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Kasparov on Fischer in Time

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[Back home in NY finally. I'll need a few days to catch up on sleep, email, and various frustrated correspondents and subscribers. If you are one such, I apologize in advance! Saw some old and new friends in Amsterdam after Corus finished. Had a nice evening out with Irina Krush and David Pruess. They are now on to Moscow where they are playing in separate events. More on that soon, with some of my Corus pics and anecdotes.]

This is actually about half of the article we wrote on Fischer for Time Magazine. After telling Garry there was "no limit" to the length, they took 1300 words and chopped it to 750. Not the first time we've seen this sort of thing of course, but probably the worst case. Especially after specifically telling us not to worry about word count. Sigh. The good news is that 1) it's still pretty good I think and 2) we are going to rescue many of the lost 600 words, expand them, add some chess (Fischer's top theoretical contributions, favorite Fischer game), and give it to New In Chess! This is more logical in a way, since most of what was cut was the chessier bits. A few sentences from the time piece you already saw here in Garry's initial statement reacting to the news. Some bits from the Time article.

It was Fischer's attitude on and off the board that infused his play with unrivaled power. Before Fischer, no one was ready to fight to the death in every game. No one was willing to work around the clock to push chess to a new level. But Fischer was, and he became the detonator of an avalanche of new chess ideas, a revolutionary whose revolution is still in progress.

At Fischer's peak, even his adversaries had to admire his game. At the hallowed Moscow Central Chess Club, top Soviet players gathered to analyze Fischer's crushing 1971 match defeat of one of their colleagues, Mark Taimanov. Someone suggested that Taimanov could have gained the upper hand with a queen move, to which David Bronstein, a world-championship challenger in 1951, replied, "Ah, but we don't know what Fischer would have done!"

There was much in the original about how much Fischer did for chess as a sport. I'll ask Dirk Jan if he wouldn't mind my reprinting some of the eventual NIC piece here later. [He says no way, Jose, so if you aren't a subscriber you'd better track down a place that sells New In Chess asap!] The Time piece didn't come out badly, but it's frustrating for me because I see what isn't there instead of what is. Double sigh.

By World War II, the once strong U.S. chess tradition had largely faded. There was little chess culture, few schools to nurture and train young talent. So for an American player to reach world-championship level in the 1950s required an obsessive degree of personal dedication. Fischer's triumph over the Soviet chess machine, culminating in his 1972 victory over Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland, demanded even more.

Fischer declined to defend his title in 1975, and by forfeit, it passed back into the embrace of the Soviets, in the person of Anatoly Karpov. According to all accounts, Fischer had descended into isolation and anger after winning that final match game against Spassky. Fischer didn't play again until a brief and disturbing reappearance in 1992, after which his genius never again touched a piece in public. Having conquered the chess Olympus, he was unable to find a new target for his power and passion.

I am often asked if I ever met or played Bobby Fischer. The answer is no, I never had that opportunity. But even though he saw me as a member of the evil chess establishment that he felt had robbed and cheated him, I am sorry I never had a chance to thank him personally for what he did for our sport.


Fischer: 1970-1972, The "single" greatest accomplishment in chess history.

Considering how closely contest chess usually is, I think its the greatest period of domination in all sports history.

Pruess, no ?

Fischer was the first chess player I admired. I learned the KID and Ruy with his games. Good-bye Fischer.

It's a good article, but if it was indeed written by you and Garry, why doesn't it say so?

Mig, nice piece. Btw, have you ever met Bobby?

But even though he saw me as a member of the evil chess establishment that he felt had robbed and cheated him, ****I am sorry I never had a chance to thank him personally for what he did for our sport.****

Very funny. Inquiring minds want to know: Why has Kasparov never made a single overture to Robert J. Fischer?

The Guardian's weekly round-up of sporting clips contains this item:

5) The late Bobby Fischer's world championship match against Boris Spassky was the stuff chess legend is made of. Relive it in this four-part documentary:
here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=9gO5Cro1qUE
here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=7c-zY60u52E
here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=DYLqeomdGHo
here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=ZFlBf5uYDdY

Did Irina Krush earned her second GM norm in
Corus C group ,or she didn't?

Great links, Theorist. Spassky's remarks are particularly fascinating:

Spassky: "I knew that a time would come when I would have to pay for it all. I would be called to account. And that's what happened. And ultimately, I had to leave my country.

