Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Vlastimil Hort Honors Bobby Fischer Without Humoring Fischer's Hateful Sentiments

There is a fine line to walk when attempting to appreciate a genius who possessed some unsavory or even loathsome traits. It is easy to veer to one extreme or the other--to completely refuse to acknowledge the work because one does not want to justify or publicize the person's flaws or, alternatively, to meekly explain away the person's flaws because the work is so magnificent. This troubling choice presents itself in many fields of endeavor.

Of course, for chess aficionados the classic example is Bobby Fischer, perhaps the greatest player of all-time but also a a deeply troubled--if not mentally ill--person. Fischer spewed hatred about the Jewish people and about the United States, going so far as to praise the horrific September 11 terrorist attacks that killed thousands of innocent people.

I found it disgusting when some Fischer sycophants laughed when Fischer made his hateful comments or just blithely dismissed those statements. It seems as if those people thought that by being "yes-men" to a mentally ill genius some of that genius' shine would be reflected back onto them, but instead they just came across as buffoons.

Grandmaster Vlastimil Hort, who knew Fischer for decades, struck a much better tone in his three part Chessbase series recounting his personal recollections of Fischer. Hort displayed great compassion and sympathy for Fischer the human being, as well as great appreciation for Fischer the chess player, but Hort never justified or dismissed Fischer's hateful statements.

Hort wrote early in part one, "I was lucky to meet three brilliant chess personalities, Robert Fischer, Garry Kasparov, and Mikhail Tal. For me, Bobby is definitely the strongest World Champion of all times." In part three, Hort discussed Fischer's post-World Champion days:
Bobby lives like a monk, sleeping on a mattress at his sister's place. Does he want to save the universe and mankind or does he want to flee from them?

Emanuel Lasker did not only write about chess, he also left philosophical works--which are, admittedly, not easy to digest. But from Fischer's Pasadena episode nothing tangible, logical or readable is known. Only racist statements. Did the Armstrongnism already affect his psyche much more than was thought?

His refusal to play against Karpov who had won the World Championship cycle 1972-1975 looked like giving up everything that makes the civilized world. My opinion? Against a Fischer in top form--as he was in Reykjavik--the Soviet challenger would not have had a real chance. The difference in playing strength was minimal, but the physical stamina clearly favored the American. "I want to break his ego." Playing every game until the bitter end, no breaks, no short meaningless draws would have been Fischer's strategy for the match. How many kilos would Karpov have lost during such a match? Efim Geller, Karpov's second: "We all make mistakes, but Fischer makes the fewest of us all!"
Later in that same piece, Hort wrote about the man who Fischer dethroned as World Chess Champion and later called his "frenemy," Boris Spassky and about Fischer's final days:
How did this late friendship come about? After Fischer had been arrested at Tokyo airport in July 2004 Spassky gave interviews to the press and dramatically offered to share a cell with Bobby should he be sentenced. To go to jail with him. Provided Fischer had made inner and outer peace with the state of Israel I would have joined them.

A speaker of the Iceland Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "Granting Fischer Icelandic citizenship is a purely humanitarian gesture, and by no means implicates support of Fischer's political views." How many years, Robert, would you have spent in jail should the gigantic claws of the USA snatched you?" Bravo Iceland!

In April 2009, I received an invitation from the Icelandic Chess Federation. Paul Benkö, William Lombardy, Fridrik Olafsson, Lajos Portisch, and Boris Spassky also came to Laugardælir to say goodbye to the brilliant maestro and to pay him the last respect. Only Viktor Kortchnoi did not accept the invitation. He did not want to give Bobby the license of being psychologically ill.
A small cemetery in the countryside, forgotten by civilization. A plain chapel. Small ponies trotting on the light-green grass so typical for Iceland, just behind the gravestone. Occasionally a curious seagull appeared. The earth was still frozen and we were shivering with cold. As the youngest of the group, I was last to speak. Which was difficult for me--we all furtively wiped tears from our eyes.
Hort's respect and sympathy for Fischer are evident, yet Hort in no way justifies or excuses Fischer's words or actions. Bravo Hort!

Here are links to the three articles:

Vlastimil Hort: Memories of Bobby Fischer (1)

Vlastimil Hort: Memories of Bobby Fischer (2)

Vlastimil Hort: Memories of Bobby Fischer (3)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Terrell Owens Decides to Not Attend Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and His Critics Lose Their Minds

Terrell Owens announced that he does not plan to attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony this fall and that has provided fodder for his many critics to crawl out of dark corners to pick on him yet again. Instead of delving into the media-created controversy or relying on second-hand accounts about Owens' thought process, here is Owens' official statement:
I am so grateful for all of the support my family, friends, and certainly my fans, have shown me throughout my entire career in the National Football League. When it was announced that I was going to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the response received from my fans was overwhelming, and I am truly humbled. I am honored to be included among this group of fellow inducted individuals.

