Friday, January 18, 2008


Bobby Fischer is dead. The man was obviously disturbed and quite possibly insane, and his bizarre behavior of recent years doesn't really merit comment, except to repudiate everything he said and (apparently) believed.

But his accomplishments should still be recognized, because for a brief period in the early 1970s, chess became one of the most popular sports (or games, if you insist) in America. Fischer's brilliance at the board was unmatched, and while at the time he came across as unorthodox and admittedly somewhat strange, he carried with him enough charisma to take a game that was up to that point confined to intellectuals (and Russians) and make it a popular phenomenon.

Summers in Sacramento are hot, almost stifling. If you're smart, you get most of your physical activity out the way in the morning, because most afternoons you want nothing more than to sit in front of an air conditioner vent, possibly with cold drink in hand. During the Summer of 1972, my friends and I came up with a new way to spend our afternoons - we held concurrent 24-game matches, modeling our battles on the Championship match between Fischer and Boris Spassky. It got to the point where we even re-played the games, based on the accounts in the newspapers. For a short time we were obsessed, and within six months every one of us owned our own board, nice ones at that.

Shortly after that, it was all over. Fischer dropped out of the public eye, refused to defend his title in 1975 and was stripped of it, and aside from a few public appearances (another 24-game match in the early 1990s against Spassky), began a slow, painful slide into obscurity and insanity.

And now, the end.

UPDATE: More good stuff on Fischer, from Sheila.

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