Bobby Fischer – The Man-Machine

This is the story of the most controversial chess player of all times, Robert James Fischer. It only took six years from the 9th of March, 1943, when Bobby was born, until he started playing the most popular tabletop game in the history of mankind and excelling in it.

Regina Wender Fischer immigrated to the US with her daughter, Joan Fischer, just a few months before the Second World War began. A few years later, she settled in the new world, became pregnant and gave birth to Robert James Fischer in Chicago, Illinois. His father was Paul Nemenyi, the famous Hungarian-Jewish physicist. Unfortunately, the two didn’t spend much time together as the US immigration services denied him access to the US due to his “communist sympathies”.

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The beginnings

Bobby’s first involvement with chess started at the age of six, when he found a book related to the sport in the family’s vacation spot in Patchogue, Long Island. He spent a lot of time alone with the chessboard, which made his mother quite concerned. Regina tried to post an ad in the local newspaper (the Brooklyn Eagle) to try to find children his age willing to play chess with him. However, the ad got rejected because the journalists couldn’t find an appropriate category to post it in. At the age of seven Bobby met his fist instructor, Carmine Nigro, while playing in a simultaneous exhibition against Max Pavey. Even though their relationship lasted for only 5 years, Nigro played a decisive role in Bobby’s decision to pursue a career in chess.

Rush to Mastery

After his instructor’s departure in 1956, Bobby became close with John Collins (“Jack” Collins) who became his mentor and lifelong friend. In one year’s time he broke his first record by winning the U.S. Junior Chess Championship at the age of thirteen, thus becoming the youngest junior champion in the history of the US Chess Federation. After winning the price and a few tournaments, he got invited to play the 1957-1958 US Championship, despite being too young to play. He excelled in his play and won the championship before his fifteenth birthday, thus earning the title of International Master of Chess.

Shortly after gaining the title of International Master, Fischer got invited to the Soviet Union. Upon arrival he was negated the privilege of playing the official games with Soviet grandmasters, due to his age and him not being a grandmaster. The impatient young master didn’t take the information well, lost his temper and said that he was ,,fed up with these Russian pigs”. This angered the Soviets who then “forwarded” Fischer to Yugoslavian chess authorities that took him in as a guest.

 

The eccentricity

As you might have guessed, Fischer was not an ordinary chess player. He dropped out of school at the age of sixteen and started learning languages just so he could be able to read more chess-related literature. Bobby’s eccentricity led him towards losing his title. He was scheduled to defend his title against Kaprov but he compiled an extremely unusual list of terms that the world chess federation didn’t find agreeable. After seeing his terms being rejected, Fischer resigned his World Chess Championship title in 1974.
Bobby was also known for his radically anti-Semitic views despite him being of Jewish origins. He even accused the Encyclopedia Judaica of using his name to promote Judaism. Bobby kept his remarks for himself (mostly) and was on good terms with other Jewish players. However, he had trouble respecting authorities. This led to drastic consequences, one of which was violating the US embargo on Yugoslavia in 1992 when Fischer came to Belgrade in order to play with Spassky. Even though he had been warned by US officials, he disobeyed the order and made it to the “Revenge Match of the 20th Century”. This particular transgression got him incarcerated in Japan in 2004, when the US revoked his passport. Bobby resisted the arrest and got beaten by Japanese police officers in the process. The trauma of being assaulted and incarcerated left a great impact on him. Bobby wanted to revoke his citizenship a long time before this incident took place, due to his hatred for the US. He even applied for German and Japanese citizenship. In the end, he was granted Icelandic citizenship in 2005 for humanitarian reasons.


When the game is not enough

Feeling that the game was in a way too predetermined by the openings, Bobby decided to change the rules of the game in order to make the game more competitive. The game was called Fischerandom Chess or Chess 960. In this variety of chess the pawns retained their original position while the rest of the figures were put randomly in the respective rows. The number in the name ‘’1960’’ is the actual number of possible starting positions. Fischerandom chess is still played in some chess clubs.

 

Works and Legacy:

The “Fischer clock”, as you might have guessed, is a patent made by Bobby. The difference between a normal chess clock and the Fischer clock is that the later gives additional time to the players after each move. After his historic rematch with Spassky in 1992, the invention soon became widely accepted and implemented in international tournaments.
Bobby started writing at the age of sixteen, when he published his first work: ‘’Bobby Fischer’s Game of Chess”. His other publications are: “A Bust to the King’s Gambit”, “The Russians Have Fixed World Chess”, “The Ten Greatest Masters in History”, “My 60 Memorable Games “, “I Was Tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse!” and “Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess”. I will not write about the Grandmaster’s contribution to chess theory as there are too many of them to list.

Марко Миловановић
Marko Milovanović

 Photo copyright by – http://www.worldchesshof.org

 

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