Friday, January 18, 2008

Chess, the musical

"One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble."

Bobby Fischer died yesterday. You'd have to be at least 45 for that to mean anything to you, or a chess historian. In 1972 Bobby Fischer, representing the United States of America beat the Russian Boris Spassky in Iceland to become the Chess champion of the world. People who never had anything other than checkers on their board at home sat in rapt attention as the American wunderkind whipped up on the old Soviet master, ending years of Russian reign in the world of chess.Outside of the 1980 miracle on ice, no other sports victory meant more to America in the cold war.Chess became the hottest sport in the country with chess clubs springing up everywhere. Fischer was the toast of the USA.

The average person watching the Fischer/Spassky match did think that Bobby was a little odd. I recall at the time thinking that he was a lot further up the coconut tree than your average chess player, or even your average chess champion. He had forfeited the second game in the match through some fit of pique he threw about the conditions. Maybe it was too cold. I don't recall. Then he gave a whole bunch of his winnings to a church headed by a nut case named Garner Ted Armstrong. Fischer would later recognize this as a mistake and denounce the church.Within three years, Fischer was stripped of is crown for failing to defend the title. He did not defend the title because the challanger and the Chess Russian of Wales (whoever it was) would not meet all of his demands for the championship series.

Following his loss of the crown, Fischer became even more unstable. His most famous tantrums involved his hatred of Jews. Fischer, who everyone believed was Jewish, and even appeared in some books on famous Jews began a life long spewing of bigotry. Fischer's bitter diatribes were the usual run of the mill anti-semetism, involving his belief that there was a vast, world wide Jewish conspiracy that effected him and everyone else on the planet. Any doubts that Bobby was not a candidate for sailing away on the Good Ship Lollypop were now resolved against him by most people who had thought processes more sophisticated than your average sponge.But this was not the end of Bobby's ravings. He managed to violate U.S. law by playing what can only be described as an "old timers chess match" against Spassky in the 80s. Bobby wished it billed as the World Championship, having refused to admit that he had relinquished the title. Unfortuantely the chess version of the rumble in the jungle was held in Yougoslavia which was going through its opening death throes at the time and was a place that U.S. law prohibited investment, and apparently also board games.

Bobby then started wandering around the world, always just ahead of the U.S. authorities, he was finally detained and held in Japan. He ended up moving back to Iceland, a country which offered him sanctuary when no one else would.Bobby was occsionally heard from again, seldom to his credit. He denounced the U.S. in the wake of 9/11, which he blamed on the Israelis, saying that the U.S. had gotten what it deserved.

Recently, Fischer entered a hospital in Iceland suffering from Kidney issues and , it is reported by the press, "paranoia". He was finally checkmated last night (you had to know that that was coming).He was promptly praised by the President of the International Chess Society as a person with a mind on par with Newton and Einstein. Maybe, but he also had the same delusions as those other geniuses Luther and Wagner and I think that those issues cancelled out his alleged genius.Although we still listen to Wagner and go to Lutheran churches, so maybe there will be an honored place for him after all. Before he recanted, the English poet Auden felt that time pardoned the malignant views of all great writers, from Kipling to Paul Claudel. Certainly we don't think of Thomas Jefferson as that old Virginia slavedriver and sexual abuser, although there is every indication that he was. History may yet be kind to Bobby Fischer

One night in Bangkok makes the hard guys humble,
not much between despair and ecstacy.
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble,
Can't be too careful with your comapny.
I can feel the Devil walking next to me.

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