I am Russian. It's my land. And, nevertheless, I had to abandon my own land. Incidentally, Bobby Fischer, an American, also had to abandon his country. And now we are both living as emigrés. So you see what strange things can sometimes happen in life. As the French say, 'C'est la vie.'"

Yes, I met Fischer over several days in 1996, when he came to Argentina to launch Fischerandom Chess. I was at a few dinners where he was present and translated press releases, helped with interpreting, and translated the Fischerandom rules into Spanish. Nothing particularly insightful to add from those few days. I suppose it composes another tiny piece of the "Fischer's downfall mosaic" but that's about it. Mostly lucid with sharp turns into angry conspiratorial ranting, if you want it weather-report style.

No, no GM norm for Irina. She needed 9 points for a GM norm in the C Group because there were so many low-rated players. Irina added rating points with her +1 7/13 score though. Another good result in Moscow and she'll be approaching 2500.

I'm not sure what overtures Kasparov was supposed to make to Fischer considering the latter's constant stream of invective and accusation regarding him. The sadness is from the impossibility of such a meeting. The original article had more on the topic stemming from Garry's work on the Fischer volume of the Great Predecessors books, and how he wished he could have delivered a copy to him and thank him for his contributions.

'ghostwriter', my writing relationship -- speeches, editorials, press releases, and the book -- with Garry has been the same for many years and it's not easy to explain. We talk and I make extensive notes, then I write, he reads, we talk more, I edit, he reads and we revise. Over and over. It's labor intensive and while the words are mostly mine, the articles are most definitely his. His English is excellent and he often suggests phrases and changes in language while at the same time my own ideas often make it in with his approval. But since my entire goal is to present Garry's thoughts as clearly as possible and not to present my own thoughts, only his name should be on these these things. (For books there is a tradition of "with" a writing collaborator and so we followed that and I'm happy to have my name there since it was such a massive time investment.)

Most English-second language thinkers require such collaboration, as do many English native speakers. Some publications provide these services to contributors while others have their own people. Sometimes it's just a matter of wanting someone who can put your ideas down in a more orderly, or more elegant, fashion. Since I produce the original texts, it's not really editing. And what we do isn't the common understanding of "ghost writing" by a long shot either. So I usually go with "collaborator" despite its unfortunate ancillary definition. Speech-writer would also work, just extended to the occasional editorial. Regardless of the name, I generally wouldn't want my name over someone else's ideas anyway. If I ever needed to demo my writing portfolio (the main reason many are byline obsessed) it wouldn't be a problem.

Is "amanuensis" the right word, maybe?...

Actually, just a matter of interest, I remember that when David Bronstein died recently, Mig promised a separate little thread in tribute. Did that ever happen? While Fischer's passing should be mourned for its own obvious reasons, I think Bronstein's death leaves the world a poorer place too.

What's sad for the chess world is that Time had to go to Kasparov for comments on Fischer. Being retired he's still the biggest name in chess by far, with Kramnik and Anand non-entities as far as the press is concerned. Kramnik was/is "world champion" for 7 years yet I haven't seen a single comment from him about Fischer in the mainstream press, though presumably he is the current holder of the title that Fischer held. A sad commentary on our game today.

Didn't happen, Theorist. But I won't hold it against him. Mig is a busy man.

John, Kramnik isn't the current holder of Fischer's old title, Anand is, but point well taken. I would clarify it to this extent though: Kramnik and Anand are non-entities as far as the US press goes. They seem to be pretty big deals in their own countries, although perhaps someone can correct that impression if it's wrong.

Mig: "So I usually go with 'collaborator' despite its unfortunate ancillary definition."

That's right Mig - when the Revolution comes you'll be first up against the wall!

"Spassky's remarks are particularly fascinating:

'Spassky: "'I knew that a time would come when I would have to pay for it all. I would be called to account. And that's what happened. And ultimately, I had to leave my country.

I am Russian. It's my land. And, nevertheless, I had to abandon my own land. Incidentally, Bobby Fischer, an American, also had to abandon his country. And now we are both living as emigrés. So you see what strange things can sometimes happen in life. As the French say, 'C'est la vie.'""

Fascinating, especially given two facts: 1) Spassky wasn't under criminal indictment, 2)and Spassky continued to play for the Soviet Union in various Olympiads.

Ed Yetman, III

Off topic, but it's possible Irina might have gotten a 9 round norm for her final 9 rounds? I didn't do the math, obviously, though.

