The Bobby Fischer I Knew

Newsweek, June 20, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Bobby Fischer I Knew


It was the chess match of the century. Harry Benson, author of a new book about the late, troubled champion, recalls his friend's battle against Spassky.

I got along with Bobby Fischer because I knew nothing about chess. Bobby thought anyone who knew about chess was a moron.

I met Bobby in Buenos Aires in 1971, while on assignment for Life magazine. He was out for a walk late at night. I caught up with him and said, "Would you mind if I walked with you?" He grunted. I told him I had just finished photographing a story about the New York Jets and Joe Namath. He said, "You know, I'm an athlete as well. You can't sit at the chess table and not be physically fit." Bobby wanted to hear all about the Jets. That's how we became friends: I knew the last thing to talk to him about was chess.

In 1972, at the height of the Cold War, it was announced that Bobby would take on the Russian Boris Spassky for the title of world chess champion in Reykjavik, Iceland. I photographed him in the weeks leading up to the big event at Grossinger's, the resort in the Catskills where Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis used to train. He let me photograph him in the swimming pool, in the shower, out for a walk.

When the Spassky match was set to begin, everyone went to Iceland. The world was waiting for Bobby, and there was a big question of whether he'd actually come. But at the last minute he finally arrived. Every night that we were there, Bobby would knock on my door at about 11, and we would walk until about 3:30 a.m. We would talk about sports and nuclear disarmament, but never about chess. All Bobby would say about Spassky was simply: "I'm going to crush him!"

During the match, which lasted for 21 games over weeks, there was a game where Bobby had made a real mess. Back in his hotel room he sat with five grandmasters, tracing and retracing his moves. …

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