NYRB LVIII:04 – The Bobby Fischer Defence

Article – The Bobby Fischer Defence

Author – Garry Kasparov

Book(s) ReviewedEndgame? Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise & Fall from America’s Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness by Frank Brady.

Kasparov was born the year Fischer achieved a perfect score at the US Championship (1963), was inspired by his ‘My 60 Memorable Games’ and an avid fan (aged 9) when Fischer beat Spassky to become world champion. With his departure from Chess Kasparov never played Fischer but was always asked comparisons when he took the mantle.

The chess of Spaasky & Fischer’s 1992 rematch was ‘predictably sloppy, although there were a few flashes of the old Bobby brilliance’ and marked by his strange claims (spitting on a US cable warning him of breaching the UN embargo on Yugoslavia, denouncing his ‘blacklist(ing) by world Jewry’. ‘You had to look away, but you could not‘.

Fischer wouldn’t play Kasparov, ostensibly over unpaid soviet bloc royalties on his book, but more likely, per Kasparov, ‘in chess he always saw clearly and was honest with himself. He understood that the chess Olympus was no longer his to conquer’.

Fischer’s death in 2008 – from refusing medical treatment mirrored his life growing up without worthy opponents – ‘he had fought to the end and proven himself to be his most dangerous opponent‘.

Why did Fischer retire? It was not unusual for him to take the first post-Iceland year off but in the second the 3-year World Championship cycle would be afoot. Fischer instead contested the rules for the competition and when no agreement met, he quit. Kasparov asserts the rule changes Fischer demanded showed he was nervous about  facing the new breed of players following in his trail – Karpov was ruthless, not gentlemanly like the old generation, and had also crushed Spassky. He notes reaction to his similar assertion in his 2004 book on Fischer (My Great Predecessors Pt. IV (2004)) was hostile and that Brady also discards it.

Kasparov maintains that while Fischer was fearless at the board he was susceptible to crisis of confidence before matches and that his contesting of rules was a mark of this. The changes he requested (a challenger needing to win 10-8, unlimited draws etc) are ‘evidence’ of such and in keeping with the character of a man who could not face defeat.

On his decline and fall from grace – arrest, refuge in Iceland, public perceptions of mental health problems – Kasparov invokes Voltaire:

Have in your madness reason enough to guide your extravagances; and, forget not to be excessively opinionated and obstinate’  That is, purposeful and successful madness can hardly be called mad. After Fisher left chess the dark forces inside him no longer had purpose.’

From ‘Bobby Fischer’ by Harry Benson (2011, powerHouse Books) (http://tiny.cc/oaimo)

Quote: ‘I just got Good’  Bobby Fischer

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