Just read the Times article from the Chessbase link. It reads like an introduction that ran into an abrup t full stop. Seriously, no justice to Kasparov's name at all. Worse, if they did encounter a space crunch, they would've done better to cull meatier paragraphs (that doubtless existed in the full draft) than the published inantities that most anyone could've spouted - barring beating the rating barrier that 4 people crossed hence (yay Ivanchuk). Disappointing how a big time publisher wasted premium print-estate so carelessly. Please do post the uncut version here.

There is invective _now_, Mig, but was there really invective in 1984 or 1985? Was there invective in 1992?

Why not detail Fischer's "accusations" during those years? I suspect they stem from Kasparov mysterious (and miraculous) recovery down 5-0 in the the 84 match that make a Topalov "comeback" appear plausible. Consider how the Soviets fixed several tournaments back in his day. Why would Fischer not believe or, more precisely, *think* that the World Championship in 1984 was awry?

There is no question that Kasparov was and is a great chess player, probably the best of all time. But one day he will have to answer what happened during that 1984 match. "Thanking" Fischer while simultaneously disregarding all his accusations is the height of hypocrisy and fairly lame.

Thanks for the detailed reply; I understand it better now. Still, one might get the impression that Kasparov is not only a good thinker, but also a good writer. And this impression would be wrong. IMHO writing is not only about conveying thoughts, but also about style and a 'personal' extra touch. Do we admire Truman Capote for what he wrote, or for how he wrote it? It's a tough question I guess.

Mig- I think you have missed a piece of information regarding Kasparov's overtures to Fischer. In one of his 1992 press conferences (maybe the first-it's in Seirawan's book "No Regrets" which I don't have to hand) in Sveti Stefan, Fischer said Kasparov had written him a letter when he lived in Pasadena-presumably vis his PO Box there- and signed it "Your co-champion". Fischer's response in Sveti Stefan (maybe a little prophetic given recent events involving Kasparov)-"This man is not my co-champion- he is a criminal and he should be in jail"

"Thanking" Fischer while simultaneously disregarding all his accusations is the height of hypocrisy and fairly lame.
Posted by: Chess Auditor at February 1, 2008 05:27

His chess talent aside, Fischer made many spurious allegations in his time and it's unfair to expect the objects of these stupid allegations to expend great energy answering them. Or maybe Kasparov should answer the charges of Jewish conspiracies, rays beamed through his dental fiilings etc. We must not let our admiration of Fischer's chess skills turn us into slobbering adulators who uncritically accept anything the 'god' said no matter how ludicrous. Mr Kasparov is not under any trial for the 1984 match.

Fisher ingenuity should not be taken as everything in chess. In as much i have respects for him, he has made some careless comment on other chess genius and this is not healthy enough for the game.
However, King Kasparov has done a lot to the game than Fisher himself. Even after his retirement, he is contributing to the game and never discourage or condemned others coming after him.
People should emulate Kasparov and appreciate him.

abdul I.O
from Nigeria

In regard to Chess Auditor's last comment, the tinfoil-hat "accusation" (the one the he unaccountably seems to think merited some kind of response from Kasparov) regarding the first K-K match, was far from the only invective that Fischer leveled against the two K's, both as individuals and as a pair - and not just in 2005 or 2006, but in 1992, and even through the 1980s.

One memorable quote of his I recall went something like, "These two dogs never played an honest game of chess in their whole lives." Fischer elaborated by claiming that not just the 1984 match, but every match - indeed, every game, even every MOVE - that K & K played in each one of their championship matches, was fixed - choreographed in advance.

Stick that in your tinfoil hat, Chess Auditor.

Indeed, Jon Jacobs. Some allegations are so wild and spurious that ignoring them is the only dignified response. It matters not whether they are made by a genius or a fool.

Well said, Mr. Berger. The desire to makes myths is deeply human. We should not allow our admiration for Fischer's chess playing spill over into mythologizing his every word or action.

Ed Yetman, III

Very gracious words about Bobby from Gary. And while I am at it, I think the chess world owes Gary a debt of gratitude for bringing back to chess some of what Bobby took with him when he went off into his sad self-imposed exile.
That's why the press quotes Gary instead of his successors. They know a legend when they see one.

Jon Jacobs, Hardy Berger and Ed Yetman, III all make valid points.

