Victorious Bobby shrugs off congratulations on his latest U.S. title, then stands at
magnetized board to explain moves in a crucial game.
In all the world there is only one chess player--a Soviet Armenian named Tigran Petrosian,
the world champion--who might be expected to beat the young man shown here. But the young
man, Bobby Fischer, who eats, sleeps and breathes chess, doesn't think Petrosian could
win. Now that Fischer had just taken his sixth U.S. championship, most experts agree with
him. Though he is not quite 21, he has brought back master tournament honors from all over
the world to his native Brooklyn. In the process he has played Petrosian 10 games and won
only once. But these mettings were always tournaments which Fischer says the Russians
organize in such a way as to insure their own victory. "I'll never play in one of those
rigged tournaments again," he says. "They clobber us easy in team play. But man to man,
I'd take Petrosian on any time." In the first years of Bobby's boy-wondership such
statements gave him a well-deserved reputation for cockiness. To see what Bobby has become
in his young manhood, turn the page.
'I don't want to look like a bum'
Once in a while Bobby Fischer strolls into one of those Times Square amusement arcades and
stokes coins into a pinball machine. If you noticed him at all as he stands there, staring
at the lighted scoreboard, you'd probably write him off as just another lost young man,
and maybe not a very bright one.
You would be mistaken. Bobby hasn't the slightest flicker of doubt of who he is or what he
wants to do. In an age that idolizes well-roundedness he has a single aim: "All I want to
do, ever," he says, "is play chess." As for intelligence, he is bright enough to have won
the U.S. chess championship six times and is considered among the game's most spectacular
strategists of the century. Enthusiasts call him "the Mozart of chess." He has earned a
comfortable of modest living at it for six years--no sorry feat, considering that it is not
a game that would ever fill Yankee Stadium.
"Chess," affirms Bobby, "is a good game. It's better than some things people do, like
watching television or going to movies. It's fun. You're the boss of the whole thing. You
don't have to have a whole lot of arguements with other people. I guess I was just born
with a talent for chess. It takes a certain kind of intellect. It's a matter of
strategy. There's no room for luck, or outside influences like the weather. You can either
play it or you can't."
For all his amazing skill, Bobby's fans don't make much fuss over him. A few weeks back,
when he won his 11th and final round-robin game to take his newest championship with the
only perfect score in the U.S. chess since Grover Cleveland's administration, very
little hoopla ensued. "I didn't do nothing special to celebrate," he said. "Yeah, I guess
some people came up to shake hands and all, but there weren't any parties or anything like
That was all right with Bobby, who never cared much for camaraderie. There was a time when
he antagonized just about everybody with his antisocial remarks. "High school," he announced
after he became the country's most celebrated dropout, "is for dumb bunnies. The teachers
are all nitwits. Why do I need a diploma to play chess? I don't know what my I.Q. is, but I
guess I'm brighter than most people. I read somewhere that the people who give I.Q. tests
are too stupid to even be substitute teachers."
Lately, though, Bobby has mellowed some. He is much more tolerant of people who don't know
a queen's pawn from a royal hock shop. He holds doors for girls, phones you back if you
leave a message for him, grins and carries around with him, of all things, a boxed,
gold-edge revised edition of the Bible. "No, it doesn't help you with chess," he admits,
"but it makes you a better person."
One couldn't, however, accuse Bobby of going soft. "I'd say a really gentle person couldn't
be a good chess player," he says. "You have to have the fighting spirit--no holds barred.
You have to force moves and take chances."
In Bobby's opinion, chess is the hardest game in the world, excepting maybe the Japanese
brain twister, Go. "It's much harder than bridge," he says. "Chess players who take up
bridge are very good at it but not vice versa. You need to be able to look far ahead and
you need a good memory. I can remember every big match I've ever played.
He has played some big ones--in Russia, Curacao, South America, Yugoslovia and nearly
everywhere except the Orient. He would love to play there too--and just not for chess
"I'd love to see what the services are like there," he says. "You know, like rickshas. And
I'd like to have a suit made in Hong Kong. I hate ready-made suits and button-down collars
and sports shirts. I don't want to look like a bum. I get up in the morning, I put on a
Bobby lives alone in the Brooklyn apartment he used to share with his mother and sister.
His sister, who is now the wife of a physicist in California, taught him chess when he
tired of parcheesi and other children's games. His mother, of whom he credits with "a sort
of antitalent for chess," now lives in England. She and his father separated when Bobby was
"Women are lousy at chess," says Bobby. "They're meant to stay home. I bet I could take any
man of average intelligence, a rank beginner, give him around two months of lessons, and
have him at the end of that time beat any woman's world champion. Any man."
Except for such things as his bouts with pinball machines, and an occasional visit to the
circus ("I like the freaks and acrobats best"), Bobby's days are devoted unswervingly to
chess. "I go grab something to eat at the Automat. I pick up the Times, see if it's
got anything on chess, then read The News. But mostly I read chess magazines. I get
around 10 a month. You have to keep up. I've learned enough Russian and some of those
languages to make out their chess magazines. Chess is much more popular other places than
here. The Latvian chess magazine has a circulation of 30,000 a month; ours is only 9,000."
Sometimes Bobby goes to to foreign bookstores in search of old and old chess literature.
Some times he drops by at one of New York's several chess clubs. He is only a little
curious about the feast of wonders that is New York. He has been to racetracks, but not to
place any bets ("Those guys that bet are mostly bums"). Even the pinball machines, to
Bobby's way of thinking, prove something about his first and only love: "Those machines are
amusing and relaxing," he says. "You can test your skill. But it's hard to get good at
them. Sometimes the mechanism breaks down and it gets out of control. Chess isn't like
that. Chess depends on you."
Always in his mind are the 64 squares of a chessboard, with its pieces arranged in one of
millions of possible combinations. Always he is thinking of his next match.
"It's not exactly easy, keeping up the championship," he says. "It'll keep me busy all the
rest of my life."