A Memorable Life: A Glimpse into the Complex Mind of Bobby Fischer explores the brilliant career of one of the greatest American chess players of all time.
Newly donated artifacts from the collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame and never-before-exhibited materials from the Fischer Library of Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield highlight some of the chess champion’s most significant accomplishments.
You do not need to be a chess player to understand the impact that Bobby Fischer had on the game of chess. Born Robert James Fischer on March 9, 1943, he received a $1.00 chess set from his sister Joan when he was six, and his love of the game quickly blossomed. Already showing a proclivity for puzzles and advanced analytical thinking, a young Bobby began what his mother Regina referred to as an obsession for the game. Little did she know that this passion would eventually lead to her son becoming the World Chess Champion, ending 24 years of Soviet domination of the game in 1972 and changing the way the entire world would view chess.
A Memorable Life: A Glimpse into the Complex Mind of Bobby Fischer presents a few key moments in the storied life of a man who was both a source of intense admiration and controversy. Beginning with his rise to fame as a young boy, this exhibition includes material related to his early training with teachers Carmine Nigro and Jack Collins, many of the major tournaments in which he participated, as well as his historic World Chess Championship victory, and his later retirement from tournament play. Through artifacts generously loaned from the Fischer Library of Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield, we are given unprecedented access to Fischer’s preparatory material for the 1972 world championship run, as well as the initial versions of his classic text My 60 Memorable Games. Never before exhibited, these materials supplement highlights from the collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame, donated by the family of Jacqueline Piatigorsky, which include photographs, correspondence, and other artifacts related to his 1961 match against Samuel Reshevsky. These remarkable artifacts illuminate Fischer’s brilliance, showing how he revolutionized American chess.
Historic front page articles featuring coverage of Bobby Fischer’s landmark World Chess Championship victory have been provided to the World Chess Hall of Fame through the generous support of Historic Newspapers LTD. The company supplied valuable research support and discounted issues of newspapers from both the United States and the United Kingdom, including back issues of The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Daily Express. For more information about the company, please visit http://www.historic-newspapers.co.uk/.
—Shannon Bailey and Emily Allred
Inside an Enigma: The Fischer Library of Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield
More literature is devoted to chess than all other games combined, but today it is not uncommon to find world class players who seldom open a book. Long-running publications like Chess Informant continue to be published, but young stars of 2014 do almost all their study with a computer, be it by accessing databases with millions of games and analyzing them with powerful engines, or by playing online against opponents around the globe. This certainly was not the case when Bobby Fischer began his brilliant career. Bobby learned to play in March of 1949 and soon was reading his first chess book, quite possibly Siegbert Tarrasch’s The Game of Chess. This was the start of a life-long love of chess literature that was to serve him well.
Fischer’s first source for chess books was the Brooklyn Public Library, whose collection he quickly exhausted. Fortunately by this time he had befriended Jack Collins, the founder of the legendary Hawthorne Chess Club, which would become Bobby’s second home. Collins had an extensive library and introduced Bobby to great players of the past including Wilhelm Steinitz and Adolf Anderssen. The two spent many an hour going through Steinitz’s The International Chess Magazine and Hermann von Gottschall’s work on Adolf Anderssen. Their influence on Fischer can be seen in his habit of transforming “museum piece” openings into dangerous weapons with Steinitz’s 9. Nh3 in the Two Knights one of the best known examples. This line, violating the well-known maxim “a knight on the rim is dim,” had scarcely been played since the 1890s when Fischer resurrected it in 1963.
Collins wrote of Bobby and his reading habits: Bobby has probably read—more than ‘read’, rather, chewed and digested—more chess books and magazines than anybody else. This was no task; it was a pleasure, and it has made him the most knowledgeable player in history. Five to ten hours a day of reading and studying have been the rule, not the exception. And language has been no barrier.
Bobby began building his library early in his career and by the late 1950s he owned close to one hundred books and several hundred magazines. His collection continued to grow until a 1968 move to Los Angeles forced him to sell much of his library. Once settled in his new home, Fischer started acquiring chess literature in earnest. Ron Gross, who had become friends with Fischer at the 1955 U.S. Junior Open Chess Championship and would remain close with him for almost thirty years, recalls visiting his apartment in 1970 and finding piles of books and magazines strewn everywhere, with only a narrow path allowing passage through the living room.
