On his sixth birthday, Robert James Fischer received a chess set from his 11-year-old sister Joan. It was the beginning of Bobby Fischer's epic journey from a poor Brooklyn school boy to a national and international chess celebrity. Bobby studied chess boards day and night, including while in the bathtub. He wanted to do nothing else but comb through all of the books on chess at the main Brooklyn Public Library near Prospect Park. He was less interested in his school studies than in mastering the board. His mother worried about the many solitary hours that he spent entranced with the game. In fact, he and his colleagues and mentors did not even need a board; they played so-called "blindfold chess" while walking down the street, each having such a memory for the board that they could announce their moves to each other and have a clear picture of where the pieces were on the board in their minds.
Bobby became somewhat infamous for his abrasive nature. While other misbehaving teens got kicked out of schools, Bobby Fischer was denied visa renewals to foreign countries. Bobby was a real discipline problem, but he was a latchkey kid who was raised by a working single mother of two. At the end of his life, Bobby ended up country hopping because he got in trouble across the globe. He died in Iceland on January 17, 2008.
Despite the fact that many people may have found his personal manner off putting, no one can deny the sheer genius of the chess master. He inspired many people in the United States to pursue chess as an intellectual hobby. Surprisingly enough, chess is actually considered a sport by some, even though the game is sedentary.
Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness by Frank Brady, 2011
Bobby Fischer was born on March 9, 1943. Previous to receiving a chess set at age 6, Bobby grew impatient with games of chance. Possibly, he was quite bored with them. At first, he was taught chess by sister Joan, but she certainly did not have an aptitude for the game. Bobby proceeded to beat his sister Joan and 36-year-old mother Regina at every game. Neither of the women liked the game. Therein began his constant search for someone to play with. Regina searched for playmates for her son. She got him invited to play chess at a master demonstration at the central library of the Brooklyn Public Library. There, he lost to masters, of course, but he caught the eye of Carmine Nigro, then president of the Brooklyn Chess Club. He invited the boy to come to meetings free of charge, and the other members grudgingly agreed, since it was unheard of at the time to have a child member.
As a 9-year-old, Bobby's IQ (intelligence quotient) was reported to be 180 (100 is average). Bobby did not like many other activities besides chess, but the one sport that he did enjoy very much was swimming. He discovered this at a camp his mother sent him to one year in an attempt to interest her son in some activities other than chess. Swimming gave him a physical outlet, whereas chess does not involve physical activity. In fact, Regina took him to two psychiatrists in an attempt to get him less interested in chess, but they both said that he was fine and to allow him to play the game as much as he wanted to. Carmine Nigro was not a help to her either, since he, of course, wanted the boy to spend increasing amounts of time honing his skills at the craft.
Typically of people who excel at their craft, Bobby was able to get "in the zone." He had an intense power of concentration, and he was able to block out spectators and distractions. He played chess outdoors in Central Park in a torrential rainstorm. During Bobby's teenage years (the 1950s), he was able to meet other young precocious players who both challenged him and gave him a sense of camaraderie.
If chess was highly valued as an academic discipline in American society, perhaps Bobby Fischer would have been slightly less of an anomaly. However, we live in a society in which all kids are not trained in chess. There is a nature versus nurture debate about how talents are developed. Bobby Fischer was not drilled by overachiever parents. He found the game on his own. At first, his mother supported his interest; then, she actively tried to get him to step away from his overwhelming obsession with the game, but to no avail, and the mental health professionals that she consulted supported letting Bobby play chess unfettered!
What spawned this blog was my thoughts of how much I enjoyed watching the film Little Man Tate when I was growing up. My mother, not an avid fan of films, very much wanted to see this one, so I was excited to find out why she liked it so much. I am fascinated by the gifted and talented, so it is not surprising that I loved watching the film, which depicted the struggles of a woman (played by Jodie Foster) who was raising a very intelligent son. I also very liked watching Searching for Bobby Fischer a lot, which was not a film about Fischer per se, but is about another fictional chess prodigy who was drilled mercilessly by a father who was hell-bent on his son winning chess championships at all costs. Hence, I mined our catalog for fascinating books about child prodigies. I found this one, written by a friend of Fischer's, in my search.
The author is a professor of journalism at Columbia University. He was also past president of the Marshall Chess Club in Manhattan. He met Bobby Fischer when Bobby was a child and he was a teen. People constantly ask him what the chess master was like, and this book is his answer to that question.
Lewis Terman (1877-1956) is a famous psychologist who studied giftedness across the lifespan. He wanted to dispel the myth of bookish, isolated smart people. He picked 1000+ kids that he labeled geniuses, and he followed them throughout their lives. Despite his important research, Terman was said to have racist views and believed in eugenics (selectively breeding people to encourage the occurrence of certain traits).
John W. Collins was one of Bobby Fischer's chess instructors, and he discusses Fischer's achievements in his book My Seven Chess Prodigies.
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