Cartoon by Oliver Schopf

February 22, 2008, 7:59 pm
Bobby and You
by Dick Cavett

Thank you very much.

That’s probably the number one cliché in the world, but merci beaucoup is a touch affected and the great George Orwell’s rules for writing include not prettying up your stuff with foreign phrases.

Disclosure Dept.: If this seems hurried — if not just plain slapdash — that’s because it is. For maybe the fourth time in my life I set my digital alarm clock for evening instead of morning, and it is deadline day (another dumb practice) and time’s wing’d chariot is mercilessly snapping at my fanny. My editor is a stern taskmaster and fortuitously (in the preferred sense of accidentally) here at my elbow sits The Times’ own article about their laying off employees. If this should now include me, as the little song says, “it’s been good to know ya.”

Much of your reaction to the Bobby Fischer piece even produced a tear on my part — am I becoming a sob sister? — as I read your comments. So many “moved”s and “stunned speechless” and the various ways of saying, as one lady did, “Thank you, Mr. Cavett, for bringing the human Bobby Fischer back into my life.” There was even one “I wept.” (From a famous person who would prefer not to be identified, I’m sure.)

I take a measure of delight at the reaction expressed in various ways as, “Thank you for altering my nasty thoughts about Fischer formed by all the awful stuff about his later years. I had no idea there was a likable human being behind it all.”

Some readers wondered: Did he ever come back to America?

No, and not for a reason that is generally known, I find. He was — as the dramatic phrase hath it — a fugitive from American justice. By returning to his partially forgotten rematch with Spassky, he had defied the United States sanction against activity with Yugoslavia.

It was in the rematch that he made a blunder that, it was said, a 7-year-old — one other than Fischer, maybe — wouldn’t make. A blunder one reader says he can never forget because of “Fischer’s body language . . . at the moment.” As one chess expert described it, “Fischer, stunned, slowly arose and offered Spassky his hand. The chess world was agog.”

And, perhaps with his ego broken for a change, what must have been the impact on the psyche of a man whose entire life’s work must have appeared to him to have crumbled? A man about whom it had once been said (by grandmaster Lubomir Kavalek), “He was an avid reader, devouring any chess book or magazine that came into his hands. He studied other chess giants, picking up the best ideas and improving on them. His opening play was deadly.” The former world champion Tigran Petrosian remarked, after losing to him in 1971, “As soon as Fischer gains even a slightest advantage, he begins playing like a machine. You cannot even hope for some mistake.”

More than one colleague of Fischer’s has said that Bobby had one mortal fear in life: losing. And that this accounted for his notorious delaying antics.

Here is the full article.

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