October 27, 2012


The Unnatural :  : Bobby Fischer (1943-2008), from Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame. (Jonathan Safran Foer, Oct. 24, 2012, Slate)

Before 1956, Fischer was an excellent, if not particularly remarkable, chess player. His talents were real and evident, but no one would have picked him as a future world champ. But then, at the age of 13--in lieu of a bar mitzvah, one might say--he made a quantum leap, becoming not only the youngest person ever to win the U.S. Junior Championship, but one of the fiercest, most aggressive, and punishing chess players in history. The gangly, all-arms-and-legs Jewish boy didn't simply defeat or even crush his opponents, he circumcised them. (They were all men.)

While he became known for his increasingly outlandish demands--especially sums of money that didn't correspond to the world of chess--what he actually wanted held constant through his life: an ego fortified by the destruction of all other egos. In his own words, "The object is to crush the opponent's mind."

One of the most remarkable things about Fischer's chess in those early years was how often he won. For the last century, as chess has become more and more a study of past games--rather than a honing of strategies in preparation for a unique, unwinding story--the rote openings have become longer and longer, and more games end with draws. Each move sets into motion an eventuality, which is why so many players resign when they are 10 or even 20 moves from a likely loss. Fischer played a different game, the long game that left room for chance and intuition.

And rather than play for match victories--which would involve the marshaling of mental resources, and taking fewer risks--he only played for game victories.

How did he become so strong so quickly? Of course no one will ever know, but the thrill of his accelerated talent is comparable to anything any artist or scientist accomplished. Those lucky enough to witness and understand it knew the historical significance. Fischer's own explanation for his radical development: "I just got good." A year after becoming U.S. Junior Champion, he was the youngest U.S. master, then the youngest International Grandmaster. Then he beat just about everybody just about always.

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Posted by at October 27, 2012 10:23 AM

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