However objective and self-critical Fischer may have been over the chess board, he failed to carry this over into life.

He grew up in the cold war to imbibe McCarthyite anti-communism, was infected with neo-nazi rhetoric as a teenager and never recovered.

His dysfunctional family was unable to ensure he had any education past a couple of years at high school. Tho very clever in some ways, he was quite stupid in others hence was easy prey to religious cults who cleaned him out of any money he had as is the want of such cults.

If he could not get what he wanted there was always a conspiracy to blame ala McCarthy and the neo-nazis. His own inadequacies and lack of an education ensured the world would always be hard, if not impossible, to understand.

I think it was Bill Lombardy, who hung out with RJF as a youth and later became a Catholic priest, who said Fischer was already as a teenager a habitue of neo-nazi bookshops and believed a lot of the crap therein, beliefs he clung to. Interestingly, some reports from Iceland say he was buried as a Catholic with a Catholic service....if true maybe that was Fischer's belated "sorry" ?

Interestingly, some reports from Iceland say he was buried as a Catholic with a Catholic service....if true maybe that was Fischer's belated "sorry" ?
Posted by: dysgraphia at February 1, 2008 19:47

Professing catholicism didn't stop a certain young man, now Pope, from being a member of the Hitler Youth. And the then Pope signed a concordat with a certain B. Mussolini!. Neo-Nazi doctrine can sit comfortably even with ultra-orthodox religious dogma and practice.

What's the best source on Forry Laucks & the Log Cabin Chess Club? My understanding is that this connection was crucial to the development of RJF's antisemitism.

Brenan, Gary is indeed a legend, but the press quotes him coz he's about the only chess player known to non-chessplayers. Thats not only because of his status as a player, but because he gets himself out there. Like someone said, no-one looked for quotes from Kramnik and Anand!! We need some serious media professionals out there working for chess, folks, if we ever want to see chess in the place we think it "deserves".

"It was Fischer's attitude on and off the board that infused his play with unrivaled power. Before Fischer, no one was ready to fight to the death in every game."

Not quite true. Alekhine was every bit as determined as Fischer.

"No one was willing to work around the clock to push chess to a new level. "

Perhaps Botvinnik never existed? It is well known that it was his very dedication and hard-work methodology that created the dominant Soviet School of Chess.

Ultimately, Fischer was one of the greatest chessplayers ever. For all other things, he was a useless, utterly stupid, paranoid human being. His rants against Jews were truly despicable (and no, I'm not Jewish - I'm Hispanic, but such behavior should never be tolerated).

Kasparov wrote in the Times : "it took me four full years to surpass Fischer's rating record."

This is a good try of showing off. Should any1 remember him 1) the way of calculating Elo has been changed significately since Fischer's era and 2) Fischer actually lost a few rating points when he became WCC. So much for the record.

To be fair, though, Fischer's rating pre- and post- WCC wasn't that different, and Kasparov doesn't mention which one he surpassed, so it isn't fair to blame him for misrepresenting things here. And Kasparov has surpassed both by a fairly big margin.

Hello Russian bear

I have read differently actually. The controversy began when Kasparov "burnt" the 2800 rating wall, claiming he was the first one to do so. And indeed he was, but some voices said then Fischer would have gone over 2800 in the 1971-72 years with the "new" system.
I have suggested to to do the calculation at this time, applying new rules to old games. But nobody has done it yet.
So you will have to prove your words "fairly big margin". And let me remind you that the Jeff Sonas inquiry has established that Fischer was the WCC who created the biggest gap between him and his followers.
All the best

Wait a second. You say there is supposedly a difference in rating systems and that somehow this difference has helped Kasparov surpass Fischer. But then you say I will have to prove something? Sorry, but it seems the burden of proof is on you. The numbers are there and available, and I don't see how I owe you a proof. If you think there was a different methodology behind calculating ratings, state what it is and calculate the ratings and show how your theory is correct. Otherwise I see no reason to change my opinion just because you heard something happened to the rating system and you heard that something may have helped Kasparov break Fischer's rating record. You can't expect me to prove your point for you.

As for Jeff Sonas, I am not very convinced by his rating calculations when the rating are compared between people of different eras. Besides, we weren't talking about who created the biggest gap between himself and other top players. We were talking about how Kasparov's rating surpassed that of Fischer, not whether he created a bigger gap than Fischer.

