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Tales of Two Fischers
We read and reviewed two recent books about Bobby Fischer.

(March 2005) No one will believe it's a coincidence. During the same week that Bobby Fischer was freed from a Japanese detention center, we were reviewing two recent books about Bobby.

  • Garry Kasparov on Fischer : My Great Predecessors, Part IV by Garry Kasparov

  • Bobby Fischer : The Wandering King by Hans Böhm and Kees Jongkind

The Kasparov book is the latest in his My Great Predecessors series. The Böhm and Jongkind book is a series of interviews with people, most of them chess players, who have met Fischer personally. See the link box at the bottom of this article for links to our reviews.

While we were reading the second book we noticed that many of the interviewees spoke of the 11th World Champion as though he were two people. The authors noticed the same and summed it up this way in their introduction: 'What is striking is that everyone, friend and foe alike, speaks with a mixture of both respect and horror'. Our conclusion: there are two different Fischers.

The Two Bobbys

The first Bobby is a chess genius who single-handedly overcame the Soviet chess machine by beating Boris Spassky in 1972. His chess games demonstrated a sublime talent (Kasparov quotes Fischer's mentor John Collins saying, 'He learned from God himself!') which has not been surpassed by any other player, although it has been equaled by Kasparov. As Kasparov said in the introduction to his book-length chapter on Fischer, 'It is not without reason that more has been written about Fischer than about any other player: the revolution he created is comparable with Steinitz's revolution! Over the course of the intervening one hundred years there had been no such second breakthrough in chess.'

Traces of the first Bobby were last seen during the 1992 match with his old rival Spassky. It was during that same match that the other Bobby made his unwelcome presence felt.

The second Bobby is a foul mouthed boor who spits on official documents, who revels in the deaths of his countrymen, who rails against an invisible worldwide Jewish conspiracy that has him in its sights, and who wishes summary execution on any publicly elected leader who crosses his path ('[My detention] was all cooked up by Bush and Koizumi. They are war criminals. They should be hung.').

While discussing this idea with a friend, we started using the terms Good Bobby and Bad Bobby. Our friend came up with the nicknames Bobby, for the good Fischer, and Booby, for the bad Fischer. It made us chuckle as we pictured cartoon character Robert James Fischer with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.

But our purpose here is not to subject Fischer to ridicule. Fischer's current situation is not a cartoon; it's real life. Real people, not cartoon characters, suffered and died in the Yugoslav civil conflict where he profited; real people suffered and died in the 9/11 tragedy that he celebrated. And Fischer's long detention in a Japanese lockup was far from a joke for the former World Champion.

As chess fans, we can't ignore the wonderful games that the Good Bobby left as his legacy. We can, however, and we will, ignore the stupid remarks of the other Bobby. They have nothing to do with chess.

Enjoy the two new books about Fischer. We expect that, as experts from many disciplines explore the two Bobbys, there will be more Fischer books in the near future.

 Related Resources (offsite)
• Kasparov on Fischer
• The Wandering King
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