|My 61 Memorable Games: A Mystery
|By GM Larry Evans
|February 1, 2008
Bobby Fischer kept a low profile after becoming an Icelandic citizen, but he still made waves before his death. Another kerfuffle took place at an auction on eBay Canada last December for a revised edition called My 61 Memorable Games. The cover of this updated classic shows a diagram from Fischer-Spassky, 1st match game 1992 – the only addition. A 12-page foreword was supposedly penned by Fischer himself.
"I know many readers seek answers to probing questions regarding the Bobby Fischer of 1972. That person no longer exists. I’ve wanted to release an official version of my book updated in algebraic notation with a few minor corrections. And why now? The United Bank of Switzerland has taken almost all of the money from my 1992 rematch with Borris Spassky -- over $3,000,000. My ongoing battle with them is getting nowhere despite International Law clearly being on my side. So I bring to you my previous 60 games plus one from the event that caused me so much trouble, in the hope that sales of this book will reverse that situation.”
Suspicious fans promptly noted that UBS stands for the Union (not United) Bank of Switzerland and that it’s Boris (not Borris) Spassky. And I knew Bobby didn’t own the publishing rights to his own book, which were sold a decade ago by Simon & Schuster to Faber & Faber in England.
Fischer-Sherwin, New Jersey 1957
Should White play 15 c4 or Nxd4?
I worked on My 60 Memorable Games with Fischer and inspected the sample page provided by the seller. Some wording was changed and the analysis was indeed improved, as in this position from a note to game one where 15 Nxd4 is clearly better. Bobby originally gave “15 c4! Nf6 16 Bf4, etc.” but in the new edition he states: “I missed 15...Nc7! preventing the skewer.”
The eBay auction stated: “The cover price is $24.95 but as a collector's item of limited production run, they can obviously sell for much more. You are bidding on THE FIRST 50 COPIES OF THIS BOOK! The first 100 copies are marked as SPECIAL EDITION, FIRST PRINT RUN. Another auction will be for books 51-100. All books from 101 onward will say SECOND EDITION.”
The bid reached $3050 when eBay pulled the plug: “We recently suspended this seller's trading privileges. Due to privacy concerns we cannot share further details.”
Icelandic papers reported that Fischer angrily denied writing it. Yet in our extensive e-mails with the seller, she insisted it was no hoax and that he did participate.
WHO WAS THE SELLER?
She is an Asian woman living in Ottawa, Canada, who regretted getting involved. When I requested more information and a review copy of the book, she sent this reply on December 17, 2007:
SELLER TO EVANS
Poor Bobby! I can only imagine how he must feel right now. He is in a terribly fragile state as it is, and this might be too much for him. Apparently he might not even own the rights to his own book, can this be possible? Had I known this, I would have politely declined involvement. I thought I was doing my friend a favor when she asked me. I have thousands of copies of this book siting in boxes, unopened. I have never even actually seen it. There were two smaller boxes labeled ‘SPECIAL EDITION, FIRST PRINT RUN’ with 50 books in each one. These boxes were to be shipped to the winning bidders.
I only knew about this project on December 7. I am a very good friend of someone very dear to Bobby, we grew up together and have remained close though living thousands of miles away. She contacted me and said friends of Bobby's had spent months collecting money to have his new book printed, and would I help out? I said ‘Why me?’ She said because I have no interest in chess and know nothing about ‘other goings on’ in Fischer's world. I am just an insignificant pawn in all of this, and I only know what I have been told by others.
WHY THE AUCTION WAS CANCELLED
I have property in my possession that I neither wanted, sought out, nor seek to hold onto. Bobby Fischer has never met me, nor I him. He was in love with a very dear friend of mine. He is not hiding behind my skirt, he is getting over a huge disappointment right now and coming to terms that he must undergo a pair of significant lifestyle changes immediately: one for his health, and one to insure his financial well being.
