Sunday, August 8, 2010

1 Fischer - compared to John Lennon

Fischer - comparisons with other celebrities

I am not alone in comparing Bobby Fischer's behaviour with that of other celebrities - though John Nash is perhaps more appropriate from a psychological point of view, thus:


"In many ways Fischer's story resembles that of the mentally unstable Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash Jr., the mathematician who inspired the book and Oscar-winning movie A Beautiful Mind, but without the happy ending. Both Fischer and Nash were the best at their chosen professions. Both were widely considered to be geniuses. Both were also supremely arrogant, rebellious, eccentric, and - although respected - not necessarily well liked by colleagues. Fischer left the United States to live in exile. So did Nash. Even eerier, while in the grip of schizophrenia Nash was an anti-Semite and was convinced that Communists (the men at MIT wearing red ties) were observing him." (from Rene Chun's excellent summary of Fischer's life)




Fischer can also be usefully compared with another chess genius, Paul Morphy, thus:

"No longer merely a former world chess champion, he has grown to almost mythic size, leaving behind him a trail of rumors and a chess world that is still reaching out for him in the void.

Much the same kind of effect was created in the 1850s when Paul Morphy, a New Orleans chess prodigy then recognized as the world champion, returned in triumph from Europe and soon simply stopped playing. Morphy was regarded as one of the game's true innovators. Fischer revered him. They are the only two Americans ever acclaimed as world chess champions, and there remains that striking parallel in their careers. "Fischer's like Morphy," says international master Igor Ivanov, a Soviet defector. "What's the story with you Americans? You win the title, go home and don't play any more."

Later in his life, after abandoning chess altogether, Morphy suffered from delusions of persecution and withdrew into his own private world. Occasionally he strolled the streets of New Orleans, muttering, in French, "He will plant the banner of Castille upon the walls of Madrid, amidst the cries of the conquered city, and the little king will go away looking very sheepish." He died of apoplexy, at age 47.". (from William Nack's excellent article)



Shall I compare thee to ... John Lennon!

Now we are 40 years on from Bobby Fischer's triumph in Reykjavik it is increasingly hard to find anything new or meaningful about the man himself. One of the problems of writing about any historical figure is that, in most cases, the writer did not grow up in the same world and has no experience of societal norms at that time. For example, those of you who didn't live during the Cold War period cannot understand on a gut level, how it shaped one's mental scenery. I was pretty young when he won the title and, because I had no experience of previous title matches, simply assumed that this was the way chess matches were played. The ignorance of youth. I didn't realise that Fischer was uniquely responsible for changing the chess landscape forever in terms of financial reward and popularity.

But, for some reason, he occupies a similar place in my life to Lennon. On a subconscious level I somehow believe that the way they lived their lives will help me to understand my own motivations. We are all affected by the way our 'idols' live their lives - unfortunately they often feel no responsibility for the huge effect they have on those who follow them (of any age, not just youngsters). We are all looking for answers and so we naturally check out the way others live their lives. Of course Lennon, as usual, had his own take on this, thus "My role in society, or any artist's or poet's role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.".

To justify my talking about Lennon in a post about Fischer (John and Yoko were/are chess players incidentally), here are a couple of the former's quotes which Fischer might (?) have said himself:

"The only reason I am a star is because of my repression. Nothing else would have driven me through all that if I was 'normal'."

"I'm not going to change the way I look or the way I feel to conform to anything. I've always been a freak. So I've been a freak all my life and I have to live with that, you know. I'm one of those people."

"When I was about twelve, I used to think I must be a genius, but nobody’s noticed. Either I’m a genius or I’m mad, which is it? ‘No,’ I said, ‘I can’t be mad because nobody’s put me away; therefore I’m a genius.’ Genius is a form of madness and we’re all that way. But I used to be coy about it, like me guitar playing. But if there’s such a thing as genius – I am one. And if there isn’t, I don’t care."

"People like me are aware of their so-called genius at ten, eight, nine."

"I was different, I was always different. Why didn't anybody notice me?"

"Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we're being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I'm liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That's what's insane about it."

"Part of me suspects that I'm a loser, and the other part of me thinks I'm God Almighty. ".

"Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we're being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I'm liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That's what's insane about it."


