Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Na4

Posted by metaphorical on 19 January 2008

“I don’t believe in psychology. I believe in good moves.” — Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer was a real hero for me growing up and the Spassky match was a highlight, a moment when knowing chess was an admired talent and the rest of the world was, for just a moment, envious of us geeks. That wouldn’t happen again, to my experience, until the dot-com era.

I was three years old when my father taught me how to play chess, and was 15 the year that Fischer beat Spassky and I beat my father even-up for the first time.

The Spassky games were shown on television and an unknown third-rate chess master, Shelby Lyman, came out of nowhere to do a play-by-play commentary that made a rook combination as exciting as a Red Barber description of a double play.

Fischer once said, “The turning point in my career came with the realization that Black should play to win instead of just steering for equality.” I just replayed the game of the century, Fischer’s game against Donald Byrne in the 1956 Rosenwald Tournament. Fischer had the black pieces. Has there ever been a game with more uncaptured unprotected material? He played to win.

I had forgotten that there were two triple-exclamation-point moves in that game, and a double-exclamation-point move as well. Fischer’s queen sacrifice comes six moves after the Na4 gambit that my father thought was the greatest single move in chess history.

Fischer was 13 years old.

“You have to have the fighting spirit. You have to force moves and take chances.” — Bobby Fischer

In the same way that I don’t care that Tom Cruise is a Scientologist and rants and raves on couches, I just enjoy his movies, so too I really don’t care that Fischer was a paranoid anti-Semite who gouged out his fillings to stop the CIA from poisoning him with mercury. I loved his chessplaying.

Fischer’s games are like Cezanne paintings, simple, clear brushstrokes that seem inevitable and ever so easy, until you try to do it yourself. They will endure for as long as people are playing chess.

“Chess is life.” — Bobby Fischer

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2 Responses to “Na4”

  1. CMD said

    I really enjoyed reading this. I did a lot of research on Fischer when I was a budding theater nerd just getting into Chess, and it made me wish that someone had taught me to play chess when I was young enough for it to really take. Fischer is such a fascinating figure, and what you’ve written really captures that.

    (But you still shouldn’t like Tom Cruise movies that have nothing to do with Scientology.)

  2. ClaireDePlume said

    I’m not a chess player, but I do recall the fervor he created in the world at large, for both nerds and non-nerds alike. I echo CMD’s remark, “I really enjoyed reading this”.

    Why do I say this? Meta, you really captured your readers’ emotional interest by paying tribute to someone for who they were to YOU, regardless of anything else, and you admire him in spite of differences.

    Like the image of a Cezanne painting, your words are brush strokes that have brought your message visually alive into the understanding of all, even those of us who are non-geeks. Thank you.

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