I was lied to, dear sir. I was told this would not be a problem. My point of contact is “Helgi” who said this is how Fischer wanted it to be done. I trusted Justine also, who Helgi obviously coerced as well. I told some of the bidders I would take the auction down because of someone named 'JewsAgainstFischer' constantly harassing me and threatening me with bodily harm. I forwarded these threats to eBay and asked what could be done to protect my privacy. They said they have 'boiler plate' auction cancellation notifications, and asked me if the wording was OK. There was no quicker way to get it offline and shield me from the email threats.
You cannot goad me into telling you anything that I am honor-bound to keep confidential. I could care less about the opinion of the rest of the world. What I want is peace and quiet to spend time with my family this Christmas. Please don't take it personally if I no longer respond. – December 18, 2007
WHO WROTE IT?
The name Justine rang a bell and convinced me the seller was sincere. Justine had to be the “dear friend…living thousands of miles away…Bobby was in love with.” Who else could it be but Justine Ong (born in 1978) a Chinese woman in the Philippines raising Bobby’s daughter Jinky Ong, born in 2000?
Bobby is a recluse who no longer communicates with his old friends. If he didn’t have a hand in writing the book, who did? Despite his fervid denials, I wonder if he initially agreed and then changed his mind, just as he once withdrew the manuscript of the original book for two years, forcing us to add 10 games before it finally was published.
Suddenly this cryptic e-mail arrived on New Year’s Day
SELLER TO EVANS
I was asked to pass this message along to you as soon as the New Year began. I don't know why I was asked to wait, only that I was. Please don't be angry with me, I don't know anything about chess. The person who originally contacted me about the book said to tell you this:
"Tell Evans Korchnoi had White against Suetin at Vilnius om 1953 and they played A34 and not a Sicilian Dragon. Ask him where the line 14.… Nxd5? 15. Bxg7 Kxg7 16. exd5 Bd7 17. Rde1 came from and see what he says. Report back to me, and I'll tell you if it's Evans or not. If he gives the wrong answer, I won't send my next message."
I think the person whom Bobby is using to contact me does not believe you are in contact with me. I don't understand all of these back channel communication requests. I will comply as requested.
I can only wish you a happy & healthy New Year.
Signed, The Pawn -- January 1
EVANS TO SELLER
I will provide the answer only if Bobby phones me personally at the number we gave you. Happy New Year.– January 1 [Surely Bobby would say in, not “om” 1953, arousing my suspicions.]
SELLER TO EVANS
I forwarded your email and I now have this response:
"Your 'Evans' didn't answer the question and is either a moron or doesn't know how to read. I said ask him where 14...Nxd5? 15. Bxg7 Kxg7 16. exd5 Bd7 17. Rde1 came from Korchnoi-Suetin 1953, which is in My 60 Memorable Games, page 19, at the bottom. The line ends with the comment 'with a crushing bind'. It's in DN in the book starting with 14....NxN and I want Evans to tell me why he thinks that non-existant game is in the book."
Sir, I believe he does not think you are who you say you are. He does have something to tell to the ‘real Larry Evans’ and that is what I have been tasked to find out. I am just the messenger. I don't play chess and don't care about chess.
Bobby Fischer is dying. If you do not wish to answer the question, may it always be on your conscience. Bobby will only send the response to the person who answers the question correctly. He says only Larry Evans knows the answer. Mr. Fischer does not believe you. I am sorry. I wish you all health and happiness for this New Year. – January 2
I sent my answer to “Bobby’s question” and posed three questions to the seller while awaiting a response from Fischer:
1. What happened to the thousands of books that you had?
2. Do you still think Bobby wrote this revised edition?
3. Could Helgi perchance be Icelandic GM Helgi Olafsson who once drew with me at Lone Pine? That’s my best guess.
Fischer-Larsen, Portoroz 1958
In #2 of My 60 Memorable Games Larsen played 14…Bxd5. Fischer noted: “Bad judgment is 14…Nxd5? 15 Bxg7 Kxg7 16 exd5 Bd7 17 Rde1 with a crushing bind. (Suetin-Korchnoi, USSR Championship prelims 1953.)”
