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Bobby Fischer (III): L'enfant terrible

Translated from E. J. Rodríguez


“We assume that geniuses are blessed creatures that do not have to work hard to achieve their goals. What is difficult for us, is easy for them. But Bobby, when he was a kid – with an IQ of around 200 points–was devoting ten to fifteen hours of mental effort and heavy concentration to chess, something that would kill a normal person… or at least kill me.” (Dick Cavett)

He arrived, he saw … but he took a few turns aimlessly before he won. The greatest child prodigy of the fifties was noted for his unpredictable character long before becoming the world champion. Without having turned twenty he had already faced the chess establishment, the tournament organizers, the patrons, the Soviets, his own mother. It was he against all; he did not tolerate anyone telling him what he had to do and when he thought he was right, he did not bow to anything, even renouncing money or titles. During the sixties he wasted two priceless chances to fight for the world title and was about to miss a third. Most of the public knows, even superficially, their tense encounter against Boris Spassky in 1972, when the Cold War seemed to be playing out over a chessboard and the worldwide media were watching the event. We have all seen images of that world final that had political overtones, almost pre-war. Also well known are the problems he had after his retirement (or rather after his amazing reappearance in 1992) and his sad final years, relentlessly pursued by the law of his own country and also turned into an extremist whose opinions were judged by many as those of a madman. In any case, the majority of documentaries about his life that we can see out there tend to focus on those two stages: the duel with Spassky and the personal decline. But long before that our protagonist had already become a universal media figure: over the years, his peculiar personality and tremendous charisma were transforming Bobby Fischer into the most famous sportsman in the world, along with Muhammad Ali and maybe Pele, even though he has not yet won the world crown. His sports career in those years before the title was the most rugged, but also extremely bright. Moreover, at its best it was one of the brightest races that have existed in any sport. Fischer was a fundamental figure for chess, a very complex discipline that practically came to reinvent himself, but was also a unique individual in history. Presently we dedicated an article to narrate his childhood (part one, part two), so it is time to talk about another period of his life: the years that elapsed between his appointment as Grand Master at age fifteen and his definitive consecration as the best player in the world; the years when he became the enfant terrible of chess.

The boy who had climbed a mountain

Fischer's rise to stardom came as the youngest American champion in history, in 1957, at fourteen years of age. Then he made the leap to the world stage. It was impossible to believe that an American alone could defeat the best that the Soviet chess machine was capable of producing. Not even Walt Disney had conceived the story of a poor single mother trying to finish her own education while moving with her family constantly, relocating her son from one school to another. All this while the FBI was investigating her as a potential communist spy. Regina Fischer was a remarkable woman and not just for giving life to a chess champion. Despite her concerns about Bobby spending excessive time at the chessboard, she realized that this was the only thing that made her son happy, so she soon promoted that passion as if it were her own.” (Garry Kasparov)

An unusual photo: Bobby with his only sister, Joan Fischer, with whom he had a good relationship but who always fled from the media attention caused by the growing fame of the little one in the family.

In 1959, at sixteen years of age, Robert James Fischer was among the world chess elite. He had already managed to participate in the Candidates Tournament, the summit competition that was held every three years to choose the aspiring World Champion … a competition that could only be attended by eight Grand Masters chosen after fighting for a place in the Interzonal Tournament. In that his first Candidates, the fifteen-year-old Fischer succumbed to the powerful Soviet players, as expected to happen to a player … who was still in school! But the fact that he had not won mattered little: the fact of having risen so high in rank before his first beard, of a humble family and had barely had any outside training, was truly overwhelming. His feat had impacted the world of chess as probably no other player before him: he had obtained his title of Grand Master at a surprisingly early age, being by far the youngest to achieve it until then. All this in a time when there were no computers to accelerate learning in young players, as it happens today. Fischer had achieved this almost exclusively on his own, thanks to his obsessive dedication and his chess books. Books that, to top it all, in most cases were given or borrowed, because he did not have money to purchase them.

As we said in the article about his childhood, “Bobby” was born in Chicago – where he spent his preschool period – but in reality he was unmistakably a New Yorker. Not only because of the strong Brooklyn accent with which he always spoke, an accent that never wavered even when he had spent decades living abroad. He also had the typical demeanor of those characteristic street chess games of Brooklyn, those that we have seen so many times in movies. For example: before playing their first Interzonal Tournament, the teenage Fischer referred to many of the participating Grandmasters as patzers, a rather derogatory term that was used among amateur chess players in Manhattan to label bad players. That's how he was, an educated teenager who had grown up in the heart of Brooklyn and took the arrogance of the neighborhood into the halls of royal chess. While he was an active player, he never changed. If anything, he became more and more himself.

In spite of everything, as we mentioned in the previous article, the skinny Bobby awoke many sympathies on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States he was a source of pride, especially since his rise had had a heroic demeanor: a kid from a working class neighborhood in New York who showed up at the tournaments dressed in ragged sweaters and cheap plaid shirts, that he could not purchase books and that he had only been able to access a private school when his Manhattan chess club had negotiated a scholarship in his behalf because of his extraordinary intellectual capacity. A boy abandoned by his father, who had grown up with his mother and his older sister in a tiny apartment, deprived of many comforts that other American teenagers took for granted. His short existence had always borderlined on poverty, but now he not only dominated American chess but he was classified in the largest competitions to measure himself with the Great Soviet Masters. He was a celebrity! In the USSR, Bobby was also a beloved character, even for the regime press … or at least he was at the beginning. The Soviets did not miss the fact that the American prodigy had learned to read Russian, had studied the Soviet chess manuals and regarded the chess players of the USSR as childhood idols. In the world of chess, Bobby Fischer was considered almost as an “adopted son” of the Soviet school, so the Russians affectionately looked upon the child of proletarian origin. They saw him as someone very different from the typical “daddy's boy”, the American pampered by the excess of prosperity. In Russia they also knew that his mother had studied in Moscow and was a fervent Communist sympathizer: one more reason to appreciate the American boy. As if that were not enough, when Fischer visited Moscow he left a good impression for his humble behavior and good manners. [See additional translation notes.]

Newspaper clipping of the time that shows young Fischer playing with polio patients.

