I grew up with chess although not a serious player. My brother ‘taught’ me chess, although in his eagerness to win, he had his own set of rules. And his rules were not anything that people would recognise but rather something closer to the weird world of quantum physics where the rules changed when they were observed. For instance, the rook would at certain points in the game attain new and special powers that usually overwhelmed me. I only learned later that my brother’s arcane rules of chess were specific to him. But the damage had been done, and I grew up with a chess inferiority complex.
Many of my friends played chess, which isn’t surprising considering that I went to a high school for ‘gifted students’. I’m sure that you can attribute some of this to a chess frenzy in the US after Bobby Fischer won the world championship in 1972, the year I was born.
I read his obituaries with an odd curiosity, and I was struck by the beauty of the language of chess grandmasters about the game and about Bobby Fischer’s creative genius in a New York Times article about his life.
Chess writer and teacher Bruce Pandolfini said:
“After 1972, we lost so many great pieces of art,” said Mr. Pandolfini, the chess teacher, “hundreds of masterpieces he would have created if he had stayed a sane being. We feel the great loss. All chess players do.”
And in recounting a masterful 1964 tournament, there is sublime quote by Robert Bryne:
“It was one of his brilliant counterattacks,” recalled Mr. Byrne, who would go on to become the chess columnist for The New York Times. “He was playing Black, and he made a deep sacrifice, so deep that I did not understand it. It was a very profound combination, very beautiful.”Mr. Byrne ended up resigning the game while he was still materially ahead. The result was so unusual that it confounded grandmasters analyzing the games for spectators.
I was moved by the quiet passion that these chess masters had for their game and the beauty that they saw in it, even in sacrifice and loss. Bobby Fischer’s life was a tragic one, only half lived. His was another beautiful mind lost to madness.