Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fischer on TV and Radio

In late September 2006, a documentary on the 1972 World Chess Championship called Fischer vs. Spassky that appeared originally in 1999 on the BBC was added to You Tube in four parts, with a combined running time of approximately 37 minutes. Besides Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky themselves, some of the celebrities who were interviewed are grandmasters Larry Evans, Robert Byrne, and Nikolai Krogius; chess officials Viktor Baturinsky and Gudmundur Thorarinsson; authors Frank Brady and Alexander Cockburn; Soviet chess journalists Aleksandr Roshal and Viktor Babkin; and Fischer's attorney Paul Marshall.

As well as seeing video highlights of the games that were taped on closed-circuit television, I learned that it was Lenin who coined the expression: "chess is gymnastics of the mind." It was surprising to hear Spassky say, "My years as champion were the unhappiest years of my life because I felt a huge responsibility." In Spassky's opinion, he lost the match when Fischer told referee Lothar Schmidt, "Shut up," in the ping-pong room before game three. Spassky then proceeded to play the game "like a rabbit caught in the gaze of a boa constrictor."

The most amusing moment occurs when Paul Marshall and Robert Byrne tell the story of how grandmaster William Lombardy removed the distributor wiring from Fischer's car after game one to prevent Fischer from going to the airport.

After the match, Fischer told an interviewer, "The Russians are the ones that started all this, and they are the ones who have been using chess as a propaganda weapon and using every, you know, trick to keep the title and all that...Probably they wish they never even started to play chess." Gudmundur Thorarinsson describes how the new world champion Fischer looked out his hotel window and said, "The only thing I can do is to play chess, but I do that rather well."

In mid-October 2006 on Icelandic radio, Bobby Fischer gave a 43-minute interview during which he discussed the following topics that can be broken down into three categories: money, politics, and chess.

Regarding money, Union Bank of Switzerland liquidated Fischer’s savings account of precious metals including gold coins and sent the proceeds to his bank in Iceland, but Fischer lost "several hundreds of thousands of dollars in Swiss francs" from the sale that was done without his permission. Fischer had deposited at UBS the $3.5 million that he won from his match with Spassky in 1992. But this pales by comparison with what Fischer calls "the biggest robbery in the history of the United States" perpetrated by the Bekins Moving and Storage Company in Pasadena which allegedly stole "hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions of dollars" of Fischer’s cash and papers that it took Fischer thirty years to accumulate.

In regard to politics, Fischer describes his 2004 imprisonment in Ushiku Detention Center as being "kidnapped in Japan for nine months, dragged near a leaking nuclear power plant" where there was radioactive air, land, and water from a "massive nuclear accident in 1999" about sixty kilometers away. A few days before the interview, Fischer saw the movie The Road to Guantanamo and found similarities between the "outright torture" of prisoners at Guantanamo and the way in which he was treated by his prison guards in Japan. In Fischer’s opinion, the United States is an "imperialist" country that was founded by "extremists" who gave "blankets that were infected with smallpox" to the American Indians to kill them off. On the international front, Fischer thinks that the Chinese and the Russians are backstabbing the North Koreans, and apparently China is "really serious about bringing down the regime" in North Korea.

Finally, regarding chess, Fischer reads from Vladimir Pozner’s 1990 book Parting with Illusions which mentions that Mark Taimanov was stripped of his title "grandmaster of the USSR" by the Soviet Chess Federation for losing his 1971 candidates match to Fischer by the "implausible score of 6-0." In the same book, a comparison is made between Fischer the chess player and Gorbachev the politician because both men made moves that were not understood until it was too late. Fischer considers Capablanca to be the greatest chess player of the 20th century in terms of "natural ability", but because there is so much memorization in chess "some kid of 14 today" could get a favorable position out of the opening against Capablanca. Fischer is "not a big fan" of Alekhine and much prefers the playing styles of Capablanca and Morphy. When Fischer played at the Manhattan Chess Club in the 1950’s, the "oldtimers" always spoke of Capablanca "with awe."

Fischer is "having a really nice time" leading "a quiet, low-key life" in Iceland where everyone is friendly, but he plans to travel abroad eventually and is waiting until "the right moment."
    {This article originally appeared in the July-September 2006 issue of Atlantic Chess News}