Fisher and Lennon contrasted

Let's begin with another quote from Lennon, this time it contains an emotional insight that perhaps Fischer did NOT have - to his great cost:

"When you're drowning, you don't say 'I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,' you just scream.".

So Lennon screamed out for 'Help' throughout his life - whilst Fischer hid himself away. One of the commentators at 'Crooked Timber talks about what might have happened to Fischer if help had been available, thus:

"It seems pretty likely to me that Fischer had Asperger’s syndrome, and probably suffered manic/depressive and psychotic episodes, as many people so affected do. Learning chess and multiple languages at a young age is a giveaway. His antisemitic rantings are quite likely the product of the associated psychosis, and no doubt seemed to him quite reasonable. Had he been born 30 years later, he quite probably would have been properly diagnosed and treated, and would have lead a reasonably normal life. Would he still have been a chess master? Who knows?"

And another comment in the same vein - from 'EndridCold' (in a YouTube commentary), thus:

"What is more disappointing is that his (Fischer's) family & so called friends allowed him to fall through the cracks. Not much was known about clinical depression & chemical imbalances back then. Who knows, something as simple as 100 mgs of Doxepin per day might well have been a God's send. Had those around him dragged him kicking & screaming to the proper docs, there is no telling where he could have taken chess.".

I think that this comment by 'EndridCold' is quite profound. Fischer arguably had much less support than Lennon, with his Beatle mates to keep him company and provide support. But then Fischer was adept at pushing people away eg if he ever suspected that they talked about him in any way to the media they were immediately 'banished' from his life. In contrast we remember how McCartney, noticing that Lennon was experiencing a bad drug trip, took time to sit with his friend and even 'take a trip' himself - just to keep him company.


The lifestyle of the Beatles, and the wonderful camaraderie they built up over the years, highlights the isolation of a dedicated chess player such as Fischer in a dramatic way. We see that it is not just Fischer's reported reclusiveness and lack of social skills that were to blame for the difficulties he suffered but also his lifestyle. There is something courageous in taking on the role of professional chessplayer and it isn't just the lack of financial reward. Most are not 'geeky' or antisocial by nature - yet they risk being perceived as such or even finding to their horror that, in time, they actually begin to develop such characteristics to some degree. What I am saying is that chess players may not be antisocial - contrary to the popular view. That they make sacrifices in real life as well as in the game itself!

Let Aunt Mimi have the last word

After discussing the experience of having 'difficulties' childhood with one's mother, it seems appropriate to talk about Lennon's mother too. If you are fascinated by such questions as whether Lennon would have achieved what he did without the impetus derived from the his difficult childhood I unreservedly recommend you read 'Imagine This: Growing Up with my Brother John Lennon' by Julia Baird (his half-sister) and also watch the film "Nowhere Boy"- even if Paul McCartney (who did not attend the premiere) was quoted as saying, “it wasn’t like that…this didn’t happen, and that most certainly didn’t happen.”

I'll finish with an obvious song choice from John. Apparently "Lennon wrote this while he was undergoing 'Primal Scream' therapy. He was dealing with a lot of issues that were detailed in the lyrics. He lost his mother at a crucial period in his life to a drunk driving off duty policeman who ran her over in a crosswalk and his aunt Mimi raised him, which explains the line, "Mother you had me, but I never had you." His father, a merchant seaman, left him for the sea and work. "I wanted you, you didn't need me" explains his feelings about his dad. A very painful youth, his primal screaming on this song lets you feel his pain. (thanks, Bob - Boston, MA)

Mother, you had me but I never had you
I wanted you, you didn't want me
So I, I just got to tell you
Goodbye, goodbye

Father, you left me but I never left you
I needed you, you didn't need me
So I, I just got to tell you
Goodbye, goodbye

Children, don't do what I have done
I couldn't walk and I tried to run
So I, I just got to tell you
Goodbye, goodbye

Mama, don't go
Daddy, come home
Mama, don't go
Daddy, come home

(repeat last stanza)


"The Guitar's Alright For A Hobby John.. But You'll Never Make A Living From It"

- Aunt Mimi.

Links (Fischer related)

Fischer quotes

Images (1)


Images (2)

His information

Useful information

His career and complete games (German GM Müller has annotated pretty much every single tournament game Fischer ever played that is available)

Various biographies

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