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)

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