Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Icons from the Age of Anxiety: Bobby Fischer

My maternal grandfather, Chester H. Gray, taught my older brother, Alfred, and me how to play chess in the early sixties. My brother warmed to the game more than I did. He was into cold, winning logic, while I made these ill-advised "artistic" moves, each executed with a grand Ed Norton-like flourish, and was soon mated. I think I even made the classic "Fool's Mate" moves several times where you're checkmated in only two moves. I don't think I ever beat Alfred, ever. To my credit, I only kicked the game board over or threw my Rook at his head a half-dozen times. I took my revenge by rolling the dice in "luck-based" board games like Conflict and Risk.

Like mastering math, pool, or poetry I really savored the idea of playing winning chess -- sadly, I just wasn't too successful at those endeavors. My brother played our neighborhood pals like Mark Moustakis, who went on to become the Alaskan State Chess Champion for a while. Alfred played on the East Anchorage High School chess team with his classmates, Steven "Wayne" Gordon and Willie Stone. Ultimately though, Alfred had to quit playing in his post-High School chess career because he just couldn't stand the pain of losing, even if he didn't lose that many matches. The soul-wrenching agony of losing was far more intense than the joy of winning -- a textbook case of "loss aversion."

After High School, Mark and Wayne used to go to chess tournaments in the "Lower 48" to collect autographs from chess Grandmasters, as well as try to increase their Elo ranking by winning matches. I've had two good friends that have written chess columns and books, Wayne Gordon, and here in Dallas, Ken Artz. Both of them also collected comic books.

I enjoyed being a chess hanger-on, and followed Bobby Fischer's career avidly, along with my friends'. He went from being a national hero to being a despised pariah. The only comparable crash I can think of is the soaring popularity and then dizzying plunge in the pop culture status of The Green Berets during the Vietnam era.

From the DVD description, "In 1972, America was chess-obsessed. The Soviet Union used chess to demonstrate its intellectual superiority to the West, but along came a young, lone American, who demolished the Russian masters of the sport. At the height of his career, Bobby Fischer was better known than any other man in the world. Relentless press attention, political pressure and a monomaniacal focus on chess ultimately led to his undoing.

Filmmaker Liz Garbus uses the narrative tension of the 1972 match between Fischer and the defending World Champion, the Russian Boris Spassky, to explore not only the politically charged period of the early 1970s but also the nature of genius, madness and the game of chess itself."

No comments:

Post a Comment