This new library became an important tool for Bobby in his march to the World Chess Championship in the early 1970s, and many of the items in the Fischer Library of Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield from this time show heavy usage, particularly several issues of Chess Informant and study notebooks that Robert Wade prepared for Fischer’s Candidates matches against Mark Taimanov and Tigran Petrosian and for the World Championship challenging Boris Spassky. Wade compiled these notebooks by poring through chess periodicals and books, collecting hundreds of games by each of Fischer’s opponents. Today, with thousands of games by potential opponents available with one keystroke, it is easy to forget how much work it took Wade to create these files.
Bobby may have stopped playing after winning the World Championship, but he continued to keep abreast of new developments in chess. His mother Regina bought him subscriptions to magazines from around the world, particularly Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The collection grew so large that by 1986 Bobby ran out of room at his apartment and had to rent space at a Bekins storage facility in Pasadena, California. When Fischer left the United States in the summer of 1992 to play the rematch of the 1972 World Chess Championship with Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia, he entrusted his friend Bob Ellsworth with making sure the payments on the storage space were kept up to date. The two, who had first met in the early 1970s through their mutual involvement in the Worldwide Church of God, were close even though Ellsworth was not a chess player. This relationship changed dramatically in late 1998, when Bobby suffered a tragedy brought on by a change in ownership of the storage facility.
Ellsworth, whose name was not on the lease, only learned of the change in ownership after a payment had been missed, and Fischer’s treasures scheduled for auction. He made a valiant attempt to buy everything back, spending over $8,000 of his own money, but in the end only partially succeeded, leaving Bobby devastated. Harry Sneider, Fischer’s former physical trainer who attended the auction with Ellsworth, arranged to have his son bring the twelve boxes of Fischer’s memorabilia that had been rescued to Budapest where Fischer was then living. Later, after Bobby’s death, the noted collector David DeLucia bought much of this material from Pal Benko, who was Fischer’s close friend for 50 years.
The Sinquefield Collection comprises most of Fischer’s other Bekins possessions. Primarily books and magazines acquired by Bobby between 1970 and 1992, it includes several items used in preparing for the World Championship match. These include a well-used copy of Chess Informant Volume 12, containing many handwritten notes and corrections and the aforementioned files that Robert Wade prepared on Mark Taimanov, Tigran Petrosian, and Boris Spassky. Supplementing Wade’s work was Fischer’s copy of the famous “Red Book” on Spassky. The last in the Weltgeschichte Des Schachs (World History of Chess) series, this hardback book with a red cover was Fischer’s inseparable companion during his preparations for the world championship match, and he is said to have played through and remembered every game in it.
His annotations, neatly handwritten in the margins are fascinating. Witness the following cryptic note to the game Spassky–Suetin, Soviet Union, 1967. After 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 e6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Qc7 6. Be3 a6 7. Nb3 Nf6 8. f4 Bb4 9. Bd3 Fischer has written in the margin 9. …d5! This novel way of handling this variation where putting the Black pawn on d6 is the norm, was first employed in an analogous position by Adolf Anderssen in 1877, but seldom seen until the last game of the 1972 world championship match in Reykjavik which opened 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Bd3 d5.
The single most important work in the Sinquefield Collection is a typewritten galley of an early version of My 60 Memorable Games with handwritten corrections by Bobby. Fischer spent four years writing and revising his classic work and much interesting material did not survive the final cut. The following is the first of two examples of Fischer’s preliminary text:
Game 32: Fischer-Tal
Tal has an annoying habit of writing down the move he intends to play before making it. As a consequence his scoresheet is an eyesore. He usually write lemons down on the first draft, reserving the move he actually selects until somewhere around the fourth chicken scratch. Unfortunately, the temptation to glance at his scoresheet is overwhelming; I got excited when I saw him write down 20. …Ra5 21. Bh5 d5 (21. …d6 22.Rxd6!) 22. Rxd5 exd5 23. Re1+ wins outright.
Only the variation survived the final cut for publication.
