Vlastimil Hort: Memories of Bobby Fischer (3)

by Vlastimil Hort
4/8/2018 – 75 years ago, March 9, 1943, Robert James Fischer was born in Chicago. He was genius and madman. In 1972 he became World Champion after winning a dramatic match against Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, and he is still considered as one of the greatest players of all time. Vlastimil Hort knew the 11th World Champion personally and shares memories of "Bobby". If you haven't already, read Part 1 and Part 2...

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.

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Read Part 1 and Part 2...

Colonel Ed Edmondson dies in 1982. A great loss for Robert Fischer — Ed was a close confidant. A crash. Afterwards, Bobby lives like a monk, sleeping on a mattress at his sister's place. Does he want to save the universe and mankind or does he want to flee from them?

Emanuel Lasker did not only write about chess, he also left philosophical works — which are, admittedly, not easy to digest. But from Fischer's Pasadena episode nothing tangible, logical or readable is known. Only racist statements. Did the Armstrongnism already affect his psyche much more than was thought?

His refusal to play against Karpov who had won the World Championship cycle 1972-1975 looked like giving up everything that makes the civilised world. My opinion? Against a Fischer in top form — as he was in Reykjavik — the Soviet challenger would not have had a real chance. The difference in playing strength was minimal, but the physical stamina clearly favoured the American. "I want to break his ego." Playing every game until the bitter end, no breaks, no short meaningless draws would have been Fischer's strategy for the match. How many kilos would Karpov have lost during such a match? Efim Geller, Karpov's second: "We all make mistakes, but Fischer makes the fewest of us all!"

Fischer lost his title! Though he no longer showed in public it is known that he followed the chess events with great interest. His comment about the world championship match Karpov-Kasparov, Moscow 1984, aborted after 48 games when Karpov was leading 5-3 [the match was played for six won games, draws did not count -Ed.]: "Vlasty, in a marathon this would be impossible. The referee should not intervene." Afterwards, Fischer broke with Svetozar Gligoric, the main arbiter from Yugoslavia. It is a pity, the chess world will always regret that there was no world championship match Fischer-Karpov. Of course, the American was "the culprit".

During my visit to Budapest in early September 1993 Fischer showed me his first game from the return match Fischer-Spassky, Sveti Stefan 1992.

 

Even when he got older the former world champion knew how to play the Spanish. During the analyses, Fischer called his rival "my frenemy Boris".

Robert Fischer, 1992

How did this late friendship come about? After Fischer had been arrested at Tokyo airport in July 2004 Spassky gave interviews to the press and dramatically offered to share a cell with Bobby should he be sentenced. To go to jail with him. Provided Fischer had made inner and outer peace with the state of Israel I would have joined them.

A speaker of the Iceland Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "Granting Fischer Icelandic citizenship is a purely humanitarian gesture, and by no means implicates support of Fischer's political views." How many years, Robert, would you have spent in jail should the gigantic claws of the USA snatched you?" Bravo Iceland!

In April 2009, I received an invitation from the Icelandic Chess Federation. Paul Benkö, William Lombardy, Fridrik Olafsson, Lajos Portisch, and Boris Spassky also came to Laugardælir to say goodbye to the brilliant maestro and to pay him the last respect. Only Viktor Kortchnoi did not accept the invitation. He did not want to give Bobby the licence of being psychologically ill.

A small cemetery in the countryside, forgotten by civilisation. A plain chapel. Small pony's trotting on the light-green grass so typical for Iceland, just behind the gravestone. Occasionally a curious seagull appeared. The earth was still frozen and we were shivering with cold. As the youngest of the group, I was last to speak. Which was difficult for me — we all furtively wiped tears from our eyes.

The birds enjoyed the sudden rays of the sun which were breaking through the clouds and flying high in the air they smiled about our earthly problems.

The cradle, the coffee, the chessboard, and the pieces are all from solid wood.
Once upon a time, there was a Bobby Fischer…

Gellért fürdö 1993

In my pocket, I had a telephone number. And I was willing to take the risk. I mentally supported my idea by telling myself that I will treat myself to two nice days in Budapest if he does not want to and will not talk. But secretly I hope for help from Janos Rigo, a Hungarian IM, who allegedly is in direct contact with the former Champion. It is said that he does all the visits to the authorities for Bobby.

The night train from Prague to Budapest was filled to capacity. I thought back to the time in Vinkovci 1968 when I had been his driver and drove him around in my Renault 8.

