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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Reshevsky-Fischer Connection

      After Fischer returned to chess in 1970 to play in the USSR vs. the Rest of the World tournament in Belgrade Reshevsky was his teammate and when Reshevsky’s game against Smyslov had been adjourned Fischer sat down with Reshevsky to analyze the position. This was the first time in years that Fischer had had a friendly relationship with Reshevsky, the man whom Fischer had once proclaimed to be one of the ten greatest players in history.
      Known in his youth as “Shmulik der vunderkind,” Reshevsky had developed a relationship with Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchak Schneersohn a Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe. He once asked for a blessing from the Rebbe, who agreed on the condition that Reshevsky study Torah daily which Reshevsky dutifully did for the rest of his life. In the years before his marriage, Reshevsky had developed a relationship with Rabbi Schneersohn and this bond was greatly strengthened during the years following his marriage when Reshevsky lived in Crown Heights, Brooklyn which was the same neighborhood where Rabbi Schneersohn lived the last ten years of his life.
      In 1982, at age 70, when Reshevsky was considering retiring from professional chess he approached Rabbi Schneersohn and asked for advice. According to Rabbi Dovid Zaklikowski, Rabbi Schneersohn told Reshevsky that playing chess was his “way of fulfilling the commandment of sanctifying God’s name” and suggested that he should not yet retire.
      In 1984, at 72 years old, Reshevsky tied for first place at the Reykjavik Open. After his victory, Reshevsky received a congratulatory letter from the Rebbe, which ended:

“P.S. The following lines may appear strange, but I consider it my duty not to miss the opportunity to bring it to your attention. You are surely familiar with the life story of Bobby Fischer, of whom nothing has been heard in quite some time. Unfortunately, he did not appear to have the proper Jewish education, which is probably the reason for his being so alienated from the Jewish way of life or the Jewish people. However, being a Jew, he should be helped by whomever possible. I am writing to you about this since you are probably better informed about him than many other persons, and perhaps you may find some way in which he could be brought back to the Jewish fold, either through your personal efforts, or in some other way.”

      When Reshevsky received the letter, he was pleased that the Rebbe had chosen him for a special task despite the difficulty it entailed. Fischer was a paranoid recluse and at time was living in Los Angeles. Not long after receiving the letter Reshevsky was in Los Angeles for a tournament and the first thing he did upon arrival was phone Fischer and related the Rebbe's request. It must have been something of a surprise when Fischer, who usually did not receive visitors, immediately agreed to see Reshevsky. Their meeting lasted three hours, during which Fischer asked many serious questions about Judaism. According to Nenad Nesh Stankovic, Fischer’s personal assistant in Yugoslavia during his match with Spassky and author of The Greatest Secrets of Bobby Fischer, Fischer believed in some sort of cosmic higher  power, but was not a religious man and so is likely his questions were of an intellectual nature.
      Fischer's bizarre anti-Semitic rants were all the more weird because Fischer was Jewish by birth. Fischer started railing against the Jews as a young man and for whatever reason, he was filled with pure, unadulterated hatred for the Jews. What makes that odd is he was raised by a Jewish mother and was surrounded by Jews in Brooklyn as well as having played chess with many Jews. This makes it even odder that he would so readily agree to meet with Reshevsky.
      As far as I know, the only comment that Reshevsky ever made concerning his discussions with Fischer was, “He has his views. I have mine.” Reshevsky could be a booger at the chess board, but he had his priorities in life straight.


  1. There is a weird dichotomy between Fischer's hatred of "Jews" as an abstraction and the fact that throughout his life, most of his friends and acquaintances were Jewish. He seemed to keep the evil Zionists of his imagination is a separate part of his mind and his abstract anti-antisemitism never seemed to spill over into his real-life personal relationships. Very odd.

  2. What is not widely known about Fischer is, he was not a normal Jew, because he did not have done to him at eight days old, what is normally done to a Jewish male baby.

    If you ask me, a classical case of alienation.

    I would have imagined, that it would have happened to him as a kid in the locker room, not being a 'normal' Jewish male, or for that matter a normal American male.