Fourteen-Year-Old 'Mozart of Chess'; Called the greatest natural player the game has ever known

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New York Times, New York, New York, Sunday, February 23, 1958 - Pages 241, 261, 263

Fourteen-Year-Old 'Mozart of Chess'; Called the greatest natural player the game has ever known, national champion Bobby Fischer will first lose his adenoids and then seek the world title.
By Harold C. Schonberg

In a few weeks, the winner of the United States Chess Championship, the United States Junior Championship and several other assorted baubles will go to the hospital and have his adenoids out, thus missing a few days at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, where he is a sophomore. Bobby Fischer, who will be 15 on March 12, has been taking on all comers in chess ever since he wandered into the Manhattan Chess Club at the age of 12 and proceeded to startle the potzers with his phenomenal ability at “rapid transit.” A potzer, is a species of chess player who ranks about Class Z in a stern hierarchy that (in the American ratings system) starts with Class B and works up through Class A, Expert, Master, Senior Master and Grandmaster. Rapid transit is ten-second chess, in which the good player intuitively feels rather than studies positions, since he has only ten seconds to make each move. “Bobby was a demon at rapid transit,” one of the masters at the Manhattan Chess Club says. “We would gather around to watch him. Skill at rapid chess is always a sign of innate talent, the best there is.”
Bobby hung around the club for a year or so, sharpening his game in competition with some of the best players in America. Then he took off with a few million pounds thrust, winning everything in sight, including the American championship in January. Normally reserved and skeptical chess critics find no words to describe Bobby Fischer accurately. He has been called a miracle, the Mozart of chess, the greatest natural genius the game has ever known and a shoo-in for the world's championship if he progresses as he has in the past two years. “Never before in all chess history has there been such a phenomenon,” says Dr. Hans Kmoch, formerly a renowned player, author of recondite chess treatises and secretary of the Manhattan Chess Club. “At his age, neither Morphy, nor Capablanca, nor Reshevsky had such achievements, Bobby won without losing a game and he drew very few.”

Bobby became United States champion on Jan. 7. He turned up at the Manhattan Chess Club that night wearing dungarees and a T-shirt. (He has never been known to wear a necktie and only a short time ago his mother finally managed to get him out of sneakers and into shoes.) He was a half-point ahead, going into the final game, and he drew his match with Abe Turner in short order. That left Samuel Reshevsky, in second place, a full point behind. Reshevsky, one of the most dangerous players alive, had to win to tie Bobby for the championship.
Having nothing much to do, pending the outcome of Reshevsky's game with William Lombardy, Bobby wandered off to a corner of the club and began to play blitz with some friends. (Blitz is quicker than ten-second chess—ten seconds per move quicker.) In the meantime, a crowd gathered around the Reshevsky-Lombardy game. Reports and rumors were relayed to Bobby, who was trying to appear nonchalant. Finally, he could stand it no longer, and he elbowed his way through the crowd. He glanced at the board and came back. “Gee,” he said, “Lombardy's playing like a house!
A half-hour later, Bobby stopped blitzing and walked over to take another look at the game. This time, he took a really long look, about fifteen seconds or so. “Reshevsky's busted,” he announced, returning. “Lombardy's got his rooks doubled on the knight file. What an attack he's got!” All the potzers in the vicinity set up the position and tried to determine how the great Reshevsky was busted. “Hey, Fischer,” one of them called out, “How's Sammy going to lose? We figure a draw.” Fischer came over, bored. “Bill plays here,” he said. “Reshevsky plays here; he must, because if he doesn't * * *” and then followed a fast analysis of the position. &lduqo;I give Reshevsky ten more moves,” Bobby concluded. “and then he must resign.”
Within ten moves, Reshevsky resigned and a great yell went up. Bobby started to jump around and dance, and ten congratulated Lombardy, a saturine, heavy-set boy of 20 who is the world junior champion and a student at City College. “You played tremendously.” Bobby said. “Well, what else could I do?” grinned Lombardy. “You forced me to beat Sammy.”
As a result of his victory, Bobby is entitled to play this August in the interzonal tournament in Yugoslavia. The high-ranking scorers there will then meet in a challenger's tournament and the winner will play Vassily Smyslov, the Russian who is current titleholder, for the world championship. Admirers of Bobby worry about the showing he will make in the interzonal, for he has never before met players of this caliber. But they also worried before the United States tournament. Arthur Bisguier, whom Bobby dethroned as American champion, wrote in The Chess Review:
Bobby Fischer, our youngest luminary, should finish slightly over the center mark,” Bisguier guessed. “He is probably the player in the tournament with the greatest familiarity with the latest wrinkles in opening theory * * *. Still he has had no experience in tournaments of such consistently even strength. Neither he nor his admirers should be discouraged if his result here does not quite measure up to his other triumphs. This is a strong field.”.

