I first encountered Bobby Fischer at the Manhattan Chess Club during the winter of 1956.
A 12-year-old among adults, he was dressed in a flannel shirt, jeans and sneakers — not the usual attire at an elite chess club. But Bobby would have attracted attention no matter how he was dressed.
Immediately noticeable was the intensity and enthusiasm as he shared a post-mortem of a game he had just completed. His excitement was contagious.
His chessboard discoveries of that moment, I now realize, were only the most recent to be added to a burgeoning flesh-and-blood chess database — eventually the largest to find a venue in a human brain.
The few spectators present could hardly have realized that, although only a child, Bobby Fischer was already gearing for battle with the world’s brightest grandmasters.
Curiously, his results during his first years of competition were no better than those of several other talented young players.
And then it happened: “I just got good,” he recalled.
Fischer vaulted onto the world chess scene by winning his first U.S. championship in 1958 as a 14-year-old and attaining the grandmaster title the next year at the unprecedented age of 15 — the latter breakthrough a record that lasted for 30 years.
Who could foresee what lay before him: triumph and tragedy on a scale difficult to comprehend.