While I am incredibly appreciative of this opportunity, I have made the decision to publicly decline my invitation to attend the induction ceremony in Canton. I have already shared this information with the Hall. After visiting Canton earlier this year, I came to the realization that I wish to celebrate what will be one of the most memorable days of my life, elsewhere. At a later date, I will announce where and when I will celebrate my induction.

I would also like to thank the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals for the time I was granted with each organization. I am thankful for the relationships forged and the lessons learned while part of each team.

I wish to congratulate all past, current and future inductees. It is quite an honor to be part of such elite company. This honor is something that I will cherish forever.
Forget what anyone else says or has said about this issue. Owens' own words are measured and respectful toward the Hall of Fame, each of his former teams and his fellow inductees. Owens has the right to decline to attend the ceremony and he has made the public announcement of his intentions months in advance so as to not inconvenience or surprise the event's organizers.

Let's also make something else clear: Owens should have been selected as a first ballot Hall of Famer. It is obvious that he did not somehow become a better player or a more deserving Hall of Fame candidate three years after he became eligible for induction. The Hall of Fame voters--not just in pro football, but in other sports--have often revealed themselves to be ignorant and/or biased. If I were Owens or anyone else who was repeatedly snubbed for no good reason then I would be upset/outraged and that upset/outrage would not instantly disappear upon belatedly receiving the honor. The voters did not do anything for Owens and he does not owe them anything; Owens earned Hall of Fame status by virtue of his productivity and his durability.

What would I do if I were Owens? I would show up at the ceremony, speak about my journey to the Hall of Fame, thank those who helped me to achieve that honor and perhaps say something about the flaws in the voting process that result in deserving players either not being selected or having to wait for many years before being selected. I understand the perspective of those players who are already inducted in the Hall of Fame who feel like Owens should show up at the ceremony and publicly embrace joining the only team from which you cannot be traded or cut. It is a great honor to be selected as a Hall of Famer.

Does that mean it is wrong for Owens to not show up?


If Owens feels hurt by being snubbed and/or if Owens prefers to celebrate this milestone achievement in some other manner, he has earned the right to do so. The Hall of Fame invited him to the ceremony and he politely declined. While Owens' decision is unprecedented, he has the right to make this choice and he announced his choice in a respectful manner.

Owens' critics should do some real soul-searching about why his words and choices elicit such a visceral reaction.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Endless Fascination of Chess

People who have never played chess or who only play chess casually often are puzzled by the strong grip that the game has on its most avid adherents. How can something that is "just a game" be so captivating, enticing--possibly even addictive?

A few months ago, International Master Justin Sarkar wrote eloquently about this subject, stating, "Words can hardly even describe the impact of chess on me or where I would be without chess...The inherent beauty of the game and personal benefits in fighting my illness speak louder than the implicit demands and stresses of chess tournament play, to the point of it being more like a stress reliever and positive distraction than other things."

Prof. Lakshmi Narayana's article Understanding My Passion for Chess provides an in depth look into the mind/soul of a chess lover. Please take a moment to click the link and read the entire piece; here is a taste of his perspective to whet your appetite:
If I ask myself why do I have such a great passion for chess and analyze the reasons for my predilection I get the following answers:
Logic and Reasoning triumph and there is no element of chance in chess which is the reason for any philosophically inclined person to admire chess...

Another important quality of chess is the aesthetic element. It not only satisfies the sense of logic of humans but also their desire for beauty. Beauty according to Kant's Critique of Judgment is "A harmonious interplay of all the different faculties of human mind." This definition applies very well to the chess game...

Humans have the enduring need to reach their goals in the most perfect and elegant manner. Chess reflects this and fulfils this need. The feeling of empowerment is embodied in chess and gives the experience of a sense of mastery and control to the players. People love adventures. Each game of chess is one such adventure...

The world-class grand master of his times from Germany, Dr.Siegbert Tarrasch has said "Chess like love like music has the power to make men happy" (Tarrasch,1935). Similar to the experience of love which shakes one to the core and which opens a whole new world for one completely forgetting the outside world, chess also takes one to a whole new world of pawns and bishops, knights and rooks, kings and queens and their interplay and the patterns that develop will shake you to the core.
If someone tells you that chess is just a game and you should not waste your time with it, you can reply that life may be a game with uncertain rules and outcomes but chess is an oasis of logic, beauty and purity in an otherwise often chaotic world.