Friday, January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer

I have always been fascinated by chess, though my own talent is strictly rudimentary. I enjoy reading the chess column in the Times, and watching expert commentators who blithely discuss the next ten moves on both sides, and recommend a course of action that makes no sense to me—why not take that rook that seems to be undefended?

I learned about the legend of Bobby Fischer when I was very young. He was one of those people adults told you about—why when Bobby Fischer was your age, he was already defeating grandmasters. And of course he was, like me, a New Yorker, and a Jew (though of course we didn’t know he would go on to become a raging anti-Semite) and I was proud that he had, so early in his life, accomplished great things.

I guess when you think of archetypal New Yorkers, Bobby Fischer is not the first person to come to mind, but it many ways, Fischer’s drive and ambition, his instinct for the jugular, his pride in his eccentricities, and his utter indifference to what people might think of him, make him a model for a certain type of New York ruthlessness. (His later misadventures aside, I would much rather admire Bobby Fischer then, say, Donald Trump.) Perhaps Bobby Fischer can best be compared to those other remarkably focused talents that came of age in Brooklyn in the 1950s and early 1960s,Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand.

Bobby Fischer certainly had his share of inner demons, and they later derailed him, and perhaps in some ways destroyed him. But for one summer, one brief shining moment, in Iceland in 1972, he managed to sufficiently keep them under control to show everyone what he had always felt himself to be, and what he undoubtedly was; the greatest chess player in the world.

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