Monday, September 21, 2009

Searching for Bobby Fischer's Brilliance

I'm not sure if parents of chess prodigies are among my readers, but I'm pleased to share this piece: Bobby Fischer's story is an unparalleled tale of Cold War competition and personal eccentricity. Today's Los Angeles Times featured one of those articles that used to make it exciting to pick up the newspaper in the morning. It turns out that there's been a long mystery on Bobby Fischer's paternity. Times reporter Peter Nicholas admits his interest went well beyond the chess mania following Fischer's 1972 victory in Iceland:

I read everything I could find about him, replayed his most famous games and talked with friends of his who frequented the Marshall Chess Club in New York, scene of some of his triumphs.

In time, my interest shifted from Fischer's chess to a much murkier aspect of his life: the identity of his father.

Paul Nemenyi (National Archives and Records Administration) - Paul Nemenyi's petition for U.S. naturalization, including a 1940 photo.


The full story is here, "Chasing the King of Chess":

Bobby's life story, like his behavior, was bizarre and complicated. At the height of his powers, he abandoned the game and went into seclusion, surfacing periodically to spout paranoid, anti-Semitic screeds and to denounce the United States. He died last year at 64 in Iceland, the only country that would have him.

It seemed to me that if I was to get a better grasp of this elusive figure, I needed to know more about his origins.

Bobby was born in Chicago and raised in Brooklyn by a single mother, Regina Fischer. She told people his father was a German biophysicist named Gerhardt Fischer. The couple divorced when Bobby was a toddler. That's about all that was known.

The dearth of details about Gerhardt and his role in Bobby's life whetted my curiosity. What was he like? Did he share his son's intellectual gifts? What kind of relationship did they have?

My wife, fellow journalist Clea Benson, came to share my interest, and before long it morphed into something of an obsession.

We became part of a subculture in which Fischer fanatics dissect his old games like sacred scrolls, pay tens of thousands of dollars for his old notebooks and argue ceaselessly about whether later champions could have held their own against him.

In search of Fischer arcana, we've been to the Chess Hall of Fame in Miami, whose dominant architectural feature is an oversize rook. We've pored over records at the New York Public Library. We've hired Hungarian translators and sifted through 70-year-old letters stored at the National Archives in Maryland.

In 2002, I even made a pilgrimage to Reykjavik to see the chess board where Fischer and Spassky squared off 30 years before.

That same year, I resolved to get more serious about my research on Gerhardt. Enough amateur sleuthing. Now I would use my reportorial skills to gather every available fact about the man.
Read the whole thing, here.


PatriotUSA said...

What a great article, and a fascinating side of Fischer I did not know about unti I read this article. I play alot of Chess, not so mcuh now as I used to. Fischer was my idol and I remember the matches with Boris Spassky(sp) and Fischer had the best Chess mind ever, in my very humble opinion.
I would have to concur that there is much more under the surface of this river. Still waters do not always run smoothly under the
surface. I think this is the case with Bobby Fischer. As I am Jewish, gave my life to the Lord in 1984 but I was always conflited and interested in his hatred of being Jewish and trying to denounce that side of him so strongly for the majority of his life. He could almost be called a JINO and he certainly qualified for the label of self hating Jew.
The man was so brilliant and inteligent, I think that is partially what caused his rabid outbursts of hating America and Jews.

A most worthy article and thanks for posting here for all of us to enjoy. That was a fascinating time to be alive. I am just 56 and I remember those matches as if they were just yesterday.

Norm said...

Bobby was a hero in my Bronx home, on par with Willie, Mickey & the Duke. My father played chess during lunch at work, and if none of us would give him a game at night he would study the game in the daily newspaper. The only times I could ever beat him was when he threw the game to make me feel good. I always said that dad studied his chess books more than I studied my college books.

Bobby was a true genius in a league of his own. He did not disappoint us...but we hoped and prayed that whatever terrible demons possessed his great mind would leave and give him peace.
At this time of year I always pray for in peace Bobby, enjoy the game.