Friday, January 21, 2011

Flashback Friday - The time Bobby Fischer came to my aid

I used to be a smark kid. When I was in elementary school, I played the trumpet in the school orchestra and was first chair. I also was an avid reader. I used to read books about animals. As a youngster, I was fascinated by dinosaurs.

I was also in the chess club in elementary school and I was the school champion. I thought I could beat Grandmasters from Russia. I played in several chess tournaments and did well until one day I got my ass kicked by a real genius. I was such a sore loser (even back then) that I refused to continue the tournament and walked off after getting defeated. I learned chess from my mother who was taught by my intellectual grandfather who always carried a chess board, chess books, and books on politics and philosophy. My grandfather was a real rebel in Mexico who once risked his life by coming to the aid of workers who were being exploited. He wrote his bike everywhere and always wore vest sweaters, slacks, and dirty shoes. He was also absent minded.

I pretty much forgot about chess throughout high school. Then one day I was at my community college and noticed some students playing chess. I sat down and asked to play. I thought that surely I would win. I was the elementary school champion and I was brilliant. I played and lost. I lost again. I sucked bad. I came to the realization that I needed to learn to play better but I didn't know how.

Once I was in a Whiitier library when I noticed an old man and a middle aged man playing chess. They looked disheveled. I sat down to play and I lost bad. I didn't mind losing too much. I expected to lose. I hadn't won in a long time. What made the losses painful is that one guy woud mock me with the most piercing laugh as soon as he knew that I was a goner. "Ha ha ha ha" that laughter was in my brain, even after I left the library. I returned to the library and I played with more conviction and I lost again. The mocking laughter returned. "Ha Ha Ha ha ha"

I decided at that losing moment that I would beat them. I would no longer be their punching bag. I vowed to be a hunter and not the prey. I returned to the library and I studied chess. I studied Bobby Fischer's, "My 60 Most Memorable Games". I studied opening theory and defenses. I studied the simple yet clear playing style of Jose Raul Capablanca who was the World Chess Champion from 1921-1927. I studied the defensive games of Tigran Petrosian who also was a world champion. I studied the positional play of Anatoli Karpov who turned minute advantages into victories. I studied "My System" by Aaron Nimvovich - which is considered a true classic and is regarded as "The Bible" of chess books.

After getting a better understanding of the game of chess, I was ready to put theory to practice. I sat down to play. Of course I did not tell them that I had been laboring over the Ruy Lopez chess opening or studying rook and pawn endgames. I just played and I beat them. I beat them over and over again. I was like Mike Tyson in his prime. I was a bad dude. I never mocked them but their silence was golden to me.

Later I played on a regular basis at Tang's donut shop in Los Angeles. I also started attending the Pasadena Chess Club, The La Habra Ches Club, Chess Palace, and coffee shops. It was not uncommon to go out with my buddies, get drunk, and play chess with a chess clock afterwards. I had a collection of chess books that I later just gave away.

A few years ago Bobby Fischer died and the news of his death was announced but it was merely a footnote on some blog or news website. In his latter years he was remembered for some of the crazy things he said about Jews,although he was Jewish himself. His place in chess and in history can not be understated. He single handedly brought down 40 years+ of Russian supremacy. This "crazy" American toppled the red machine without the financial backing of any American. He beat the Russians at the height of the cold war in 1972. Think about that.

After becoming champion he simply vanished and avoided any contact with people. He resurfaced 20 years later (1992) and had a rematch with the guy he defeated 20 years prior and he won again. He got paid over 1 million dollars for this and then he vanished to Iceland. He got arrested in Japan and was wanted in the U.S for tax evasion because he refused to give Uncle Sam a penny. The irony is that the U.S Treasury Department wrote a letter to him telling him not to go to Serbia to play the rematch. In front of the media, he spat on that letter. After winning the cash, this same U.S govt had it's hand out asking for their cut.

Bobby Fischer died surrounded by few people in Iceland. He is still missed by those in the chess community who were mesmerized by the artistry of his games. He was able to see further than any one of his peers. His aggressive approach and his persistent devotion to winning was contagious. Heck, years ago he was able to teach a young, stubborn college student how to play to win.


  1. You have grown, my friend. You went from sore loser to gracious winner. If you can teach yourself how to be a chess champion, what other areas of your life can you master now?

  2. What an amazing post Israel! Thanks for the lesson. I'd never heard of Bobby Fischer before. -Side note, my ten year old niece is a current Chess champion in her league. Yes she's a nerd, she plays on a team. I bet she could school you too! ;)

  3. Wow, that's awesome that you got good at chess. I know how to play but I'm not very good at it. But it is the cycle of life, those who have made an impact on somebody on this world will eventually turn around and not be there anymore.

    But it's awesome that you had some sort of thing to turn to to study the game of chess :)

  4. Great story. I remember when he beat the Russians, but I didn't know about his later life. Interesting. You gotta love the government!
    It is great you learned to play chess so well.

  5. That's cool. I've always wanted to learn & play chess & can't believe I still have not to this day.