Friday, February 29, 2008

Bobby Fischer: a new perspective

By Frank 'Boy' Pestaño

SINCE the death of Bobby Fischer last month, more than 100 eulogies have been written including three by Chessmoso. The one that elicited a lot of feedbacks, however, was the New York Times blog post by Dick Cavett, the host of the Dick Cavett Show, which aired on national television in the USA for more than 50 years.

The newspaper got a lot of feedbacks, which was so moving to Cavett that he penned another piece, thanking the readers. One of these read, “brilliant, insightful, and very touching–by far the best eulogy of Bobby I’ve read, and, amazingly, from someone not in the chess community. Bravo, Mr. Cavett.” featured the article (if you want to read it) and also received a lot of feedbacks. But the one that impressed me the most was the article by Bryan Green, which I liked so much that I e-mailed him to ask his permission to reprint a part of it in this column so I can share it with you. A full reprint is not possible due to space limitations. However, if you want to read, check out his blog at

(Italicized parts are mine) “Bobby Fischer was what we call a child prodigy. He was the Mozart of chess. He won the US Chess Championships when he was 13 years old! The real question is how did he do it?

He obviously had talent. But what was that talent? Was it the ability to memorize outrageously complex positions? Was it the ability to think 9, 10, 11 moves ahead? Was it the ability to devise devious traps for his opponents?

No. It wasn’t. He may have eventually been able to do those things, but those were not the talents that made him the greatest chess player ever. His talent was his obsession. He developed the ability to do all of the above things, but they didn’t come naturally. They were painstakingly develop through intense and focused effort. The type of effort that most people simply can‘t generate. Border-line superhuman.

Cavett says it better than I do:

“We assume that geniuses are blessed creatures, who don’t have to work hard to achieve their goals. Hard for us, easy for them. But Bobby, as a kid -- IQ pushing 200 -- put in 10 to 15 hours a day of brain power and heavy concentration that would kill an ordinary person. (Or at least me.)”

Does this mean that prodigies are made, not born? Yes and no. Because the simple fact is you can’t force a person to put in the quality of effort that Fischer put into his chess. That type of effort has to come from somewhere inside. It doesn’t come from fear of punishment or hope of reward. It comes from love. Love in the form of need and at the mercy of obsession.

One thing he does articulate well is that greatness isn’t all talent. He says you need talent to be truly great (which we can take to mean his level), but he follows that by saying many of the top players aren’t that talented; they’ve “just worked like dogs” and “they keep at it...they’ve got the character, they don’t get distracted by other things in life until they’ve gotten what they wanted out of it.”

I don’t know what caused Bobby Fischer to slowly come unhinged. I don’t know what caused him to isolate himself from the world and I don’t know what drove him to despise Jews and America. But I do think I know what made him into a child prodigy and a World Chess Champion. He believed his effort would improve his ability. And then he worked longer, harder, and with a higher level of quality than any of his competitors. (Harder than anyone, at anything, ever?) You can call it talent or effort, motivation or love or obsession.

Whatever you call it, it’s what makes you a champion.” The greatest ever. (

1 comment:

bogschess said...

your articles are always a source of entertainment and amusement...I always see to it that I read your column each week. see you soon!