Bobby learned the moves at the age of 6, shortly after he had come to New York to live. He was born in Chicago, in 1943, after which his family started a restless traipse that took them to Oregon, Arizona and California. His parents were divorced in 1945 and his mother took all kinds of jobs to keep the family going. When the three of them—Mrs. Fischer, Bobby, and his sister Joan—came to New York in 1948, Mrs. Fischer studied nursing. She is now a registered nurse completing courses for an M.A. in nursing education at New York University.
Joan, now 20, and also a registered nurse who has just entered pre-medical school, taught Bobby the moves. They got a chess set and puzzled out from the directions what to put where. Games were what Bobby loved. Mrs. Fischer says that as a baby he was intensely interested in puzzles. “He would get those Japanese interlocking rings, and things like that, and take things apart I couldn't figure out at all.” Bobby liked chess but it didn't seem to make much impact on him.

In the meantime he was proving a problem in public school. Fresh from California, he had never worn a shirt, and he rebelled against the necessity of dressing up. In the fourth grade, the Brooklyn Community-Woodward school gave him a scholarship. The boy's intelligence quotient has never been made public, but school authorities indicate that it is high in the upper percentile. “Brooklyn Community did a lot for Bobby,” says Mrs. Fischer.
Bobby's chess playing was encouraged by Brooklyn Community. Teachers there remember him running around with copies of Schachmaty (the Russian chess publication) stuffed into his pocket. He was an average student and something of a nonconformist. “We kept him as happy as possible while he was here,” an official of the school says. “We were able to adjust to him.” It was noticed that Bobby was not particularly interested in the academic side of school (continued on Page 61).

Fourteen-Year-Old 'Mozart of Chess'; Called the greatest natural player the game has ever known, national champion Bobby Fischer will first lose his adenoids and then seek the world title.

(continued from Page 38)
life, but that he showed tremendous and fierce concentration on winning in competitive sports.
“He incited a great deal of interest in chess here,” says one of his teachers. “He easily beat everybody, including the chess-playing members of the faculty. No matter what he played, whether it was baseball in the yard, or tennis, he had to come out ahead of everybody. If he had been born next to a swimming pool he would have been a swimming champion. It just turned out to be chess.” Bobby hates to lose. Two or three years back, he would, if he dropped a game, retire to a corner and cry. He no longer cries, but he still feels terrible when he loses.
At the age of 8 or so, Bobby started going to the Brooklyn Chess Club, where Carmine Nigro, its president, took an interest in the child. “He helped me more than anybody,” says Bobby. While most children of his age were reading comic books and reluctantly doing homework, Bobby was subscribing to the aforementioned Schachmaty and all of the American chess magazines. Naturally, his homework took second place. At Erasmus Hall, he is described as an average student, “very good in some subjects, not so good in others, but a very bright boy.”
When he first came to the Manhattan Chess Club he was short and cherubic-looking. Suddenly he started growing. He is now 5 feet 10 inches tall and weights about 140 pounds. He is at an awkward emotional age. He likes being a celebrity but has not acquired the social graces to handle his new position easily. Usually, he is shy and introverted; at other times, boisterous. Only among chess players does he really feel at home; they he is relaxed and happy. “Don't forget,” says an admirer of his, “that he's really a child thrown into a man's world. He's a nice kid. He may be a little cocky, and why shouldn't he be? Right now when he's away from the chess world he has a tendency to go into a shell. He'll get over it.”
A growing boy, Bobby has a growing boy's appetite. He is well built and may make a fine athlete. When he won the championship, he was invited to Grossinger's. Tony Kastner, the ski pro there, found Bobby was following him around. “Bobby will make a good skier,” Kastner says, “His coordination is terrific.” In return for ski lessons, Bobby gave Kastner chess lessons.

He is an abnormally sensitive and touchy boy who is only just beginning to realize that there is a world outside of kings, queens, rooks and pawns. Over the chessboard, in tournament play, he is quiet, assured and completely mature, though his fingernails are bitten to the quick. In offhand chess games, such as blitz, he carries on a rapid, good-natured, nervous patter in a voice that has not settled down as yet. “You dare do this to me? C'mon, make a move * * * Ouch! * * * Look at him! You're busted and you don't know it. Resign, weakie, resign!” Outside of chess world he seems to have few friends. Often when speaking with adults he does not know well, he adopts an air of sullen bravado.
As yet, Bobby has no plans for the future. He doesn't know if he wants to go to college. “If I had a lot of money I'd like to play in chess tournaments. But you can't make a living in chess. (His prize for the American championship was $600.) He does know one thing—he doesn't like newspaper men and says so. He feels that he has always been misquoted or made out to be a freak.
“Those guys always write bad about me,” he says. “They say I'm stupid, that I have nothing but a talent for chess. It's not true. I'm good in some sports. I'm not saying I'm terrific, but I played some tennis , did some ice-skating, and used to be good at baseball. That was when I was young, years ago. We played stickball in the street. I'm pretty good in Spanish, and I like science, astronomy most of all.”
He says that these days he doesn't study chess much, a remark that causes great amusement and some disbelief at the Manhattan Chess Club. “Last year, I concentrated on end-game positions for a few months. Now I'm playing through end games and tournament books.” He has a tremendous knowledge of “book chess”—that is, nearly a total recall of all standard openings and the various lines thereof. He doesn't look for new moves, contenting himself with taking advantage of a positional weakness in an opponent. “It's getting harder and harder to find new moves,” says Bobby. “The Russians do, though. They've got 50,000 people analyzing opening theory.”