It's OK with me.
1) I tought it was common knowledge that Fischer actually lost points when beating Spasski in 1972. So this fact (if its real for you) should be enough to make Kasparov wondering about adding something when bragging about surpassing Fischer. Because the way it is written it is already unsatisfactory.
2) If you are not OK with Sonas, the conversation is over I guess because I thought he was kind of authority among chess players.
3) If Fischer created the biggest gap with the following partners, it suggests he must have had the biggest margin. Doesn't it sound logical ? I am not a statistician.
4) In conclusion, I just don't like cheap braggers giving at least half wrong judgments. The way Kasparov wrote his sentence makes anyone think (in a big newspaper where people dont know much about chess) that he actually surpassed Fischer in the very system that was in use in Fischer's time. This is BS, not to say a lie to which, unfortunately, Fischer cannot answer anymore. He did not care, I guess, btw.


"Kasparov was rated number one for nearly 20 years, an incredible feat in any sport. Most champions have a period when they are virtually invincible and Fischer's reign was brief, almost meteoric. He burned out when he reached his peak, whereas Kasparov kept improving. I think all we can say with certainty is that the gap between Fischer and his rivals in 1972 was greater than the gap that exists now between the world champion and his rivals." -- GM Larry Evans in THE BOBBY FISCHER THAT WE LOVED (Britain's CHESS, December 2007)

Michko, Saint Maur, France,

1) I fail to see how Fischer losing points when beating Spassky is relevant when discussing Kasparov's claim of surpassing Fischer's rating. What difference does it make if Fischer lost points in the Spassky match if Kasparov was considerably higher than either of those Fischer's ratings? You are making it sound like the fact that Fischer lost points in the Spassky match somehow refutes something. It doesn't.

2) I don't see how Sonas is relevant to this discussion. We might as well consider FIDE ratings, since that is what the Kasparov's claim was all about. But I don't imagine the difference is that great between the FIDE and Sonas systems as far as rating gap between people of the same eras are concerned. Besides, appeal to authority is a logical fallacy. But even if I did accept Sonas as gospel truth, it still wouldn't matter, because Sonas is irrelevant to the claim that Kasparov's FIDE rating has surpassed Fischer's.

3) If Fischer created a greater gap, it would still be irrelevant to the fact that Kasparov surpassed his rating. Note that Kasparov said he surpassed Fischer's rating, not that he created a bigger gap with #2.

4) Kasparov did surpass Fischer in the same very system that was in use in Fischer's time. We are talking FIDE ratings in both cases. At least, you have failed to mention a single difference.

And there is no need to make it sound like Fischer was above the petty criticisms. Fischer has made his life into a life of criticisms and accusations. He accused Kasparov and Karpov, among others of fixing every single game they ever played, remember? Compared to Fischer, even a guy like Kasparov sounds humble and reasonable.

Guys, there is a fantastic blog entry about Fischer from Dick Cavett (link from Chessbase) with priceless archival footage from a 1971 interview. Does anybody know whether the rest of the interview is available please?

I recall watching that interview when it first aired. I was sitting in a bar in Portland, Ore., I think. I remember Fischer showed some famous game (Morphy vs. The Duke and The Count?) where White sacked his queen on d8, I think, leading to a forced mate in 1 or 2 more moves. When Bobby showed the key move, Qd8+ (or Qb8+), Dick Cavett exclaimed, "It can go that far in one move?"

(The moral: Even at the height of a public chess boom, don't expect American public figures to know how the pieces move. And Cavett was among the most intellectually-oriented public figures around at that time; more or less on a par with Letterman in the '80s-90s...or maybe even Charlie Rose.)

I remember RJF on one of those late-night shows demonstrating his expertise at shifting those fifteen little squares into the right order on that pre-computer-age hand-held puzzle.

Too bad RJF didn't stay sane long enough to take on the Rubik's Cube in the 80s. If he'd been gifted at that (a fair bet), he might have regained cult status all over again without ever picking up another chess piece.

A great article on Bobby in Times online. Link from Chessbase.

when i was 10 i just knew how to move pieces and nothing more about chess e.g about chess strategy sacrifices and so on but when i accidently watched some games of this genius man i started loving chess he devoted all his life to chess but in his personal life he was unsuccesful on the contrary to his sport life i think unfortunately he just payed attention to dark squares of chessboard and and ignored white squares this is why his life was ful of pessimism and darkness

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