The next passage from Game 45: Fischer-Bisguier was completely eliminated from the final version of My 60 Memorable Games. However, Chess Life’s December 1963 issue published a similar note by Bobby:
On the last occasion, referred to above, my opponent played 4. …Bc5!? alias the Wilkes Barre Variation. At that time I was quite unfamiliar with it and nearly laughed out loud at the thought of my opponent making such a blunder in a tournament of this importance! I was just about to let him just have it when I noticed that he had brought along a friend who was studying our game very intently. This aroused my suspicions: maybe this was a trap, straight out of the book. But a Rook is a Rook—so I continued with 5. Nxf7 and there followed 5. …Bxf2+! 6. Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7. Ke3 Qh4 and, somehow, I got out of the mess with a draw. I had no chance for first place and my trophy for the best scoring player under 13 was already assured, since I was the only one under 13!
Fischer had begun writing My 60 Memorable Games in 1965, and it took four years for it to finally see publication. The conflict between Bobby’s desire to write the best book possible and his reluctance to provide information that might help his opponents undoubtedly prolonged the writing process.
These drafts, along with Fischer’s study materials in the Sinquefield Collection, allow unprecedented insight into the mind of the chess champion, exhibiting his intense attention to detail and remarkable analytical abilities. The Sinquefield Collection also includes Fischer’s own copies of publications about the 1972 World Championship match; chess periodicals; books inscribed to the champion by other famous players including David Bronstein, Anatoly Karpov, and Viktor Korchnoi; and other artifacts from post-1972; which together paint a complex picture of Fischer’s life in chess.
—IM John Donaldson
Artifacts Featured in the Exhibition
The furniture on view is from the living room of Jack Collins, a critical mentor of Bobby Fisher and a cofounder of the Hawthorne Chess Club, which he ran from his home. Jack met Bobby at the U.S. Amateur Open on Memorial Day weekend in 1956. Soon after, Bobby began spending time at Collins’ apartment, which eventually became a second home to him. They studied Jack’s extensive collection of chess books and analyzed and played countless games together. A photo of the two playing in Collins’ living room is on view in this gallery.
This constant contact with Collins proved helpful to Fischer; in the second half of 1956 he won the U.S. Junior Chess Championship, tied for fourth in the U.S. Chess Open, and defeated Donald Byrne in the Third Lessing J. Rosenwald Trophy Tournament in a contest that would later become known as the “Game of the Century.” The following year he continued to excel, winning the 1957 U.S. Junior Chess Championship, the 1957 U.S. Chess Open, and the 1957/58 U.S. Chess Championship, all before reaching the age of 15.
This chess board displays a position from one of Bobby Fischer’s most famous games, which respected chess journalist International Master Hans Kmoch named the “Game of the Century.” Fischer played the game against U.S. Chess Hall of Fame inductee Donald Byrne in the Third Lessing J. Rosenwald Tournament in 1956. Fischer’s young age at the time—13—as well as his tactical brilliance, which included a queen sacrifice, earned praise from figures throughout the chess world.
Donald Byrne – Bobby Fischer
Third Lessing J. Rosenwald Tournament
New York, 1956
1. Nf3 Nf6
2. c4 g6
3. Nc3 Bg7
4. d4 0–0
5. Bf4 d5
6. Qb3 dxc4
7. Qxc4 c6
8. e4 Nbd7
9. Rd1 Nb6
10. Qc5 Bg4
11. Bg5 Na4
12. Qa3 Nxc3
13. bxc3 Nxe4
14. Bxe7 Qb6
15. Bc4 Nxc3
16. Bc5 Rfe8+
17. Kf1 Be6
18. Bxb6 Bxc4+
19. Kg1 Ne2+
20. Kf1 Nxd4+
21. Kg1 Ne2+
22. Kf1 Nc3+
23. Kg1 axb6
24. Qb4 Ra4
25. Qxb6 Nxd1
26. h3 Rxa2
27. Kh2 Nxf2
28. Re1 Rxe1
29. Qd8+ Bf8
30. Nxe1 Bd5
31. Nf3 Ne4
32. Qb8 b5
33. h4 h5
34. Ne5 Kg7
35. Kg1 Bc5+
36. Kf1 Ng3+
37. Ke1 Bb4+
38. Kd1 Bb3+
39. Kc1 Ne2+
40. Kb1 Nc3+
41. Kc1 Rc2
Bobby Fischer’s exciting rise to stardom was chronicled on the covers and pages of Chess Life and Chess Review. Though known as a skilled player prior to 1956, Fischer gained fame that year due to a number of spectacular achievements. Fischer’s interest in chess was furthered through his studies with Carmine Nigro and Jack Collins, who encouraged him through his visiting chess clubs in New York, introducing him to chess books that would inspire him to examine new ideas, and helping him develop the skills that made him thrive in tournament play. Though Fischer was highly self-motivated, seeking out books on his own and studying the game constantly, their early involvement in his career ensured he would meet important figures in the world of American chess and participate in top-level competitions at an early age. Fischer’s record victory in the 1957/58 U.S. Chess Championship at age 14, when he became the youngest-ever winner of the title, would also gain him the attention of national press. This led to his appearance on the the television show I’ve Got a Secret, an event chronicled on the cover of Chess Review.
