Bobby Fischer: The Wonder Match

12/29/2008 – In January this year one of the world's greatest chess geniuses, Bobby Fischer, died. He was 64 and had lived a turbulent life, fraught with trials, tribulations – and love for chess. Fischer is gone, but his memory and legend live on, even in the pages of the biggest newspapers, where he will periodically appear. As in this Magazine piece of the New York Times. We bring you excerpts.

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The Wonder Match

"Before he was secretly buried on a dark winter morning in a lonely Icelandic churchyard at the age of 64 . . . before his last ailing days of bad kidneys and rotting teeth . . . before the long hours whiled away at a Reykjavik bookstore, a place that vaguely reminded him of one from his Brooklyn youth . . . and before his decades of ghostly peregrinations through the world, like a profane monk or an idiot savant searching for perfect exile . . . before his bizarre eruptions . . . and before the spectacle of meeting his one-time nemesis, the former world-champion chess player Boris Spassky, for an anticlimactic 1992 rematch in war-torn Yugoslavia despite U.N. sanctions against it . . . even way back before their original 1972 meeting, called the Match of the Century, when the eyes of the world were riveted on him as a shining emblem of American will, innovation and brilliance . . . even before his brazen, almost obnoxious deconstruction of a cavalcade of grandmasters who stood in his path to Spassky . . . before he traded the rags of his youth for his new wardrobe of expensive suits . . . before his mind slowly unhinged and he became a walking paradox . . . yes, before the whole circus of his life unfolded, he was a 13-year-old kid in the first flush of the thing he most loved in the world: chess."

The author of the piece, Michael Paterniti, goes on to describe the October day in 1956, when the gangly lad faced a future international master named Donald Byrne, who was 26 and whose aggressive, no-draw style made him one of the country’s most dangerous players. "Bobby had a habit of leaning over the board and biting his nails nervously, which at first made his moves seem all the more provisional, even touching... And then: what was this? The kid suddenly unveiled an all-knowing Panzer division on attack. Four moves later, in what he himself came to regard as one of the best chess moves of his career, Bobby offered the strongest piece on the board — his queen — for a bishop. The audacity of such a move, especially coming from a 13-year-old, seemed to signal the beginning of something very unexpected to the world, and something terribly amiss for Byrne."


Fischer in the memorable game against Byrne in 1956

On Bobby’s scorecard that day, it all looked so simple, so preordained. When it was over, in his typically illegible hand, he scrawled “Mate” (it looked like “Mute”) — and then put on his jacket and left with his mom. In the next year he would win the U.S. championship, and the year after that, become a grandmaster — a mindboggling, meteoric rise. He would leave behind dozens of other crystalline scorecards, inventions of their particular moments, scribbled with what appeared to be the word “Mute,” which may be the best way to remember the man.

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