Hort stories: A lost letter from Bobby Fischer

by Vlastimil Hort
9/12/2019 – Bobby Fischer is a legend, so much so that even people who knew him sometimes find it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction when they hear stories about Fischer. Vlastimil Hort knew Fischer and played against him. Recently, Hort rediscovered a letter Fischer had sent him and this letter evoked memories of the controversial chess genius. | Photos: Wolfgang Betzen (Schachclub Wangen)

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.


Part 1: The lost letter

Fischer suffered from paranoia which got worse and worse the older he became though he occasionally still had better moments. I definitely belonged to the group of his acquaintances whom he considered as being harmless. He even sent letters to us. Voilà: I will present parts of one of these documents. The letter was a kind of collage, and its author was very dedicated because he did not only write but also used scissors to present excerpts from various newspaper articles. But the address and the central part of his letter were in his own handwriting.

The letter showed his anger about Svetozar Gligoric, but in the last part of the document Fischer also wanted to assert his chess superiority — he was absolutely convinced that he would need only 24 games at the utmost to win six times against each and every opponent.

The letter was sent from Budapest, dated on December 22nd, 1998. As return address Fischer used that of the late Pal Benko, who was perhaps his last remaining friend and who had helped Fischer to become World Champion. Benko had qualified for the Interzonal Tournament in Palma de Mallorca 1970 but gave his place to Fischer who two years later became World Champion.


Excerpts from Bobby's last letter to Vlastimil Hort

Yes, I will keep Bobby's last letter to me as a kind of relic. However, my attempt to defend a psychologically very ill person against the press failed. I do not dare estimate how many years of jail Fischer had received if he had been extradited to the USA as the US government had demanded. But Iceland saved him by making Fischer a citizen of Iceland — well done!

Why do I return to the whole issue? Although the end was tragic I had several experiences with Fischer that were incomparable. And with the letter mentioned above, which resurfaced after many years, I do have proof that I did not only dream all this. Once upon a time there was a king...

The letter that had been lost for many was found by my beloved Brigitte in January 2019. How? After a chain of coincidences. Where? In a forgotten drawer in the cellar. Did Bobby know what the French king Louis XIV had said? "Après moi, le déluge" ("After me, the flood"). I very much doubt it and would bet against it.

Siegen 1970

When I last moved house I exchanged the river Rhine for the much less impressive river Sieg — but I liked my new house, the new surroundings, the fresh air, nature, our own garden. And the river Sieg evokes memories of the Chess Olympiad 1970 in Siegen.

With a score of 10.0/13 Fischer had the second-best result on board one. The prize for the best result on board one went to the reigning World Champion Boris Spassky who scored 9½/12. Their direct encounter was a dramatic game which Fischer lost after getting a good position from the opening.

Unfortunately, there is no tournament book about this Olympiad. But Wolfgang Betzen from the chess club Wangen visited the Olympiad when the Soviet Union played against the USA and was so kind to send his pictures to us.

Click or tap to enlarge

1970 Olympiad

The Chess Olympiad in Siegen 1970 attracted a lot of spectators

Spassky vs Fischer

Spassky vs Fischer

Keres and Reshevsky follow the game between Evans (left) and Polugayevsky (right)

Spassky, Fischer, Evans

Larry Evans takes a look at the Spassky vs Fischer game.

The match USA vs CSSR

It was an honour for me to play against him. He always gifted seven minutes to his opponent — to me too. That way he avoided contact with the press and the photographers. But would he even be allowed to start today, in the time of the zero-tolerance rule?

Caro-Kann Defence. When he was sitting at the chess board his behaviour was perfect, there was nothing to complain about. A kind of gentleman — like Keres. He noted the moves slowly and carefully. As far as I know he never hastened to write down his moves, not even when his opponent was in time-trouble. He never would have hustled someone. The proverb "haste makes waste" describes his manner at the board quite well. I lost a pawn but when the game was adjourned, and he thought about the move to seal I realized that my compensation was quite solid.

After a quick dinner my guess turned out to be correct during analysis. If both sides found a couple of only moves the game should end in a draw. In time-trouble I had had more luck than brains!

Late in the evening I ventured into the lion's den and offered Ed Edmondson, who was captain of the American team, to draw the game. This would save Fischer and myself the trouble to go to the tournament hall early next morning. Instead, we would have time for a leisurely breakfast and to prepare for the next round that would start in the afternoon. However, "I am sorry, Vlastimil. Bobby want's to play", was Edmondson's reply.

A new, late analysis, deep into the night. I did not find any improvement, neither for White nor for Black. All attempts ended in the dead end of a draw. The next morning I rushed to the playing hall. What happened now? My night-time analysis was confirmed. Move by move. "I offer you a draw!" What a nice suggestion!


My chess friend Norbert Rauch from the chess club Caissa Münster stubbornly insisted and wanted to book Fischer for a simul at all costs. I took my game against Fischer as an occasion to invite him. And Bobby accepted.

That soon gave Caissa Münster a really nice chess event...About which you will soon read more!