The first televised appearances of the very young Fischer helped to reinforce that endearing image: he was polite, shy, hesitant, with a half embarrassed smile (except when they filmed him after a victory, then he smiled very openly). But in reality that affable and timid behavior hid a tremendous temper that would soon emerge. Within Bobby had developed not only a fierce determination but also a fierce individualism; He was willing to go his own way regardless of what others advised him. His ideas were his ideas and nobody could change them; nobody apparently had enough authority over him to try, not even his own mother. As soon as he was sixteen years old – the age he was legally obligated to attend school until– Bobby decided to permanently withdraw, claiming that “they could not teach him anything”. Nothing that would serve him in his goal of becoming a World Chess Champion, of course. Not surprisingly, despite his portentous intellectual capacity, his time at school had been quite irregular … if not to say simply mediocre. But what could a handful of school grades matter to him? He wanted to be a professional chess player and the rest was merely secondary.

He had achieved his title of Grand Master but the idea of ​​chess as a living seemed a complicated task, since in the USA practically no professional chess players existed. American Masters (and Westerners in general) had to combine competition with their respective careers, while in the Soviet field there were huge state subsidies for the best players, who dedicated themselves to full-time chess, including aid to develop the most promising juveniles. However, Bobby planned to have it his way: he made his calculations and saw that he did not need much money to survive. A modest existence could be maintained with what he earned in tournaments, simultaneous exhibitions, conferences or with the sale of books and compilations of his games. Having grown up in poverty he was more than accustomed to a tight budget and had no great needs to cover. He remained living alone in the small apartment where he had grown up, after a bitter argument with his mother, whose ostentatious political activism embarrassed him (Regina Fischer was not only a leftist and a regular listener of Radio Moscow, but participated in demonstrations and public protests). It could also have been influenced by her having initiated a relationship with a man. Be that as it may, after her eldest daughter – Joan Fischer – was emancipated, Regina Fischer left the apartment to Bobby. The woman felt she had nothing to contribute, since the boy had begun to financially take care of himself and she was not too apt to impose discipline on him. Her indomitable son was becoming increasingly difficult to handle. So the very young Fischer still did not have too much money, but now he was a true professional, since he really lived off his beloved science-game. Of course, his appearance began to change: until then he had appeared in the tournaments dressed as he did in his normal life – a poor person – modest apparel and generally worn from use. However, some chess colleagues advised him to purchase more formal attire to attend major competitions now that despite his youth he was a player of the first order and arousing interest of the press. Soon he began to appear in tournaments dressed in suit and tie, attire which he never abandoned during attendance at chess events but for other events dressed more casual.

A promising run of successes

– “Do you think you will win the world title soon?”
– “I have excellent possibilities. No champion was Grand Master at my age. Maybe in 1963.”
– “That soon?”
– “Yes, why not? Yes, I believe that I will soon be world champion.”
(Fischer in an interview with the Spanish chess player and journalist Román Torán)

1960 was a good year for Bobby Fischer. No one harbored doubts about his immense talent, but in several tournaments he had the opportunity to demonstrate that his elevation among the elite had not been the product of chance (something impossible in chess, on the other hand, because on a board nobody gets such results by chance!). Of course, he did not appear in too many international competitions. In fact, he allowed himself to be seen very little, mainly due to financial issues: if he could not pay for the trip and the stay, he could not afford to participate. In many cases, he preferred to stay at home and offer exhibitions of all kinds in the United States, with which he could earn money easier. In addition, he had a tendency to withdraw for lengthy periods of time, in order to study alone. Although he confessed that “some days I dedicate quite a few hours to chess but other days I do not look at the board”, the truth is that his enormous capacity for work and exhaustive preparation were a key factor in his success.

Be that as it may, despite his limited activity in competitions and despite the fact of training alone without assistance of coaches, in the few important tournaments where he participated he got some brilliant results and it was something that never failed to amaze fans and journalists. That year 1960, at age sixteen, he successfully defended his title of US chess champion. During his career, from the age of fourteen, he played the national championship eight times … and eight times he took the title! He also won a small tournament in Iceland and shared first place at an event in Mar del Plata, (Argentina) with the new prowess of Soviet chess' Boris Spassky, six years older than himself. Bobby could not take the trophy because Spassky won the game that confronted them both: the few times they engaged over the chessboard before 1972, Fischer was not yet able to win and for years Boris Spassky remained a real pebble in his shoe. Of course, both developed a fairly cordial relationship that would remain even after its controversial end in 1972 (Spassky, of a very noble character, always behaved with an admirable chivalry toward Fischer, even when it was not necessary or even self-defeating).

Regina Fischer, Bobby's mother, activist and according to some, “the true intellectual genius of the family” (imagine that!), in front of the White House.

During that same South American tour of 1960, however, there was also room for stumbling: Fischer obtained the worst result of his entire career in Buenos Aires, where he played the only truly mediocre tournament of his professional career and the only one where he did not qualify in the top positions of the chart. Bobby, who was seventeen at the time, fell to 13th in the chart. In his day, that sudden drop was so surprising that many attributed it to fatigue or to the stress of an international competition that could understandably affect a kid with so little experience. But some time later, through other chess players, the real reason for his bad performance was known: during his stay in the tournament someone had introduced him to a girl and Bobby ended up losing his virginity in his spare time. Logically, his mind was not centered on the board and the final score gave a good example of it. After that trip, he decided not to see girls again, at least not while he was participating in a competition, something that we know fulfilled more or less to the point of becoming a world champion … although it is also true that he played very few tournaments during his career.

During the following year, 1961, he did not participate in any major competition for financial reasons and only participated in one tournament. Of course, it was a prestigious event that included the presence of a few great masters of renown, including several very powerful Soviet players. Among them was the other great young prodigy of his time: Mikhail Tal, that despite being only twenty-five, had already won the world crown and lost it again. Both Fischer and Tal had a very good personal relationship, but Tal had swept Fischer off the board during the 1959 Candidates, earning him no less than the four games they played. It was well known that Bobby was deeply stung after receiving such a tremendous beating, although at that time he was only a fifteen-year-old and logically no one had criticized him for his performance. There was, then, quite an expectation for that rematch between the two brightest young chess players of the moment. In addition, their respective styles of play were very different, practically opposed: such was the master of the attack at any price, of improvisation, of the search for the most artistic checkmate and the most convoluted combinations. Fischer's style was still evolving, but it was already clear that Bobby was moving away from that chaos and leaning toward the use of positional order, preferring a more logical and crystalline game. In that tournament, at last, Fischer gave himself the luxury of avenging the previous humiliation and finally managed to beat Mikhail Tal. While in that game the Soviet played well below his usual level, it is no less true that the very young Fischer knew how to take advantage of his rival's mistakes with customary efficiency. At the end of the game, when the journalists asked Tal what it felt like to be finally defeated by the American teenager, the charming magician from Riga simply responded to a phrase that became famous: “It is difficult to play against Einstein's theory”. Fischer later said that the first thing he thought about winning against Tal was “Finally! This time he has not escaped me.”

