What Price Child Prodigy? Is the Question

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The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Friday, August 01, 1958 - Page 5

“What Price Child Prodigy?” Is the Question

Like violin prodigies, chess prodigies, too have their troubles. Sometimes, again like their musical counterparts, young chess masters do not develop the maturity of adults (Paul Morphy, the outstanding American chess genius, had mental troubles, and so did other grandmasters of the game). Without predicting the future, it is worth commenting on the complexities facing young Bobby Fischer, who at 14 is one of America's best chess players and one of the major 20 in the world.
Bobby recently starred in the United States title tournament, playing brilliantly, and winning a wonderful game from Arthur Bisguier, the defender. Yet no matter how well Fischer performs, his astounding capacity for chess bothers his mother and in a recent newspaper feature released by the North American Newspaper Alliance, the question is asked, “What price child prodigy?”
Here are some of the bits and pieces concerning Bobby Fischer which place him in focus as a personality and chess star—one more great Jewish master of the game: Hans Kmoch, general manager of the Manhattan Chess club, where Bobby plays a few evenings a week, says, “He's so great that he shows the same potential as the immortals Paul Morphy and Jose Capablanca. He may some day become a world champion.” Another member of the club is reported as asserting, “He's so sensitive that he used to go off and cry whenever he lost a game. He hates to lose and we sort of used to baby him around here. But he doesn't cry any more. He's growing up.”
“I've visited university guidance centers for gifted children,” his mother said. “Mostly they suggest I enroll him in a small private school, where he would get closer attention. But private schools are expensive.”
One of the teachers has placed herself on record by saying: “One thing I would suggest is that Bobby spend more time studying and less time at chess.” Paul Abramson, who also has written understandingly of Fischer, reports that Bobby plays chess while eating, keeps a board always near his bed to solve problems in chess. “It's chess, chess, chess from the minute he opens his eyes in the morning,” his mother remarks. And she reveals that Bobby owns 40 chess manuals, some in foreign languages which he has learned well enough to follow the moves. “He's not interested in anything else but chess. Where's his future? He doesn't even want to go to college.” And then, hopefully, “Maybe when he gets older he'll change, I want my Bobby to develop like other boys.”

The Boy Is Brilliant

Bobby thinks well of himself as a chess player, and no wonder. But he has the arrogance of the true master. When he was 13, he played Sammy Reshevsky (also a prodigy of his own time) and Reshevsky beat him with little effort. Still, Reshevsky remarked “that boy is brilliant; he'll go far.” And how did Fischer react to this? He was busy pointing out, to whoever would listen, where Reshevsky had made mistakes and how Reshevsky, if he had been better, would have won more quickly!
Altogether, Bobby has been playing the game for less than 8 years. When he was 6 his sister bought him a set, but he remained indifferent to the game until two years later when he saw Max Pavey, a master, playing 20 matches simultaneously at the Brooklyn Public Library. Bobby sat down at one of the boards and as soon as he made a few moves, Pavey concentrated on him. Finally, Pavey won, but after 15 minutes of hard thinking. A chess teacher named Carmen Nigro saw the game and offered to take Bobby under his wing. Soon Bobby's talents were obvious and in 1956 he won the national junior championship (he was the youngest winner in history) and tied for fourth in the U.S. Open. He was later invited to participate in the Lessing J. Rosenwald tournament and Bobby was the only player to win from Reshevsky. Hans Kmoch has said of this game, “I never saw any game played better. It was the game of the century.”
Bobby came in eighth, but won the brilliancy prize. Max Pavey came in behind Fischer.
When Bobby won the U.S open chess championship in Cleveland he beat the best American players, except for Reshevsky and Larry Evans, who did not compete. He now says it will take him ten years to become the chess champion of the world. This is a prize which comes to few masters, but Fischer is still young. He may make it. He may have problems now, and later. As a chess player, he is, however, a fascinating personality.

What Price Child Prodigy?

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