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Fisher's checkmate
by Thanos Kalamidas
2008-01-19 09:40:40
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When I was eleven I was asked by a family friend who is my favourite sports’ figure and to my answer Bobby Fisher he was surprised that I liked an English footballer, instead of a Greek one. It was the late-60s, in the middle of the Cold War, and Bobby Fisher was on a poster on my bedroom wall - it was the one from an interview where the grandmaster is photographed behind a chess pawn!

ovi_fisher02In 1992 I made a dream come true by ignoring all tensions in the former Yugoslavia. I travelled to Belgrade to see the master playing another legend, his Russian rival Spassky in a rematch to their last 1972 game for the title of World Champion. Fisher had won in 1972 and Fisher won again in 1992. I’m far too ignorant to judge the game, but experts, including World Chess Champion Kasparov, said that both were far from their old selves; to me, it was the master, the man who taught me chess, the man who taught me that chess is not just a game, but a way of life.

Robert Fisher was not the only one to travel to Yugoslavia that year, hundreds of chess lovers from all around the world ignored US and UN restrictions and went for that historic game, but Fisher was the only one to pay. The American government went after him and started a series of adventures that led him to renounce his American citizenship and, in the end, live and die in Iceland.

After his triumphant victory over Spassky in 1972, Robert Fisher vanished from international chess and he appeared occasionally to provoke either with his political views or with his ideas about modern chess. Despite the fact he was half-Jewish, he went after Semitism and when bin Laden hit the Twin Towers he was to eager to announce happily that this is the end of the USA, something that made his already hysterical and over-patriotic compatriots angrier. He often declared that he was the real Chess World Champion and all the games and titles after his unfair withdraw with Karpov were pre-arranged.

ovi_fisher03_with_spassky_400Fine, regarding politics Robert Fisher made some really provocative remarks; but had America been fair to him? No, and this is a big NO! Robert Fisher was higher than any Olympic winner, any multi-millionaire basketball or football player, yet still he had to pay his own expenses to participate in tournaments. Robert Fisher, in the middle of the Cold War, humiliated the enemy in their own field and he was dismissed from America; he was even mistakenly arrested and imprisoned after being mistaken for a bank robber! America as too often in the last decades denounced her own kind, so why should Robert Fisher be loyal to the ones who betrayed him?

Do you remember the musical “Tommy” with The Who? Do you remember the pinball wizard scene with Tommy becoming the new master, the scene was taken from Fisher-Spassky game; the whole story was inspired by Fisher, the pinball master, who, in the end, was crucified by his own followers. For the ones who don’t know, Bobby Fisher was a pinball master, he was a puzzle master, he was a mastermind and that excuses all kind of eccentrics.

ovi_fisher04_last_photoComing to chess, the man was a century in front and the World Chess Federation is unreasonable if they cannot understand it and I’m behaving here because I could use another description for their attitude over what Fisher has been suggesting since 1975. Chess is a game you win or lose. It is a battle, a war on 64 small squares with strategies, openings and tactics. Draws have nothing to do with the game except serving financially the Federation and becoming a tool of advisability for players. Imagine if Napoleon had called a draw in Waterloo and asked Wellington for a new game the day after. In chess you don’t call a draw, it's as simple as that and that’s one of the major changes Fisher was asking.

The man made a revolution in a game that hadn’t changed for centuries with his clock changes. If you have never played with the clock you might not understand how much this tic-tac disturbs you. Fisher gave this space the player needed to expand his or her strategy and understanding of the opponent’s move. Fisher changed everything about openings and made us realize that a chess game starts long before the two players sit on the opposite sides the board. Fisher made us understand that black is not always the one to lose and masterminded the Sicilian Defence.

In the eyes of an eleven-year-old Greek boy, Bobby Fisher was not the American who beat the bad Russians, but he was a young man who, with the power of his mind, could overcome any rival in a game that demanded only thought. Today this eleven-year-old boy had a tear for his great idol that died and is still not recognised as a mastermind but as a controversial crazy old man. I’m really sorry for everybody who never understood.

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Asa2008-01-19 09:41:46
I had no idea about the man.

Thanks for sharing.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-19 21:37:19
Indeed, America has been nasty to quite a few of its more worthy citizens while rewarding the inanities and banalities of its mindless celebrities. Besides Fisher, others of the former that jump to mind are Charlie Chaplin, Henry David Thoreau, Daniel Berrigan, Ezra Pound, Arthur Miller. On the other hand there is an insight by G.K. Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy where he points out that while chess players sometimes go mad with their excessive rationalism, no poet in England ever went mad, with one exception Cowper, and that because of his obsession with the philosophical-theological theory of predestination. In France we have Bertrand del Born whom Dante places in hell for promoting discord with his sophistry unworthy of a poet. He is in a cave doing light unto himself with his own head (or the intellect unaided by imagination) hence he is called the lantern man. Chess may well be the most logical of games. Whether or not it reflects life, that’s another story. Food for thought.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-20 10:24:06
P.S. As Bergman points out in The Seventh Seal, eventually we are all checkmated by death, and if indeed corruption is faster than death, as Socrates says in the Apology, then it behoves us to attend to its avoidance. With death there is no choice and we always lose despite the promises of immortality of the materialistic organ transplanters.

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