Of course, Fischer could not take the final trophy, despite being the only undefeated player. The two young chess players dominated the tournament but Bobby was one point below Tal – who played badly against Bobby but overwhelmed the rest of the participants with his aggressive game – and had to settle for the second position. The Latvian won 11 victories against Bobby's 8 and that made the difference. Pablo Morán summed up the tournament thus: “if Fischer played like a king, Tal played like an emperor”. Fischer was above, yes, other consecrated Grandmasters of the USSR and other parts of the world.

It was an absolutely fantastic result for a seventeen-year-old player. Bobby Fischer appeared in very few tournaments but possessed a skill that demonstrated he definitely belonged in the ranks of the elite. In spite of his youth he seemed the most promising western candidate to confront the almighty Soviets. In 1962 a new Interzonal Tournament was going to be held. Three years earlier many had doubted that the prodigy of Brooklyn would be classified in the first place, now it seemed a certainty he would be easily qualified for the second Candidates Tournament, the last step before getting a place in the final and facing the reigning world champion, the great patriarch of the Soviet school Mikhail Botvinnik, who had just recovered the title by beating Mikhail Tal in a rematch. The fans and the press began to wonder about the potential of the very young Fischer in the Interzonal and the Candidates: could he manage to overcome all the phases, stand in the final and confront the champion? In the West, in particular, there were many hopes that the American could threaten Soviet hegemony. In Russia they were more skeptical and considered Fischer too inexperienced for such an achievement. What did Bobby think? He, of course, considered himself perfectly prepared to face the whole army of Grand Masters of the USSR. He was not afraid of them. Before Mikhail Tal lost his crown, Bobby had joked reading the future in the lines of his hand: “I see that you will soon lose the world title against a young American player.” Tal, always quck and witty, turned to another American chess player who was there – William Lombardy – and said aloud: “Congratulations, Bill!”. The hilarious witticism of Tal did fail having some predictive power: Fischer would still have to wait a few years before winning the title. Of course, Bobby was going to be the chess player who was going to talk about the coming storm more that same year.

The Soviet machinery

When I started, the Russians were my heroes

Two geniuses in action: the friendly Mikhail Tal (left), allowing his hand to be read by the young Bobby Fischer.

To explain the enormous merit of the achievements of Bobby Fischer, first we must describe what the chess competition was like in which he was trying to make his way. His career took place at a time when it was considered virtually inconceivable that a Western Grand Master could pose a threat to Soviet dominance. Much less a young chess player who, unlike the Russians, did not have a circle of assistants or advisors, nor subsidies, nor facilities like those Moscow provided to its new talents.

Following World War II, date of the return of the World Championship in 1948, the USSR had completely dominated the competition with little opposition. Before 1948 there had already been a World Champion of Russian origin, Alexander Alekhine (or more correctly transliterated Aliojin, as Leontxo García insisted in the interview he gave to Jot Down). But Alekhine was not exactly a hero in the Soviet Union: of bourgeois origin and coming from a wealthy family, he had fled the communist political persecution after the Revolution and had became a French national, the country under whose banner he achieved his title. As if that were not enough, among other questionable aspects of his personality (lack of sportsmanship, bad character, alcoholism, etc.), Russian-French came to show open sympathies towards the Hitler regime, so Alekhine aroused as much admiration for his game as contempt for his personal and sporting attitude (in addition, he had retained the title for many years but was universally considered inferior to the Cuban José Raúl Capablanca, who never wanted to grant him a rematch: we already narrated in his moment the fascinating confrontation between the “Mozart and Salieri” of chess). It is understandable that the Moscow authorities did not consider it ideal propaganda, even though he was considered one of the greatest specialists in the combinatory attack and artistic chess that had existed on the boards, along with Mikhail Tal himself, a follower of his philosophy of “the most important thing in chess is beauty”. [See additional translation notes.]

However, the rise of Alekhine had anticipated the future hegemony of Russian chess, which had a great tradition but had not produced a world champion until his arrival. After the war, the USSR began to unstoppably build one champion after another. For the communist regime the triumph in chess was a demonstration of the intellectual and educational superiority of its system over the decadent Western hemisphere, so Moscow devoted many resources to its development: the result was a wave of great chess players and total control over competition worldwide. Between 1948 and 1962, only four players had managed to play the finals that were played every three years … and all four were Soviet. Mikhail Botvinnik had been the one who had dominated the scene: not only had he been present in all the disputed finals but he was among those most responsible for the corporate scheme of Soviet chess, having collaborated with political authorities to create an effective talent factory that applied new methods of teaching and training. As for his style, Botvinnik defended a kind of logical and positional, scientific and “cerebral” chess, more based on theory and books than on the inspiration of the moment. A style that came to dominate almost the entire Soviet school and that, by the way, influenced the game of Bobby Fischer himself. Although the American took it further and created almost a style of his own as we will see in future installments. Botvinnik had reigned for many years and had only yielded the crown on a couple of occasions, once against the fickle Mikhail Tal – Botvinnik's antithesis due to his imaginative play and bohemian personality – and another against the highly technical Vassily Smyslov. The fourth player who had also reached a final, but unfortunately never got crowned, was Soviet David Bronstein.

As it was seen, no player outside the USSR had been able to claim the title since the Second World War, so the Soviets considered the world crown as their own exclusive property. In addition, the Soviet Masters played and supported each other as a team, advised each other, analyzing matches and rivals together, helping each other to train whenever they had a big commitment ahead. All Interzonal Tournaments had been won by some Soviet, and almost all the other qualifying positions were occupied by Soviets. Thus, they were always a majority in the Candidates Tournament and the reigning Soviet champion invariably faced an aspiring Soviet. They had created an unbeatable machinery in which no foreign rival could make a dent.

Samuel Reshevsky was the only player who unsettled the Soviets before the arrival of Fischer.

