While reading Yahoo News early this morning, I was struck to learn that Bobby Fischer had died in Iceland yesterday at midday at age 64. Fischer’s spokesman said the legendary chess player died after a serious, but unspecified illness. It was an unexpected news.
The news hit me like a brick wall. Obviously, not because he was a friend of mine, but because it was totally unexpected. I hadn’t heard anything about Bobby Fischer since September 1, 1972 when he overwhelmed Soviet world champion Boris Spassky in Iceland to win the world chess title. I remember this event distinctly, just as I remember the day John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas on Friday, November 22, 1963.
During those days, I was working at Frutera Atlántica as a Bookkeeping Clerk in San José, Costa Rica. We were exporting bananas to a Del Monte-owned company in New Orleans. On that particular day, I watched several poor kids who shined shoes at Parque Central in San José, playing chess with carton-made chess sheets and hand-made wood chess pieces .
Bobby Fischer is the only Chess Grandmaster, that I know of, who lowered the game of chess to the common citizen. In Costa Rica, chess was being played by everybody. It was even more popular than soccer, the favorite sports of most Costa Ricans. Every play between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky was meticulously described by the media. I haven’t seen anything like it, except Pele’s soccer games in Mexico 1970. After Bobby Fischer decided to go underground, the game of chess lost its popular luster.
Fischer was the most gifted prodigy in chess, the game’s equivalent of Mozart. At age 15, in 1958, he became the youngest player in history to become a Grandmaster, and his performance at the Interzonal and Candidates’ matches in 1970 and 1971 — in which he won an unprecedented 20 straight games against some of the strongest players in the world, without playing a single game to a draw — remains today the most enduring signature of his art and skill.
By a consensus of grandmasters, he had become the strongest chess player in history. “The greatest genius to have descended from the chess heavens,” Mikhail Tal of Latvia, the former world champion, once said.
As a typical genius, Bobby Fischer was an eccentric man. He thought everything was controlled by “the hidden hand of a satanical secret world government”. He despised Jews, Communists, journalists and friends who talked to journalists. For several years he lived in a vacuum. He left no traces of his Social Security, driver’s license, telephone numbers, house rent and other personal information. He lived a tight secluded life. In a certain way he reminded me of the last days of legendary pilot Howard Hughes.
At age 64 Bobby Fischer doesn’t have to hide anymore. The most gifted prodigy in chess, the game’s equivalent of Mozart now rests in peace. Another brilliant mind has departed.
Robert James (Bobby) Fischer – (1943-2008)