Friday, March 6, 2009

International Symposium on Bobby Fischer - Day 1

Today I went to the Marshall Chess Club to attend the Bobby Fischer Symposium. Dr. Frank Brady, President of the Marshall Chess Club and author of "Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy" put the symposium together. He had asked for papers to be submitted. Today's presentations were an interesting mix of chess theory, reminiscences of his youth, his impact on people personally, and some interesting stories about his last days.

Dr. Frank Brady

Dr. Brady started things off with an introduction and some brief comments about Fischer. He will be giving a longer presentation tomorrow on Still Searching for Bobby Fischer.

Dr. Glenn Statile

The first presentation was given by Dr. Glenn Statile and Prof. Thomas Kerr. Dr. Statile spoke, and the graphic presentation had been put together by Professor Kerr. His talk was on Fischer and the Marshall Attack line in the Ruy Lopez. Before he got into the meat of his talk, he told a joke. The graphic below was part of the story.

Boris and Igor were good friends and loved playing chess together. Igor died and went to heaven. Boris missed his games with Igor very much. One day Igor appears to him. Boris asks if there is chess in heaven . Igor says "Yes." Igor says goes on to say "I have good news and bad news."

"What is the good news?" Boris asks.

"All the great players are there, and we play every single day." Igor says.

"And the bad news?" Boris asks.

"You have Black against Bobby tomorrow."

From there Dr. Statile went into his talk about Fischer and the Marshall Attack. He kind of lost me since I haven't played the Ruy Lopez since college, and I'm not sure I would know the Marshall Attack if it came up and punched me in the face. However he showed some interesting analysis, and some fun graphics to accompany his lecture. Including this slide below when referring to the Orangutan.

Next to speak was Roz Katz of New Jersey. She shared a poem she wrote after Bobby Fischer died. This was her way of remembering him. When she sent it to various friends she was very surprised by some of the negative reactions she got to it.

Roz Katz reading her poem. Re-printed with her permission.

Remembering Robert J. Fischer

To every US Chess Player, “Bobby”
My father’s name, a common name – for a unique person
Imagine immortalizing “Bobby.”

He was born when I was three days old, March 9, 1943.
Others would conjecture, “How old is he now?” Not me, I always knew.

Bobby mania hit me in 1972: birthing babies and following Shelby; screaming at the little black and white screen with all the lines across.

We had a hundred friends in common and ran in concentric circles.

My friends in Iceland cherished and protected him.
Coping with his madness, even when it became impossible, and made him secure.
A job we couldn’t do. Many tried, but only the special Icelandics succeeded.
Bravo for them. I love them.

Even though I’m a Jew

Even though I’m American

I’m still a chess nut

And I know what he did for us, how proud we were, how joyful we were, how the glow spilled onto us all.

Crying for Bobby,

Chessically yours,

Rosalyn B. Katz

When I wrote my Bobby Fischer piece last year, I couldn't ignore some of the things he said over the years. However I try to think about him as the brilliant chess player, and what he contributed to the game. My post didn't generate lots of comments, but there were certainly many blog posts about Fischer, and many comments both positive and negative on the various blogs.

The next presenter was supposed to be Russell Targ, Bobby Fischer's brother-in-law. He's married to Fischer's sister. He could not make the trip from California, but Maxine Brady read his very interesting presentation “Return of the Bobby Snatchers”. This touched on the very mysterious and strange burial in Iceland. I found it very fascinating that he was buried in a Lutheran graveyard with a Catholic priest residing over the sparsely attended burial.

Maxine Brady reading Russell Targ's “Return of the Bobby Snatchers”

Asa Hoffman

The next presentation was by Asa Hoffman, who actually played a lot of blitz chess with Fischer back in the early 60s. He shared amusing anecdotes of Fischer playing blitz at the Manhattan Chess Club, and when too many people were hanging around he'd announce that he had go because there were too many "weakies" around. He didn't call lower rated players fish or patzers. They were weakies. Often Hoffman and Fischer would jump in a cab and go off somewhere to eat without the hordes of weakies following. Asa played Fischer in different places in New York City. Places like the New York Chess And Checkers club in Times Square, otherwise known as the "flea house".

Asa is a long time member of the New York City chess scene, so I found his Fischer stories quite compelling. Knowing Asa personally and knowing of the places that he talked about made the stories of Fischer's youth come alive. I think I first met Asa at the Manhattan Chess Club back in the 70s when I first came to New York. I've played Asa a number of times over the years. Since 1991 I'm 0-5 against him, but I'm pretty sure I played him more then that. I'd have to go through all my score books to find the other games that were played before 1991. In the movie "Searching For Bobby Fischer" the portrayal of him is not too kind. They make him out to be a bit of nut job.

Paul Albert
The last speaker was Paul Albert. He served on the board of the American Chess Foundation and donated money for brilliancy prizes at the US Championship, and US Women's Championship for many years. He was not on the original program, but wanted to share some of his thoughts and impressions of Fischer.

Here is tomorrow's list of presentations. I do believe some of this has been changed, but I'm not sure what. I guess I will find out when I return for day two.

1. “Fischer and Random Chess” William Harston
2. “Fischer and the Worldwide Church of God” from the Internet
3. “Fischer and Chess Education” Stephen Dann
4. “Explaining the Citizenship Failure of Fischer vs. Kasparov’s Success” Dr. Paul Wilhelm and Weston Wilhelm
5. “The Sociology of Bobby Fischer” John Barroso
6. “Fischer and His Jewish Father” Peter Nicholas and Clea Benson


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this Polly. I had thought about trying to get downtown for some of the symposium but too busy. I would have liked to hear Asa Hoffman's reminiscences of Fischer.


wang said...

Nice post Polly. My problem with this Bobby worship is that we seem to live in the past. He was a great player, but I would put Karpov ahead of him. Bobby simply did not play long enough in my opinion to warrant him as the best or even second best ever. It is a shame he didn't defend his title against Karpov, that would truly have been a match for the ages.

Polly said...

Wang: It's a shame he did not defend his title, so that we could see how brilliant he truly was. Though Dr. Brady feels he was the best chess player ever that wasn't what this was all about. It was about discovering things about Fischer that we might not know.

I think much of the fascination with Fischer is he really came out of nowhere. He did not have all the support and training that the Soviet World Champions had. Chess is so much of the culture in the USSR, and there was so much given to the chess stars over there.

I look at how difficult it was for Kamsky to get the money and support he needed in his match with Topolov. That's because chess is not so rooted in our culture, and people outside of the chess world don't really care. Fischer being Fischer made people care about chess for awhile.

CMoB said...

Thanks for the post. Looking forward for more. As you might know, i'm a big fan of Fischer. And i'm jealous of you playing at the MCC.