I read the disturbing news today that the grave of former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer was going to be disturbed, with an exhumation to take place so that a sample of his DNA may be obtained to determine/confirm his paternity of a young Filipino girl whose mother was formerly associated with the grandmaster. Fischer died in Iceland a couple years ago leaving an estate of a couple million dollars.
Most probably know most of the story of Bobby Fischer. He was a brilliant, though tempermental chess prodigy from the United States who virtually single-handedly wrested the world chess championship from Soviet domination that had endured virtually since the beginning of the cold war. His 1972 title match with Soviet champion, Boris Spassky was played in Rejkyavik, Iceland, and Fischer ‘fled’ there several years ago after being temporarily detained trying to leave Japan due to passport issues.
Fischer in 1971 at the height of his powers:
And shortly before his death
Though brilliant, Fischer’s later years seemed to be marred by paranoia and mental illness. He famously spat on a 1992 statement from the U.S. Government while playing a rematch with Spassky in the former Yugoslavia, participated in numerous anti-semitic rants on radio programs, celebrated the 9/11 attacks in 2001. In short, he became looney. Or, as my granddad would have said, “His bread’s not done.” All this was made even more unpalatable to us chessplayers (until 2005 I was fairly active on the tournament ‘circuit,’ but I have been happily retired since then) who admired the unquestionable skill and preciseness with which he played the game. The world had never seen that before.
Reading this news reminded me of one of my favorite books when I was first learning chess. It’s Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy by Frank Brady. This was one of the few books that my local library branch (Brown Branch of the IMCPL on East Washington – since destroyed and rebuilt a few blocks away) had about chess, and I remember checking it out many times. It included many of his games that one could study, but – even more interesting to me at the time – was the story of his rise to power. I suppose the book would prove interesting for that reason even to a non-chess playing reader.
Then, in 1993, a book was written titled Searching for Bobby Fischer, by Fred Waitzkin, the father of a child chess prodigy of that time, Josh Waitzkin. This book was later made into a great movie starring Joe Mantegna, Joan Allen, Ben Kingsley, Lawrence Fishburne and Max Pomeranc in the title role.
I was fortunate enough to meet both Fred & Josh Waitzkin briefly during the Bermuda International tournament in February of 1997. Unlike many chess prodigies, Josh turned into a well-adjusted “normal” adult, and has excelled in other fields (including martial arts!) in addition to chess, and has even written a well-received book of his own on “The Art of Learning.” I’d heartily recommend both the book and the movie – even to those not familiar with the “chess world,” and, if you enjoy them, maybe then you could give Profile of a Prodigy a try.