Fischer and the Border Patrol - another D.Byrne story

I recently posted a blog about a Donald Byrne story about his brother playing a hustler after they played tennis as teens ( I mentioned that I felt I had an obligation not to let Professor Byrne's stories fade, so here's another:

Professor Byrne, Fischer, and the rest of the US Olympiad team were on their way to Eastern Europe which was, of course, behind the Iron Curtain in those days. I suppose it had to be the one in Varna, Bulgaria, in 1962 ( The team met in central Europe (possibly Germany - it's been a while!) and then took the train toward their destination. They had a compartment where the US Team all travelled together.

As you can surmise, this meant they had to cross at least one border by train. At a border the train stopped and was boarded by the military so that they could check everyone's visas and passports.

Byrne related that when Fischer (who in 1962 would be age 19) realized what was going on, he got up and shut the compartment door, mumbling something about "I'm not going to let those Commies....!"

The rest of the group was horrified and rushed to re-open the door to let in the heavily armed troopers. Everyone (well, except Fischer) went out of their way to be very friendly, and kind of quietly intimated "Don't mind our friend over there - he's a little eccentric..."

Luckily the troopers did not make a big deal out of it and everything turned out safe for the home team (which finished 4th in that Olympiad - take link for more info).


  • 4 years ago


    Interesting stuff, Dan.  I am actually planning a vacation for June to Budapest, Vienna & Prague.  I can't wait to see these 3 great European capitals.  It is a real shame Fischer was so caught up in chess (and his own mental illness/eccentricities) that he missed so much of life.  Oh, what a life he could have had. 

  • 4 years ago


    No offense or anything, but Fischer's attitude made me not like him as my favorite World Champion.  

  • 4 years ago

    NM danheisman

    Caliphigia: Thanks. As I noted, I could not remember which Olympiad Professor Byrne was relating, so 1960 could be it Smile. Luckily the story does not depend on exactly where behind the Iron Curtain they were crossing the border...

    Draconis: Yes, Euwe is quite a good role model. It's not a coincidence that de Groot (and now I) find his "think out loud" protocol (in "Thought and Choice in Chess") to be the best one to show others as a model of how to think in analytical positions. A math professor, Euwe was very articulate and logical. Fischer is one of my "chess" heroes but, away from the board,...!

  • 4 years ago


    There are only two good things about Robert J. Fischer: his chess playing and his anti-Communism. The rest falls off very sharply (basically a step function) after that. Frankly, he showed himself to be such a disturbed individual (mentally and morally) in so many other ways through the rest of his life that one even doubts whether there was any rational basis to his anti-Communism.

    This is why I hold Max Euwe in such high esteem - a world champion who was successful in some field other than chess (mathematics) and who was also a responsible man of good character who served the chess world for decades. The exact opposite of Fischer.

  • 4 years ago


    IIRC US team went to the 1962 Olimpics at Varna by plane (And Larry Evans drove his car throgh Yugoslavia and Bulgaria). They found too late that the plane was scheduled to stop at Budapest airport, which scared Benko that he might be arrested in Hungary.

    The event described probably took place in 1960, on the road to Leipzig Ollimpics. 

  • 4 years ago


    Thanks for these snippets, Dan. What a wonderful glimpse of Fischer from the past! Keep 'em coming. Myself, I went to Prague in 1972, and married an East German in 1990, so I can almost sense the atmosphere. My wonderful twenty-year-old daughter will be fascinated.

  • 4 years ago


    Kodak moment. :)

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