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Friday, May 17, 2019

The Rise Of Bobby Fischer

     I can’t resist posting this photo from the October 7, 1957 issue of Life magazine. Life was published weekly until 1972, as an intermittent "special" until 1978, and as a monthly from 1978 to 2000. During its golden age from 1936 to 1972, Life was a wide-ranging weekly general interest magazine known for the quality of its photography. 
     The photo was part of a brief article on Fischer who at the time was making news news as the youngest Master in the U.S. The book Fischer is reading is Chess in Russia : the players and their games (annotated) by P. Romanovsky with forewords by Mikhail Botvinnik and C.H.O'D. Alexander. The 53 page booklet was published by Soviet News, London in 1946. 


The caption reads: 
MATERNAL SUMMONS to dinner in their Brooklyn apartment interrupt a problem Fischer is working out on his chessboard. Mrs. Fischer is completely certain that he can someday become world champion. “The sooner the better,” she says. “Then he can get over all this and get down to some real work.” 

     On the rating list published on May 20, 1956, Fischer's rating was only 1726. In July of 1956, Fischer won the US Junior Championship at Philadelphia with a score of 8.5-1.5 to become the youngest-ever Junior Champion at the age of 13.
     At the 1956 US Open Championship in Oklahoma City, he scored 8.5-3.5 to tie for 4th–8th places. In the Canadian Open at Montreal he scored 7.0-3.0 to tie for 8th–12th places. In November, Fischer played in the Eastern Open in Washington, D.C. and tied for second with William Lombardy, Nicholas Rossolimo, and Arthur Feuerstein. 
     Although Fischer's rating didn’t put him among the top 12, he received special consideration when he was invited to the 1956 Rosenwald Trophy tournament, a premier tournament of 12 players considered the best in the country. The 13-year-old Fischer could only score 4.5-6.5 and tie for 8th–9th place. That was the tournament in which he played the Game of the Century when he sacrificed his Queen against Donald Byrne. 
     In March of 1957, Fischer played a two-game match against former World Champion Max Euwe at New York and lost 0.5-1.5. 
     On the USCF rating list, published on May 5, 1957, Fischer was rated 2231; he had gained over 500 points in a year and was the country's youngest ever master up to that point. 
     In July,1957, he defended his US Junior title, scoring an impressive 8.5-0.5 at San Francisco. That victory put his rating at 2298, making him among the top ten players in the country. Yes, there’s been some rating inflation over the years! 
     By this time the fourteen-year-old Fischer was the latest prodigy in the chess world and created another sensation when he tied for first with Arthur Bisguier in the US Open held in Cleveland, Ohio, both scored 10-2. 
     Bisguier was originally proclaimed the winner and was driving back to New York with the first place trophy before a recalculation gave the title to Fischer instead. Bisguier later wrote an article for Chess Review in which he did his best to be sportsman like and praise Fischer copiously, but his bitterness with the tournament officials and tiebreaking systems in general was apparent. See my post Hey, Art. Give Back That Trophy!
     There were 176 entries, but Horst Kemper didn’t show to meet his first round opponent who won on forfeit. His opponent was Bobby Fischer. Fischer scored wins against Edward D. Stepans, John Rinaldo, Charles Witte, Igor Garais, Edmar Mednis, Donald Byrne and William Addison. He drew with Rudolf Pitschak, Arthur Bisguier, Robert Byrne and Walter Shipman. 
     Fischer won the New Jersey Open with a score of 6.5-0.5 and his next success was defeating the young Filipino master Rodolfo Tan Cardoso 6–2 in a New York match sponsored by Pepsi-Cola. 
     Based on his rating and results, the USCF invited him to play in the 1957–58 US Championship. Arthur Bisguier predicted Fischer would score slightly over fifty percent; he was wrong. Fischer scored and undefeated 10.5-2.5 and finished first thus becoming the youngest ever US Champion. 
     The victory earned him the IM title and qualified him to participate in the Portoroz Interzonal to be August of 1958. Fischer was also invited to be one of the ten distinguished players to participate in the highly regarded Hastings Christmas tournament, but he either didn't or couldn't accept. Keres won ahead of Gligoric and Filip. Leonard Barden was the top English player, finishing fifth. 
     Fischer had been hounding his mother about making a trip to Moscow and his mother wrote directly to the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, requesting an invitation for Bobby to participate in the World Youth and Student Festival, but the reply came too late for him to make the trip. In 1958, his mother finagled him an appearance on the game show I've Got a Secret and the producers arranged two round-trip tickets to the Soviet Union. View on Youtube
     Fischer was invited to Moscow and Lev Abramov served as a guide to Bobby and his sister, Joan. Once in Moscow, Fischer immediately demanded that he be taken to the Moscow Central Chess Club, where he played speed chess with two young Soviet masters, Evgeni Vasiukov and Alexander Nikitin. Fischer mopped up, winning all the games. 
     Fischer also defeated veteran Master Vladimir Alatortsev 3-zip in blitz prompting Alatortsev to tell his wife that Fischer was going to be world champion. 
