Saturday, January 19, 2008

Death of a Legend

On the evening of January 18th, Atlantic Chess News editor Steve Ferrero called me on my cell phone at work to inform me of the death of Bobby Fischer. He requested that I write an article on Fischer for the upcoming issue of ACN. As I drove home that night, it occurred to me what an impossible assignment I had been given, especially since I had never crossed paths with Fischer. To me, Bobby Fischer was always the offstage character in the play who never makes an appearance, although his name gets mentioned a lot. Nevertheless, I will try my best to honor Fischer in writing.

I will begin by stating that Bobby Fischer's passing away at age 64 is as bizarre a coincidence as Houdini's death on Halloween.

It was Fischer's great misfortune to have been born and raised in a country where chess is held in low regard. Imagine Van Gogh in a land of the blind, or Mozart in a land of the deaf, and basically you have Bobby Fischer in America. Fischer's chess games were "monuments of unageing intellect", to quote verse from the poet Yeats.

I am not sure what it says about my life, but no individual had more of an impact on it than Bobby Fischer. It started at a backyard barbeque on the Fourth of July in 1972. While waiting for my hamburger to grill, I noticed a discarded copy of the Daily News near poolside. The front-page banner headline "Chess Match On Again" struck me as curious. So I began reading the story, and my life was never quite the same again.

Vaguely I already knew who Bobby Fischer was, mostly from playing chess as a kid at the playground during summer vacations. Sometimes I would make a good move, only to hear my opponent exclaim, "Who do you think you are - Bobby Fischer!" But what happened in the summer of '72 was magical. For a brief moment in time, it was cool to play chess in the United States.

By summer's end, I had saved enough money to join the USCF and the Marshall Chess Club. For the next fifteen years, Bobby Fischer was my idol. Somewhere in the late 1980's, I discovered Paul Morphy's brilliancies, including those in the Philidor Counter Gambit. But I still play many of Fischer's openings, for example the Sozin Attack and the exchange variations in the Ruy Lopez and Caro-Kann.

As far as Fischer's politically incorrect remarks are concerned, I never took them seriously, even though the twin towers burning on 9/11 could be seen from my hometown in New Jersey. Fischer was an artist. As an undergraduate and graduate student, majoring in the arts, I studied many famous novelists, poets, painters, and composers. Put Bobby Fischer in a room with the rest of them, and he might have been the sanest person in the bunch!

Much of Fischer's time away from the chessboard was spent in distancing himself from anyone who would attempt to associate with him. You see, it really was Bobby Fischer versus the rest of the world!