Jubilate Agony

bobbyfischerIn “Bobby Fischer: Genius and Idiot” Martin Gardner gives a very brief account of the life of the late chess champ and not-so-great human being; (this is an installment of Gardner’s “Notes of a Fringe Watcher” column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry’s website). The term idiot may not be totally accurate, but, when not sitting at the chessboard, Fisher was a bigot and largely a basket-case.


3 Responses to Jubilate Agony

  1. When Bobby was 12 he lived largely in his bedroom of his sister’s apartment. In fact, he told me his favorite spot was his bed where he did much of his analysis, studying a host of Russian chess magazines that the Soviets had sent him. He also related to me that he was a Christian and was studying the Bible and listening to the Wide World Church of God run by Herbert W. Armstrong. He said he was dropping out of postal play to pursue a cross country trip to play in chess tournaments over-the-board. I found him to be a very intelligent and interesting opponent and a pretty fair player for that age.

    For whatever people say about him, most never met him nor conversed with him or knew anything about him other than what critics (and he had plenty from the time he was a kid much to do with his devotion to Jesus as his Savior by the Jewish community and writers. Fischer told me he intended to become world champion and bring the title back to America and his decision to devote his life to the game he loved started with his tour across America. His fame was not instantaneous but a slow steady climb up the ladder to success where he perfected both the KID and the KIA. This all paid off with a brief one or two year period when he ventured into e4 and the rest is history.

    He developed mental problems that becomes more noticeable with age and in those days there were no real cures or drugs (he probably wouldn’t take them anyway)and he hated people who wrote about him. Certainly USCF folks did no favors for him but merely used him for their own purposes–sorry to say.

    Regarding the US Government putting out an arrest warrant on his avoiding taxes and playing in Yugoslavia against US policy, the French government never applied the same against Spassky playing. The world was better off because the match defused the war going on over there for a short time anyway.

    Maybe Fischer was right or wrong but the nuts that are in Congress today reflect the idioacy that maybe, just maybe, a lot of folks share Fischer’s problem.

  2. thrdr says:


    When I was a kid I played a lot of chess. I was never dedicated and serious about it, but Fischer was a hero. Then he went off the map and, I learned much later, off his rocker. I was shocked and saddened by the things he said. I do think that Gardner’s choice of the word “idiot” is somewhat off the mark; by the end of his life Fischer was crazier than he was stupid, I might put it; and as I understand things he remained a great chess player to the end. W. C. Fields was a notorious anti-semite, but was also a great comedian, and oddly Groucho Marx of all people remained his friend and drinking buddy when they were both old men. But perhaps that’s not so odd.

    Sometimes a great intellectual talent and consumate skill can be a person’s salvation; Fischer appears to have turned to a particularly poisonous kind of religious fervor for salvation instead; what he needed to be saved from I can only guess.

    But still, I would have considered it an honour to have been beaten by him even in a quick game (and it surely would have been quick), even when he was old and mangey.

  3. Fischer shortly before dying met with Anand in India and talked with him at some length. He carried still his old pocket set he used for years to the surprise of Anand who wondered why he did not have current technology.

    He died and is buried and the picture of his grave shows a bouquet of flowers, perhaps from his wife and friends. I understand he had mellowed in his last years, perhaps taking drugs for his illness.

    I read a letter he had sent to Marcos about his willingness to play Karpov there but it fell through. The letter was very clear and thoughtful and showed nothing of the so-called bad behavior often seen in press reports.

    I guess we can just be happy that he achieved his dream and he did it his way, in his time, and gave the chessworld a legacy of wonderful games, his raising the level of tournaments through his demands and launching the pattern of ever increasing prize funds and playing conditions for all participants.

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