Some of the few Western chess players who had stood up to them were, significantly, also of Slavic origin. Samuel Reshevsky had dominated the American chess scene and had been the main rival of the Russians, before the arrival of Fischer. In spite of his American passport, Reshevsky had learned to play in his native Poland, where he lived until he was nine years old, demonstrating himself to be one of the greatest prodigies in the history of chess, even earlier than Fischer (except in reference to titles). During the fifties, in his adulthood, an already Americanized Reshevsky, not only became one of the best players in the world but for a short time, some came to consider him as simply the best, putting his game at the level of the champion Botvinnik himself and even above him. But even at his best, Reshevsky did not succeed in breaking the Soviet wall, among other things for alleged irregular handling of Russian players during a Candidates Tournament (some of which we will talk about later). Another example of a westernized Polish player was Mieczysław Najdorf: he was already a consecrated Grand Master in 1939 when the Nazi invasion of Poland surprised him during a tournament in Argentina. Najdorf stayed in Buenos Aires awaiting the end of the war, but after several years ended up becoming a naturalized citizen of Argentina and changing his name to the better known Miguel Najdorf. However, despite his enormous talent, he never seemed to reach a level to disrupt the dominance of the USSR, although he was certainly another contender who had the potential to try. Reshevsky and Najdorf, both of Polish origin but competing under their adopted Western flags, had been able to perform very well against the Soviet bloc and yet had no real aspirations to achieve the championship. Neither of them had played any finals and by the end of the fifties it seemed that if someone as brilliant as Reshevsky had not succeeded, that for another Westerner it would be even more difficult. [See additional translation notes.]

And then Bobby Fischer appeared. In 1962, at the floodgate of a new Interzonal Tournament, the American game had improved considerably compared to 1959, to the point that many wondered if it was finally possible to work a miracle. Would Bobby catch up with the Russians and even defeat them? The idea was even more fascinating when it came to being such a young player, only eighteen years old. Fischer considered himself the best player on the planet – an opinion that some people in the world shared, yes – although he respected the Russian game very much. Almost all the experts believed that Fischer's very high opinion of his own game was more a product of youthful arrogance than of a realistic perspective, and that without having turned twenty he could not hope to win a crown that the USSR jealously guarded through a battalion of experienced and talented Grand Masters. Fischer was very good, yes, one of the best. He even had a chance to become champion if everything went his way. But that did not mean that he was already the best in the world or that the road to the crown would be easy. No, Bobby was not the best yet.

He, of course, thought otherwise.

1963 Bobby Fischer

Fischer against the Russians

Someone asked me, ‘'What have you learned in this Candidates Tournament?'’ I said, ‘I have learned not to participate in any more’. It is a waste of time for any Western player. The current procedure for selecting a candidate for the title is bad for chess, bad for the players who take part in it and bad for the World Championship itself. The general public has long since lost interest in any title won in this way. Perhaps chess players themselves are losing interest. At least I lost interest, permanently.” (Fischer in a 1962 article, in which he accused the Russians of manipulating the competition.)

The Interzonal Tournament of 1962, to be held in Stockholm, was to have a powerful representation of Soviets, as usual. The only heavyweights that would not be present were current champion Botvinnik and former outgoing champion Mikhail Tal (automatically sorted), as well as Paul Keres, who was also automatically qualified for the Candidates. Otherwise, in that Interzonal filled with big names Fischer was going to have a lot of competition with Soviet Masters of excellent level of skill: Tigran Petrosian, Efim Geller, Viktor Korchnoi, Leonid Stein… in fact, there were so many good players in the USSR who had to stay out of the Interzonal chess players as brilliant as Spassky or Bronstein, simply because there were no more placements available for their country. In addition to the formidable contingent of the USSR, great names were present from other parts of the world such as the Yugoslav Gligoric, German Uhlmann, Hungarian Portisch, Icelandic Olaffson, American Benko or even the Spanish Arturo Pomar “Arturito” whom, following his time as a brilliant child prodigy had reached his thirties and was at the top of his game (although it was always said that he never managed to maximize his potential). That is to say, Bobby was going to fight for one of six first places of the Interzonal with the most nurtured among world chess … Of course, almost nobody doubted that he would get it. Not surprisingly he had already been classified in the previous one at only fifteen years. Now without dispute, at almost nineteen, he was one of the best chess players in the world and his place seemed assured.

On the advice of the other Masters, Fischer changed his threadbare clothes for suit and tie.

In fact, although it didn't make any difference to him to finish in first or sixth place, because the first six will qualify for the Candidates Tournament, he always played to win, resembling Eddie Merckx. He finished in first place without losing a single game. Only Petrosian, the future World Champion, managed to remain undefeated, although due to his ultra-defensive style he obtained more draws and less victories than Fischer, thus being relegated to second place. It was the first time that a non-Soviet player was first in an Interzonal Tournament and that triggered even more expectations for the Candidates: the possibility – even if it were not more than that, a possibility – that he would win was quickly taking shape. And the truth is that if Fischer won the Candidates there was no reason to think that he could not at least cause problems for champion Botvinnik in the final. Bobby was young and inexperienced and his game was not yet at its zenith, but he was also a fierce competitor who could be fearsome in a one-on-one final. But, would he make it to the top? Fischer, of course, said yes. The Russians said no. The international sports press was excited about what was becoming a great story and promised to become even better.

The Candidates Tournament of 1962 was held in Curaçao; the youngsters Mikhail Tal and Bobby Fischer were considered by many to be the big favorites, after both had played in some important tournaments (remember that in Bled both had surpassed several prestigious Soviet Grandmasters). Also the weathered Tigran Petrosian was in great form, but because of his conservative play–or as we would say in Spain, “amarrategui”– had a tendency to sign too many draws. That lead some analysts to think that Petrosian's endless defense had fewer options than the diabolical and tenacious attack strategy of Tal or Fischer's game play. In summary, among those three names seemed to be the future candidate.

Bobby Fischer visits Mikhail Tal in Hospital
Fischer visited Tal in his hospital room to play some informal games.

However, early predictions soon fell apart. Mikhail Tal, who suffered from kidney disease, could not attend the tournament due to health issues. In fact he participated (probably against medical advice) after having undergone surgery and during the competition experienced a relapse that caused severe symptoms, so he performed badly in the tournament until, under pressure by his concerned peers and rivals, he was forced to leave again to be rushed to hospital (Fischer visited him in his room to play some informal games, a moment of which there are several interesting photographs). Unfortunately, what could have been a dream rivalry between the two was aborted in that same tournament: Tal's health continued to get worse with the passage of time and despite his youth he was never the same player as before. [See additional translation notes.]

