Fischer on "60 minutes", three months before becoming world champion

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/12/2020 – "What Rod Laver is to tennis, what Jack Nicklaus is to golf, that's what Bobby Fischer is to chess" are Mike Wallace's first words in the April 9th, 1972 edition of "60 Minutes", the highly influential CBS-TV news magazine. Three months prior to his "Match of the Century" against Boris Spassky, Fischer looks as confident as can be, not fearing to call himself the best chess player in the world. A look back at a revealing profile of the infamous American genius.

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"I like to beat another man"

Bobby Fischer had turned 29 exactly a month prior to the airing of the "60 Minutes" show in which he would let all spectators know, without even a hint of a doubt, that he was about to become the champion of the world. After all, he came from winning the 1971 Candidates Matches in style, defeating Mark Taimanov, Bent Larsen and Tigran Petrosian by great margins — 6:0, 6:0 and 6½:2½.

Mike Wallace, the presenter, succinctly described the pertinence of the coming match between the American and Boris Spassky:

At stake, immense prestige for the Russians, who jealously guard their reputation as the country of the chess masters. They've held the world title for 35 years. Plus a purse of US$138,500, the richest prize for a head-to-head confrontation in any sport but boxing.

At that point, as evidenced by Wallace's introduction, the match was supposed to take place in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Fischer's first choice of venue. The 24-game match would end up being played in Reykjavik, where Fischer obtained a convincing 12½:8½ victory.

The portrayal of the chess genius by the mass-media outlet ends with a telling description:

He has no advisers, no coaches, no manager. He doesn't really trust anyone's advice. In a sense, his only reliable friends are the pieces on the board. His strategies, in life as in chess, are mysterious and his own. This summer he will finally play Boris Spassky for the championship, and perhaps he'll prove what he's always said, that Bobby Fischer is the best chess player in the world. But, win or lose, Bobby wants everyone to know that he did it by himself. 


The interview

(A transcription of the interview with Bobby Fischer. You can watch the full program below.)

Mike Wallace: Winning is obviously very important to you. Now, winning for winning's sake is important, but do you like to beat another man?

Bobby Fischer: Yeah, I do, I like to beat another man. 

You smile about it. Do you like to crush another man's ego?

Uh-huh, so when they go home that night they can't kid themselves that they're so hot, you know? 

Do you think the Russians are pretty worried about you at this moment?

Oh, they had been ever since I started playing chess.

Even as a little boy?

That's right. I remember the first thing they ever wrote about me was, you know, 'he's a talented player', and they showed a game I played, and then they said, 'but all this publicity he's getting and all this attention can't fail to have a harmful effect on his personality development'. And sure enough a few months later I was a rotten person already in their press — I was doing this, I was doing that, I was conceited, you know. Before they even knew anything about me personally.

They sting you, they get to you.  

Well, they don't anymore, because I realized it has nothing to do with me, you know? If you were a great chess player, they'd be saying exactly the same things about you. Maybe they'd just tailor them a little bit to your personality or your background...

This championship match between you and Spassky, is it in any sense a grudge match?

In a sense. I mean not personally [about] me against Spassky, 'cause you know, I don't care two cents about him one way or the other, he's just another guy. But it's against the Russians and, you know, all the lies they've been saying about me.

Do you worry about Spassky?

Not overly. I mean, he's a little better I think than the other Russians I've taken on these years, but...

You played Spassky. He's beaten you, but you've never beaten him.

Yeah, well, we've only played a few games, so... The other day, I was looking through his games in the Moscow event, the Alekhine Tournament, and they were truly atrocious games. He was lost in half the games in that tournament. Really bad games on his part. 

Why did that happen to a man who, after all, is the champion of the world?

Well, the champion of the world... First of all, I didn't compete, so he's not really much of a champion. He's the best they've got, it's not a big deal.

Where do you get your confidence?

Well, when you're successful, you realize there must be something going on. Why am I so successful? There must be a reason, right? So obviously there's something, some natural ability, some fact is working, right?

Sometimes what we're talking about is described as Fischer's arrogance. I sense that it's something quite different. You simply...

Yeah, listen, arrogance... People have been calling me arrogant for many years, but lately they're not calling me arrogant. Why? 'Cause now, you know, I've been winning all these matches and I'm doing what I've always said I was. So, I used to say I was the best player in the world — everyone is 'arrogant, terrible, conceited person', but this is just an obvious fact. 

It's not just the arrogance of you saying that you're the best in the world, but the lights are too tough, or the temperature is too high, or arrangements aren't right. It's the difficulty of dealing with you that people are complaining about.

But the thing is, everyone's looking at it from the organizers' point of view. I mean, you wouldn't believe the kind of conditions they want us ches players to be playing in.

For instance?

I remember once I played in Berlin. I played a match with the best players in Berlin, you know, the American team against the Berliners, and I had guys leaning right on my head practically, smoking in my face, spectators.

Is chess a tough game for the body as well as the mind?

It is pretty tough, 'cause of all tension. It's a lot of concentration, sitting there for hour after hour, it's really exhausting.

I think that that's pretty difficult for somebody who doesn't know the game to understand. It looks like, after all, you and I sit at a board...

Well, you know, it's kind of like when you go to take your final exam or something. You're pretty tired, right? So it's like taking a five-hour final exam every day or something.


Full program - Aired April 9th, 1972


Master Class Vol.1: Bobby Fischer

No other World Champion was more infamous both inside and outside the chess world than Bobby Fischer. On this DVD, a team of experts shows you the winning techniques and strategies employed by the 11th World Champion.

Grandmaster Dorian Rogozenco delves into Fischer’s openings, and retraces the development of his repertoire. What variations did Fischer play, and what sources did he use to arm himself against the best Soviet players? Mihail Marin explains Fischer’s particular style and his special strategic talent in annotated games against Spassky, Taimanov and other greats. Karsten Müller is not just a leading international endgame expert, but also a true Fischer connoisseur.


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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.

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