bobby fischer

The tortured genius and the celebrity recluse are two archetypes by which the popular imagination appears incurably enthralled. They occupy extreme but ambiguous positions in the social firmament, simultaneously familiar and unknowable, often winning our sympathy even as they fail our understanding. Working as Mephistophelean morality tales, they reassuringly remind us that exceptional talent can be an affliction as well as a gift and that sometimes the price of success is one that we – the average, the normal, the unchosen – would not wish to pay. No one in recent times has combined these two roles with more tragedy or pathos than Fischer.

His descent into wild and irrational behaviour is far from a unique narrative, particularly in chess. The history of the game contains many similar trajectories. As GK Chesterton noted in arguing that reason bred insanity: "Poets do not go mad, but chess players do." Akiba Rubinstein, the early 20th-century Polish grandmaster, would hide in the corner of the competition hall between moves, owing to his anthropophobia (fear of people), retiring from the game when schizophrenia got the better of him. William Steinitz, the Austrian who was the world's first undisputed chess champion, died in an asylum. Then there was Paul Morphy, the American who was said to be the 19th-century's finest player and to whom Fischer has frequently been compared: he quit the game, having beaten all his rivals, and began a decline into paranoid delusion. Aged 47, he was found dead in his bath, surrounded by women's shoes.

via The Observer.

"The thing that strikes me about Fischer's chess," Short says, "is that it's very clear. There are no mysterious rook moves or obscure manoeuvrings. He's very direct. There's a great deal of logic to the chess. It's not as though it's not incredibly difficult – it is incredibly difficult. It's just that when you look at it you can understand it – afterwards. He just makes chess look very easy, which it isn't."