Fischer's dominance of scholastic chess
Courtesy of www.academicchess.com
Bobby Fischer established his absolute dominance of scholastic
chess in 1957 in the US Junior Championship in San Francisco.
As told to our founder Eric Hicks, by local chess master
and long time San Francisco resident, Roy Hoppe.
Fischer began playing tournament chess in
1956. When he won the US Junior Championship in 1956 in Philadelphia, he did it as
an unknown. It was the only major tournament he played in that year and it was
considered in the scholastic community to be sort of a fluke. He was 13 years old.
He was much lower rated then the rest of the contenders, a big psychological
advantage because no one knew who he was or how well he could play. Plus the top
rated junior of the day, Gil Ramirez did not play in the tournament. For winning
first place in the US Junior of that year, Fischer won a portable electric
typewriter. Reportedly he was not pleased with this prize.
In 1957 the Junior Championship happened
in San Francisco in the Spreckles-Russel Dairy on 14th and Mission, just two blocks
from the current Academic Chess headquarters. The morning before the tournament was
scheduled to start the dairy hosted a milk and ice cream party for the young
players. Bobby was nowhere to be seen. Young Bobby became the talk of the crowd. He
was a type of mysterious character, who then would appear and disappear off of the
scene. No one had seen him since his dramatic unexpected win of the 1956 tournament.
According to Roy, the consensus on the scene was that no one expected Fischer to win
the 1957 championship. Gil Ramirez was the overwhelming favorite.
When the first round started, Fischer was
still not present. The young players were kind of whispering to each other on how
the defending champion did not even show up to defend his crown. 10 minutes after
the clocks had started, Fischer burst into the room, with a dramatic entrance that
few in the room will ever forget. Fischer stormed in, and walked with extreme
confidence and arrogance as if he was on a grand mission. Kids who were standing
near the door when he walked in clamored over to greet him. Fischer ignored them
determinedly walking straight to the tournament Director's table. Bobby was wearing
patched and holed Levis, two different colors of Converse tennis shoes, and a
flannel shirt. His head was shaved, by all accounts an intimidating presence.
George Koltanowski, world blindfold
champion, and legendary California chess organizer was the tournament director for
this event. He was stunned to see young Bobby storm across the room. Everyone in the
quite tournament hall heard Bobby ask, "What's first prize?!" Koltanowski
walked Bobby to the prize table and showed him an electric typewriter, identical to
the one he one the year before. Bobby stomped his feet and raised his voice and
screeched, "I do not want another typewriter!" to the dismay of everyone.
Ivan Vegvary, a player in the tournament
who was standing nearby kind of snickered and said, "Don't worry about it
because your not going to win it."
Ivan would be remembered for this
Fischer glared at Ivan and said, "You
don't know me."
Roy remembers himself and others taken
back by this brash entrance.
In swiss tournaments, the highest rated
players play against the lowest rated players in the early rounds. Everyone was
anticipating Gil Ramirez, the highest rated junior at the time, and Bobby Fischer to
meet in one of the last rounds. Both Bobby and Gil finished their rounds early.
Outside of the tournament hall, Gil was
playing speed chess with some other kids. Bobby walked up, observed for a moment and
then walked away.
After winning his second round game,
Bobby walked out again, and the strongest players in the tournament including Gil
were playing speed chess again. Gil offered this time for Bobby to sit down and
play. Bobby shook his head again and walked away. "Too weak" he said to a
It was not until after the 4th round,
that Fischer accepted the invitation of Gil to play speed chess. Both he and Gil had
won all four of their games and everyone was anticipating the moment when Gil and
Bobby would meet in the tournament. But now the two would spar off in a speed chess
dual. A large crowd gathered around as they set up the pieces and set the clock. One
of the strongest Grand Masters of the time, Najdorf, pushed his way through the
crowd to see the two young players face off.
What happened next was an astonishing
display of Fischer's chess genius. Bobby not only beat Gil, he beat Gil again and
again decisively. Roy estimates they played 25-30 games, and Fischer did not lose or
draw a single game. Fischer, who today is widely recognized as the best speed chess
player of all time, played instantly. Roy does not remember Fischer using even a
minute on any of his games. (Each player has 5 minutes) Gil had around a 2200 rating
at the time, which was higher than Fischer's rating. Roy thinks that without a
doubt, Fischer was already playing at Grand Master strength, even if his rating did
not reflect it.
Everyone watching the speed chess match
was stunned, and no one had a doubt after that who was going to win the tournament.
Grand Master Najdorf commented, "Its like angels are moving his hand!" a
comment Roy would never forget.
Roy, who was 13 at the time, told me that
this event forever changed him. All at once, in the midst of a great young chess
genius, Roy realized his own limitations in chess. Roy would play Bobby in Davis
California in a beautiful win for Fischer that would later be published. Fischer
bought Roy a drink in New York after Roy achieved his chess master's rating.
As for Bobby and Gil? Bobby of course won
the 1957 Junior Championship in San Francisco with a final score of 8.5 out of 9. He
won a second typewriter that he would create the manuscript "My 60 Memorable
Games" on. For all the young players at the tournament, they already knew who
was going to win after that memorable speed chess challenge. Gil then offered Bobby
a ride to Cleveland to play in the US Open Championship. Bobby and Gil shared a room
but were not the best of buddies. Bobby won the US Open Championship (an adult
tournament) with a black eye, that by all accounts he got from a punch from Gil.
Fischer became the youngest chess world
champion of all time.
Roy and Gil never achieved chess fame,
stopped playing competitive chess, and now belong to the same bridge club in Marin.