19 July 2004

Bobby Fischer Found

World class headcase Bobby Fischer has been detained in Japan for trying to leave the country without a passport. There has been an extradition order placed to get him to the U.S. where he stands charged with a violation of an international sanction when he played a chess match with Boris Spassky in 1992 in Yugoslavia. He subsequently disappeared to Tokyo, Japan, periodically travelling elsewhere to be interviewed via radio in order to slam the U.S. and Jews.

Fischer at the height of his powers...

Bobby Fischer is, to me, one of the more fascinating American figures of the 20th century. Born to an idealistic liberal Jewish mother and an absentee father, Fischer exploded onto the chess scene at the age of fifteen, storming the ranks all the while insulting and alienating everyone in his path. If he hadn't been as brilliant, he would never have been remembered.

Fischer and Spassky in Yugoslavia, 1992 Rematch on the 20th Anniversary of their legendary battle...

In an amazing article, The Atlantic Online's Rene Chun write's of "Bobby Fischer's Pathetic Endgame."

This unlikely duet, featuring Jackie Wilson and the world's first and only chess grand master fugitive from justice, was broadcast live, on July 6, 2001, by DZSR Sports Radio, a Manila-based AM station that has embraced Fischer as a ratings booster. In exchange for these rare interviews (Fischer hasn't given a magazine or TV interview in thirty years), Sports Radio management has happily provided Fischer with hours of free airtime to spin his classic R&B records and to lash out at his enemies, both real and imagined.

Fischer has been given free reign on such radio spots, and has taken the opportunity to mercilessly lash out at Jews, the US- any and all that enter Fischer's realm are subject to his abject rantings. On the day of Sept. 11th, Fischer expressed joy over the attacks, something he said the U.S. had coming. "Fuck the U.S.," he said, summing up his tirade. "I want to see the U.S. wiped out."

Fischer is so fascinating to so many people precisely because he is such a singular figure in his field- arguably the greatest chess player of the modern era, Bobby Fischer would long have been ignored and chastised for his hatred had he not heretofore occupied such an astonishing spot in the firmament.

Chun also details Fischer's duel with Donald Byrne in 1956, a match dubbed by many "The Game of the Century." She describes-

Later in the year he played a game so remarkable that it was immediately dubbed "the Game of the Century." Fischer faced Donald Byrne, then one of the top ten U.S. players, at the Rosenwald Memorial Tournament, in New York. The now legendary battle was packed with more chess pyrotechnics than are typically seen during the course of an entire match. There were complex combinations, ingenious sacrifices, danger and apparent danger—enough to make Fischer, who won, a chess god overnight. Asked to explain his sudden emergence on the world stage of chess, Fischer shrugged and said, "I just got good."

The game itself put Fischer firmly on the map, earned him the Brilliancy Prize, an extremely presitigious chess award... and it marked his final descent. Fischer, strange from the word 'go,' was going to get much, much worse.

Fischer defeats Spassky in Reykjavik, 1972

As Chun details, Fischer was undone purely by his own mind. Not drugs, alcohol, excess, women- simply a distinct schizophrenic paranoia that unravelled him and fuelled intense hate- Fisher hated everyone- including himself. What makes him such a remarkably staggering figure is the breadth of accomplishment and the breadth of failure- all within one man. Someone so brilliant as to be able to master the intellectual endeavor of the 20th Century without finishing his high school education, but small minded enough to think that "The Jews are...bent on world domination through such insidious schemes as ...junk food."

Possibly his greatest moment was his defeat of Russian master Boris Spassky in the World Chess Championship Match in Reykjavik, Iceland. Fischer was, at the last minure, loathe to go because of his usual paranoid demands- more money, a toilet that "raised higher than any other in the building," a station that broadcast his favorite show- The Jack LaLanne Show. Eventually though, with the Cold War looming, even Nixon prodded Fischer to play. Reports swirled that Kissinger demanded Fischer get over there and win. One wonders if this is true, given the response Fischer demonstrated towards authority other times in his life.

Ultimately though, Fischer won, despite forfeiting the second game (after losing the first) calling the tournament organizers bluff, and misfiring- he said he wanted even more money, they said he'd forfeit the second match. Fischer caved, returned, and dominated Spassky for the World Championship. There was no doubting Fischer's place as the greatest chess player alive.

Geniuses and prodigies are as much a freak show as anything on Coney Island to modern American culture, and Bobby Fischer is no exception. In reading Ms. Chun's brilliant article, one never feels insulted by his furiously insulting rhetoric- nor shocked by his hate filled September 11th tirade (one that, among others, prodded the US to make an example of him and his lack of concern over their efforts to stop his 1992 match in Yugoslavia). Instead, you are in awe of the actions of such a character, such an iconic human being- contradictions and representations all adding up to nothing. Does what he believe invalidate his genius? Is he a genius? One of his friends, when asked how they can reconcile his vile anti-Semitism, said:

"A lot of people wouldn't care if Michael Jordan was an anti-Semite if they could play a game of H-O-R-S-E with him."

I'm someone nearly obsessed with avoiding the mistake of mixing up the art with the artist, and in this case, I find it inspiring to focus on what Fischer achieved only with his brain. It's still weird, though, to consider what he's ruined with it as well- the same damn one.

A great site with pictures from the 1972 Spassky- Fischer World Championship Match.

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