Frederic's mates - Bobby Fischer

by Arne Kaehler
10/22/2022 – Bobby Fischer was the fifth of the twelve World Chess Champions whom Frederic met. In our new weekly series he tells us how he met and befriended the top players, and the adventures they experienced together. Frederic has written a new book, together with Professor Christian Hesse, with fascinating chess stories from the last 50 years. It appeared (first in German) in October. | Foto: YURIKO NAKAO/ REUTERS

Master Class Vol.1: Bobby Fischer 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.


Frederic's Mates

Through the years, Frederic Friedel had many encounters with chess players, and he became friends with most of the World Chess Champions. Frederic recounts various anecdotes and stories about the experiences from each of his mates in chronological sequence.


Frederic: I have a background with Bobby Fisher, who's today's subject. Ever since I started to play chess I was fascinated by Fisher. He was my hero, all of my chest life. I spent a lot of time in California in my student days, and from there I tried to contact Fisher. He had given up chess and was hiding in Pasadena. I tried to call him, but it never worked out.

He was in some church, and there was a lady looking after him. Her name was Claudia Mokarow. I got her on the phone and she discussed with him whether he would talk to me. Then one day she called me and said “You're from Germany, Frederic Friedel? I don't believe that. Your English is too good.” I said “Well, I went to English schools and I graduated in Oxford.” But they were suspicious, so I never got to talk to him. But every two years I would write him a letter – handwritten on paper – and send it to Pasadena. I never got a reply.

Well, that's not the end of the story. Decades later – it was winter and I was about to go out with my family – the phone rang. A voice which said “Is this Mr Free-dell? This is Bobby Fischer.” I thought it was a scam, but he said oh no, I'm Bobby Fisher. 

I said “I've been trying to contact you for more than 30 years now, and suddenly you called me on the phone?” He said “I think it was more than 30 years ago, when you sent me these handwritten letters to Pasadena.” And he spoke about something which was in one of the letters. I realized this is Fischer! I spent an hour and a half talking to him.

After that he kept calling and we had about a dozen, no probably 15 discussions, all of them lasting one hour at least (he had a free phone or something). He called me because he was interested in someone staging a match against Anand. He had read that I was a good friend of Anand, who often stayed in my home. He said “Frederic, you know, we could organize a match in ‘New Chess’ – Fischer Random Chess. It could be very very big, and I would give all rights to ChessBase, for two or three million dollars.” I said we can probably offer you two or three thousand dollars. First we're not such a giant company and secondly what do we get from it? Everyone will watch the games. I said “Let's discuss what can be done. I would like to give you some advice. Can we meet? I'll come to Iceland.” He said no, no, no, but he sent his best friend, his last friend in Iceland, Gardar Sverrison, the only person he really trusted. He he told me again and again: “Don't trust anyone else.” I said “What about all your friends in Iceland, who helped you get out of your prison cell in Narita Airport and gave you citizenship…?” And he said “No, no, no, don't talk to any of them, talk to only to Gardar.”

Gardar actually came to Hamburg and stayed in my house, sort of checking on me, whether I was trustworthy. He became a family friend and went back with a report to Fischer. I gained his trust. We had these conversations over months. He would call again and again, and we discussed everything in life. 

There was one subject where he wanted to convince me. That the games between Kasparov and Karpov, the world championship matches, were all fixed they were staged. He forced me to play through games with him to show me. He had one slight problem: I would load the games on my screen and have Fritz running. I would debate them with him. I would often say, no no wait a minute, and I'd give him a better line. He thought I must be a very, very strong chess player. Of course I told him I'm using Fritz in the background, so I can work out all the tactics.

I think he had the impression that I was very smart and intelligent person, with one or two defects. One of one of them was I didn't understand that the matches were fixed, and secondly I didn't understand the giant world conspiracy of the Jews. He spent a lot of time trying to convince me.

Slowly the conversations became very normal. You know I cannot not resist teasing people, so I kept teasing him. On a number of occasions I thought this is it, he'll never call me again. He would say “that is completely wrong, you don't know what you're talking about,” and hang up. I thought it would be over, this is it. But then a week later he would call and say “I've been thinking about what you said, and I'll show you why you were wrong.”

I teased him a lot. I said “You knew you're getting old, Bobby, you could not handle the time controls. So you invented a clock which gives you extra time. Now you can't keep up with the openings preparations of all the top grandmasters, so you invent a form of chess where no openings preparation is possible to eliminate that. I suggested that he should do one more thing: he should propose a form of chess move called the retractor. Instead of making your next move you can always take back opponent’s move, and then your previous move, and play something else.He thought this was very rude, but only initially. I wrote an article on the 1st of April announcing Fishers had proposed this the retraction. He read it and said okay this is funny, this is really funny. He understood the humor…

Arne: You never ever met him in person?

Frederic: No I never met him in person. Nobody did. I think maybe Anand, but nobody else.

Arne: Do you remember what your very last call with him was about?

Frederic: The last calls were about his health. He had a problem with his kidneys. He lived in the same appartment building as Gardar, whose wife was a nurse. She looked after him, they'd go there every day and saw him deteriorating. They asked me if I could get him to go to the hospital. He needed dialysis. But he refused. He was very suspicious of everything, of everyone. The doctors were there to kill him or spy on him or something. I didn't succeed in convincing him.

At one stage he called me at two o'clock in the morning. After we'd spoken for half an hour I said: “Bobby, you can’t call me at two o'clock in the morning and rant about Jews. I can't handle this.” He said okay and hung up, and never called again. I called him a couple of times, because I had some reason to do that. He took the calls, but but he never initiated a call himself. It was also because his health was deteriorating very badly.

Then one day I was driving to the tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Nadia, who works for us, called me in my car and said “Fisher died last night.” It was a tragedy. I expected it, but it came very suddenly. I had to do interviews with BBC. I was pretty shattered.

Many years later I was in Iceland, and I met Gardar, who showed all the places where Spassky versus Fisher took place, the tournament hall, where the cameras were placed, the room at the back, the ping pong room, where the flat where he stayed... I could relive all of it. 

Schachgeschichten -
a chess book by Frederic Friedel and Christian Hesse

In tandem with the renowned chess expert Prof. Christian Hesse, he lets us share his encounters with world champions Mikhail Botvinnik, Mikhail Tal, Boris Spassky, Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Viswanathan Anand, Magnus Carlsen.

The initial edition of Schachgeschichten is in German and can be ordered on Amazon Germany. In the book sample ("Blick ins Buch" you can read the foreword by Garry Kasparov, and endorsements by Kramnik, Judit Polgar, Hou Yifan, Helmut Pfleger (with additional blurbs by Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand on the book cover). They essentially confirm that Fred's stories about them are enjoyable, accurate, and approved. E.g.

Frederic Friedel and Christian Hesse have written an unusual chess book. Its breadth of content ranges from personal encounters with world champions since Euwe, to logical chess studies. Frederic is a master story-teller with a passion for the human side of the chess world. Christian shows himself as a narrator of brilliantly composed mathematical chess puzzles, presenting them in his newly-created art form as Zen logicals. Their story lines tell you how simple reasoning allows to construct a big picture out of only a few pixels of information. The book is full of both types of stories that leave you wanting more. – Magnus Carlsen, World Champion.


Arne Kaehler, a creative mind who is passionate about board games in general, was born in Hamburg and learned to play chess at a young age. By teaching chess to youth teams and creating chess-related videos on YouTube, Arne was able to expand this passion and has even created an online course for anyone who wants to learn how to play chess. Arne writes for the English and German news sites, but focuses mainly on content for the ChessBase media channels.


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