Saturday, February 9, 2008

Schaap's Article on Fischer

In Reykjavik, on 3/25/2005, Bobby Fischer confronted ESPN correspondent Jeremy Schaap at a press conference, asking him if he had read his father Dick Schaap's article in which the elder Schaap "rapped me very hard," in Fischer's opinion. Jeremy Schaap admitted that he was unsure whether he had read the article. In searching Google, I was unable to find it.

Recently I remembered that I had a photocopy of the Games Magazine article from May/June 1979 saved in an old scrapbook. Unfortunately the scrapbook, along with many outdated books and magazines on chess, was at a storage center. I finally found time to visit the storage center (not Bekins!) and retrieve the scrapbook.

The photocopy of Dick Schaap's article was given to me in mid-1979 by a woman at the office where I was working at the time. Apparently she knew I was a chess player from having seen me studying one of Reinfeld's books of combinations in the lunch room. In placing the photocopy in my scrapbook, I may have clipped out the title which I recall was something like "Whatever Happened to Bobby Fischer?", although such headlines were common at the time. The photograph at the top of the article has Bobby Fischer cropped out of it, in keeping with the title.

Judge for yourself if Fischer had reason to be angry with the Schaaps!

Whatever Happened to Bobby Fischer?

Our Peripatetic Reporter Pursues an Old Friend

by Dick Schaap

Take the avarice of Monopoly, the complexity of chess, the loneliness of solitaire, the frustrations of a maze, and the absurdity of an eyeball bender, mix well and you'll have a hint of the new game I have invented. The game is called "In Search of Bobby Fischer."

Bobby Fischer, you may recall, is the former world champion of chess who graciously offered to defend his title against all comers who would guarantee him mineral rights to the Western world. Bobby and I are old friends. I knew him before he became invisible. (This is a family tradition: My father took a law course in the early 1930s from Judge Crater, who vanished; my father got an incomplete in the course.)

Our friendship - mine and Bobby's, that is - began when he was a young genius, and I was young. He was in his teens, and I was in my twenties. He was the chess champion of the United States, and I had learned how to type. We played tennis occasionally, and we went to Madison Square Garden to watch hockey games. Our relationship was based, I think, on the fact that I was capable of crossing the street by myself. It was the only edge I had on him.

As Bobby matured, and I grew older, or vice-versa, we did not see each other too often. But when he won the right to challenge Russia's Boris Spassky for the world championship in 1971, we renewed our friendship. I invited him to a party at which he met, among other people, an actor named Peter Falk. "I saw you once in a movie," said Fischer, recognizing Falk.

Falk grunted an acknowledgment.

"It was called Murder Inc.," Fischer said, mentioning a film Falk had made fifteen years before Colombo. "You played Abe Reles. You were terrific. What are you doing now?"

"He is beautiful," Falk said. "I've never met anyone like him. An absolutely straight line. Just one thing on his mind."

A short time later, Bobby went off to Iceland to play Spassky for the championship. I got there in time to watch the final game, and to conduct the first interview with the new world champion. I saw quite a bit of Bobby over the next few months; I was even master of ceremonies outside New York's City Hall, at which Mayor John Lindsay honored Fischer. (I knew Lindsay before he became invisible too.)

Then Bobby drifted off to California, to immerse himself in far-out religion and to frustrate all efforts to get him to defend his championship. I spoke to him only once in the past four years. I got a message to him that I was staying at Wilt Chamberlain's house and I wanted to talk to him. Bobby called, and I invited him to have dinner with Wilt and me. Bobby declined. "I'm not seeing people," he explained.

Bobby was soon stripped of his title, and, it seemed, of his flesh and blood. No one saw him. Very few people spoke to him. And then, a few months ago, reports circulated that Bobby was in Yugoslavia, that he was negotiating a return to competitive chess, that he was ready to play in public once more for a mere million dollars, or something appropriately close.

I decided to try to get in touch with Bobby, to wish him well and, not incidentally, write a story about him. I have in the past, when necessary, managed to get in touch with Brigitte Bardot, President Ford, Teddy Kennedy, Richard Nixon, George C. Scott, Reggie Jackson, and even a convicted murderer or two. They were easy. Bobby was impossible.

Jack Collins, Bobby's old chess teacher, said he spoke to Bobby once in a while, but did not know how to reach him. Bill Lombardy, Bobby's old chess rival and his second against Spassky, confessed that he, too, spoke to Bobby once in a while and he, too, did not know how to reach him. Both asked me to swear never to reveal that they had uttered his name out loud.

Finally, Shelby Lyman, the chess columnist for GAMES, gave me the name and California telephone number of a woman who, Shelby said, screens calls to Bobby. I phoned the woman. Someone answered and said, "Human Potential?" I figured I had the right place. I spoke to the woman and she said she would pass my request along to Bobby. I got in touch with Human Potential again. She said I could expect an answer shortly.

A few weeks later, I got my answer. "Mr. Fischer will be happy to see you," she said, "if you will just meet a few conditions." The first condition was that I pay Bobby fifty thousand dollars for the previous story I had written about him, a story which was approximately ninety-eight percent complimentary and a story for which I was paid the smallest fraction of fifty thousand dollars. The second condition was that I pay Bobby another fifty thousand dollars because someone somewhere had reprinted something I had written about him with a few introductory remarks he considered uncomplimentary. He had no objection, Human Potential said, to any of my words, but he wanted fifty thousand dollars for someone else's damage to his ego.

I asked her if he preferred cash or a check.

She did not see the wit in my remark.

I will continue to play this game, to pursue the former world chess champion, because I genuinely like Bobby Fischer. He possesses two classic virtues: He is never dull, and he does not have a sane bone in his body. I'll let you know when I find him. Don't hold your breath.