For those who do not play chess or know anything about it, the game is something that is commonly referenced in books, poetry, movies, etc. It is seen as somewhat of a metaphor for happenings in real life. For those who play chess and are in love with the game, it is something of an art or science, or something cosmic that is unexplainable. They may often be frustrated as to why the majority of society does not share their passion.
Chess has survived for thousands of years and is arguably the hardest game in the world. Through the eons, if there is one name or one master that has towered above anyone else, it is the American Bobby Fischer. When Fischer defeated Boris Spassky in 1972, the match created more publicity than any other chess event in history (even more than when IBM's computer Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1996). A lone American had defeated the mighty Soviet chess machine during the cold war. What should have been just the beginning of an already great career for Fischer, it was actually just the end.
Bobby Fischer made one of the great disappearances of any famous person of the 20th century. He did not die, but was as elusive as Bigfoot after he won the world championship. For those who encountered him only would end of becoming frustrated because they realized he was slowly going insane. 20 years after winning the Championship (1992), Fischer reappeared to play Spassky for another match. When he appeared, it became even more obvious that the man had lost his mind. When the September 11th attacks happened, Fischer shocked the world when he applauded the acts on a radio program. He never played again and passed away in 2008.
This HBO program is fantastic in that it is presented in a manner that is suitable for those who barely know anything about chess or those who know the intricate details of Fischer's career and life. It keeps the viewers' attention by playing nice music in the background throughout. The program shows numerous photographs and television footage that most people have never seen. The central focus of the program is the Fischer - Spassky match of 1972, but it juxtaposes all kind of other topics such as Fischer's family and love life, and his affiliation with a cult group. The program even has Henry Kissinger talking about the match. Kissinger had encouraged Fischer to follow through with the match when Fischer was about to not show up. But, the program does not blame Fischer's religious obsession with chess for this mental breakdown. It posits that it could have been a possibility.
I will have to strongly disagree with one part of this documentary. It stated that when after Fischer won the world championship, he was arguably the most famous man in the world (aside from Jesus). I find this really hard to believe. One because Fischer was a merely just a chess champion and (2) there were many other gigantic figures at that time; Muhammad Ali, Richard Nixon, Chairman Mao, just to name a few.
In the end, the enigma will always remain the enigma. Nobody really knows why Fischer quit playing after 1972 or what caused his mental disintergration. Even though he forfeited his title to Karpov in 1975, why did he completely give up playing even tournaments and simuls altogether? What we are left is speculation. Many chess lovers will proudly proclaim that Fischer was the best player of all time. There maybe some truth to this, but I believe Garry Kasparov finally deserves this title. This is because Kasparov was willing to take on all comers, human beings or computers. Kasparov did this for almost 3 decades. Kasparov defeated an ongoing Champion Anatoly Karpov (one of the top 5 players ever) 5 times and he continued to defend this title beating brilliant and talented young players - Ivanchuck, Shirov, Topalov, Anand, Short, Leko, Kramnik, Kamsky, and so many others for another 2 decades.
*Please do not comment if you are going to get into a "greatest ever" debate - it will be yet another endless discussion and will lead to nowhere.*
Fishcer's story is one of the great tragedies of chess, but in the short time that he was brilliant, he shined so brightly that it continues to illuminate to this day. Although his life ended to a sad decline, keep in mind, we remember and admire him for what he produced.