Searching for Bobby Fischer… and Bobby Neugeboren
Jay Neugeboren
Posted January 17, 2009 11:57 AM (EST)

One year ago, on January 17, 2008, Bobby Fischer died in Reykjavik, Iceland, at the age of 64. In the fall of 1957, when Fischer and my brother Robert were both 14 years old and sophomores at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, they were in the school’s chess club together. By this time, Fischer had become the youngest player ever to win the United States National Junior Chess Championship. Yet when Robert, who would spend most of his adult life, beginning shortly before his nineteenth birthday, as a mental patient, would try to get Fischer to play with him, Fischer would refuse. “‘With you, Neugeboren, I don’t play,’ he always said to me,” Robert says. Why not? “Because,” Robert says, smiling, “he said I played crazy.”

After winning the United States Junior Championship twice–he was 13 the first time–Fischer went on to become the youngest player ever to become a United States Master, the first and only player to win eight United States Chess Championships, the youngest player ever to become an International Master, and in 1972, at the age of 29, by his victory over the Russian grandmaster, Boris Spassky, in Reykjavik, Iceland, the first American-born player to become world champion.

Fischer also became famous through the years for his eccentricities, and, especially, for his pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic, and anti-American rants–for what Dick Cavett called Fischer’s “gradual decline into [a] raving lunatic.”

The parallels in the lives of my brother and Fischer are often as remarkable as they are sad, and I’ve tried here to tell part of the story:

In the spring of 1956, when my brother Robert was thirteen years old, I gave him a chess set for his Bar Mitzvah. Robert was an excellent chess player, often winning against older and more experienced players, and when he entered Erasmus Hall High School as a sophomore in the fall of 1957–we lived in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, not far from Ebbets Field–he joined the chess club. Bobby Fischer also entered Erasmus as a sophomore that year, and he too joined the chess club. Bobby’s sister Joan, five years older than her brother–I was five years older than Robert–had been the one to introduce Fischer to chess when he was six years old by buying him a chess set from the candy store over which they lived. After Fischer defeated Spassky in 1972–a victory achieved at the height of the Cold War, and one that, in Cavett’s words, “single-handedly collapsed the Soviet Chess Empire”–Fischer did not, in the remaining 35 years of his life, except for a rematch with Spassky in 1992 that resulted in Fischer’s permanent exile from the United States, ever play tournament chess again. He became an itinerant madman and recluse–chess was nothing more than “mental masturbation,” he declared–and his primary antagonist when he surfaced periodically, often in rambling broadcasts he made from the Phillipines, became the international Jewish conspiracy.

Here is the full article.

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