Bobby Fischer: Genius and Madman
is currently on BBC iplayer
for those who can receive it.
This documentary includes contributions from contemporaries, chess players and non-players, and from all the usual suspects. Although she was not a player, he certainly inherited his genius from his mother, Regina, who among her many other talents was a polyglot. Although she did not go off the deep end the same way as did her son in later life, she too was an obsessive individual, something that is not discussed in any depth here.
Nor is Fischer's life before his historic challenge to Spassky discussed in any depth. Those of us who remember the 1972 match in Iceland, chess players and non-chess players alike, will remember too the contrast between the boorish Fischer and the impeccably mannered defending champion. Fischer's behaviour to all and sundry including Spassky, for whom he showed nothing but contempt, resulted in many Westerners actually rooting for the Russian, and this at the height of the Cold War.
Prior to their world title meeting, the two men had played 5 times, with Spassky winning 3 games and drawing 2. In 1960, Fischer had abandoned his regular Sicilian Defence for a king's pawn game, and lost to Spassky's King's Gambit. This obviously rankled him, and he came up with Fischer's Defence (see below). He called black's third, a high class waiting move.
[For an amusing aside on Fischer's Defence, the reader is referred to this classic
from a 1997 Minor Tournament played at Kensington].
The documentary covers the 1972 match in depth; this was the fatal turning point in Fischer's life.
After basking momentarily in the fame, and even playing out a cameo with Bob Hope, Fischer failed to defend his world title, and it went to Karpov by default - who proved to be a worthy champion before the crown passed to Kasparov.
Fischer became more involved with the Worldwide Church of God, which he had joined in the 1960s, and he became paranoid, fearing he could be spied on by the Russians, among others.
Shortly, he fell out of love with religion, and into the grip of extreme, ludicrous and at times virulently anti-Semitic propaganda, in spite of his own Jewish origins.
The obvious comparison is drawn between Fischer and Paul Morphy - the pride and sorrow of chess. In 1990, Fischer turned up in Passadena, and in 1992 he played a rematch with Spassky. He won it, and was branded a war criminal because the match took place in Yugoslavia.
Spassky was accused of no crime. Indicted by a Grand Jury, Fischer became a refugee.
His shabby treatment by the American Government can't have done his paranoia any good, and in the immediate wake of the September 11 atrocities, he went on radio in the Philippines and declared the attacks "wonderful news"..."what goes around, comes around". He ended up being arrested in Japan, and now he was in the endgame.
Bailed out, he was remarkably offered residency in Iceland, where he would spend the remainder of his days, although his continued outrageous pronoucements alienated the few friends he had.
In January 2008, Fischer's madness led to his premature death when he refused treatment for a treatable kidney condition.
When a much younger Amy Winehouse died
3 years later, she left not only her music but a human face to the world. Others have claimed to have found humanity in the enigma who was Robert James Fischer, but the nearest this documentary comes to showing any is in his last words: "Nothing is as healing as the human touch".