January 19, 2018


The Chessman : Yes, he had deep flaws. But Bobby Fischer should be remembered for his genius (Garry Kasparov, Jan. 26, 2008, TIME)

It was Fischer's attitude on and off the board that infused his play with unrivaled power. Before Fischer, no one was ready to fight to the death in every game. No one was willing to work around the clock to push chess to a new level. But Fischer was, and he became the detonator of an avalanche of new chess ideas, a revolutionary whose revolution is still in progress.

At Fischer's peak, even his adversaries had to admire his game. At the hallowed Moscow Central Chess Club, top Soviet players gathered to analyze Fischer's crushing 1971 match defeat of one of their colleagues, Mark Taimanov. Someone suggested that Taimanov could have gained the upper hand with a queen move, to which David Bronstein, a world-championship challenger in 1951, replied, "Ah, but we don't know what Fischer would have done."

Not long afterward, the grim Soviet sports authorities dragged in Taimanov and his peers to discuss Taimanov's inability to defeat the American. How had he failed? Was he not a worthy representative of the state? Spassky finally spoke up: "When we all lose to Fischer, will we be interrogated here as well?"

By World War II, the once strong U.S. chess tradition had largely faded. There was little chess culture, few schools to nurture and train young talent. So for an American player to reach world-championship level in the 1950s required an obsessive degree of personal dedication. Fischer's triumph over the Soviet chess machine, culminating in his 1972 victory over Spassky in Reykjavík, Iceland, demanded even more.

Fischer declined to defend his title in 1975, and by forfeit, it passed back into the embrace of the Soviets, in the person of Anatoly Karpov. According to all accounts, Fischer had descended into isolation and anger after winning that final match game against Spassky. Fischer didn't play again until a brief and disturbing reappearance in 1992, after which his genius never again touched a piece in public. Having conquered the chess Olympus, he was unable to find a new target for his power and passion.

The film Pawn Sacrifice--which I must have missed when it was released--is terrific.

Posted by at January 19, 2018 7:35 AM