In my mind’s eye, he’ll always be the angular, wavy-haired superstar in a bespoke suit that he was in his prime—not the pathetic, stateless, wild-bearded anti-Semite that he devolved into. In remembering Bobby Fischer this way (see Obituaries, Page 32), I know I’m romanticizing him. Even at his best, in Reykjavik, he came across as one of the most self-centered and obsessive people on the planet. He argued endlessly about the dimensions of the chessboard, the height of the chairs, the presence of the cameras, and a million other details. Possessed of that single-minded intensity, maybe it was inevitable that he reportedly ended up with a locked suitcase full of home remedies (“if the commies come to poison me”) and yanking out his fillings to prevent secret transmissions from being channeled through them.
Brilliance? Lunacy? The dividing line, as the cliché goes, is treacherously thin. It’s hard not to conclude that the same indefinable spark that animated Fischer’s domination on the board also may have destroyed him. As he built himself into arguably the greatest grandmaster who ever lived, everything he did seemed shot through with fanaticism. He once said he’d spent 30 years studying a single move in a single game. Even when dining with others, he couldn’t follow the conversation. He’d pull out his pocket chess set and play at the table. “I don’t think he is insane,” said Gudmundur Thorarinsson, who organized his 1972 match against Boris Spassky, “but he is not like most people.” That, of course, is why he fascinated us. Fischer was a living monument to perfection—and a reminder that perfection always has its price. - Thomas Vinciguerra