Saturday, January 19, 2008

RIP Bobby Fischer 
When I was in 7th grade, precocious little untalented-yet-chess-obsessed prick that I was, I checked out a biography of Bobby Fischer from the library of Kailua Intermediate School, and read the entire thing cover to cover.

My takeaway:

"Don't even mention losing to me. I can't stand to think of it."

Bobby Fischer was a genius. Like many geniuses - like all too many of them - he struggled on the verge of insanity.

I have the good fortune of being able to play music with a genius. A musical genius. The man can take a tune and turn it inside out nine times over off the top of his head. He truly plays at the world class level. My strength as a musician lies in supporting him, complementing his playing with mine, and staying the f*ck out of his way.

We've had conversations about it before, and I had conversations with his soon-to-be ex-wife about managing that genius. With my friend, he plays music so he doesn't go crazy. He plays because music is the only thing left that keeps the synapses in his mind from overwhelming him. If it wasn't for music, it would have been drugs or alcohol. Sometimes it still is.

Sometimes insanity is the fuel of genius. Sometimes genius is the fuel for insanity. Who knows what the cause-and-effect relationship is?

Fischer was a genius. You can't become the U.S. champion at the age of 13 on the basis of vast experience and wiliness. He was reinventing the game while still in his teens. He won because he could think and calculate circles around anyone alive.

Anyone. I'm convinced he was the best in the world by the time he was 17. Some of the older Russian players could probably give him a run for his money in a strategic sense...if they could survive the deep calculations of the midgame without Fischer's Predator-machine of a mind ripping two pawns or a piece from the other side of the board in the meantime. But the best they could ever do was claw to survive with a tiny advantage. Only a few ever made it. And the best Russian player of his time, Boris Spassky, wasn't up to it.

The other thing about Fischer was this: He was a simply ferocious competitor. He would do anything for an edge. He had more focus than just about anyone in any sport, ever. He did two things with his time: Studied chess and looked at porn. (I seem to recall an incident with a prostitute in Fischer's teenage years. But I may be projecting.)

When he left chess, he left everything. Everything that tamed and focused his mind was gone. His brilliance cursed him, and he succumbed to his illness - his personality disorder - which eventually consumed him.

His games are a joy to play through. They are gifts that you can play through and through and through and still discover new joys. They are works of art as surely as a Bach prelude or a symphony. Years later, when I looked at them as a more mature player (yet still pathetically sucky. I may have peaked at around a 1250 level on a good day), my chess buddy Kelley and I could play through those games and percieve, through a glass, darkly, just the barest glimmerings of his genius.

His games will still provide joy to chess geeks for centuries to come. Fischer was immortal.

He was also sick.

I think he did the best he could.

I judge him not.

Rest in piece, Bobby Fischer. And thanks for the games.

Splash, out


I'll judge him for you then. He was wrong, and loud about being wrong, and stupid in a hate-filled way, and fie on him for renouncing his citizenship. He may have been nuts at some times, and in some ways, but he was also responsible for his actions.

That said, he was a hell of a chess player.

Here's Charles Mingus, hanging out in the same Bellevue ward as Fischer back in the day (cribbed from the Web but actually from Mingus' memoir Beneath the Underdog, which would put Iceberg Slim to shame):

-- -- --
There was a boy sitting across the table from me, reading a book on mathematics - I could see the equations and symbols. I saw him walking around earlier that morning - very tall and gangly, sandy haired, only about eighteen years old. I later learned he was a champion chess player and spoke seven languages. He was a genius, I guess. His parents had him committed, he told me, but he didn't say why. He didn't seem to mind. He was quiet and good-natured and always busy doing something. When he saw me looking at him he asked if I wanted to play a game of chess and he brought out his board. I showed him what I had just wrote.

He looked very thoughtful, and said, "I don't have time to hear everything, but I'm interested in music and keep abreast of what's happening. It's odd you say you haven't been productive. It seems to me you have several-Let's see-" and he counted in his head - "I'd say six or seven albums that came out last year. That isn't bad." I was amazed, but he was right, and I realised last year seemed like ten years ago to me.

He checkmated me three times in a row, and I could see he was getting bored, so I went back to my bunk and tried to write some poetry. A good title came to my mind. Nice Of You To Have Come To My Funeral.

Fischer, born in Chicago, was the United States' first and only world chess champion, and is still seen by many as the greatest natural talent the game has ever known... I'm having lot of respect on him and I really admire him...
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