  • More Hort stories

Vlastimil Hort was born January 12, 1944, in Kladno, Czechoslovakia. In the 1970s he was one of the world's best players and a World Championship candidate. In 1979 he moved to West Germany where he still lives. Hort is an excellent blindfold player, a prolific author and a popular chess commentator.
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Metaphysician Metaphysician 9/15/2019 10:23
@UncleFischer: It is true that in totalitarian regimes, dissidents are sometimes labeled "mentally ill." But the U.S. government isn't a totalitarian regime and was not during Fischer's lifetime. You don't need to be a psychiatrist to know that at some point Fischer became deranged.
Hours after the attack on the World Trade Center towers, killing thousands of innocents, including police officers and firefighters who died trying to save victims trapped in the towers, Fischer had this to say on Phillipine radio: "Yes, [the attack on the World Trade Center] is all wonderful news. lt is time that the [expletive] U.S. got their heads kicked in. lt’s time to finish off the U.S. once and for all."* These are not the words of a "dissenter" or one speaking truth to power.
I hope that in time Fischer will be rememberd only for his marvelous games and not for his words and actions away from the board.

*See https://harpers.org/archive/2002/03/the-bin-laden-defense/
Kenneth Thomas Kenneth Thomas 9/15/2019 12:18
@sshivaji, the words seem unclear to me, too. However, it is clear Fischer did not offer a draw immediately on resumption, because the game lasted 60 moves, and adjournment would have happened shortly after move 40. My guess is that after adjournment play followed Hort's analysis "move by move," and that Fischer offered the draw.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 9/14/2019 04:32
Yes, this is pretty unclear. Who wrote the newspaper article, who wrote the translation, why did Fischer write to GM Hort about it, and what does GM Gligoric have to do with anything? Hort states that there were a variety of cuttings that were assembled in the letter, maybe the context is there?
UncleFischer UncleFischer 9/14/2019 12:30
Truth is Fischer never got formally diagnosed by any psychiatrist, saying that he was mentally ill is just slander tactics similar to those used in the former USSR to label dissenters. The fact that you often have to read this smear whenever fischer is mentioned is a sign of how doggish and coward most have became, and the nature of the totalitarian system we live in today.
Fischer was proved right when he accused USSR players of collusion and he will be in the future regarded not only as one of the best chess players of all times but also an outstanding genius not afraid of telling the truth and speaking against power.
rubinsteinak rubinsteinak 9/13/2019 03:37
@keshava I don't know if it drew bigger crowds, but what I wonder about when I see so many people hovering around the boards is, "were there no demonstration boards for the top board games?"
Johannes Fischer Johannes Fischer 9/13/2019 11:26
Thanks for the hint to the tournament book!
Johannes Fischer Johannes Fischer 9/13/2019 11:22
@GreenKlaser @CMPonCB
You are right. It is indeed Ed Edmondson, the error was corrected.
CMPonCB CMPonCB 9/13/2019 06:08
Regarding Siegen 1970, Hort says: "Unfortunately, there is no tournament book about this Olympiad" - well yes there is. Quite a nice hardback, printed on good quality paper and containing many clear photos. The authors are Raymond Keene and David Levy.

The former USCF President was actually called Ed Edmondson.
Peter B Peter B 9/13/2019 04:28
In that letter, I assume the English paragraph at the bottom is a translation of the outlined paragraph. So... what is objectionable and why did Fischer write "Gligoric is garbage"? Sadly it looks like an insight into his paranoid state of mind.
Keshava Keshava 9/13/2019 01:53
Did chess matches draw bigger crowds in the 1970's?
GreenKlaser GreenKlaser 9/12/2019 11:11
Ted Edmonton? I remember Ed Edmonson.
Jarman Jarman 9/12/2019 11:03
"I do not dare estimate how many years of jail Fischer had received if he had been extradited to the USA as the US government had demanded." Since 1992 - when he spat on the US government letter - it is well known that he would have faced up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of 250,000 dollars if convicted.
As for his comments about Gligoric, sadly they don't surprise me in the least as sooner or later everybody seemed at risk of being blacklisted by him. I'd just like to point out that in 1992 his "enemy" Gligoric agreed to play a training match with him even if his wife was very ill at the time. By the way the source I just gave a glance to (http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/extra/fischergligoric.html) confirms that their friendship ended around 1998: "My friendship with Bobby started when he was 15 years old, and I was 35. It lasted about 40 years" (Fischer was born in 1943 and got to know Gligoric in 1958).
Anyway great pics, never had the chance to see them anywhere.
rubinsteinak rubinsteinak 9/12/2019 10:59
I don't understand the context of the comment about Gligo. I also don't really see much of a "letter" from Fischer here. The text that is inside the box is translated into English at the bottom, and the text is quite flattering of Fischer, so if Gligorich wrote that article, I don't understand why Bobby was so upset with him. Perhaps Mr. Hort can explain the full context. The picture with Reshevsky and Keres watching the Evans Polugaevsky game has Kortchnoi in the background, on the right.
sshivaji sshivaji 9/12/2019 10:43
I dont fully understand this: "The next morning I rushed to the playing hall. What happened now? My night-time analysis was confirmed. Move by move. "I offer you a draw!" What a nice suggestion!" Does this mean Fischer offered a draw every move, once, or when? Did Fischer offer a draw on the first move? I assume this means that Fischer offered a draw immediately upon resumption.
sshivaji sshivaji 9/12/2019 10:42
Great article, keep these sort of articles coming!!
fckeres fckeres 9/12/2019 10:14
I would be indeed interested, about the whole translation of the newspaper text, not only the part that is marked there by an arrow... Trying to understand the whole context / motives of Bobby´s letter...
marek1969 marek1969 9/12/2019 09:54
Very interesting article
Logos Logos 9/12/2019 08:25
Nice article and photos. Thank you GM Hort.