Speaking about Fischer...

by ChessBase
11/4/2006 – A few weeks ago, in the early morning hours, the listeners of Utvarp Saga, a privat talk radio station in Iceland, suddenly heard the voice of Bobby Fischer. The 11th world chess champion discussed his public dispute with the Swiss bank UBS, international affairs and everyday life in his Icelandic refuge. It becomes particularly interesting when Bobby talks about chess, past and present.

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Fischer on Icelandic Radio

The interview was broadcast again later that evening, and recorded by a number of chess fans. It was 50 minutes long, and contained an introduction and recaps in Icelandic. An MP3 version with the Icelandic bits edited out is available here.

The sound file is 43 minutes long and should stream on your system. By moving the replay slider you can jump to the most interesting passages, for which we now provide a guide. In one particularly unusual section Fischer ready from a book by Vladimir Pozner. For those of you who cannot access the MP3 file or do not have the time to do so, some of the key chess passages are transcribed below.

The first section – more than half of the entire interview – deals with Fischer’s problems with the Union Bank of Switzerland, one of the world's largest, which transferred his assets, three million Swiss Francs (US $2.4 million or €1.9 million), without his permission and against his will, to a bank account in Iceland, where Fischer now resides. We reported on this.

At 24 min 30 sec the interviewer starts to talk to Fischer about the United States, which he believes was founded and currently being run by extremists.

At 27' 16" they come around to the subject of chess, and this is where you may want to start. They talk about the book “Parting with Illusions”, which came out in 1990 and was written by the US-Soviet journalist Vladimir Pozner, a well-known TV personality during the Cold War. Fischer reads from this book:

I remember Mark Taimanov, an International Grand Master and, at one time, a contender for the world chess crown, talking about losing his match with Bobby Fischer by the implausible score of six to zero. For those of you whose knowledge of chess is limited, I should make it clear that Grand Masters never lose matches by a score of whatever to nothing, especially considering that a draw counts for half a point and more games are drawn during a match than are won or lost. So when Taimanov fell to Fischer six-zip, it was a sensation that rocked the chess world. It was, in fact, such an unbelievable affront that the Soviet Chess Federation stripped Taimanov of his title as Grand Master of the USSR. Later, when several other Grand Masters were blitzed by Fischer, the Soviet Chess Federation realized its mistake, but refused to acknowledge it. To this day, Mark Taimanov retains the rank of International Grand Master but has not had his Soviet ranking restored.

Describing his famous defeat at the hands of the future world champion, Taimanov said, “When Grand Masters play, they see the logic of their opponent's moves. One's moves may be so powerful that the other may not be able to stop him, but the plan behind the moves will be clear. Not so with Fischer. His moves did not make sense – at least to all the rest of us they didn't. We were playing chess, Fischer was playing something else, call it what you will. Naturally, there would come a time when we finally would understand what those moves had been about. But by then it was too late. We were dead.”

Gorbachev is that kind of a political player. No one understands his moves. Not until it is too late. And that is why, in my opinion, he was able to rise through the echelons of power, through the Young Communist League, through the party ranks, up and up, all the way to the Politburo, and even be elected to the post of general secretary. If anyone had been able to read his mind before that, Gorbachev would be dead.

At 33' 10" they start to talk about the greatest players from the past century. Fischer:

"In chess so much depends on opening theory, so the champions before the last century did not know as much as I do and other players do about opening theory. So if you just brought them back from the dead they wouldn’t do well. They’d get bad openings. You cannot compare the playing strength, you can only talk about natural ability. Memorisation is enormously powerful. Some kid of fourteen today, or even younger, could get an opening advantage against Capablanca, and especially against the players of the previous century, like Morphy and Steinitz. Maybe they would still be able to outplay the young kid of today. Or maybe not, because nowadays when you get the opening advantage not only do you get the opening advantage, you know how to play, they have so many examples of what to do from this position. It is really deadly, and that is why I don’t like chess any more."

Morphy and Capablanca had enormous talent, Steinitz was very great too. Alekhine was great, but I am not a big fan of his. Maybe it’s just my taste. I’ve studied his games a lot, but I much prefer Capablanca and Morphy. Alekhine had a rather heavy style, Capablanca was much more brilliant and talented, he had a real light touch. Everyone I’ve spoken to who saw Capablanca play still speak of him with awe. If you showed him any position he would instantly tell you the right move. When I used to go to the Manhattan Chess Club back in the fifties, I met a lot of old-timers there who knew Capablanca, because he used to come around to the Manhattan club in the forties – before he died in the early forties. They spoke about Capablanca with awe. I have never seen people speak about any chess player like that, before or since.

Capablanca really was fantastic. But even he had his weaknesses, especially when you play over his games with his notes he would make idiotic statements like “I played the rest of the game perfectly.” But then you play through the moves and it is not true at all. But the thing that was great about Capablanca was that he really spoke his mind, he said what he believed was true, he said what he felt. He wanted to change the rules [of chess] already, back in the twenties, because he said chess was getting played out. He was right. Now chess is completely dead. It is all just memorisation and prearrangement. It’s a terrible game now. Very uncreative.

At 38' 20" Fischer speaks about how he spends his time in Iceland. He is leading a “quiet, low-key life” there, the people are all friendly, and he hasn’t had anyone tell him that they were unhappy that he was there. Fischer says he hasn’t left Iceland since his arrival there, since he is afraid that he might be kidnapped and imprisoned again. He talks about the movie Road to Guantanamo and the scenes where some of the prisoners are giving problems to the guards. “They call some storm-trooper types, who are heavily armed. – body armour, helmets – about five of them come into the cell and beat him up. They did the same thing to me! Several times. When I was kidnapped at Narita Airport a whole bunch of guys jumped me. Twice when I was in Ushiku Detention Center these people came with helmets and body armour and heavy boots.

At 41" 20" Fischer volunteers his opinion on the North Korea situation. It’s a short bit on the betrayal of the Dear Leader by China and contains no chess.

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