Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bobby Fischer Recalled

Former world chess champion Bobby Fischer, pictured in 1971.

Last weekend a symposium on Bobby Fischer was held at the Marshall Chess Club in Greenwich Village. An audience of about 40 listened to a series of short presentations and exchanged memories and opinions about the late American world chess champion. The event was organized by Frank Brady, the club's president and the author of "Profile of a Prodigy," which was last updated in 1973 and remains the only serious biography of Fischer.

Fischer was born 66 years ago this week in Chicago, but his family moved to Brooklyn when he was a small child. He learned to play chess at age 6, and by 13 he had proved his prodigious talent by winning the celebrated "Game of the Century" in which, playing the black pieces, he sacrificed his queen for an attack that yielded victory 24 moves later. The table on which this game was played, and which has remained in use at the Marshall club ever since, served as the speakers' podium for the symposium.

There was a movie in 1993 entitled Searching for Bobby Fischer. Plot (from IMDb): A prepubescent chess prodigy refuses to harden himself in order to become a champion like the famous but unlikable Bobby Fischer.

Soon Fischer became the youngest grandmaster in history and a candidate for the world championship. It took 14 years for him to break through and defeat Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union in a 1972 match in Reykjavik, Iceland. At this point he was regarded as the greatest player of his age, and many still believe he was the greatest chess master of all time.

Despite all this, the fact remains that Fischer was the last great individualist in chess. Subsequent champions have had the support of entire teams of human and computer analysts, but Fischer did almost everything himself, from researching his opponents to preparing his openings to studying his adjourned games. It is inconceivable that such a feat could be repeated today. Perhaps the burden of taking on the chess world alone was simply too heavy for Bobby Fischer to bear.

He was always strange. As Winston Churchill said of Russia: It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

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