Close Encounters With Bobby Fischer

The American grandmaster was an impulsive individualist who had an incapacitating fear of losing, says the man who became world chess champion when Fischer refused to show up at the board and defend his title.
  • Transcript


Question: How did you feel when Fischer defaulted on his world title?

Anatoly Karpov: So I wasn’t very happy that Fischer didn’t appear for the match and I made many efforts to play another match.  Okay, even it could be not official match for world title, but I wanted to play Fischer and I met him for several times, but I believe he had psychological problems at that moment.  And so first of all he couldn’t accept to lose even one game.  And so you could feel it when we had discussions.  He thought that when he became world champion he had no right to make one mistake or especially to lose chess game. And with such approach it is very difficult to play chess because when you meet a player who is on the same level and very strong, you can’t avoid losing game.  Even one game.  You can win a match, but not playing without losing the game. It’s almost impossible. 
Did you ever meet Fischer?

Anatoly Karpov: Yes I met Fischer a couple of times and the first time, I mean in this set because we met first in San Antonio in 1972 just after he became world champion, after he beat Spasky in Reykjavik.  I played in San Antonio in 1972 and then Fischer was invited by organizers.  He was guest of honor now for the closing ceremony and the final round.  That time I met him for the first time and then we had set of meetings in 1976 and 1977.  And so 1977, it was last time and we met here in the United States.  It was in Washington D.C.

What did you think of Fischer as a person?

Anatoly Karpov: I must say that we had full respect of each other and so it was nice to talk to him.  And what I could realize, he had no patience to listen to his partner or opponent, and if he could find out any ideas, he should express this immediately even he could interrupt the other person.  He couldn’t wait.  He was very impulsive in this way.  But I have good memory of these meetings and I must say I had not any problems to contact him and to talk to him.

Do you think Fischer was crazy?

Anatoly Karpov: Well Fischer was always thinking that he belongs to planet and he’s not a member, or citizen of one country or another and he thought, okay, of course he was great star and also great player, one of the greats in the history of chess, so he considered that he belongs to the planet. And then he was very independent and so he expressed these feelings, sometimes with very sharp sentences which I would not support, but this was his character.

Wasn’t Paul Morphy, the only other American to become world champion, also crazy?

[0 0:29:01.00] Paul Morphy had another story and so he got mad because he wasn’t well accepted.  If we recall the history of Paul Morphy, he made fantastic tour through Europe and he beat the strongest players of that time, the strongest part of the world in chess. He beat Europeans and he became unofficial world champion.  But then he came back to the United States and it was time of the problems between North and South, and it was Civil War and then Morphy was well accepted, accepted with triumph in lots of United States but then he came back to his area, and he was from South, so people there didn’t appreciate his victories.  And so it created a lot of personal problems and he ended his life I think in the hospital.

Do you have to be crazy to play great chess?

Anatoly Karpov: No.  Absolutely not.

Recorded on May 17, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman