Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Chess Player With A Story To Tell ...

I really did not like the man but was saddened with the news of his death. Saddened because of my love for him. I listened to every word he said and drank in each word of every book he wrote. He was extremely difficult to associate with although I never spent any time with him. In fact I never even met the man. Seemingly his foremost success was his greatest failure. His win was his loss. My “running around in circles” is caused by the abundance of information about this truly amazing person. Yet words fail me. Not a good quality for one claiming to be a writer.

History will affirm that Robert J. Fischer, known to the world as “Bobby”, was the greatest chess player of all time. Bobby learned how to play chess at age 6. He excelled in the game which he termed “a war.” At 15, he earned the title of International Grand Master, the youngest person ever to hold that title.

I never played a chess game against Fischer. He functioned in top-flight world class chess circuits. That left me out. I was only a “wood pusher” from Beaumont. But one day in Roswell, New Mexico, I did play an opponent who previously had won a game from Bobby. This man was International Grand Master Edmar Mednis. He visited the Roswell Chess Club giving lectures and demonstrations. Also he featured a round of simultaneous chess.

There were twenty-five of us seated along rows of tables. Each one paid $5.00 to play. Mednis took on all twenty-five of us at the same time. This meant there were twenty-five chess games going on thus the term, “simultaneous chess.” Mednis used an interesting ploy as he stepped around the room from one player to the next making his moves. He held in his left hand a paperback novel which he read as he moved his chess pieces with his right hand. This gave everyone the impression that he really was not too engrossed with all the chess games because he was more enthralled with his novel. Apparently it worked. He won all twenty-five games. His game with me lasted about 15 moves. Not only did he win all of the games, he also read some three chapters in his novel.

My dad taught me how to play chess when I was seven years old. He and I played the game at every opportunity. Also, he taught Ann, my big sister, how to play. She did not care much for chess and went on with other things in life. Things like playing jacks and dressing up her dolls. Well, you know how big sisters are. If you don’t know, ask any little brother. You’re in for a shock.

Dad used to visit in Nederland and play chess with my Uncle Bill Parker. I went along and watched. Uncle Bill had his own interesting ploy when playing my dad. Bill would whistle soft melodies while awaiting my dad’s next move. Dad told me that he did not mind the whistling but that he did not like for Bill to blow his breath on him from across the board. Anyway, as time went on, I had opportunity to play chess with Uncle Bill as well as with my dad. So I learned a lot early on.

Bobby Fischer was a genius but was totally lacking in social graces. He renounced his United States citizenship, married a Japanese woman chess player and moved to Iceland where he lived until his death in January, 2008.

Boris Spassky, former world chess champion dethroned by Fischer in 1972, said per telephone, “I am very sorry, but Bobby Fischer is dead. Goodbye.”

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise


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