The Iron Curtain was no more. In Prague and in Budapest Americans were welcome again. It was Indian summer 1993. IM Janos Rigo was very helpful but explained to me in broken German that he had to ask Fischer first. When he had an answer from Fischer he would contact me at the hotel. A few hours later: "Yes, Fischer agrees, the meeting point is the Gellért spa, tomorrow, 3 pm." I was happy about the okay and tried to get a joke in: "Gellért or Geller spa?"

Before going to Budapest I had, of course, read all kinds of reports about the dethroned champion. His psychological gaffes made me very sad. On this wonderful afternoon, my mood ranged from melancholic to sentimental.

The ticket to enter the spa was ridiculously cheap. Inside, I immediately had to get rid of all my clothes but was given a small fig leaf of linen. At any rate, I was better off than Adam in paradise. It was an imposing Roman spa — the bathers only men. Everybody was nice to each other, almost too nice, if you know what I mean.

A young man tried his luck. "Are you looking for company?" I did not bother to try explaining to him that I had not seen the man I was searching for more than 20 years. I felt visibly uncomfortable with my fig leaf in these surroundings. "Az ízlés nem vitatott – Chacun à son goût![Everyone has their taste!]. In the corner of the steam bath, I found a place to hide. The wetness, the moisture, the steam, the fog, all evoked Hitchcock's "Psycho".

Seven minutes late, just as in his tournament games, he greeted me in my corner: "Hello, Vlasty, how are you?" The sight of my hero surprised me. What had happened to his athletic body? A man weighing about 130 kilos, with a long beard, flecked with grey, and a bald spot on his head was standing before me. I only recognized him because of his eyes which were forget-me-not blue and were moving very slowly. "Really glad to see you, Robert!"

New game, new possibilities

The taxi brought me to an elegant residential area in Budapest which I did not know. I was asked to ring the bell without a name on it. My companion from the day before personally opened the door but then he quickly rushed back to his phone. He spoke English with a lot of Hungarian words. "Don´t worry, everything is O.K.", were his last words. After exchanging greetings I gave my host the Bohemian oblates I had brought with me. I was keen to see his new game which he had mentioned the day before, and I hoped he would keep his promise to show it to me.

I believe I am one of the first to whom Bobby showed his invention — the new form of chess he had created! On the first rank, the pieces were placed randomly — but with identical set-ups for Black and White. The pawns on the second or seventh rank stayed as they are — just as in traditional chess. "In some starting positions White has a bigger advantage, though", the inventor said. The rules remained the same as in a normal tournament game. I needed some time before I understood how to castle long and how to castle short in this new system.

With his new form of chess, the self-taught Fischer wanted to target theory, that much I quickly understood. For him, thinking on one's own was the most important. In the beginning, I was not particularly enthusiastic and remained honest: "For me, our traditional chess is complicated enough." An entertaining afternoon followed and I gradually enjoyed the new game. A few years later, in Mainz, at the Chess Classic, people liked what they saw. Random Chess, Chess 960 or Fischer Chess had won many, many followers and was particularly "loved" by non-theoreticians. But in Mainz, the king had always to stand between the two rooks. Because of the computer transmission of the games.

But when Fischer introduced me to his idea in Budapest the king did not need to stand between the rooks, it could be anywhere on the back rank, no matter where the rooks were standing. This leads to an astronomical increase of possible starting positions. I am sure there are mathematicians who can calculate how many.

Of course, I will never find out whether the inventor would accept the Mainzer variation. After my cautious question in Budapest: "Dear Robert, did you get the new game patented?", the addressed at any rate whipped out an elegant notebook and made a note. But did he finally act or not? An interesting question.

We played 10-minute games and as in our blitz night in the Hotel Metropol 1970 the score was clear. "It's great Robert, but I still prefer normal chess." The former world champion was not insulted but hungry. "I invite you, Vlasty, we will go to eat sushi." In our tournament game in Rovinj-Zagreb 1970 I had declined his draw offer, but I gladly accepted this invitation to dinner because it spared me from further losses in the new chess variant. "Let's go, Robert."

Sushi

Confidently, Robert James Fischer knocked on the door of a Japanese luxury restaurant that was well-known to him. The boss, a Japanese man, smartly dressed in red, opened it himself and started to beam when he saw the surprise visitors. It was still at least an hour before the restaurant officially opened. All other sushi lovers had to wait but we, as VIPs, were welcome.

