How Bobby Fischer Eluded Me :)

How Bobby Fischer Eluded Me :)

NM danheisman
Aug 1, 2018, 10:19 AM |

Bobby Fischer was born in 1943 and brought up in Brooklyn, about 90 miles from where I grew up north of Philadelphia. Garry Kasparov was born in 1963 in Azerbaijan, about 6,000 miles away. I was born in 1950, so I am closer in age to Fischer than Kasparov. My coach, Donald Byrne, was a close friend of Fischer's.

So with this background, how was it that, despite my best efforts, I crossed paths with Kasparov many times and Fischer never once?! Sure, later Fischer was a recluse, so that helped, but it's pretty amusing how I kept missing Fischer. I thought it would make a fun blog.

When I started playing tournament chess at age 16 in 1966, I soon realized that by that age Fischer was a multi-time US Champion. That meant I was never going to be a big-time player (started too late) and that Fischer was "in another universe". Meeting him was the furthest thing from my mind and, by 1966, Fischer had stopped playing in open tournaments, so that "path crossing" would not be possible.

But my chances improved greatly when I got ill from the smog as a Caltech freshman and transferred closer to home at Penn State. Penn State's coach was Donald Byrne, clearly one of the strongest IMs in chess history (in his early days there were no FIDE ratings and his early illness curtailed his opportunities, but he was a regular on the US Olympic team and always rated in the USCF Top-10, reaching as high as 2nd in the 1950s).

Donald Byrne is well-known as the loser of the "Game of the Century" to Fischer but, as noted earlier, he and Bobby were good friends. He told many Fischer tales, some which I have blogged about here on So if you knew Byrne well, your chances of meeting Fischer soared.

My first chance was the 1968 US Chess Championship, just before I met Professor Byrne (I also have blogged about this event and my meeting with Al Horowitz). Alas, after winning the US Championship 8 times in 8 tries, this was a championship in which Fischer did not play (or, of course, spectate while I was there; Fischer also skipped the 1961-62 event).

My next try was even more juicy. The next year Professor Byrne invited us up to New York over the holiday break to attend the 1969 US Championship. Surely this time Fischer would play and I would be introduced!? Alas, his US Championship playing streak had been permanently broken and again Fischer was "too good" (or some would say "too something") to play.  I met several famous American GMs, but not the enigmatic Bobby.

One more try. After graduating college in 1972, Professor Byrne invited us to travel to Skopje Yugoslavia (!) to watch the US Olympic team play. I could write a book about that crazy trip, but this was the first opportunity for newly-crowned World Champion Fischer to play, and represent the US as he had in every Olympiad prior in his career. But, true to my luck, I attended the first Olympiad where Fischer chose not to play! Not only that, several of the top US players followed his lead and it was one of the weakest US Olympic Teams ever, including the affable (but not very strong) George Kane. Struck out again!

After that, it became obvious that Fischer wasn't going to be making many public appearances. Many years later (1996-97) I worked at both Kasparov-Deep Blue matches (another book!) and, although I never sat down and chatted with Garry, got be up close with him on those, and other occasions.

But never Fischer...