IF memorization were all that was needed to make a great player, the woods would be full of them. What makes a great player? “Practice. Study. Talent,” is Bobby's answer. A strong element of imagination and even creation enters into chess on its highest level; and each great player is a stylist. Morphy was a romantic; Reti a hyper-modern; Capablanca a classicist. An expert in chess can distinguish an Alekhine game as easily as an expert in art can identify an unsigned Guardi or Pissaro.
One American chess master describes
(Continued on Page 63)

Fourteen-Year-Old 'Mozart of Chess'; Called the greatest natural player the game has ever known

(Continued from Page 61)
Bobby's style as “effortless. Reminiscent of Capablanca. He's hardly ever in time pressure.” (In most American tournaments, the player must complete forty-two moves in two hours—two and a half hours, in championship tournaments—and, in complicated positions, a player may find himself with only two minutes to make fifteen moves.)

“HE has a beautiful classical style,” says the same master, “and practically no idiosyncrasies. He doesn't favor, say, two bishops or a certain type of position. I see no perceptible weakness in any part of his game, and as a tactician he's marvelous.” The late Dr. Savielly T. Tartakower, one of the great players, once defined tactics as “knowing what to do when there is something to do: strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.”
Bobby's youth helps. Chess is a young man's game. In all history, there has not been a great chess player who failed to make his mark before he was 20. In the late teens and early twenties, the mind can absorb more and react more quickly, while the body can stand up under the rigors of heavy tournament play: five hours daily, for two weeks or more, during which the brain bubbles and every atom of one's intellectual being is concentrated outside time and space on the infinite possibilities of chess pieces in combination; nights of analysis; a restless turning in bed while games are mentally played over and new tactics devised. Players have been known to lose five pounds during a tournament.
Most chess players fade away after the age of 45. They make mistakes they never previously have made, they don't handle themselves well under time pressure, and new theory passes them by. Along comes a kid who is up on the latest analyses from all over the world and the older man is literally beaten in the opening few moves, though he may struggle for forty or so.

DR. KMOCH still sputters when he recalls the night Bobby won the championship. “In no other country in the world,” he says, “is it conceivable that there would be not one word from the Government. It's inconceivable, fantastic. The entire chess world is stunned with amazement by the announcement that a 14-year-old boy has won the American championship—and silence from the authorities.”
Dr. Kmoch thinks that Bobby is at least one answer to the sputnik, for chess is the Russian national sport. He, and many others in the chess world, have been reading with interest about the cultural interchange plan arranged by former Soviet Ambassador Georgi N. Zaraoubin and William S.B. Lacy, special assistant to the Secretary of State on East-West exchanges. Under the terms of the agreement, some 500 Americans will visit the Soviet Union next year. The betting in the Manhattan Chess Club is a queen against a pawn that no chess players will be represented.
“Bobby may not have the funds to compete this August in Yugoslavia,” Dr. Kmoch says indignantly. “Possibly some of the wealthier players in the club will raise the money. And possibly they may not. Should it be their responsibility?”
But it probably will be private funds that will take care of the trip. “We'll have to do something for him,” says Maurice J. Kasper, president of the Manhattan Chess Club and treasurer of the American Chess Foundation. Neither the A.C.F. nor the United States Chess Federation, however has much much money. Last year, the United States was not represented in the Chess Olympiad. Forty countries sent teams, but the United States players could not raise enough money.

INVITATIONS for Bobby to play in tournaments or to give exhibitions have been pouring in from all over the world. Canada wants him. Mar del Plata in Argentina, where an important tournament is often held, has extended an invitation. England would like to see him in the Hastings tournament. Russia not only has invited him but has promised to pick up the tab for his entire visit there.
Bobby primarily wants to go to Yugoslavia, for from there lies the road to the world championship. He is cagey about his chances in that assemblage. “Let's see who's in it,” he says. “I won't predict.” All I have to do is end up in the upper half of the tournament. That qualifies me for the challenger's tournament.” Bobby leaves little doubt about his confidence of getting in the upper half. He was reminded that the best players of the four leading chess nations—Russia, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Argentina—would be represented. He shrugged his shoulders. “They're good too,” he said.

Fourteen-Year-Old 'Mozart of Chess'; Called the greatest natural player the game has ever known

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Bobby's views never strayed far from his roots. The collage above, mentions BERTRAND RUSSELL, who was responsible for putting the peace signs on the 1958 banners and buttons of the activists. BERTRAND RUSSELL held strong views opposing the Apartheid of Israel. Just as Bobby did. Bobby never abandoned his leftist-leaning roots which he learned from Regina Fischer. He loathed Fascism.

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