Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer passed away this week.

When I was in High School, I played chess seriously enough to learn the language and develop an appreciation for the esoteric, mathematical beauty of the game. It’s really remarkable how expressive a few pieces of plastic and a shared understanding of the world that they imply can be. I’ve seen players joke, threaten, rage, panic and nearly everything else within the confines of 64 squares. Even without outside commentary, you can see players talk to one another in the moves they make.  Between humans, it’s a framework for interaction and understanding that goes beyond the constrained aspects of play.

Once you’ve learned to converse a little in that dialect, Fischer’s name comes up a lot, and not just for the popularization and politicization of the game that he catalyzed. He was a genuine chess genius. He blazed new trails of play and revitalized lines of thought that were believed to be dead ends with his passion and brilliance. People make analogies between his ability and Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan, but if anything, his presence in chess is larger. Even if he’d never been on the wider world stage, the chess world would remember him as a revolutionary, and rightly so.

Unfortunately, on virtually every other axis he seems to have been unbalanced. Of course, I’ve never met him, so I can only say what I’ve seen reported, but it seems undeniable that he was a dedicated anti-semite and generally a whack-O outside the world of chess.

It’s heartbreaking when someone is clearly superhumanly talented in one area, but so prosaic in others. Outside the game, Fischer was just a guy, and not a guy I had much respect for. That’s just being human, I suppose, but it’s a sad reminder of how many different aspects that game has.

2 Responses to “Bobby Fischer”

  1. meg Says:

    It is some comfort to an ordinary person like myself that many incredibly-gifted people had compensating or offsetting unattractive features. Fischer was batshit crazy (as was Glenn Gould); MLK plagiarized enormous parts of his dissertation; Gandhi abused his nieces and completely alienated his children. So we can all chorus in self-satisfied tones, “Well, I can’t X, but at least I don’t Y!”

  2. faber Says:

    Other than his brilliance across the board, Fischer seems pretty reprehensible. Now, I certainly don’t know him personally, so I’m going by the media, but he seems crazy and bigoted in a way that would get him shunned completely if he weren’t the best thing since Alexander Alekhine.

    In his case the “I can’t X but I can Y” comes out more like “I may be a racist, but I can really play chess.” Those don’t seem balanced to me.

    His game is undeniably brilliant. He deserves to be remembered as the best thing since Alekhine. It just seems a shame that’s his only redeeming feature.