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Chess Life Bonus Cut: A Chance Encounter with Bobby Fischer Print E-mail
By Macauley Peterson   
December 2, 2014
2014-12-cl-cover.jpgA CLO companion to “Walter Browne Searches the Infinite Finesse”, Macauley Peterson’s interview in the December issue of Chess Life, p.36. Access the December Chess Life online here.

Six years after forfeiting the 1975 World Championship, Bobby Fischer visited Browne at his home in Berkeley, California.

"They had this article in Sports Illustrated in '76 and evidently Bobby didn't like a few of the quotes I made. One I think he might have taken offense to was something like - I made some comment like, ‘there's nothing in chess I don't understand'."

"A mutual friend of ours who lived in San Francisco contacted me one day, and says that Bobby wasn't happy [with me] but then suddenly out of the blue in 1981 he told me, ‘say Bobby's in town and he'd like to see you.' I remember we talked first and then we set up the meet, and then he came to my house."

"Basically we went over [my games] - I was very happy - because he wanted to go over my games from the US Championship, so I showed him a bunch of games. And he was complimentary, which for him was no easy deal. You know for him any compliment was the very - he didn't give them easily, you know what I mean? His compliments were avoided. Well we looked at my games from the US Championship, and he basically was very complimentary - I mean always he had a criticism here or there. And then we went to my library. I do have a fair amount of chess books and he showed this book - I think it's either 600 or either 660 games by Kurt Richter (it's 666 Kurzpartien, a book of miniatures, from the Richter of Richter-Rauzer fame -MP) and he liked the book. He was playing over some of the games. Well I'm glad he found a book that he liked, because he'd seen so many books you could bore him easily if you didn't have some special books in your library - he'd get bored I'm sure. Because he used to go to bookshops going through all the books looking for new material all the time. One time I did that, and down when we were walking in New York, and we went in a store, and at least an hour, or two hours, we were in that store and he was just - he'd go through books and just start readin' 'em while he was there and look and he'd go through a bunch of pages. He might spend 15 or 20 minutes on one book and then go on to the next book."

"I knew he did that a lot. I mean that's why he got so good. He did a tremendous amount of research, and of course he worked extremely hard. I loved his work ethic, I mean he just - it's tremendous stuff - and it's a wonderful thing that he could take so much time to work on chess. There's very few of us who could do that. Even though I sooner or later had to succumb to the day-to-day paying-the-bills kind of thing."

Browne250.gifDuring Fischer's stay, Browne beat him at pool, and despite Fischer's competitive nature, he was unfazed.

"I think the thing about Bobby is, he could appreciate if somebody is really good at something and appreciate it and I believe that's the kind of person he ways. He wouldn't take offense or anything. He respected excellence, as I do. So I don't really like football, but say I'm watching and I see two teams playing great, I would enjoy it. Or baseball - I don't watch any more but - two top teams or a great pitcher, you know I can enjoy it, I can enjoy excellence. I don't recall playing him a second game. He might have been upset in his own way, but he didn't show it. And I don't think he really had good reason to be upset there. It's just that he might have felt it was a mismatch. Because he thought maybe I'm too good - and I wasn't really that good, I just had a good game."

"He still kept up with chess and he still played. Very strange - you could tell by his analysis that his mind was still very sharp. It's just a shame that he had to wait twenty years to play another match. If he had played in say '82, he would have been much stronger than he was in the Spassky match."

"He seemed upset with a bunch of things. He wasn't sure he was getting paid well for his book [My 60 Memorable Games]. He had some prejudices. We could take a walk and he was ranting and raving a bit, and he was obviously very perturbed by a bunch of things. That was about how it was I think. And it got worse, it definitely got worse, as far as his rationality."

Wbrowne250.jpgThe visit ended on a sour note, after Browne took Fischer to task for spending six hours on his house phone.

"He just normally would do that. He did that with other people too - he stayed at their house - he might have stayed weeks or months and he spent a lot of time on the phone. But they put it up with it. And I didn't want to put up with it. So I just told him it was too much. He probably talked to several different people, but the gist of it is he was tying up the phone, and I might be getting calls for a tournament or something. In those days I only have one phone number, and even only one phone, so I didn't want it tied up completely. He could have just said, "OK fair enough," and just hung up, or said, "look I'll only be on for a little longer," but he just took it the wrong way and didn't really say very much, and he left soon after. And I didn't see him any more, or hear from him.

Macauley Peterson is the Content Director for chess24, in Hamburg, Germany. He can be reached at [email protected].

Login as a member to read the December Chess Life Magazine online and find a video interview with GM Browne here.