But also disappointing was the performance of Fischer himself, who started the Candidates losing two games in a row and no longer found the pace for the rest of the competition. Of the eight participants, Bobby finished in fourth position, three long points from the Soviets Petrosian, Keres and Geller. It was Petrosian who won the tournament and was able to face Botvinnik, defeating him and becoming the new World Champion. Did Fischer play badly in those candidates? Maybe “bad” is not the word, but it is true that he had many ups and downs and was well below his usual level. Although he won eight victories – the same as the winner, Petrosian – he accumulated no less than seven defeats while the Soviet remained undefeated. That showed that Bobby had not performed horribly at the tournament, but that he was unexpectedly vulnerable, losing too many points. He did not play with the strength and solidity that was expected of him, nor did he live up to the status of favorite. In the USSR they felt reinforced in their opinion of him and insisted that Bobby was still undeveloped for the title. Perhaps they were partly right: at nineteen, Fischer was already one of the five or ten best in the world, but he was not yet the crushing roller he would become years later. The consensus is usually the idea that Fischer did not become the undisputed best player in the world until the late sixties: many speak of 1969, others of 1967, 68… and some even delay until 1970. But in 1962 Bobby Fischer was not the 1969-72, far from it. Anyway, we must insist that in that Candidates he did not play 100% and we will never know what would have happened if he had done it. At the very least, it would have made Petrosian sweat more to get first place, that's for sure.

At age nineteen, Fischer wrote an article that forced a change to the world championship format.

Of course, his irregular performance would soon be in the background. The enfant terrible was about to protract his claws to shake the foundations of the world of chess. Shortly after the tournament, the magazine Sports Illustrated published a truly explosive article, in the handwriting of Fischer himself, accusing the four Soviets Petrosian, Keres and Geller (which had been above him in the Candidates) and Korchnoi, of manipulating the competition. The title of the article left little to the imagination: The Russians have rigged the chess world. Logically, the publication of the article caused a real earthquake. Here are some excerpts from the text written by a nineteen-year-old Bobby Fischer. They give a good idea of his indomitable personality and the role he began to fulfill as an enemy of the Soviet chess establishment:

“The Russians Have Fixed World Chess” by Bobby Fischer
Sports Illustrated, August 20, 1962 pages 18-19, 64-65

“The international Candidates Chess Tournament that ended June 28 in Curaçao left me with one conviction: Russian control of chess has reached a point where there can be no honest competition for the world championship. The system set up by the Federation International des Echecs, the governing body of world chess, insures that there will always be a Russian world champion because only a Russian can win the preliminary tournament that determines his challenger. The Russians arranged it that way. As far as I am concerned, they can keep it that way. I will never again play in one of these touraments.

“I've been told that is a hard decision to make, because it means giving up any hope of ever winning the title. The truth is that as long as the present system exists neither I nor anyone else from any Western country can win the title. So the decision isn't a hard one to make, but it is hard to explain. The reason why it is hard is that anything I say about Russian dominance of this part of chess – or anything that any Western player says – is bound to look like an alibi for not having beaten the Russians in the Curaçao tournament. Any loser explaining why we can't win the world championship, or arguing that the setup makes it impossible for us to compete with the Russians on equal terms, seems to be suffering from sour grapes (…)

“At Curaçao it was flagrant. There was open collusion between the Russian players. They agreed ahead of time to draw the games they played against each other. Each time they drew they gave each other half a point. The tournament winner, Petrosian, got 5½ points of his 17½ total this way. They consulted during the games. If I was playing a Russian opponent, the other Russians watched my games, and commented on my moves in my hearing. They they ridiculed my protests to officials. They worked as a team. (…)

“In an editorial The New York Times said that the system for picking the challenger for the world championship led ‘to possible collusion between Soviet players to help one win a tourney, as against a non-Soviet opponent.’
That was nine years ago, when I was 10 years old, so I don't think I can be guilty of sour grapes in quoting it. (…)

“At Curaçao there were five Russians out of the eight contenders, Mikhail Tal, however, the former world champion, had recently recovered from a kidney operation, became ill during the tournament and withdrew to enter a hospital, having no part in the general Soviet team effort thereafter. The other four Russians swam in the afternoons, dressed, came to the start of the games in the chess room at the Hotel Intercontinental, dawdled at the chessboards for half an hour or so, made a few quick moves, traded off as many pieces as possible and then offered a draw. “Niche?” one would ask, “Niche,” his opponent would reply. They would sign their scorecards, go through the formality of turning them into the officials and then have dinner or change their clothes and go back to the pool. (…)

“Geller and Petrosian drew their first game in 21 moves. They met again in the 10th round. That game lasted 18 moves. Their next game went only 16 moves. In their last meeting they drew in 18 moves.
Keres and Petrosian drew in 17 moves the first time they played each other. 21 moves the second, 22 moves the third and 14 moves the last time they met. In this last game they overdid it, and while they drew, Petrosian clearly would have won if they had gone on.
As shown on page 19, white's king is permanently trapped in the center of the board. White's queen wing is hopelessly weaknened. As a matter of fact, black wins in a few moves. But when black had certainly won, and another move or so would make it obvious, they drew. (…)

“The record of Victor Korchnoi, the fourth member of the Soviet team, is more complex. In the first half of the tournament he, too, drew every game he played with the other Russians. At the midpoint of the tournament there was a five-day rest period; we all went to the island of St. Martin. The four Russians were almost tied in points for first place, and the talk was that when they came back to start the second half, one of the four was certain to begin losing to the others. Whatever happened in the Russians consultations at St. Martin, Korchnoi's game certainly collapsed abruptly afterwards. He lost three games in quick succession, first to Geller, then to Petrosian and then to Keres. (…) Anyone could draw his own conclusions from this sequence of events but, in any event, it revealed the advantage the Russian team had over Western individual players.

“Sometimes, after their quick draws with each other, the Russians wouldn't go back to the swimming pool. They would openly analyze my game while I was still playing it. It is strictly against the rules for a player to discuss a game in progress, or even to speak with another player during a game – or, for that matter, with anyone. I studied Russian enough to be able to read their chess books, and I could easily understand what they were saying. They would say this move is good, or that move is good – in Russian, of course. My Russian isn't the greatest, but, believe me, they weren't talking about the weather. (…) It made me mad that they thought they could get away with it. I protested to the officials. I learned that they could get away with it. I complained a few more times, but their lead had increased to the point where they were unworried, and they then gradually stopped doing it.”

Tigran Petrosian, winner of the 1963 Candidates and later World Champion.

