Friday, January 18, 2008

Searching for Bobby Fischer

I must interrupt my regularly scheduled blogging to announce that Bobby Fischer has died at age 64 in Iceland, apparently of kidney failure, although what caused his kidney problems has not been revealed.

Bobby Fischer was widely considered a chess genius, and was the first, and still the only, American of the modern period to hold the World Chess Champion title,which he won after defeating the Russian, Boris Spassky, in 1972. He then refused to defend his title and was stripped of it. Many have claimed that Fischer was the greatest chess player of all time, although there is no way of proving such a claim.

There was a time when Fischer was something of a hero to me. I came to chess late but played it a lot in college and played competitively for my first two years in graduate school. I never achieved Masters status but I took the study of the game seriously and did pretty well in local tournaments. I flirted with the idea of pursuing it at a professional level but realized three things, 1) the amount of effort required would be enormous and I didn't have the strength for chess and graduate school both, 2) because of getting a late start in chess, I'd probably never be as good as I wanted to be, and 3) I lack the killer instinct needed to play at the top level.

It was reading works by and about Bobby Fischer that first really brought me to an interest in chess. I played and replayed his games as a learning experience, and they were often things of beauty. At times he created virtual works of art on the board.

Later, I found that Fischer was not a particularly admirable character on a personal level and I lost any sense of hero worship for the man. But, on the chessboard, he achieved greatness, and I cannot help but feel a touch of sadness for the passing of such a talent.


Lana Gramlich said...

I'd wondered if you caught this in the news today. You don't give yourself due credit for your chess ability, hon. Always so darned humble! Yes, I know that beating me is no great victory, considering I don't play, but you've beaten far better than I & done it on a regular basis. As for the killer instinct, perhaps you can take a lesson from our Scrabble games..? ;)

Steve Malley said...

Chess, that's the one with the horsies, right? :)

Bobby Fischer's personal life: to quote my wonderful art history professor, "Great artists are rarely model citizens..."

Erik Donald France said...

Bobby Fischer, RIP. Strange personal views (anti-Semitism, etc.), but heroic chess player.

Cool that you were inspired to take up chess.

Miladysa said...

RIP Bobby Fischer.

Did he say why he refused to defend his title?

Shauna Roberts said...

I think he must have had a sad life, despite his fame.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana, I only half pay attention to most online news but certain things catch my eye. Chess is usually one. As for Scrabble, I "have" taken lessons from you. Repeatedly. And your killer instinct there is, well, kind of cute.

Steve Malley, in some places they're elephants. And yes, I've seen that repeatedly with great men and women. I remember a time when it disappointed me, but I'm much more philosophical about it now.

Erik, sometimes I still long for a little chess slinging.

Miladysa, Fischer claimed it was because he didn't like the unfair rules that he was compelled to play under, but I sort of doubt that's true. He may not have wanted to take the chance on losing.

Shauna, I was talking with a friend of mine at work today and we came to the same conclusion. He just didn't seem like a happy man, even though he had many admirers, especially in his early days. Some folks aren't made for happiness perhaps.

writtenwyrdd said...

Last I heard, Fischer was being ejected from Japan by their Immigration. I guess Finland was his next stop. Poor man, a genius but his life was a mess.

Travis Cody said...

I read about this today. I had a brief fascination with both Fischer and chess. While I appreciated the beauty and precision of the game, I needed the physical contact of football.

He was such an odd person. It's unfortunate when so much of a person goes into what he does, and so little is left for who he is.

eric1313 said...

Good to be back by, and yet in time for sad news.

The height of my chess playing was when I beat my father at it in fourth grade. He spent over an hour trying to figure out a way that would nullify checkmate.

But--I'd rather be writing! Thanks for the visits, the side work (painting and assisting a mechanic) is tedious but well paying.

I'd rather be writing, once more...

I need to get out of this dying rustbucket state. It may not be particularilly better anywhere else, but I'll take my chances. The only people doing well here are retired.

ivan said...

Comes to playing chess with my son, I have to use histrionics.
I mean, never give a kid an even break.
The king can so move two spaces.

Lisa said...

I caught that on the news this morning too and thought about what I knew of his life -- then I thought about Gary Kasparov who was beaten by "Deep Blue" and then beat the computer (I can't remember who came out on top) and then IBM made some allegations about cheating and Kasparov wasn't especially sportsmanlike about it. I wondered if there is such a thing as a personable chess player at that level.

the walking man said...

Fischer is the perfect example of a young prodigy driven to madness by his own press.

He was held in a Japanese jail for nine months on the threat of extradition to the US, which he defamed, and revoked his citizenship.

The Extradition was threatened because he played an unsanctioned match against Spassky (he won) while there was a ban on commerce with the Soviets. So Finland took him in and gave him citizenship there.

I think he never defended his title because it meant nothing to him, in his own mind he was the best in the world and he didn't need to prove it twice.



Chris Eldin said...

I admire anyone who achieves greatness at this level. It is also hard for me to separate the character from the person.
I loved the movie 'Searching for Bobbie Fischer.'
I hope my children will learn how to play.

virtual nexus said...

Just catching up after the break - missed this - no great age, was he....

Charles Gramlich said...

Writtenwyrd, he was, although he came away with a female companion, a Japanese chess player who joined him in Iceland, which was the seat of his great triumph over Spassky and which was one of the few places that would have him.

Travis, your last line expresses it nicely.

Eric1313, welcome back. Glad you are at least making some money in your job.

Ivan, what is best in life? "To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of the women"

Lisa, good point. I think it takes a certain incredible ego to play competitive chess at that level. For one, you have to be obsessively committed to the game.

Mark, he certainly gave every verbal indication that he believed himself the best of the world and didn't need to prove it to anyone. If anyone might have meant such a statement, it was probably Fischer.

Church Lady, I too enjoyed that movie, and the book. Chess is, I believe, excellent training for young minds. I taught my son very young, although he never fell in love with the game.

Julie, no, he was only 64, although pictures show him looking older.

Jo said...

Charles, Bobby Fischer was beyond genius, truly! But what a troubled man he was in his real life.

I didn't know you were a chess player. My brain doesn't understand the game.

Tyhitia Green said...

I have always heard about Bobby Fischer, but I never got into chess. I always thought about it, but never played.

Michelle's Spell said...

I didn't realize that he had died. My God, he was a genius, but with umm, a few moral failings, as do many great people. I could never play chess -- attention span problem, I think.

Chris Eldin said...

Hi Charles, Just stopping by to thank you for participating in the EE photo fun!

I've been mentioning that Blogger seems to keep me in a time warp for some blogs (it feels random.) I don't know if you have any post after this one, but I haven't been able to view it. I just came from Lana's where things seem to be up-to-date for me and blogger.

Anyway, thanks again!!!