Krauthammer on chess: just how dangerous is it?

4/26/2005 – Charles Krauthammer is an award-winning syndicated journalist of conservative ilk. He is also a dedicated chess player. In an essay in the latest issue of Time Magazine he searches for the reasons behind Bobby Fischer's "mad chess genius" behaviour, citing a number of real and present dangers that emanate from a monomaniacal dedication to the game.

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Did Chess Make Fischer Crazy?

"If you think video games are dangerous, consider the saga of Bobby Fischer" is the subtitle of Charles Krauthammer's essay in this week's Time Magazine. He describes Fischer as the poster boy for the mad chess genius, a species with a pedigree going back to Morphy and Steinitz. And he speculates on the proximity between genius and madness in chess.

According to Krauthammer there are three possible explanations. "One is that chess is a monomania. You study it intensively day and night from childhood if you are going to rise to the ranks of the greats, and that kind of singular focus constricts your reality and makes you more vulnerable to distortions of it." He quotes George Steiner who wrote: "Chess may be the deepest, least exhaustible of pastimes, but it is nothing more. As for a chess genius, he is a human being who focuses vast, little-understood mental gifts and labors on an ultimately trivial human enterprise. Almost inevitably, this focus produces pathological symptoms of nervous stress and unreality."

However, as Krauthammer notes, other personalities – he cites Tiger Woods – have remained intact and graceful in spite of monomaniacal devotion to trivial enterprises. Maybe what chess lacks is simply the fresh air of sport, together with a connections to the real world outside – something that dedicated students of for instance volcanic ash or the mating habits of the tsetse fly enjoy.

But the most fatal characteristic of chess is the permanent antagonistic environment in which its proponents must act. "The essence of the game is constant struggle against an adversary who, by whatever means of deception and disguise, is entirely, relentlessly, unfailingly dedicated to your destruction. It is only a board, but it is a field of dreams for paranoia."

Krauthammer admits that the thought makes him nervous, having spent countless hours in parks and chess clubs. "It means that I would be stark raving mad by now," he writes. But he is apparently not, and can take comfort in other chess aficionados who have survived the deadly danger the game obviously poses. He cites a number of example, ending with "the sanest man I know, Natan Sharansky [former Soviet anticommunist, Israeli politician and cabinet member], is a chess master who once played Garry Kasparov to a draw and defeats me with distressing ease."


Charles Krauthammer, 55, is a Pulitzer Prize winner (1987) and syndicated columnist who writes for the Washington Post and other publications. He is a proponent of a "unipolar world" dominated by US foreign policy and not requiring any form of international consensus, which he considers a political absurdity.

Krauthammer is a member of the Project for the New American Century, a conservative Washington think tank, whose members include Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, Richard Perle and Richard Armitage. It is a controversial organisation which proposes military and economic domination of land, space, and cyberspace by the United States, so as to establish American dominance in world affairs for the future.

Krauthammer is a defender of unilateralism and believes that the superpower U.S. should assert its positions and invite others to join. He was one one of the most vocal supporters for the war in Iraq. He is unflinchingly supportive of Israel. Even though he himself is paraplegic, he is adamently opposed to stem cell research – and human cloning, which he believes could lead to a the creation of a "superhuman" group. Quite a character. [Source: Wikipedia]

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