>Triumph & Tragedy: Bobby Fischer (1943-2008)

>You have heard by now that former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer has died. There probably has never been a chess player to generate as much discussion and opinion as Fischer. He was the most controversial of the great chess players, and his life was a case study of genius meets paranoia.

When I was a boy I had a copy of Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess.

This book became a favorite of mine, and Fischer loomed large in my psyche as both a chess player (and all that implies) and as an enigma. I was not a particularly good chess player, but I thought the game was interesting (still do), and I found the end-game puzzles in Fischer’s book very fun.

Fischer’s story is a tragic one in my opinion.

Fischer still remains the youngest ever U.S. Open Champion

The details of Fischer’s life have been well documented. His brilliance in chess is undisputed. But his personal life, especially in the decades since he won the world championship in 1972, spiraled downhill into self-absorbed, narcissistic, anti-semitic, paranoia. He was the kind of person who couldn’t make the distinction between minor and major offenses, every offense to himself was major, and he perceived offenses everywhere. He was a person who never forgot a wrong and saw himself in the victim role often. And he rarely seemed to understand the value of others.

And yet, those who knew him said he was honest and straightforward. Chess players still marvel at his abilities on the chess board. Boris Spassky, whom Fischer beat to win the world championship, remained his friend until the end.

I sometimes wonder if Fischer would have become a more gracious and savvy person if he had finished high school and gone to college. There is something about the process of going to, and finishing, school that stretches and, for lack of a better word, “socializes” a person. I would hazard a guess that the percentage of individuals prone to conspiracy theories and martyr-complexes drops among the more educated. I must admit I say this as someone who has spent a lot of time in college, so I have some personal investment in the matter. I also cannot guarantee that I’m not paranoid.

Fischer discusses chess and life

Without a doubt, in life and in death Fischer’s ghost will continue to loom large in the world of chess. His games will continue to be studied, his life will continue to be debated, and chess will never be the same.

The scraggly Fischer in later years: Never afraid to speak his mind.

History turned on game three of the 1972 World Championship. Fischer lost game one, didn’t show for game two, and many thought he was through. He played brilliantly in game three for his first ever win against Spassky. If he hadn’t won that game history, and Fischer himself, might have turned out differently.

Game three analyzed by kingscrusher at ChessWorld.

No matter how great one is at doing something – chess, sports, the arts, politics, etc. – what matters most is one’s character. Bobby Fischer was great at playing chess. He was lousy at life. More importantly, he harbored a lot of resentment and fear in his heart. I don’t know the reasons why, we all have complicated stories to tell, but I pray for his soul because he was, first and foremost, just a man full of weaknesses like me.

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