Arts & Culture

Anti-Semites I Really Like: Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer: genius chess player, anti-Semite, hero, nutjob, and a Jew. Read More

By / March 9, 2011
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This is a tough one, because even though he reportedly was making anti-Semitic remarks dating back to the early 1960s, Bobby Fischer was a Jew. He drafted love letters to Osama Bin Laden, and denied the Holocaust ever happened; but he was also the greatest chess player of the modern era. For a time he was a hero to countless kids, on the same level as any baseball player, and all for being the best at a sport that is 99.9% all about brainpower. In this day and age, something like that is nearly impossible to replicate. If you tried to ask a kid to peel their eyes away from a Ke$ha video to push a few rooks and pawns up a board, they’d laugh at you.

Maybe I’m a little too forgiving, but chalk it up to nostalgia. I’m the worst chess player in my entire family–it didn’t help that I can’t sit still for more than ten minutes at a time—but even as a kid, I understood the genius of Fischer’s game. My father and grandfather talked about Fischer like Alex Ross writes about music—albeit not as graceful and poetic—and growing up at the tail end of the Cold War, Fischer retained some of his national hero prestige into the 1980′s.

My family still plays chess, but nobody talks about Fischer, especially after his well-documented anti-Semitic and anti-American rants in the early part of this century. I find myself often wondering why a person who was such a genius at the most intellectual sport, would not only turn his back on his people, but say such vile and repulsive things about them.  It’s something that is totally beyond me.  I was thinking about that again today, as I read that March 9th was his birthday.

I’m going to teach my kids to play chess, and after they learn the basics of the game, they will already have surpassed my own skill level. I’ll try and explain the few basic tactics my grandfather once tried to teach me in broken English, and once they legitimately beat me for the first time, I’ll recognize my tutorial has nearly reached its end. The final thing I’ll have left to tell them about will be Bobby Fischer. How he was the greatest ever, and even though he’d deny it, he was Jewish – just like them.