I have just heard the news that Bobby Fischer has died. He died, aptly enough, aged 64: the number of the squares of his beloved game.
His chess achievements are monumental – his 11-0 sweep of the US Championships in 1963 stands out. Also his two back-to-back 6-0 wins over Taimanov and Larsen in 1971 on his way to the world championships and his mind-bending blitz win in 1970 in Herceg Novi. And then there’s the demolition of Boris Spassky in 1972 to clinch the world title, his endless US title wins (almost without defeat over many years in the US) and so on…In truth, Fischer was so far ahead of his contemporaries that he could have dominated chess for another 20 years. The tragedy was that he threw it all away, never playing a serious game after 1972, aside from the slightly pathetic re-match against Spassky in 1992.
He will be remembered for many things: being one of the greatest ever chess players; inventing Fischer-random chess; promoting the Fischer clock (now in regular use around the world); writing one of the greatest chess book ever; his erratic and angry personality.
Sadly, his legacy also includes his unforgiveable lapses into blatant anti-semitism (ironic given that his mother was Jewish) and his – frankly – bizaare 9-11 rants. That has to – must – taint any assessment of the man. Nothing can excuse those aspects of him.
I am sure that the tributes and assessments will pour out over the next few days and weeks. But I’ll try and remember the good Fischer, while acknowledging that he was, after all, only a fragile human being. Being a genius in one sphere doesn’t make one a saint: Fischer was the living proof of that.