The article fell like a bomb in the media and officially marked the beginning of the war between Bobby Fischer and his early idols, the Soviet chess players. It was not exactly a personal confrontation – Fischer had a good relationship with several of them – but a very fierce sports and media war. From that moment Bobby never stopped attacking Soviet chess. In the USSR, of course, they worked hard to classify the article as the tantrum of a bad loser. The official image of Bobby in the Moscow press began to change: from the friendly boy of humble origin he went on to be described as the typical spoiled American brat who could not accept being defeated. The endearing genius heir to the Soviet school had suddenly become Moscow's number one sports adversary. Elsewhere in the world, the article was very controversial but was not regarded as thorough nonsense. It is true that some of the accusations, – as the dumping on Korchnoi – seemed exaggerated to almost all experts. In fact, years later Korchnoi would become a dissident of the USSR and also bitterly confront the Soviet machinery, even more sourly than Fischer himself, but even so he always denied that in Curaçao they had given him orders that allowed him win (on the other hand, he did imply that Fischer was right in the matter of agreed draws). With exaggerations or not, the part of the article in which Fischer suspected there were too many inexplicable ties seemed surprisingly close to reality. Indeed, the games between the Russians had been excessively short and some of the signed draws seemed unjustified. A clear lack of competitive zeal was detected when the Soviets played each other. When Fischer described the scene of the three Russians ending their clashes quickly to divide the point and then relax in the hotel pool while the other participants had to continue striving on their own (and long) games, was not talking nonsense. There seemed to be clear signs that he was telling the truth. [See additional translation notes.]

Once Fischer's bomb had exploded, new voices joined the accusation: many had already thought that the Candidates Tournament system clearly favored the Soviets, who always presented themselves in a majority of candidates and used that numerical superiority to their advantage, playing as a team and sweeping for home with the distribution of points. Samuel Reshevsky had already suffered these maneuvers years before – this is what he expressed in his memoirs – and although he had not reacted with Fischer's fierceness, he had also seen his chances of aspiring to the world title reduced at a time when some considered him a rival with the potential needed to perform the feat. The press had already expressed its suspicions more than once in the past, but the matter had never reached such relevance because no chess player had raised his voice that way. Now, many who had remained silent added to Bobby's controversial opinion. The American federation presented a protest in FIDE, the International Chess Federation, over the organized scandal. The subject was debated and despite the considerable Soviet influence it was concluded the Candidates was indeed an unfair tournament. A drastic decision was made: in future engagements there would be a series of individual eliminations and not an “all against all” in which the Soviets could negotiate ties that would benefit each other (additionally, in an individual match, doubtful results or deliberate disclaimers to compete are detected much more easily). Bobby Fischer ended up getting his way and the World Cup format would change as a result of the article written by him. Almost nothing. As we said: when Hurricane Fischer blew, few things remained standing. [See additional translation notes, (2).]

But even with its share of reason, this article was one of the many things that contributed to the public image of an egocentric and controversial Fischer. It was not the first time his attitude or his statements proved controversial, much less would it be the last. That would mark a common trend in the career of the young Bobby: it was difficult to separate the part of reason he might have from those exaggerations that he also used in his rationale. Even when his statements were not exaggerations, he expressed his views with such vehemence, that his frankness bordered on brutality and was difficult for many to accept. Bobby rarely – if ever – measured his words. Concepts such as “diplomacy” or “tact” did not accompany him. Thus, for the press and the chess world in general, it was impossible to concede he was correct, even when he had been.

The advent of enfant terrible

The Piatigorskys with young Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer.

A good example: the previous year an unofficial match had been organized to for the two best players in the USA to face each other. On one side was the veteran Samuel Reshevsky and the other Bobby Fischer. It was a highly publicized showdown between two former child prodigies, where a succulent prize for the winner was offered: a good amount of cash provided by Jacqueline Piatigorsky, heir to the famous Rothschild banking family. Chess fan, highborn lady with aristocratic pretensions and wife of a famous cello player, Madame Piatigorsky was the main patron of American chess. His role was so important in a country where the sport of the sixty-four squares did not receive government assistance, virtually no American player dared to contradict her, knowing how much her patronage meant for them. None … except Bobby Fischer, of course.

Both players defined their conditions to play the match. Reshevsky, who was an orthodox Jew, refused to play from Friday sunset until Saturday sunset, which was a standard clause when participating in competitions. For his part, Fischer did not like to play in the mornings, so the games would take place in the afternoon (usual schedule of the tournaments, on the other hand). The match has already began with tension running high and serious friction between the two players, such as when Fischer called Reshevsky a “coward without ethics” since he had postponed a game in an improper manner. After that, the two players refused to speak and looked at the board only; even remaining separate around the compound. Specialized chess journalist Jerry Hanken had a curious anecdote in one of the games, Fischer had a superior position and point of victory almost in his pocket. But he missed the winning move and soon realized that Reshevsky had managed to equalize the game. Forced to agree to a draw, he claims that Fischer offered it in a rather peculiar way, muttering: “You bastard!”. Whether this anecdote is true or not, it is true that this match was the beginning of a vitriolic rivalry between the two most important chess players in the United States. But something even trickier still happened: when eleven games were played and the score drew a tense tie, Mrs. Piatigorsky decreed that the next game, to commence Sunday afternoon, should be scheduled for the morning. She had to go to a concert of her husband in the afternoon, so the schedule was modified so that she could be present at both events. Reshevsky agreed immediately: the Piatigorsky were the one that put up the money and therefore the one in charge. It did not matter to him to get up early on a Sunday to play.

But Fischer became angry. He did not like to get up early, something well known in the scene. But in addition, that change of plans seemed disrespectful, and that was something he never tolerated. He argued that he had committed himself from the beginning to play in the afternoons, so that Sunday he would also play in the afternoon … or he would not play. The people around him tried to make him concede: you could not challenge Madame Piatigorsky! Many of the chess events in the country depended on her, why infuriate her? What importance if only once in his life, Bobby played in the morning, so as not to challenge the principal patrons of chess in the country? He risked Madame Piatigorsky withdrawing any future help or refusing to invite him to the tournaments she financed. But for Fischer there were no middle terms: if he thought he was right, he was right and that was it. He did not give a damn that Mrs. Piatigorsky was the great benefactor of American chess: he was not willing to get up early to satisfy the whim of a rich woman. As much as in his interviews Bobby showed a kind of fascination with the aristocracy at the time, a fascination that was certainly mutual, his strong character and pride prevented him from practicing as a “chamber chess player”. In short: since Madame Piatigorsky continued with her plan to reschedule the game to attend the concert, Fischer refused to appear. On Sunday morning, Samuel Reshevsky sat at the board … and on the other side was an empty chair. He won the point by default of the rival. Fischer also did not show up in the later games: when the second part of the match moved from Los Angeles to New York, it turned out that Bobby did not bother to get on the plane. That stubbornness so typically his would end up becoming legendary. [See additional translation notes.]

