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MACA Chess Horizons Magazine Article
 Review: Bobby Fischer for Beginners
 Nicholas P. Sterling, Ph.D.
  April 2011
Among all chess masters, Bobby Fischer must surely be the most discussed in print, and certainly the best known, for good or for ill.  Even chess players who have not studied World Championships closely have likely heard of Fischer’s defeat of Spassky in 1972 in Reykjavik, Iceland.  The international chess world was captivated by him in 1972 and again, with more than a few misgivings, in 1992.  Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games, co-authored with the late Larry Evans, continues to be a classic.  He is renowned for his clashes with GM Samuel Reshevsky, his notorious interview with Dick Cavett, his refusal to defend his World Championship title against Anatoly Karpov, his later brushes with the law, his anti-Semitic fulminations, his inflammatory comments after 9/11, his arrest in Japan, and his final reclusive years back in Iceland.  Even after death Fischer continues to be a source of controversy as various family relations – real or alleged – quarrel over his estate and the paternity of certain children.
For all that, however, to explain Bobby Fischer briefly to someone not particularly familiar with him is a surprisingly difficult challenge.   Fischer is so complex, enigmatic, multivalent, and ultimately perplexing a public figure and chess player that it is nearly impossible truly to understand him.  The enormous number of publications about Fischer, such as Edmonds and Eidinow’s Bobby Fischer Goes to War, testifies to the amazing fascination this player holds for the chess world, and the difficulty any author will have in getting the definitive last word.
Renzo Verwer’s short monologue Bobby Fischer for Beginners makes a superb effort to introduce Bobby Fischer briefly for players not already intimately familiar with him. The 2010 New in Chess edition is an English translation of the original Dutch edition published in 2008.  The book summarizes the American grandmaster’s life in an easily readable and quick-moving but informative account. There are six chapters dedicated to the biography, each wittily titled with a famous quotation of the American grandmaster.  The final Chapter 7 presents ten of Fischer’s career games with some brief analysis, and the book closes with a list of Fischer’s notable tournament results.
The brief but sparkling details that Verwer provides for his readers make for an engaging chronological overview of Fischer’s tumultuous life.  Each quotation that heads a chapter helps stimulate interest by relating to some aspect of Bobby’s life.  For instance, Chapter 1 is titled, “Children who grow up without a parent become wolves,” alluding to Bobby’s growing up with his single mother Regina.  Chapter 4 is even blunter: “I’m Bobby Fischer, the greatest chess player.”  This was Bobby’s (failed) pick-up line with a girl on the beach.
The details in the stories are entertaining, yet spare, as befits an introduction.  Seasoned devotees of Bobby Fischer may enjoy having this book in their collections, but are unlikely to learn much new.  On the other hand, newcomers to Fischer should find this book an enjoyable intro that may spark their interest to learn more.
Verwer is especially masterful when he uses Fischer’s own words, or those of other related parties, to demonstrate Fischer’s moods, philosophies on life, or motives. For example, in the first Chapter, Fischer’s warped mentality comes across from his attitudes on school (bad, useless, waste of time – maybe not so warped if you happen to agree with him), aristocrats (good as long as they dress properly as millionaires should), and Russians (a bunch of Communist cheaters).  The brief highlights from the big 1972 and 1992 tournaments are well-chosen to give the flavor of the uproar that often accompanied Fischer’s tournament play.  An especially neat anecdote on pg. 35, narrates Schmid’s obligation to make Fischer and Spassky play Round 3 by pushing them down in their chairs (to quell an ongoing quarrel) with the peremptory order, “Play chess!”  Had Schmid not done this, the text implies, Fischer might well have skipped out altogether, and history would have been completely different.
Some descriptions are brief to a fault.  With the 1961 tournament with Reshevsky, for example, we are given the assertion, “Fischer refused to cooperate with the sponsor”, when the latter wanted to change the time and date of a scheduled game.  This makes it sound as if the trouble was all Fischer’s fault.  In fact there was a big imbroglio over, first, Reshevsky’s need to observe the Jewish Sabbath and, second, a further subsequent rescheduling after Fischer had reluctantly agreed to the first.  Verwer does not, it seems, give this historical event proper justice, so that in general his accuracy may be subject to question.
Despite this caveat, I am deeply impressed with this book.  It should whet a new devotee’s hunger for reading more about this great yet puzzling American genius. While this book may be too simplistic for some, this reviewer gives this book very high recommendation.