     Fischer wasn’t done with his demands. He demanded to play World Champ Mikhail Botvinnik and when informed that was impossible, Fischer asked to play Keres who also was not available. Finally, Tigran Petrosian was summoned to play Fischer; Petrosian won most of the games. 
     When it became clear to Fischer that the Russians weren’t going to play anything but blitz games against him, he flew into a rage saying he was fed up "with these Russian pigs." Needless to say, coming from an honored guest, it offended and angered the Russians. Oddly, in a 1960 interview with Roman Toran during the Olympiad in Leipzig, Fischer stated, “Before the [1958] Interzonal I was invited by the USSR Chess Federation to visit Moscow, and I played some interesting training games there with notable young stars like Vasiukov, who was then champion of Moscow. Yes, the trip was very useful.”
     After Fischer’s tirade against his Moscow hosts, the Yugoslav chess officials stepped in and offered to take in Fischer and Joan as early guests to the Interzonal. Fischer took them up on the offer, arriving in Yugoslavia to play two short training matches against Dragoljub Janosevic and Milan Matulovic. He drew with Janosevic and defeated Matulovic. 
     At the Interzonal at Portoroz in1958, most doubted that a 15-year-old with no international experience could finish among the six qualifiers. Fischer had a different opinion. He told journalist Miro Radoicic, "I can draw with the GMs and there are half-a-dozen patzers in the tournament I reckon to beat." 
     He scored +6−2=12, tied for 5th–6th and qualified for the 1959 Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade Candidates tournament. In 1959, 
     Fischer was a sophomore at Erasmus High School where he was no better than average in his studies, displaying little interest in most of the subjects taught and being restless in class. His teachers were amazed when they heard of his chess victories because they hadn’t suspected that he would be able to sit still long enough to play five hours for a tournament game. 
     The school’s student council awarded him a gold medal for his chess achievements, but he dropped out of high school when he turned 16, the earliest he could legally do so. His reason, as he was later to explain to Ralph Ginzburg, "You don't learn anything in school." 
     At home chess set as always beside his bed and from the moment he woke up he studied, even during meals and while watching television. While his mother was proud of his success, she was by no means convinced that his devotion to chess was a good thing. For four years she tried everything she knew to discourage him, but it was hopeless. 
     During the summer vacation Fischer’s evenings were spent at the Manhattan Chess Club and sometimes his mother have to go over there at midnight to haul him out. 
     After dropping out of high school, Fischer taught himself several foreign languages so he could read foreign chess periodicals. At one time Tal and Alexander Koblencs were amazed at Fischer’s familiarity with the games of female Latvian players. The games of one in particular interested him, the almost unknown Flora Dmitrieva. It had never occurred to them to study the games of their women players. 
     Until late 1959, Fischer’s signature dress had been sweaters and corduroys, but Pal Benko encouraged him to dress better and so Fischer began buying hand-tailored suits, shirts and shoes from all over the world. 
     When Fischer was 16, his mother moved out of their apartment to pursue medical training. A friend named Joan Rodker, who had met Fischer’s mother when they living in Moscow in the 1930s, believes that Fischer resented his mother for being mostly absent, a communist activist and an admirer of the Soviet Union. She also believed this was what led to his hatred for the “Russians.”
     In letters to Rodker, Fischer's mother wrote about her desire to pursue her own obsession of training in medicine meant that Bobby would have to live in their Brooklyn apartment without her, but that he was probably happier that way. The apartment, by the way, was on the edge of Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood that had one of the highest homicide and crime rates in New York City.  
     When the 1959 Candidates tournament came around, unlike Portoroz, there weren’t any “patzers.” The tournament was won by Tal ahead of Keres, Petrosian and Smyslov. Fischer tied for 5th-6th with Glicoric ahead of Olafsson and Benko and had to wait until 1972 to fulfill Alatortsev’s prediction. 
     Despite their alienation, in 1960, Fischer’s mother protested the practices of the American Chess Foundation and staged a five-hour protest in front of the White House, urging President Eisenhower to send an American team to that year's chess Olympiad in Leipzig, East Germany and to help support the team financially. 
     The American Chess Foundation was founded in the 1950s to help Samuel Reshevsky battle the Soviets, adopted a new name to better reflect its primary activity. Since May 29, 1996, it has been known as Chess-in-the-Schools. 
     In the end, the US sent a team which was made up of Fischer, Lombardy, Robert Byrne, Bisguier, Rossolimo and Weinstein and they finished second behind the Soviet Union. It was t this event where Fischer played his only game ever against Botvinnik; it was a draw. 
     Fischer’s opponent in the following game was the well known Oklahoma player Dale Ruth who was rated about 1970 at the time. If memory serves, I think Ruth eventually reached the Master level. 

1 comment:

  1. Kevin Spragget recently publish a post on the Ballad of Bobby Fischer
    http://www.spraggettonchess.com/the-ballad-of-bobby-fischer/

    ReplyDelete