In response to the disappearance of the insurgent genius, Madame Piatigorsky terminated the match and considered Reshevsky the winner, who took first prize for breach of contract by Fischer. Despite the desperation of his surroundings, Bobby had not “fallen off the donkey” even if it cost him to give up a good amount of money. Money that he needed, a lot. He never changed his position on that match … and it must be said that, at the time, many chess players agreed with Bobby despite the fear that Madame Piatigorsky inspired. Fischer was not the first to break the contract. A few years later, it was Madame Piatigorsky who would tacitly acknowledge that Bobby had been right, agreeing to give him the money she owed in exchange for him playing in another of the tournaments she organized. Fischer played everything, as usual when he thought he was right, at the expense of losing money and opportunities. He did not tolerate injustice, even if that meant his own economic and social damage.

Fischer on the subway of his city, with his pocket chess board, disconnected from everything surrounding him.

It was not Fischer's only clash with aristocratic patrons. Whether he liked it or not, he was still a proletarian from Brooklyn with a system of values ​​in which there was little room for palatial subtleties. As when Prince Rainier of Monaco organized a chess tournament: very fond of chess and also married to an American, the actress Grace Kelly, the prince said he would invite three American players to play a tournament in Monaco, provided that one of them was the famous prodigy Bobby Fischer. The American federation spoke with Fischer and Fischer agreed to travel to Europe to participate and to satisfy the intense curiosity of the princes. But Fischer arrived in Monaco and everything started to look bad: the accommodation, the food, the lighting and the layout of the game room, the public seating, etc. His continued demands put the organizers' nerves on edge. Fischer won the event, but the New Yorker pushed Rainier to the point that, when the Prince organized another competition, he specified a condition to invite American chess players but that Bobby Fischer were not among them.

Those demands of his, however, were very necessary for the development of professional chess. Boris Spassky used to call Bobby, half jokingly, half seriously, the “head of the chess union.” Because of this uncompromising attitude toward the organizers, Bobby was like a petulant diva on many occasions and the press portrayed him as an inflexible and maniacal individual. Which he often was, you might say, but that does not necessarily invalidate his reason. It is true that, when they did not give him what he asked for, he did not bother to negotiate and simply resigned to go to another competition or even left with the tournament already in progress. However, he was like that, with his irreducible attitude, as he became the true creator of the modern character of the professional player, something that has been pointed out among others Garry Kasparov on many occasions. Many Grandmasters have recognized that professional chess players owe much to Fischer's constant bickering for better conditions, more comfort and more money every time he went to an event. Fischer faced organizers without concern for the opinion and that attitude could awake in others. It can not be said that he was diplomatic in his ways, but he got a status for his profession that might never have been achieved without him. And this can not be forgotten. [See additional translation notes.]

However, this important advocacy role had a reverse side. The young Fischer fought for the dignity of professional chess player, yes, but in other areas his views often proved controversial. For example, according to Ralph Ginzburg, Bobby Fischer considered women inept for chess, something expressed in an interview with Harper's Magazine when he was nineteen years old.

Fischer emphatically denied many of the statements
attributed to him in the Harper's Interview.

Fischer was a friend of Lisa Lane, US women's champion who had achieved a lot of celebrity because her photogenic qualities which helped make it possible for her appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Ginzburg claimed Bobby said that he could give a knights-odds to any woman in the world and still beat them.

[Translator's note: Ginzburg also perpetrated this journalistic mugging on Barry Goldwater, who brought a defamation lawsuit against Ralph Ginzburg and awarded damages, (2).]

“Portrait of a genius as a young chess master” By Ralph Ginzburg
Harper's Magazine, January 1962 pages 49-55

Excerpt from “Endgame”, Frank Brady, pg 138-139 and Barry M. Goldwater v. Ralph Ginzburg, Warren Boroson, and Factmagazine, Inc., 414 F.2d 324, 2d Cir. (1969), Scribd Government Docs

What Wild Ecstasy”, John Heidenry, pg. 82

Following the publication of the interview Fischer protested because he said Ginzburg took many of his statements out of context –and if he said so, it was probably true, since he never retracted anything even when scandal raised regarding the weakness of female chess players reaffirmed that year on television.

Additionally it should be stressed, in 1972 Bobby Fischer appeared on the Dick Cavett Show and expressed emphatic support for female chess players.

Dick Cavett: “Is it hard to find a girl who can discuss Capablanca and how he handled the Sicilian Defense against Alekhine or… did I pronounce any of those names right?”

Bobby: “Yeah this is a problem.” *laughter*

Guest: “Do you think chess is a sexist game?”

Bobby: “uh, I don't think it is at all. I'd welcome some girls in chess.”

Guest: “Have any tried to enter the competition?”

Bobby: “Well, there was Lisa Lane. By the way, I think you said she was dead? She's around.”

Dick Cavett: “Oh, I'm… I certainly apologize to her… I thought she was back in the 19th century for some reason.”

Bobby: “No. She's alive.”

Dick Cavett: “I'm sure that was news to her then.”

Guest: “What can they enter the competition?”

Bobby Fischer: “Yeah, there was one very famous one, Vera Menchik from Hungary and the best one now is Nona Gaprindashvili of the Soviet Union and she is a very good player and she, uh, plays with men now… she plays tournaments with men.”

Dick Cavett: “and there's no discrimination against her?…”

Bobby Fischer: “No chess is wide open. We don't have amateurs, we don't have discrimination with women, anybody but kids, everybody is welcome… old people…”

[See additional translation notes, (2),(3),(4),(5),(6),(7),(8),(9),(10),(11),(12),(13),(14),(15),(16),(17),(18).]

Lisa Lane, famous chess player and friend of Fischer…

In his defense, for once, it must be said that at the beginning of the sixties it was not an idea exclusively his own, far from it. The problem was rather that he expressed it without much reservation, as when (Ralph Ginzberg claimed) Bobby said he missed those nineteenth-century chess clubs in which women were not allowed to enter.

Many overlooked Fischer's media blunders given his youth and unequal training, but that did not stop him from earning a reputation as a misogynist. In fact, in a televised interview that same year they asked him if he considered himself a misogynist. Fischer, somewhat embarrassed, replied: “Sorry, I do not know what that word means”. The interviewer reformulated the question: “Do you hate women?”, Fischer hastened to deny it, saying that he thought that the place of the women was in the home taking care of the children, but that did not mean that he hated them. Even so, much less, the twenty-year-old Fischer with his peculiar character was not yet the extreme Fischer of his later years. As we said, his opinion was not an uncommon at that time, however it drew a lot of attention to anyone who expressed it so openly in the media. Nor does it make much sense to search as some did for difficulty in the relationship with his mother to explain a macho point of view that was not uncommon in 1963. Many years later, many after his retirement, Fischer would have time to validate women with a marvelous level of chess skill, as when he met Judit Polgar: it was precisely the Hungarian – best female chess player in history, who has come to compete in the men's competition to occupy 8th place in the rankings – the one that broke Fischer's record to obtain the title of Grand Master also at fifteen years, but at a few months less. [See additional translation notes).]