Young Bobby studies the game position prior to his daring queen sacrifice with 17. …Be6!! in his game against Donald Byrne at the Third Lessing J. Rosenwald Trophy Tournament. Shortly after the game ended, International Master Hans Kmoch annotated the game for the December 1956 issue of Chess Review. The noted chess journalist dubbed it the “Game of the Century,” writing, “The following game, a stunning masterpiece of combination play performed by a boy of 13 against a formidable opponent, matches the finest on record in the history of chess prodigies.”
The youngest-ever winner of the U.S. Chess Championship at age 14, Bobby Fischer is featured on the February 1958 cover of Chess Review for his victory in the 1957/58 event. This qualified him to play in the Interzonal Tournament in Portoroz, Yugoslavia. More than half a century later Fischer still holds the record as youngest champion.
On the cover of the May 1958 issue of Chess Review, a young Fischer beams after winning two round-trip plane tickets to Europe during his March 26, 1958, appearance on the CBS-TV program I’ve Got a Secret. During the show, he appeared before a panel of judges including Dick Clark, who was tasked with guessing Fischer’s secret based on the headline “Teen-ager’s Strategy Defeats All Comers.” Clark did not discover Bobby’s secret (he was the U.S. Chess Champion), and he earned transportation to Europe, enabling him and his sister Joan to visit Moscow and travel to Yugoslavia for the Portoroz Interzonal Tournament. On the show Fischer mentioned that he learned to play the game at six, but only took it up seriously when he was nine.
In his book My Seven Chess Prodigies, Jack Collins wrote that Bobby was a constant presence at his home at 91 Lenox Road in Brooklyn from the summer of 1956 to the summer of 1958. During this time, Fischer went from being rated 2200 to one of the best players in the world. While not a teacher in a formal sense, Collins was a valuable mentor who studied and played chess constantly with Bobby. The Hawthorne Chess Club, which was based in Collins’ home, attracted not only Fischer, but also other strong junior players including William Lombardy and Raymond Weinstein, who would soon be ranked among the best in the United States.
Fischer’s fourth straight win in the U.S. Chess Championship earned him a photo on the cover of the first issue of Chess Life to be published as a magazine. The storied chess publication had previously appeared in a newspaper format from 1946-1960. Fischer would eventually win all eight U.S. Chess Championships in which he competed, an accomplishment he would later describe as his proudest to Icelandic grandmaster and good friend Helgi Olafsson. In the 1963/64 event, Fischer had a historic 11-0 performance. His overall score of 74/90 in the U.S. Chess Championships (61 wins, 26 draws, 3 losses) is another record accomplishment that is unlikely to be matched.
Showing the signatures of Fischer and his early chess teacher Carmine Nigro, this 1955 sign-in sheet from the Manhattan Chess Club bears witness to Bobby’s early entry into the New York chess scene. International Master Walter Shipman, one of the best chess players in the country in the mid-1950s, remembers that the two first visited the Manhattan Chess Club together in August of 1955. Shipman played against the 12-year-old Bobby in a series of blitz games at one second a move. Though he won two-thirds of them, he quickly realized that Fischer was quite a special talent.
The Manhattan, unlike the other great New York chess club, the Marshall, had no junior players as young as Bobby at the time. Club President Maurice Kasper made an exception for the prodigy and gave him a free membership as further encouragement at this early point of his career.
