Vale Bobby

Boy.gifThe most amazing chess player there ever was has just died. The idea of some link between madness and genius is probably a bit hackneyed, and in chess, I can’t think of any other geniuses who were that crazy mad, but we sure got a doozy in Bobby.  It’s surprising more chess champions aren’t wildly autistic which I presume Bobby was.

Anyway, Bobby’s most spectacular achievements for me were his candidates matches leading up to the world championship he won in 1972 from Boris Spassky.  Normally a chess match is a drawn out and psychologically grizzly process of mental attrition as the players strive to defend for the draw as black and squeeze out a win as white.  Bobby played Mark Taimanov, a concert pianist and I think one of the Russian leading lights.  I expect he would have been within the top ten in the world. Bobby beat him six-nil – three times with white, three times with black.  He was then pitched against Larson, the highest rated player outside Russia – probably somewhere between forth and fifth best in the world, a guy who had recently played at board 1 for ‘The World’ against Russia while Bobby played board 2.  Fischer beat him six-nil.  As far as I know these results were completely unprecedented. Neither player was ever quite the same again.
But already at that stage, Bobby had got into the habit of risking all to defend absurd and often paranoid notions of what circumstances he’d play in. He only got into the championship round on which he was embarked, which would take him to the World Championship because Pal Benko a U.S. player who was entitled to play given Bobby’s previous antics had stood aside for him.

Readers might recall that Bobby required the further injection of more prize money in Reykjavik to agree to play Spassky for the championship. From memory, some wealthy chess philanthropist sent the required million and the match continued.  Again I think the match wouldn’t have proceeded but for Spassky’s gentlemanly desire to play him and have the best man win, rather than stand on his dignity. Spassky was himself a brilliant player and may have been offput by Bobby’s nonsense.  Certainly Karpov, Spassky’s successor and the Russian chess machine he represented at the next title bout wasn’t going to put up with any of this and Bobby never played another recorded game at the highest level.

He went battier and battier, more and more anti-semitic.  He ended up a fugitive from the US and I think Japan after various minor infractions and got asylm from a grateful Iceland.  Now he is no more.

He was a remarkable man, a complete loony and ultimately a tragedy.

In many ways Fischer’s ultimate successor, Kasparov’s overall career was more impressive, though we’ll never know if Fischer could have been as good or better if he’d stuck to it.  If Fischer had played Kasparov when both were at their best, Kasparov might have been able to do him in – though that’s pure guesswork.  In my highly inexpert judgement, based on the games I’ve seen, Kasparov could play more complex positions – certainly seemed to like them, whilst Bobby played with a clean aggressive style that was very recognisable.

If you like chess at all, play the two games outlined here and here, the first of which was dubbed ‘the game of the century’ and played when Bobby was around 14!  Somehow he saved his best for the hapless fellow US Grandmaster Robert Byrne.  Both games are in the ‘black magic’ category where Bobby whips something up out of nothing you’d notice. I don’t think Kasparov would have seen those moves.  But who knows . . .

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16 years ago

He also gave Australian band Lazy Susan an excuse for some interesting lyrics:
no one ever says Reykjavik in a song”
So true.

16 years ago

Game of the century was gripping! I find chess too frustrating, however watching it in that way was highly entertaining. Thanks. Its a very cryptic mind that can play, win and enjoy chess.

The Doctor
The Doctor
16 years ago

I think one of the Russians, I’m not sure which one, said “Bobby plays very predictably, but is very difficult to combat”. I wouldn’t have called Fischer autistic, except perhaps at a low-level such as Asperger’s syndrome.

As for the most amazing player statement, there have been a few most notably the other US ‘world champion’ Paul Morphy. Certainly winning 19 games straight against super-grandmasters such Taimanov, Larsen and Petrosian is the amazing display of superiority since Capa’s unbeaten streak in the 20’s. Then he gave Spassky a two point start, and still won in less than the required 24 games!