“I want Evans to tell me why he thinks that non-existant game is in the book…only Larry Evans knows the answer."
In retrospect Bobby should have ended the note after “crushing bind” because the Korchnoi-Suetin game doesn’t match the diagram. How did the citation get there, and why were the names of the players reversed?
The answer to “Bobby’s question”can be found in the 10th edition (1965) of my Modern Chess Openings page 195 note “d” of the Yugoslav Attack in the Sicilian Defense sourcing “Suetin-Korchnoi.” This error probably was carried over from the 9th edition. In those days no massive databases were available to check these references. The correct score is in Viktor Korchnoi's Best Games (David McKay 1978).
At first Bobby didn’t respond. It became a moot point because an amazing message from the seller answered my questions.
THE REAL STORY
This is the best information I can provide. Early in 2007 I was told that Fischer's remaining circle of friends from the 'RJF Campaign Group' originally created to help young Aron Agustsson [Evans: Fischer attended some sessions of this six-member group, including Helgi Olafsson, which worked on releasing an Icelandic youth imprisoned in Texas for 10 years. They were concerned that Bobby was losing his fight with UBS and approached him about his money problems. They explored various options and suggested that he autograph books. Helgi told me Fischer does not like signing things and was not interested in selling his signature. He said Fischer expected to win 'billions and billions of dollars’ in punitive damages he suffered from ‘that Jew-controlled Swiss bank.’
Helgi framed the new book as a way to 'strike back against the 'Batsford debacle,' whatever that means. [Evans: this refers to the botched algebraic edition printed by Batsford in 1995, edited by GM John Nunn.] He said Fischer was enthusiastic about the scheme but it was hard to motivate him to begin work.
In the first week of December Justine asked me to host the eBay auction which, it turns out, was designed entirely to test the premise of who owns the publishing rights to the book. To circumvent legal issues Fischer added a single game to the original 60, corrected some notes and added a new title.
Justine said I would be 'paid for my time and effort for hosting an auction and shipping boxes of books to a few resellers.' I reluctantly agreed. Just two days later a truck pulled into my driveway and delivered books printed in Copenhagen, Denmark -- shipped before I even agreed to the auction or spoke to Justine! On the phone she admitted telling Helgi I would host the auction before I actually agreed to it. I felt bad for Justine and could tell by the tone of her voice that she was being pressured.
Two boxes contained the first 100 books for the auction. Another 10 boxes were labeled 'Edition 2' with 200 books in each box.
ALL THIS FUSS OVER A BOOK?
And now for the shocker: The shipping charges weren’t prepaid! I did not have enough money and told the driver I had to call my husband at work. The driver handed me a 'pickup slip,' reloaded his truck and drove away while I was still talking to my angry husband. He came home from work early and refused to pay the shipping charges. Justine was very apologetic and said she was unaware Helgi had done this. She said she would tell Helgi to send
money and begged us to make the payment in the meantime.
You ask what happened to the books. Well, my husband was mad at me for stopping the auction before at least geting our money back for the shipping (Helgi never sent payment). Many bidders still wanted the books. Chess players are such a strange lot! All this fuss over a book? I don't understand it! We sold 20 copies of the 1st edition to one bidder, 10 to another, and the rest to a third, recouping all shipping expenses, plus some. My husband then sold 1,000 copies of the 2nd edition to one of the previous buyers.
Then 10 more boxes arrived, this time with shipping prepaid. I had already taken 100 books to the mall and put a sign on them "TAKE ONE, TAKE ALL.” We also put a sealed box with 200 books each time our trash was picked up. A few times I saw someone loading them in his car. We still have two boxes left.
I still don't even know who this Helgi person is. He could be more than one person, and to this day I don’t know his last name.
