Larry Evans on Chess: Dick Cavett recalls interviews with Bobby Fischer
August 24, 2008

Brickbats and bouquets were tossed at Bobby Fischer after he died of kidney failure at 64. “He was a great man with tragic flaws who was persecuted by his own country,” I noted in Chess Life.

Talk show host Dick Cavett interviewed him three times on TV and recalled: “I became quite fond of him. It seems strange to remember there was once a chess champion, of all things, who was probably the most famous celebrity on earth.”

His long-anticipated match with Russia’s Boris Spassky was watched worldwide as if it were the Super Bowl, except it was publicized as a Cold War battle and drew a much bigger audience. Time out of mind the Soviet chess dynasty had reigned supreme, viewing itself as a rightful symbol of Soviet superiority in all fields.

“We assume that geniuses are blessed creatures who don’t have to work hard to achieve their goals, but Bobby put in nearly 15 hours a day of brain power and concentration that would kill an ordinary person (at least for me). ‘All I want to do, ever, is play chess,’ he averred. When asked how he became USA champion at 14, he simply said, ‘I got better.’

“When he returned to my show after beating Spassky, he said it might be wise to develop the rest of himself. He began to see that a life of nothing but chess was ‘kind of limited.’

“When I asked about women he said the awful demands of global travel, constant study, punishing five-hour sessions day after day, made it ‘pretty hard to have a relationship.’

“My image of a chess genius was not flattering. I pictured a wizened youth with messy hair and unattended acne. Instead Bobby was tall and handsome, with football shoulders, well dressed, gangling and a little awkward. He was 6′ 2”, athletic with striking features, and you couldn’t confuse him with anyone else you’d ever seen.

“His face radiated intelligence. And there were the eyes, a bit vulnerable perhaps with only the slightest hint of menace. One thing he said became famous: ‘I like the moment when I break a man’s ego.'”


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