Monday, August 21, 2006

Fischer King

I made a promise during my birthday to read at least one 200+ nonfiction book (with less than 20 illustrations) every week for one year.
"Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How the Soviets Lost the Most Extraordinary Chess Match of All Time" by David Edmonds and John Eidinow is the first chess book without a single annotated game. Nada P-K4 or P-Q4. But still a must-read for chess addicts because, I don't know, when I saw the picture of the young Fischer like King Henry VIII in a sea of red, I just had to buy it.
Edmonds and Eidinow, who collaborated on "Wittgenstein's Poker" showed the Cold War in the context of the Fischer-Spassky chess duel. It was the Soviet machine against a chess genius showing signs of already going loco. But 1972 was his annus mirabile, beating two Russian grandmasters on the way to the finals with a combined tally of 12-0. No one did that before. But then Fischer is the American who would make you root for the Russians because of his extremist views and weird habits while Spassky is the Russian gentleman you would hate to hate.
The match itself was almost a denouement because the authors took pains condescending to non-chess readers (idiots) that it was hard for me to cheer the match. Like watching the Yankees game behind a fence and a tour guide telling you the whole thing.
But the psychological battle was riveting as well as the political machinations. Too bad Fischer was not interviewed by the authors but Spassky, the German arbiter, the hapless Icelanders and the Icelandic bodyguard and buddy of Fischer had cameos.
"When you play Bobby, it is not a question of whether you win or lose. It is a question of whether you survive," Spassky said. All the other characters, even his mother, would be saying the same refrain.
Marcos and Baguio were also mentioned but no Torre. The authors would have known that Torre is still Fischer's second but our grandmaster refused to be acknowledged at the fear of the insane American's wrath.
The game was filled with blunders (it had became a psychological game when Fischer did not show up for the first two games) but when the two champions played flawless chess, they were gods. Here is the masterpiece:


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