Actually, the problem with the young Fischer was not only what he was saying (unlike his later years, where he did release genuine barbarities) but how, when and where he said it. There was still no trace of political fanaticism in him, but no tact. If he thought something, he said it. For better and for worse. Like it or not like. It's that simple. And so it would remain for the rest of his career, before his mysterious disappearance.

Indecipherable genius personality

Curious photo of Fischer in what seems like a circus show? (view the blog of Susan Polgar)

Fischer's relationship with women was for many years the subject of the most quaint speculations, because the information that leaked about it was rather limited. Bobby guarded his private life with tremendous zeal: he never spoke publicly about his mother, or his sister, or his absent father. Much less of his relationship with the opposite sex. At that time, not a few people – the least informed among the general audience – rumored that Fischer could be asexual, as a kind of low intensity autistic. But the scene was well aware that not only was he not asexual but he was attracted to women a lot. It is true that, during his periods of competition or training – that is, almost always until 1972 – he stayed away from them so as not to lose focus, but all those who knew him personally knew well of his inclinations. At public events he could not hide his happiness whenever there were pretty girls nearby, and his friends of the time say that he used to have pretty good taste.

Of course, his personality did not make things easy when it came to maintaining a normal courtship. Fischer aroused interest among the girls, since, in addition to his growing fame, he was quite far from the stereotype of old chess player, short and with glasses. On the contrary, he was around six feet tall and was very athletic. But it was not easy to approach him sentimentally. Some of his oldest friends tell anecdotes quite illustrative about it, ranging from the funny to the moving. Once, at nineteen, he was on the beach with a friend when he saw a girl sunbathing. The girl was quite pretty and Bobby was interested in her, so she approached introducing herself in this way: “I'm Bobby Fischer, the great chess player.” She had no idea who he was, who at that time was famous, but not yet universally recognized. However, she did not seem bothered by the approach but rather the opposite, so Bobby decided to continue talking. When he noticed that the girl spoke with an accent, he asked “where are you from?” She told him she was from Holland, and then Bobby said, speaking of the Dutch character that this was: “Oh, so do you know Dr. Max Euwe, former world champion?”. The girl went blank again … and Fischer, thinking that they had finished their conversation topics, shrugged, turned around and simply left. [See additional translation notes.]

Years later, fame would make these presentations unnecessary because everyone already knew who he was, but his distrustful personality made him think that many women approached him precisely because he was a celebrity. In private, to his best friends, he used to complain about it. It is not known that, at the time, if it was beyond sporadic relationships, although there is evidence that he was seen on several occasions in public places. It seems that almost never by the same girl. He could project the image of someone very sure of himself in regards to chess, but sentimentally he was someone very different. He did not seem to trust anyone enough to start a serious relationship and was also too busy with chess, which he devoted to a monastic discipline for long periods. In those conditions, it seemed difficult to find a match. Another significant anecdote: one of his friends decided to invite him to dinner to organize a casual meeting with a friend of his wife, who was interested in meeting him. Being a person close to their friends, they thought that Bobby might see her with different eyes and it would be easier to open up to her. Fischer and the girl seemed to get along during dinner, to the point that, when finished, she offered to accompany him to his home by car. They left together. The next day, his friend inquired about the end of the evening, but Fischer replied that he was not interested in the girl. “Why? Did not you like her?” “Yes, she was beautiful.” “And so?” “I think she only likes me because I'm Bobby Fischer.” [See additional translation notes.]

“I had some personal problems, and I started listening to a lot of radio ministers. I listened every Sunday all day, flipping the dial up and back. So, I heard just about every guy on Sunday. And then I heard Mr. Armstrong, and I said, “Ah, God has finally shown me the one, I guess.” (Bobby Fischer, on his conversion to Herbert W. Armstong)

The teenager Bobby signing an autograph for a young lady. A similar situation cost him the worst score of his entire career; After that, he decided not to mix women and competition.

More troubling were his dalliances with religion. Although he came from a family of Jewish origin, his mother was of the left and not religious. So during part of his adolescence, Bobby himself had openly declared himself atheist, considering the idea of a personal God as “childish”. For example, he usually quoted Nietszche in the same line. However, with the rise to fame – and, according to himself, because of “some personal problems” – he became interested in some radio sermons that caused him to embrace a sectarian evangelical organization called “Radio Church of God,” directed by one Garner Ted Armstrong. Suddenly turned to fundamentalist religion, he began to divert a considerable portion of his income to this organization and continued to do so until the early seventies. In addition, following his new affiliation with this adventist sect which held to the observance of the seventh day sabbath, he also began to observe certain biblical standards such as not playing chess on Saturday. For many, that was a feature of eccentricity in a character that did not seem to have too many conventional facets. For others, the sudden and strange conversion was a disturbing way to try to cover their emotional deficiencies. Be that as it may, seeing the hitherto ultra-pragmatic Bobby Fischer mixed in such a religious cult did not seem a reassuring sign. The press of the time, however, used to consider it in poor taste to question the religious beliefs of a public figure, so Fischer's new religious faith was treated with caution. He himself would be the one himself to become disillusioned with Armstrong's organization many years later, after he had been cheated out of large sums of money. [See additional translation notes.,(2).]

Without intending it, due to his particular behavior, Fischer became an object of observation and study by the media. He was an ideal character around whom to comment and discuss: the prototype of a young genius who had reached the top of his field but who seemed to show surprising eccentricities or even obvious gaps in other facets of his life. When analyzing his always unexpected way of behaving, nobody knew how to exactly draw the line between what was a product of immaturity, the result of the deficiencies of his previous existence or simply a manifestation of the caprice of the moment. At that time he still did not show the paranoid symptoms of his later years, but he certainly was not an individual of the bunch and the press loved to try to psychoanalyze him. It was precisely that unpredictable personality that prevented him from aspiring to the world title until 1972. Because during the rest of the sixties he passed several opportunities to assault the crown, for rather difficult reasons to assimilate for anyone other than Bobby Fischer himself. In the years to come, no one understood too well why someone for whom chess was everything ruined one chance after another of reaching the most precious title. As soon as he resigned to go to a tournament without giving too many explanations, as he left suddenly … when he was ranked first! In the next installment we will review the various inexplicable occasions – although for him, of course, there was always a compelling reason – in which he let slip the possibility of becoming a world champion, as well as other diverse situations in which, for better or for worse, he was trying to stun everyone. Whether playing as a genius or organizing brawls like a demon. [See additional translation notes.]