Mr. Fischer, demon of the chess world.
In the history of championship chess there had never been such an awesome
display of power. Seven weeks ago, America's Bobby Fischer defeated a Russian
grandmaster named Mark Taimanov by the unheard-of score of 6-0. Last week, in the
second of three elimination matches leading to an eventual showdown with World
Champion Boris Spassky, Fischer led Bent Larsen of Denmark 4-0. In ten consecutive
matches with two of the dozen best players in the world, he had won every game, not
only without a loss but without even a draw. At the grandmaster level, this is equivalent
to pitching a series of no-hitters.
Ever since he became U.S. champion at 14, chess experts have predicted that this
terrible-tempered prodigy would someday take the world title. The temper is under
control now, and the title seems to be within reach. "Fischer at 28 is the strongest player
in the world," says Larry Evans, a former U.S. champion. "In fact, the strongest player
who ever lived."
Just before Fischer flew to Denver to play Larsen, we spent five hours together in
mid-Manhattan. I'd been led to expect a frail, bespectacled spook. Instead I found a blond
giant with an oarsman's shoulders, a big easy smile and eyes so open that a bird could fly
in one and out the other.
"C'mon! Got things to do!" Fischer blurted when we met. Then he went striding
across town as though city blocks were chess squares. After 50 yards I broke into a muck
sweat, but Fischer went barreling on.
"Know anything about chess?" he shot over his shoulder.
"A little," I said.
"Like you should try to dominate the center of the board."
He yelped with delight. "That's like saying you should try to hit the ball with the
Was he looking forward to Denver? A grunt. "Been traveling for a year, match to
match. I need a personal life. I'm not as narrow as people think, you know. But right now
all I think of is the championship. Chess is my whole life."
Did he expect to beat Larsen? "He's good. But I think I'm the best around. I don't
say that to brag. I think it's true, I love the game-and I hate the Russians because
they've almost ruined it. They only risk the title when they have to, every three years.
They play for draws with each other but play to win against the Western masters. Draws
make for dull chess, wins make for fighting chess.
"Hey!" he said, looking surprised. "It's after 5. I haven't eaten yet today. How
about a steak?" When the steak came, a think sirloin, he ripped into it."Good!" he
mumbled through a big bite. "Good!" He ate as he did everything else, with a kind of
"He is terrifically keen," Larry Evans had told me. "His chess is clean, clear,
classical, but at the same time aggressive and dynamic. He hates defensive positions. He
prefers a weakness in his own position as long as it holds a possiblility of attack. And
don't ever make a mistake. With any grandmaster you can hope to recover, but with
Bobby, you're dead!"
I knew it was silly, but I had to ask him: "Bobby, would you mind-uh-playing
a game of chess with me?" He grinned and pulled out a wallet that was really a soft
leather chessboard slashed with slits that held tiny sheet-metal chessmen.
I took white and advanced the king's pawn two squares. He advanced his queen's
bishop's pawn two squares. I played slowly, thoughtfully. Fischer took about one second
to make each move. I found this somewhat demoralizing. After five moves I asked him
diffidently for the name of the attack I was developing. "Well, actually," he said, "it's a
sort of a kind of a closed Sicilian defense. I guess."
On his twelfth move, Fischer took one of my pawns. Swelling with power, I took
one of his pawns. But a few moves later I found myself a rook and a pawn behind. "Give
up?" he asked. "Not until I'm mated," I said grimly. I didn't have to wait long.
Fischer softened the blow by autographing the record he had kept of the game.
It's a great thing to produce during conversational lulls. "Amazed myself by holding on
for 28 moves," I said modestly. "You know he once beat Grandmaster Yefim Geller in
by Brad Darrach
LIFE - July 23, 1971