Kindred’s Special: The Fischer Revolution

THE FISCHER REVOLUTION brought a popularity to chess in the USA not previously experienced despite the contingent of great stars like Morphy, Marshall, Horowitz, Fine, Reshevsky, Kashdan, Dake, Denker, Evans, Lombardy, Kalme, and Bisguier among a host of rich talent in various creative undertakings that brought chess to the attention of the public. I say revolution in the sense that it was Fischer who revolted against the chess norm of the day and fought against the status quo of American thought. He was a rebel by nature, battling the norm of decades of playing under various adverse conditions in tournaments–low prize funds, poor tournament sites and conditions, and a general sense that chess was anything but a board game. Unlike others in America, he worked on his game at the expense of fully developing his potential combined with a career choice available through scholastic endeavor. From the time he was 12 years old he had dreams and a determined goal to someday win the world championship and wrest the chess dominance from the Soviet Union that existed in the world of chess since the 1948 Invitational that Mikhail Botvinnik won and hence was the successor to the the deceased Alekhine and return it to America.

The “boom” as it was called elevated the USCF from a turtle to a hare in terms of the vast and enormous growth of chess enthusiasts and tournaments. Even the general public that possessed little interest in chess saw in Bobby Fischer “A Knight in Shining Armor.” The cold war was still going and it was hailed as fight between America and the USSR in a sport that the USSR felt great pride in dominating. He was invited on “I’ve Got a Secret” TV show; he gave an interview and played a blitz game with the interviewer on TV; he contributed a chess column in Boy’s Life and also appeared on the cover of Life magazine with a story inside. It all ended with a smashing triumph over World Champion Boris Spassky.

All this time, psychologists and writers who never met him tried to discover what made Fischer tick. He was scrutinized like no other chess personage before or since. He was obviously out of the norm of the educated elite. Dare he follow his belief in self, talent and passion in pursuit of excellence in chess?!? A maddening situation for one so young to cope with.

USCF, as I said, started out like a turtle and ended like a hare in the fairy tale. From carefully planted seeds of grass root support, wise leaders, and forward-looking plans, it launched the new magazine Chess Life from a previously newspaper rag, a red ink lack luster future that gained immediate acceptance. A membership drive was launched. Col. Ed Edmondson, in order to raise cash quickly, introduced at the recommendation of a marketing group ignorant of chess, a Life Membership Plan of $100.00 which I challenged as being wholly inadequate long term. How he put it was basically this: the marketing group they paid a handsome fee to concluded that interest by chess players would be about 10 years so a dues of $10 ten times or paid once $100 would raise the needed funds.  What a ludicrous analysis and we paid the price. They were not chess enthusiasts! You guessed it. The Board approved it. I suspect that I was put on the watch list as a dissenter against chess progress.

The Fischer Boom changed the USCF from one of active energy to one of complacency in my opinion believing it could thrive simply by reaping the benefits Fischer’s victory brought. With vast new sums and sources of money flowing into its coffers, it spent lavishly with little regard to how it was spent or using sound planning, judgment, and decisions that the game is sometimes held to suggest by scholastics as: “Chess makes you smart!?”

USCF has become basically a socialistic dictatorship that frowns on independent competition for its book and equipment sales. Great service should maintain a lead over independent dealers. But this is a two-way street. On one hand, USCF has pocketed the vast chess public interested in tournament chess. Book stores like Barnes&Noble or Amazon expose chess literature more to the general public. It is estimated that millions play chess in America but yet USCF membership is less than 100,000. I doubt very much if such outlets would bother with chess literature if it was not profitable. Chess books at the Barnes&Noble I frequent see a fairly decent turnover. For the USCF member, the advantage of a small discount, support for the organizational goals do help to promote USCF programs. But negativity of leadership in this area of sales undercuts the purpose of its stated policy to promote chess.

For those not familiar with the United States Chess Federation (USCF), here is the stated USCF Mission:

“USCF is a not-for-profit membership organization devoted to extending the role of chess in American society. USCF promotes the study and knowledge of the game of chess, for its own sake as an art and enjoyment, but also as a means for the improvement of society….” Basically it goes on and on with a bit of double-talk essentially repeating and adding the magzine, tournaments, etc.

My personal feelings one might here ask of KindredSpirit what he considers chess to be exactly in fair appraisal from this amateur: “Chess is a game played on a board of sixty-four squares between two symbolic armies opposing each other, needing human control, utilizing the rules of conduct of the fight. It is commonly played between two opponents of either or mixed sex. It offers room for artistically geometric patterns with the goal to win by checkmating the enemy monarch or resignation of one, or to achieve a draw when no winning chance exists and by agreement. The battle itself unleashes, in picture form on the board, the symbolic power of the units as played out through creative ideas, plans, and tactics between the combatants.”

Chess makes you smart? I would rather state it differently and more realistically. The playing of chess or any game requiring mental calculation sharpens concentration, determination, pattern recognition, planning, judgment and decision making skills and to a lesser extent in daily routine of work and play. In that sense one might conclude that one who learns to play and study the game’s elements and participate in tournaments will benefit from an earlier exposure to the above adding to one’s maturity. Chess is a healthy and worthy addition to one’s life enjoyment but it should never be the source of total absorbtion at the expense of well rounded interests, study and relationships. Professionalism unless in the field of teaching, journalism or authoring books, is taboo in my view as a walk down the road of life.

Sadly I see children being rewarded with trophies for simply showing up to compete. That word compete to many in the education field in today’s society is turned on its head. You are simply not living up to the rules of society because competing and winning is being discriminating to the general attendance. It has been classified as such in this “politically correct” chess society as being “politically incorrect” where again we witness the continuing doubletalk.

What is the answer? Sooner perhaps than later, I would like to hope that scholastic chess competitions reward success to the victors but also that those losing are taught that losers become winners by attempting to improve, make less mistakes and enjoy the fight and struggle on the board as it was meant to be.

Winning money by gambling or through tournament success will never be the main attraction for the amateur who looks at the game as a challenge, enjoyment and chance to congregate with friends made over time across the board.

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