Bobby Fischer, the genius who re-invented chess and the man who put chess on the map again in the 1970′s, has died in Iceland on 17 January 2008 at the age of 64.
After Bobby beat the Russian Boris Spassky in Iceland in 1972 to become world chess champion, it was perceived as single American defeating the might of the Soviet chess machine.
Chess was suddenly on newspaper front pages across the world. Extraordinarily, in New York a reporter went from bar to bar and discovered that of the 21 he visited, 18 had their televisions tuned to the chess whilst only three to the Mets baseball game.
Of course, this was in an era when that other game, ‘Communism vs. capitalism’ , was still being played.
Fischer portrayed his match as a proxy for the Cold War. “It is really the free world against the lying, cheating, hypocritical Russians. This little thing between me and Spassky, it’s a microcosm of the whole world political situation,” he said.
Mr Fischer hated the Soviets with a passion whilst for the Soviets, chess was a vital propaganda tool. The Soviets superiority at the game, they thought. proved communism’s superiority over capitalism to the rest of the world. Interestingly, Mr Putin and his cohorts are threatening to prove Russia’s might now with a very different strategy.
With the passing of Bobby Fischer it is opportune to comment on the decline of popularity of chess and conversely, the rapid growth of the popularity of poker.
Sixty or seventy years ago international chess players were well known – names like Alekhine, Capablanca, and Euwe. Just one example, Capablance’s face appeared on Cuban post office stamps. Now their names are virtually unknown.
The decline in interest in chess may be partly attributed to the fact that humans are no longer the only Chess players in the world – computers now play the game well.
But the more likely explanation is that the slow pace of the game, and the depth of thinking skills required to play competitively, simply do not suite today’s society.
In stark contrast, suddenly poker is everywhere. Poker is, however, a step backwards intellectually. It may be a lot of fun and require many useful skills, but it is much shallower than chess, or even more challenging card games, such as bridge.
Poker’s winning trick, which it brings to the table quite literally, is the element of gambling. Gambling is now insidiously woven into society to the point where it is seen as acceptable because in a consumer based world almost anything goes in the pursuit of attainment of goods and hyped up ‘lifestyle’.
A sad conclusion is that modern society increasingly does not seem to value things that are not always fun and light. The pursuit of excellence everywhere is danger of a final checkmate….MiSay