THE RIGHTS TO THE BOOK
Justine was needed because she could involve me, a nobody. The only reason to do an auction for the first 100 copies was because it was not a legal book that could be sold through normal channels.
If I had to guess, I would say Fischer was behind it at first and then backed out, but his friends made it happen anyway. Either that or Fischer was behind it all along and believes the eBay auction was cancelled due to a rights issue. In his paranoid state he now denies being involved because he thinks the firm that owned the book rights shut down the auction instead of me.
BOBBY’S VOICE ON THE PHONE
I threatened to blow the whistle and Helgi started to panic, especially when I let it be known that you were in contact with me, Helgi said Fischer did not believe it and would create some question that only Evans could answer and get back to me with it by the New Year. The fact that I was asked to wait seemed suspicious, as you suggested. Maybe Helgi could not get the question sooner because Fischer was no longer with the project. If I really was in touch with Larry Evans, who once worked closely with Fischer, then Helgi's attempt to conceal the fact that Fischer was no longer on board was in jeopardy. He needed to buy time to get back to Fischer and arrange for the mysterious question that only you could answer.
The voice on the phone (presumably Helgi) claimed Fischer did not believe it was Evans and warned me again not to tell you anything. The voice said "I know you are not speaking with grandmaster Evans..." Suddenly I heard a voice in the background saying, "Evans doesn't write for Chess Lies anymore." He was a native English speaker, unlike the first voice with a Scandanavian inflection. Then the second voice had a coughing spell. Helgi probably had a mobile phone because he walked away from the coughing and said in a hushed tone, "Bobby doesn't believe you. When you get an answer to the question, then he will respond."
Helgi said when the auction was over I could deduct all the shipping costs and retain 10% of the money, with a maximum of $500 if the first 100 books sold for $5000 or more. Later he would instruct me on how to send him the money, a risk he was willing to take for being untraceable if things went sour.
There were plenty of surprises during this ordeal. I hope I answred your questions and intend to shut down this email account soon.
Signed, The Pawn – January 10
BOBBY’S LAST WORDS TO EVANS
Just before he died, after I answered his question correctly, he sent me this single sentence: "YOU WERE MUCH MORE THAN JEDEDIAH, MY FRIEND."
I recognized it as Bobby’s “rosebud.” It referred to an interview I gave on the Net in 2004 (apparently he devoured every word written about him) citing the movie Citizen Kane.
Frankly, it would be hard to shake his hand after all the lies he invented about me in one of his radio rants. I've never done anything but help him and was astounded when he called me ‘a vicious rat’ and ‘just a son of a bitch.’ He also said I pretend to be independent, but ‘the Jewish World Government’ tells me what to write. I kind of feel like the Jedediah Leland character (played by Joseph Cotten) in Citizen Kane who said, 'Maybe I wasn’t his friend, but if I wasn’t he never had one.'
Fischer was truly a great man with tragic flaws. He will probably be remembered like Morphy -- another crazy chess genius.
My hunch is Bobby was in it up to his ears, probably hoping that adding a game and retitling My 60 Memorable Games would absolve hm of legal obligations to the original publisher.
By a quirk of fate this pirated book might become even more valuable than a first edition of My 60 Memorable Games which now fetches up to $200 a copy on eBay – and even more if autographed.
Someone is always trying to hustle a buck exploiting Bobby’s name. “No other chess figure has had, has, or will have more autograph imitations than Bobby Fischer. GUARANTEED!” noted Lawrence Totaro in his booklet Fisching For Forgeries.
© Larry Evans. All rights reserved.
Look for a possible follow-up to this article, in the event that Larry Evans obtains his own copy of 61 Memorable Games. For more by GM Larry Evans on Bobby Fischer, see the March issue of Chess Life Magazine which will feature "The Bobby Fischer That We Loved." This look back at the Fischer phenomenon covers Bobby's entire career. Also in March, notable chess personalities from around the U.S. and the world remember Bobby Fischer.