischer, ranking him as a close second to the chess champion in freelance, full-tilt gamesmanship. Like Bobby, "Nasty" is a combination of notorious bad manners and magnificent reflexes.

As chess becomes big-time sport, the kinds of people who are attracted to it will necessarily undergo some change. There will no longer be any reason for making it the only game permitted in the British Parliament or referring to it as the game of kings. Bobby seems to have some kind of nostalgic longing, as the interview with Ginzburg shows, for the old days when it was literally true that only aristocrats played chess. His own example proves better than anything else that commoners can enter the game as well, and that where the next genius will come from is wholly unpredictable.

It is precisely this fact, that the chances of becoming a chess champion are much greater than anyone had thought, which Fischer symbolizes, that is so essential to the widespread adoption of the game.

In addition, chess readily lends itself to all kinds of variations. Already a dozen new ones have appeared on the market: larger boards, smaller boards, circular boards, three-dimensional boards, and so on. These too are easily learned, and can become the basis for wide-ranging contests. Yet no doubt chess proper will remain the core of the sport for a long time to come.

By Dr. Ruben Fine
International Chess Champion
Bobby Fischer's Conquest of the World's Chess Championship
(The Psychology and Tactics of the Title Match) - (C) 1973

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