Game of Life: Kasparov on Fischer – in full

Game of Life: Kasparov on Fischer – in full

20.07.2004 The news of Fischer’s arrest in Japan came as a shock to Garry
Kasparov, who was in a holiday camp working intensely on the games of his
greatest American predecessor. In today’s issue of The Wall Street Journal
Kasparov assesses Fischer’s chess career – for a public that was being exposed to
his current situation. We now bring you Kasparov’s full article.
In the prestigious Wall Street Journal Kasparov has paused to assess
Fischer’s chess career – for a public that is exposed only to his current
unfortunate situation. The article is a must-read for Fischer fans and foes- a
succinctly argued summary of the fate of the great chess hero. It also bodes well
for the fourth of his six-volume series on the game’s great players, a volume
that, as Kasparov tells us, will contain 55 Fischer games discussed on 250
() Our thanks to _The Wall Street Journal_
() for giving us permission to reprint this article in

Fischer’s Price

By Garry Kasparov – The Wall Street Journal
July 19, 2004; Page A10

The stunning news of Bobby Fischer’s detention in Japan came at a
moment in which the American former world chess champion was already
very much on my mind. I am currently finishing the fourth of my
six-volume series on the game’s great players and it is precisely this
volume of which Robert James Fischer, forever known as Bobby, is the

This project has involved going over hundreds of Fischer’s chess games
in minute detail. It also means trying to understand the man behind
the moves and the era in which he made them.

Despite his short stay at the top there is little to debate about the
chess of Bobby Fischer. He changed the game in a way that hadn’t been
seen since the late 19th century. The gap between Mr. Fischer and his
contemporaries was the largest ever. He singlehandedly revitalized a
game that had been stagnating under the control of the Communists of
the Soviet sports hierarchy. When Bobby Fischer rocketed to the top
of the chess world in the early 1970s he was a fine wine in a flawed
vessel. His contributions to the game, both at the board and from a
commercial perspective, were nothing short of a revolution in the
chess world. At the same time, his brittle and abusive character
showed cracks that deepened with his every step toward the highest
title. Today, it is hard to imagine the sensation of Mr. Fischer’s
success when he wrested the world championship away from Boris Spassky
in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1972. In the middle of the Cold War, the
Brooklyn-raised iconoclast took the crown from the well-oiled Soviet
machine that had dominated the chess world for decades. And this after
he barely showed up for the match at all, and then lost the first game
and forfeited the second!

Partially due to Mr. Fischer’s outrageous behavior leading up to and
during the “match of the century,” the international media coverage
was incredible. The games were shown live around the world. I was
nine years old and already a strong club player when the
Fischer-Spassky match took place, and I followed the games
avidly. Fischer, who had crushed two other Soviet grandmasters on his
march to the title match, nonetheless had many fans in the Soviet
Union. They respected his chess, of course, but many quietly enjoyed
his individuality and independence.

After the match ended in a convincing victory for the American, the
world was at his feet. Chess was on the cusp of becoming a
commercially successful sport for the first time. Mr. Fischer’s play,
nationality and natural charisma created a unique opportunity. He was
a national hero whose popularity rivaled that of Muhammad Ali. (Would
the secretary of state have called Ali beforea fight the way Henry
Kissinger called Mr. Fischer?) Sales of chess sets and books boomed,
and tournament prize funds soared. With Bobby Fischer in the lead,
chess was headed for the popularity of golf and tennis.

With glory, however, comes responsibility and tremendous pressure. Mr.
Fischer couldn’t bring himself to play again. He spent three years
away from the board before the precious title he had worked his entire
life for was forfeited without the push of a pawn in 1975.

Astronomical amounts of money were offered to lure him back. He could
have played a match against the new champion, Anatoly Karpov, for an
unheard of $5 million. Opportunities abounded, but Mr. Fischer’s was a
purely destructive force. He demolished the Soviet chess machine but
could build nothing in its place. He was the ideal challenger — but a
disastrous champion.

The conventional wisdom says that Bobby Fischer was a guileless and
petulant child who just wanted his own way. I believe he was conscious
of all his actions and the psychological effect his behavior had on
his opponents. The gentlemanly Mr. Spassky was ill-prepared to deal
with the belligerent American in Reykjavik. In 1975, Mr. Fischer’s
challenger was the young Mr. Karpov, whom I would later meet in five
consecutive world championship matches.

Unable to even contemplate defeat, Mr. Fischer left chess. Bereft of
the only thing he had ever wanted to do in his life, he turned his
destructive energies inward, espousing a virulent anti-Semitism —
despite his own Jewish heritage.

The Fischer drama had a final act in 1992, when, almost 50 years old,
he was brought out of seclusion by the lure of millions to play a
rematch against Mr. Spassky in war-torn Yugoslavia in violation of
international sanctions. The chess was predictably rusty, although
there were a few flashes of the old Bobby brilliance. His mental
stability, however, had atrophied even more during the 20 years of
solitude. Later, Mr. Fischer’s profane remarks would span from
accusations of Jewish conspiracies to a welcoming of the events of

Despite the ugliness of his decline, Bobby Fischer deserves to be
remembered for the great things he did for chess and for his immortal
games. I would prefer to focus on not letting his personal tragedy
become a tragedy for chess.

An entire generation of top American players learned the game as kids
thanks to Mr. Fischer. Today’s flourishing scholastic chess movement
could be harmed as his woes and beliefs make headlines around the
world. People may believe that this is what happens when a genius
plays chess — instead of what happens when a fragile mind leaves his
life’s work behind.

Mr. Kasparov, the world’s top-ranked chess player, is a contributing
editor at the Journal.

* _Kasparov on Fischer in the Wall Street Journal_
(free registration required)