Friday, January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer, R.I.P

I rarely mention the chess side of life here though I’m a bit of a chess nut. But I can’t let the passing of Bobby Fischer go without comment.

I don’t wish to dwell on the repugnant comments he made in his later years. Without making excuses for him, he likely was mentally ill. Fortunately, those statements are certainly not his most important contribution to history.

Back in 1972, in the midst of the Cold War, the Russians dominated chess and had for decades. But the young American Bobby Fischer almost single-handedly beat Boris Spassky and the Soviet chess machine behind him to become world champion.

At the time I was in 6th grade and was enthralled by the match. I cut out newspaper stories on the game and put them in my scrapbook. And I got serious about chess. And, like all boys, I dreamed. My dream was that my hero Bobby Fischer would be world champion for a decade or two . . . and then I would beat him.

Things turned out a bit differently for both of us. In 9th grade, rightly or wrongly, probably rightly, I concluded I was just too absent-minded to be great at chess. It would be 20, 25 years before I got serious about the game again. And, yes, I still struggle with absent-mindedness among other afflictions in my game. As for Bobby Fischer, undermined by his own demons, he never defended his world championship.

But his mark on chess remains, both in history and on those many Americans who, like me, caught the chess bug and never were quite able to shake it off.

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