10 Years Ago Today...
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10 Years Ago Today...

FM MikeKlein
Jan 18, 2018, 2:40 PM |

Ten years ago today, most of the world found out that former World Champion Bobby Fischer died.

While he technically passed the evening before (on January 17, 2008), it wasn't until morning that all but his closest confidants heard the news.

That included me.

But something was born that day too. Or rather, reborn. My life as a journalist.

I could immediately sense the gravity of the news -- this would likely be the first chess news story that the mainstream press would pick up since the Kasparov vs. computer matches, which had ended years before.

Looking back on that morning,  I went into journalist autopilot. I didn't stop to think about how to craft the story or my normal duties for the day. News broke, instincts kicked in, and before I knew it, I was on the phone with chess luminaries and furiously asking for quotes in emails. Notes and books were strewn across my living room.

I think I may have remembered to call the schools to cancel chess classes. For those first graders who didn't see Mr. Klein that day, I'm sorry, I still owe you one. I wasn't sick.

The better part of that day was spent chatting with people like GM Arthur Bisguier, still my only time interviewing him. It's fair to say that I was a "cub" reporter then -- I doubt he'd read the few bylines I had during journalism school in small weekly newspapers in North Carolina. Still, Bisguier took the time to return my call, just as he took the time to analyze my game at a scholastic nationals years earlier.

At 78, Bisguier wasn't in great health then, but he took the time. Last year, I also wrote Bisguier's obituary for Chess.com.

I also chatted with GM Susan Polgar, who had Fischer over to her house years earlier, and professional writer David Shenk, future writer for The Atlantic who had just authored a book about chess. I got to work alongside Susan at the Olympiad later that year, but strangely I was more nervous about talking with Shenk. It wasn't the GM I wanted to be, it was the writer.

By late afternoon, my sources had come through, and I filed my story to Jennifer Shahade at uschess.org. She couldn't get it published fast enough for me. The day had not unfolded the way I thought it would have the night before, but that's what made it memorable.

ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap, who conducted a contentious and personal interview with Fischer a few years earlier, called back too late to be included. But I loved that I got his nasally reply on my voicemail. I left it there until whatever the cutoff is when Sprint deletes old messages. And how did I ever get in touch with an ESPN reporter that day? Sometimes you just have to make the call.

Later on in 2008, I remained a chess teacher but also wrote much more for both uschess.org and for Chess Life. Editor Dan Lucas "accidentally" assigned me three cover stories in a row, but it didn't hurt that the U.S. team won double bronze in the Olympiad that year. Sometimes writers get lucky.

The luck continued a few years later where the continuing Chess Life coverage and relationship with Jennifer netted me writing gigs in St. Louis, and eventually a "Chess Journalist of the Year" award. Chess.com took notice, and they came calling. It's been a fun ride here.

Bruce Pandolfini also penned some well-crafted words to me on the day Fischer died. Bruce, whose became an accidental chess teacher after doing live coverage of Fischer-Spassky, has claimed many times that his career is thanks to Fischer. In some ways, I guess mine is too.

Obituaries continue to put me on autopilot. I wrote GM Walter Browne's in the middle of a chess camp with 30 kids. GM Mark Taimanov died in the middle of a world championship I was covering. IM Emory Tate passed right after I landed in Malta, but I was Skyping with his son a few hours later.

This past fall, just about to leave my house for my birthday dinner, I got a message that GM William Lombardy died. I didn't know the source and couldn't find a second source. Luckily my laptop was charged, so I left the house, walked to the oyster bar, and ordered a dozen.

While the waiter shucked my order, I stepped outside, opened my laptop, and soon was on the phone with the Contra Costa County Coroner's Office.