Wednesday, March 7, 2012

More Insight into Bobby Fischer's Brilliant yet Tortured Mind

No reasonable and well informed person can dispute that Bobby Fischer was both a tremendous genius and a deeply troubled, mentally ill person. The fruits of his genius will live forever in the games that he artistically won, the tournaments and matches that he dominated and the great classic book that he wrote titled My 60 Memorable Games. Fischer's frustration about the republication and editing of his masterpiece book lends some insight into the nature of his mental illness and the way that the reckless actions of several people worsened Fischer's psychological imbalances. Edward Winter reports that the 1995 Batsford edition of My 60 Memorable Games contains over 570 changes from Fischer's original text. Fischer was understandably outraged that his creative work had been tampered with and he also alleged that Batsford neither had the right to publish his book nor had sent him any royalties after doing so. Winter takes no position on those two matters but he explains in detail how Batsford not only "butchered" Fischer's book but stubbornly refused to admit or correct this cascade of mistakes. As the affair dragged on with no resolution in sight, Fischer not only publicly lambasted Batsford but he even took aim at Winter, criticizing Winter for vastly understating how many changes Batsford had in fact made. Fischer had exhibited clear signs of paranoia for quite some time but the desecration of his great book only served to reinforce his belief that a grand Jewish conspiracy exists not only to conquer the world but to specifically target him.

The world was not out to get Fischer; the greed, carelessness and foolishness of various individuals does not prove the existence of some vast, organized conspiracy: the world is just messed up and does not function logically. Unfortunately, Fischer's mind was not able to accept and interact with the flawed world as it exists, so rather than acknowledge the true nature of the rampant chaos surrounding him he sought to impose order on that chaos by constructing elaborate conspiracies as an organizational framework that could explain why people act so illogically and foolishly. As a chess player, one of Fischer's greatest attributes was his ability to create order out of what seemed to be chaos but when you try to create order out of our messed up, chaotic world you may end up seeing (or inventing) connections and conspiracies that do not exist.

Winter notes that the David DeLucia collection of Fischer memorabilia includes a handwritten letter from Fischer to Osama bin Laden. Fischer considered bin Laden to be a kindred spirit because they both were wanted by the U.S. government and both were, in Fischer's twisted and paranoid world view, victims of a vast Jewish conspiracy. Fischer seriously believed that bin Laden would actually care about the books, magazines and other possessions that Fischer lost when the contents of his locker at the Bekins Storage facility were auctioned off after Fischer's representative failed to pay the storage fee despite being sent the requisite funds by the exiled Fischer. Fischer was rightfully outraged at what happened to his precious possessions just like he was rightfully outraged at the butchering of his book but in his tortured mind this rightful outrage simply fueled his paranoid delusions. Maybe Fischer would have been paranoid and delusional no matter what had happened to him but the fact that he repeatedly dealt with idiots and fools surely did not aid his peace of mind or fragile psychological state.


Prakash Nayak said...

That was extremely sharp commentary.His eccentricity did reach the wrong side of the tipping point.

William Anderson said...

In defense of the person who was supposed to pay the storage fees, according to IM John Donaldson the storage company changed ownership and Fischer's emissary received no notice since his name was not on the contract. This caused the payment to be missed. The friend then spent $8,000 of his own money buying what he could of Fischer's belongings at auction to try to fix the mistake. The source for this story is "Collected Annotations and Articles by Bobby Fischer" by John Donaldson and Eric Tangborn. This is one of a series of three digital volumes that Donaldson released about Fischer this past year. The other 2 are a hugely updated edition of "A legend on the Road" and "Bobby Fischer in Action" a collection of simul games ( other than from the 1964 tour) and blitz games. All 3 volumes are available in kindle format on Amazon at a really low price for this material. They include wonderful stories and great photos. A fourth volume of biographical material is in the works. They have only been released on kindle due to the cost o publishing hard copy versions.

Sorry about the long post but given your writings on Fischer I thought that you might find this of interest.

Thank you for all of the work that you do on this blog.

David Friedman said...


You're welcome. This website has always been a labor of love. I appreciate the update about Donaldson's digital books regarding Fischer. I have the print version of the original Legend on the Road.