Friday, January 18, 2008

The Life and Death of Bobby Fischer

A couple weeks ago I had read on the internet that Bobby Fischer’s health was very bad, so it wasn’t a total shock to learn that he died today. Since 1975, when Fischer was stripped of his World Chess Championship title for refusing to defend against Anatoly Karpov, the news about Bobby was almost always bad. The only highlights that I can think of from 1975 to 2008 was his rematch victory over Boris Spassky in 1992, and his advocacy of FischerRandom chess, which may well be his most lasting legacy.

I first heard of Fischer when I was a little kid. In 1972, he played a match against Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland and defeated him to become the new champion. They printed the scores of all the games in my local newspaper. He was now a hero to me and thousands of other chessplayers in the US, and the “Fischer Boom” years began. Later, when I went to high school, I was the captain of our chess team. I entered several chess tournaments and eventually achieved the title of National Master.

An entire generation of players appeared who were inspired by Fischer. I doubt hardly any of these famous names would have become chessplayers if it weren’t for Fischer. His book, My 60 Memorable Games, is one of the most beloved in chess literature.

But after Fischer won the world title, something inside his mind shifted. A switch was flipped and his chess career was over. He had finally achieved the goal he had sought since he was a child. And once he arrived at that summit, he completely lost the desire to play chess competitively. It didn’t matter anymore. He had proven to himself what he had needed and that was it. After 1972, Fischer essentially vanished from the world stage. It’s as if his life ended the moment he became world champion. And in some way, somewhere inside himself, Bobby, at the moment of his greatest triumph, died in 1972.

At the time most of us first became aware of him and our lives were significantly influenced by him, he was already leaving the stage, with the rest of his life spent like an unprogrammed robot with no idea how to live or what to do. Almost everything he did after 1972 was of no consequence. Apparently that’s what he wanted, and a person can’t be blamed for living his life according to his own internal compass, rebuffing the wishes of others.