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Friday, January 18, 2008
Bobby Fischer, En Passant

Fischer was of course a chess prodigy, single-handedly responsible for creating a mini-boom in chess-playing in the US.

An American chess champion at 14 and a grand master at 15, Fischer dethroned Spassky in 1972 in a series of games in Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, to become the first officially recognized world champion born in the United States.

The Spassky match was televised live with commentary from chess experts.

I was never anything more than a good player myself, although I had a couple of notable triumphs. One time a friend of mine and I wagered a case of beer on a game of backgammon. Unfortunately, we threw three consecutive doubles to open the game, making it now worth eight cases of beer. Then I got a 6-1, one of the best opening rolls possible. The book says double if you get that starting roll, and so I did. However, my buddy came back to win and at a crucial point doubled the game again so it was worth 32 cases of beer, about $200 based on the then-current prices for suds.

So about a month later, he offered me a chance to get even. He had a friend named Ingmar, who was a chess master. Ingmar would play me two games blindfolded simultaneously, and if I won or tied either game, I'd be even. Of course, if I lost both games (far more likely given his skill level), I'd be down 64 cases of beer.

But I remembered an old trick I'd read in a book that guaranteed victory. I wrote down on a piece of paper the order of the turns. Ingmar would go first on the first board. I would then go first on the second board. He would then reply to my move on the second board, and then I would go on the first board.

Of course, the secret is that you just copy the other guy's moves, so that essentially he is playing himself. We didn't even get through the first round before Ingmar ripped off his blindfold and screamed at me, "It's not that effing easy!"

Another time a neighhbor, who was kind of a lout, asked me to play a game, talking trash about what a great player he was. I didn't particularly care for him, but he had a foxy girlfriend, and I saw a chance to impress her. So I set up the board and promptly fools-mated him in four moves. Then I did it again. Eventually stole his girlfriend from him, too!

Fischer eventually went nuts, convinced the Russians were sabotaging him by directing microwaves at his brain. He also became something of a Jewish conspiracy theorist, although, as the article notes, he himself was half-Jewish. He did write a terrific puzzle book on chess that almost overnight elevated my level of play so that I was able to beat regularly folks who had taken maybe 75% of the games we played prior to reading the book.


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