Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bobby Fischer's Opinion About Why Paul Morphy Stopped Playing Chess

Chessbase.com has recently published two articles containing decades-old videos of Bobby Fischer analyzing chess games and talking about great chess players like Paul Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz and Jose Raul Capablanca:

Rare video – Bobby Fischer analyses

Rare video of Bobby Fischer analyzing – (2)

At around the eight minute mark of the second video in the second post, FM Dimitrije Bjelica asks Fischer why Paul Morphy stopped playing competitive chess; this is a fascinating exchange, because Fischer--like Morphy before him--quit playing serious chess at the height of his powers and it seems likely that both great geniuses suffered from serious mental illness (Dr. Joseph Ponterotto's take on Fischer's brilliant yet tortured mind can be found here). This is Fischer's reply to Bjelica's question:

I don't know. He got fed up with the whole chess scene, you know. He could not get this match [to prove that he was the world's best player]. He thought that they were petty people. He thought that these people were not honorable...Just the people in chess, he felt that they were not honorable people. He did not like the type of people he met, I think. For example, Staunton refused to play him and Staunton did some dishonest things in their negotiations for a match: he did everything to avoid playing him, because he would have lost easily. He [Staunton] refused to admit this and he tried to make it appear that Morphy didn't want to play or something. 

Only a few years after that interview, Fischer cut short his own chess career for similar reasons, forfeiting his World Champion title because FIDE would not agree to all of Fischer's terms regarding his scheduled title defense against Anatoly Karpov. Fischer had very rigid--but well thought out--ideas about exactly how such a match should be conducted and he refused to compromise or change anything in his proposal. Being a perfectionist and wanting everything to be just right seems like a noble ideal but tightly clinging to such hopes/dreams in this most imperfect world can lead to a lot of self-inflicted suffering. Neither Morphy nor Fischer possessed the ability to accept the world the way it is and to function within the confines of how society is organized. In contrast, Garry Kasparov--who, like Morphy and Fischer--is a genius of the highest magnitude, has the most enviable capacity to recognize his own weaknesses and to focus on the art of the possible as opposed to obsessing over creating perfection. Kasparov feuded with FIDE much like Fischer did but Kasparov did not let the fools, the criminals and the dishonorable people chase him away from the sport that he loves. It is very tragic that Morphy and Fischer did not possess such rare inner resolve, strength and tenacity; it is very difficult to be a sensitive genius in an insensitive world--and it is eerie to listen to Fischer calmly speak about Morphy's plight just a few years before Fischer descended into his notorious period of self-imposed exile from the chess world.

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