Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam, Bobby Fischer in Iceland: Alone and Self Reliant to the End

Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam,
“A Lone King Has Wandered Off,”
New In Chess, 2008, No. 2.

A long memorial article on Bobby Fischer (1943-2008) was just published in New In Chess detailing the author’s trip to Iceland after Bobby died. The author interviewed as many people in Iceland as he could find who knew Fischer and he gained invaluable information from several people including Saemi Palsson, a special person who had the ability to calm all kinds of situations and issues. Saemi served as Bobby’s bodyguard for the 1972 match and for a short time afterwards when Bobby returned to the States, and once again befriended Bobby in 2005 when he came to spend his last years in Iceland.

According to the article, Bobby could’ve lived for another decade or two had he chosen to accept medical treatment in Iceland for his failed kidney. As it was he died prematurely – and apparently in great pain. He would only allow the doctors to arrange for blood tests, but would allow no further medical treatment, least of all a replacement kidney which could have been arranged; or more routine medical assistance which could have saved him. The author believes that Bobby’s ideology kept him from accepting any outside help including medical help.

The article details some of the extraordinary lengths made by particular Icelanders to arrange for the world championship match in 1972 and to get Bobby out of jail in Japan in 2005. One reader (me) guesses that the reason that the Japanese authorities imprisoned him was on the orders of the Bush administration who wanted to punish him and make him suffer.

The Icelandic Parliament passed a special act awarding Bobby an Icelandic passport which enabled him to travel and live there for his last years. Reading once again between the lines, one can guess that the U.S. and Japan backed off when Iceland went public with its initiative to provide a home for Bobby.

One of Bobby’s traits was his lifelong suspicion and detestation of anyone making a buck off his name and his fame. Even when discussions took place about a documentary about Bobby focusing on his last years in Iceland, Bobby for a time turned against his friend, Saemi Palsson, because the latter was to get fifteen per cent while Bobby got forty.

This reminded me of an incident that I had heard about decades earlier which supposedly took place around the time Bobby became U.S. Chess Champion at the age of 14. The way I recall the story is that a promotional event was arranged for Bobby in the Catskills where he was to be paid for an appearance there. After the event, the unscrupulous promoter left the young and friendless Bobby with nothing, not even the fare to return home. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was incidents like this which helped to form Bobby’s paranoia.

In an accompanying article by Jan Timman, formerly one of the world’s top 10 grandmasters, which details some of Bobby’s deep analysis of positions from grandmaster games, the author recalls a conversation that Bobby had as a young man with one of his friends about an upcoming international tournament. “So what’s the big deal if you lose a game or two – that won’t be the end of the world,” the friend said to Bobby. Bobby’s response was to look at his friend strangely, as if his comment was outlandish. Such a response perhaps sheds some light on Bobby’s attitude regarding competitive chess after he won the world championship.

No comments: