Chess Journalists of America

The following article was published in The Chess Journalist, Vol. XXXI, No. 4, Consecutive No. 106, December 2002 (Editor: John Hillery). One-time only publication rights have been obtained from the contributor. All other rights are hereby assigned to the author. Articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CJA, its offices or members. Copyright 2002 by the Chess Journalists of America.

Chess in the media:
Bobby Fischer redux

by John Hillery

No chess figure can draw media attention like Bobby Fischer. Though he has not returned to play (and there is no likelihood he ever will), an article by Rene Chun in the December Atlantic Monthly again points the spotlight at the second pride and sorrow of chess.

There is much in the article which will be new event to chess players: Fischer's wanderings since 1992 from Hungary to Tokyo; his re-emergence as a DJ on a Manila radio station (alternating R&B records with his more than eccentric political views); the fact that he has a child and ... well, a person of the opposite sex whom he visits every couple of months.

Not surprisingly, much attention is given to Fischer's ... odd political views. He is apparently sincere in believing that a world-wide Jewish conspiracy divides its time equally between stealing everyone's money (communism was, of course, a Jewish front), sacrificing children, and persecuting Bobby Fischer. He seems not to have contradictions of this worldview, such as why, if the Secret Masters are so powerful, they allow Fischer to go around revealing their secrets.

The larger part of the article does, however, recount Fischer's chess career. It is done fairly well, though the author is clearly not a chess player. (To assert that Spassky "easily" won the first game in Reykjavik is commit a terminological inexactitude). Errors are less often of fact than of emphasis. For example, to accuse Fischer of reneging on commitments and demanding more money as an excuse not to play during the 1960s is slightly anachronistic. He certainly did this after 1972, but in hindsight, many of his demands during the 1960s -- for more prize money, better playing conditions, and a more equitable balance of power between players and organizers -- do not look all that unreasonable.

Chun has less to add concerning the period from Reykjavik to Sveti Stefan, at least for those who followed Fischer's wandering path. He did, however, interview various chess figures who had contact with Fischer during that period. The reader must decide which ones to take seriously. Interestingly, Larry Evans seems the most restrained and most knowledgeable. On the other hand, such statements as Arnold Denker's that Fischer avoided playing Karpov in 1975 out of "fear of losing" may strike one as pop psychiatry and conclusions reached long after the fact.

Another article about Fischer appeared several months ago on the Chess Cafe web site, written by one Frank Berry. (Not, however, the same Frank Berry who is a CJA member.) His sensationalistic claims have provoked some spirited exchanges on the Internet, but have little else in their favor.

Berry asserts that Fischer's mother, Regina, was not merely a politically eccentric and overprotective mother; she was, in fact, a Soviet sleeper agent trained in Moscow. Furthermore, Berry claims that Bobby's father was not the German physician Gerhard Fischer, but an unnamed Russian spy.

Since Mr. Berry is said to be a district attorney, his ... liberal approach to the rules of evidence is somewhat surprising. Closely examined, all that his citations really prove is that, during the 1950's, Hoover's FBI suspected everyone of being a communist spy. As to Bobby's paternity, I fail to see why this should be the business of anyone other than Fischer himself and his immediate family -- unless, perhaps, Mr. Berry wishes to suggest that belief in Marxism is a symptom of hereditary insanity.

I am reminded of the old tale of a scholar who spent twenty years trying to prove that the Iliad was not written by Homer, but by another Greek of the same name.

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