"The same procedure as every week, Mister Fischer?" If it still had been possible the owner would have unrolled a red carpet. We were led to a small parlour. A waiter, who was just for us, without cease brought one dish after the other. The service was perfect. For me, it was the best sushi of my life. Bobby had a huge appetite and devoured the delicacies as if there was no tomorrow.

We drank huge quantities of Japanese wine, sake. At a certain point, our conversation came to a halt — we fell silent. To stop his antisemitic rants I asked him a question: "Robert, are you not afraid of Mossad?" He thought for a while: "Yes, I am, Vlasty."

My chess friend, Dr. Antony Saidy, might have been right: "His paranoia has worsened through the years, and he is more isolated than ever in an alien culture." [Frank Brady, Endgame, p. 274] "The bill, please." It suited me quite well that Bobby wanted to leave because I did not want to miss the night train from Budapest to Prague. After these two intensive days, I really needed a change of scene and some normalcy around me.

Beaming, the boss rushed over to us. "Mister Fischer, the same procedure as every week?" "Yes, indeed", muttered Fischer. The sum on the bill was very low. "Please, Mister Fischer, today four signatures." I was bold and also took two postcards from Budapest from my bag. Did I assume correctly that the super-sushi was paid by Fischer with autographs? The taciturn former world champion obliged both of us.

The man who brought me to the station was wearing a baseball cap. Just before the train departed we exchanged telephone numbers. The train was again filled to capacity. There were no seats available and I had to stand throughout the night. Bleak thoughts haunted me while the wheels were rattling on the tracks that led to Prague.

My conclusion — I met a mentally ill man in Budapest. Genius and madness are — and might always be — close, unfortunately.

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer

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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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soukie soukie 4/17/2018 04:44
The poignant quote has a typo, it should read, of course: "The cradle, the coffin, the chessboard, and the pieces are all from solid wood." Can someone correct it please?
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 4/14/2018 04:46
"This account is much more interesting than the prior ones on Fischer, which seem to be just historical accounts lacking stories."

This.
anandymous anandymous 4/11/2018 05:59
I, too, often receive meals in nice restaurants in exchange for my autograph. Sadly, though, it's on the receipt for the bill.
As always, please write more.
Azzur Azzur 4/9/2018 03:56
Fantastic account!
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 4/8/2018 10:08
This account is much more interesting than the prior ones on Fischer, which seem to be just historical accounts lacking stories.

Who is Mossad?

The anecdote about FischerRandom is fascinating. Why does the King have to be between the rooks now; when was this change introduced? I wonder if it is really necessary, to have complete randomization along the back row seems very acceptable.
rafpig rafpig 4/8/2018 04:42
I love these recollections and the intimate way Mr. Hort write his articles. Please keep writing them and tell us everything you remember from your wonderful chess career.
Jerry8 Jerry8 4/8/2018 08:41
Love reading these. Hope to see part 4 soon. Thanks mr. Vlasty for such nice articles on bobby fischer's life.
Pieces in Motion Pieces in Motion 4/8/2018 05:43
"KOTLD:SambalOelek, i recognised so many similarities between them, that i started wondering if Fischer was subconciously trying to copy Morphy."

Good point. Considering how much he admired Morphy it's highly possible. He may have have done it consciously.
Pieces in Motion Pieces in Motion 4/8/2018 05:38
Another fine recollection. I'm definitely not going to any spa! One wonders what brought forth Fischer's increasing rage. The time clock of his innate madness ticking down? The looming political correctness of the time growing further? It's interesting and one can only wonder.
KOTLD KOTLD 4/8/2018 05:21
SambalOelek, i recognised so many similarities between them, that i started wondering if Fischer was subconciously trying to copy Morphy.
fixpont fixpont 4/8/2018 03:06
@SambalOelek: i dont like forced comparisons
SambalOelek SambalOelek 4/8/2018 01:41
How many similarities are there between Morphy and Fischer? both died isolated ....and were extremely good at chess.

One major difference between Morphy and Fischer is that Morphy didn't considered playing chess a real job, while Fischer believed it is a real job...
quote' Despite his retirement from chess in 1860, Morphy was still generally considered world champion until Steinitz was awarded that honor after his victory at the 1873 Vienna Tournament.
In accord with the prevailing sentiment of the time, Morphy esteemed chess only as an amateur activity, considering the game unworthy of pursuit as a serious occupation. Chess professionals were viewed in the same light as professional gamblers. It was not until decades later that the age of the professional chess player arrived "

In that sense, i am more inclined to adore Morphy and dismiss Fischer. Everybody has off course his own idea about it
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