Fischer – Reshevsky Match
As a result of Bobby Fischer’s rising reputation in both the national and international spheres, American chess promoters organized a match between the new prodigy and that of yesterday, Samuel Reshevsky. Co-sponsored by the American Chess Federation and the Herman Steiner Chess Club with the goal of increasing interest in American chess, the match ended prematurely after Fischer and organizers disagreed about the start time for the 12th game. Fischer declined to play in the game, which was later declared a forfeit, a decision he appealed.
When he lost his appeal, he refused to play during the rest of the match. Fischer’s immense talent inspired admiration from many of the top figures in the chess world; however, his inability to compromise in this instance earned him condemnation from some. This controversy was played out in the pages of chess periodicals, where supporters of Fischer and Reshevsky offered alternating accounts of the reasons for the ending of the match.
National Master Harry Borochow served as the substitute referee for the adjourned portion of the 11th game of the Bobby Fischer–Samuel Reshevsky match. Here, he writes about the abrupt ending of the contest, and offers criticism of Fischer’s behavior. He supported the position of the organizers, believing that Fischer should have played at the rescheduled time for the 12th game. He states that Fischer had been informed in advance that the schedule had been changed.
Never an opening expert, Samuel Reshevsky faced a serious challenge in how to counter Fischer’s habitual 1. e4. Normally Samuel would meet 1. e4 with 1. …e5, but Fischer was already a great expert on the Ruy Lopez. As a result, Reshevsky played the Accelerated Dragon opening the five times he played with the black pieces during this match. He lost the second game, but it was Bobby who varied in games 4, 6, 8, and 10. All of these games ended in draws, and Reshevsky could consider his experiment a success.
For the only time in the match, Fischer won game 5 with the black pieces. He would later include the dramatic, closely-fought battle in his book, My 60 Memorable Games. Going into game 6 and leading 3-2, Fischer was eager to win, but the game ultimately ended in a draw.
This score sheet records the eleventh, and what would become the final, game of the Fischer–Reshevsky match. This score sheet only shows the moves up to the adjourned position; the game actually went to move 57. Fischer would later include this as game 28 in My 60 Memorable Games.
Game 11 represented one more lost opportunity for Fischer, who, with a stronger performance, could have been up by two points by this point in the match. Games 3, 4, 6, 9, and 10 were relatively quiet draws. Bobby won game 2 cleanly, while the fifth game was closely fought. He lost game 7 on a one-move blunder, but Reshevsky was clearly better. These eight games leave Bobby one up, and in the remaining three he missed opportunities to improve his standing in the event.
Writers for the two national magazines, Chess Life and Chess Review, weighed in on the termination of the match, some taking the side of Fischer, while others supported that of the organizers. The former publication, the house organ of the U.S. Chess Federation, saw its young editor (and future Fischer biographer) Frank Brady try to stay officially neutral, but his article would ultimately be seen as endorsing Fischer’s opinion. Brady stressed the fact that the official announcement for the match had game 12 listed at 7:30 p.m. on August 12, and though Reshevsky’s requests for modifications in the playing schedule had been accommodated, Fischer’sopposition to playing the following morning instead had not been considered. Al Horowitz, founder of the independent periodical Chess Review, had a more nuanced approach. He examined Brady’s points, but also stressed that Fischer had been told of the time change for game 12 on August 3, and Fischer only objected a week later. By then the new schedule had already been published in the Los Angeles Times, and it would have been difficult to change the schedule again.
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International Master John Donaldson, a chess historian, interviews figures from the world of chess regarding their interactions with Bobby Fischer. We hope you enjoy listening to their recollections. . John has served as the Director of the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club of San Francisco since 1998 and worked for Yasser Seirawan’s magazine, Inside Chess from 1988 to 2000. He has had held the title of International Master since 1983 and has two norms for the Grandmaster title, but is proudest of captaining the U.S. national team on 15 occasions winning two gold, three silver and four bronze medals. Donaldson has authored over thirty books on the game including a two-volume work on Akiva Rubinstein with International Master Nikolay Minev.
All introductions to the passages are read by Dr. Leon Burke, Music Director and Conductor of the University City Symphony Orchestra and Assistant Conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Chorus.
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