Friday, 18 January 2008

Bobby Fischer is dead

(10.20pm) It is with great shock that I am writing about the death of Bobby Fischer. He died yesterday in Reykjavik, Iceland from kidney failure. News reports said that he had been sick for quite a while but typically Fischer, he refused treatment because of his mistrust of Western medicine.

(10.30pm) I just came off the telephone with Hamid, the Malaysian Chess Federation's secretary. We agreed that while we could not agree with Fischer's politics, he was nevertheless a very colourful figure. The chess world has lost a chess giant. Even though he had not played a single competitive game since 1992, Fischer's shadow had continued to loom large in the chess world. Comparisons of present world chess champions to Fischer were almost always inevitable. I wouldn't expect this comparison to stop just because he is dead.

(10.45pm) I've just sent two stories to my chess-malaysia mailing list at Yahoogroups. One was a news item from the BBC Online and the other was from AFP.

(11.30pm) Bobby Fischer had a great influence on the chess players of my generation. Malaysia may have been thousands of miles away from Reykjavik in 1972 but the chess players here were avid followers of his world chess championship match with Boris Spassky. Like the rest of the world, time stopped in Malaysia between July and September in 1972 whenever Fischer and Spassky played one of their chess games. He is credited with making chess popular with the masses.

During this match, I was tuning into the BBC World Service every day to listen to five-minute commentaries on their games, thanks to shortwave radio. And almost everyday, chess would feature on the front page of The Straits Times. Photos of Fischer and the back of Spassky filled the pages. The games - move-by-move - were closely followed and for once, I could proudly tell my friends that chess was a cool game. It was no longer the game of nerdy and geeky people. My involvement with the game, already four years in the making, now rages unabatedly, thanks to Fischer. What a love affair!

So you see, Fischer had an immense influence on chess in far-flung reaches of the globe. And that was even before the advent of the Internet.

(12.00am) To Fischer, chess was his life. During those years when he was an active player, he breathed chess. Every single minute of his life was dedicated to chess. There was nothing more than chess. He was that single-minded. Nothing mattered except chess.

Until he became the world champion. Apart from a few exhibition games on TV - for example, he famously played Bob Hope on TV - he did not play any further chess games until 1992 when he reappeared to play a repeat chess match with Spassky. His form was a shadow of Fischer at his best but so was Spassky's too. Nevertheless, he still believed himself to be the best player in the world.

He was born on 9 Mar 1943 and would have been 65 on his next birthday. So he was 64 when he died. Even his death is so intertwined with chess. His age was 64, so are the number of squares on the chessboard. Every square on the chess board rightly represents Fischer's age. What a befitting send-off for a man whose life was chess.

(7.43am, 19 Jan 2008) I was doing a Google search. I'm not surprised that Google reports 1,157 news stories have already appeared in the online versions of newspapers worldwide. Many of them were reproduced from the main wire services and there were many too that were obituaries or commentaries about Fischer's life.

I've even seen one comment by India's first international master, Manuel Aaron, whom I first met in Penang in 1977, that Fischer liked Indian clothes. Well, we are getting to learn more about the private Fischer. I'm sure there'll be more that we'll learn in the days to come.

More to follow...

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