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Russians versus Fischer

by Dmitry Plisetsky amd Sergey Voronkov (ISBN 1-85744-380-2)
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In 1972 the American Robert James "Bobby" Fischer became World Chess Champion by beating the Soviet Boris Spassky, taking away the World Chess Title from him after 30 years of a Soviet hegemony at the world chess summit. After this victory, Fischer never again played a serious competitive chess game.

As you might already know, apart from darts, I am also dedicated to the game of chess. Therefore, I will recommend this chess book here. Mainly because it is not a typical chess book, as the pure chess content (games, annotations, variations...) is taking up the minor part of the book.

Russians vs. Fischer covers not so much the games, it conentrates on lots of reports from (mainly soviet) contemporary witnesses, together with formerly classified reports and dossiers from the soviet state about Robert Fischer.

Fischer was a gifted prodidgy. And, as often is the case, he was and still is to date a very complicated personality, described by many as having mental problems, or even being insane, or, like some would put it, just nuts.

No matter how one might see his personality, he was an exceptionally strong chess player, still thought of by many (and not without reason) as being the best chess player ever.

In the Soviet Union, like all sports, chess was a serious state affair. Matters of chess were discussed and decided within highest poitical circles, and the soviet domination of chess (which was so strong that Russian chess players continue to dominate world chess until today, although it's no longer considered a matter of state importance) was considered a main propaganda weapon for demonstrating the intellectual superiority of the communist system.

When Fischer entered the international chess life, then still a boy of 15, but already a fierce opponent, it was an immediate threat to the soviet dominance in chess. Especially, since this was the time of the Cold War, especially since he was a citizen of the class enemy, the capitalist USA.

This book as a minute documentation of Fischer's rise, and the (often helpless and clueless) actions of the always-increasing worries of the soviet chess apparatus, also distracted and puzzled by the various and numerous scandals Robert Fischer created during his rise.

Altogether this is a fascinating documentation, and this not only for chess players. It shows how helpless a giant apparatus like the powerful chess society of the Soviet Union was against a gifted, dedicated, troublesome loner like Fischer, who (supposedly?) never received even a fraction of the almost full-sevice support the "Russians" receiced from their state.

It documents a collective fight of the combined Soviet forces, although the ties between them seemed much less tight when looked under the surface (this book does). There are astinishing similarities between this fight and the Cold War itself.

It also documents the psychological problems Fischer caused his competition with his (often incredible) demands, and the stubborness he showed to achieve or try to achieve them, which also more than once backfired and harmed himself.

It is especially this description of psychological situations and little (dirty) tricks that makes the book valuable from the sports-psychological point of view - and therefore also of interest to dart players.

So, finally, I recommend this book on the following grounds:

  • For chess players, also just occasional hobby players, or people interested in chess it's a must read, anyway.
  • For those interested in the Cold War and history in general, on a part of Soviet society that hardly reached non-chess players.
  • For people interested in sports psychology.
  • For those who are open-minded and might enjoy learning about a fascinating non-fictional but until now alien "world".
  • For those who have remotely heard about some mythical chess player named Bobby Fischer, and want to delve into this secret.

The purely chess part (games, diagrams, variations and game comments) makes about a quarter of the book or less, the rest is just reading material which is at most times only remotely related to chess. So in general it is comprehensible for anyone, although it might help if you know at least the rules of chess, so you know how playing chess works and you don't get confused when there is talk about queens, knights, rooks and pawns.

I recommend this book to interested TDT readers, because to date it leads a somehow underrated life, mainly because it is some "hybrid" work. It was praised by many reviews in the chess world, but for purely chess interested people it is by far not enough "hardcore-chess", while non-chess players might think it is exactly this, because all other chess books are like that and completely incomprehensible for outsiders. On the other side, I have a faible for exactly such hybrids, and maybe if you like TDT then this could also apply to you.

So if you decide to give it a try based on this recommendation, I'd definitely be interested on how you experienced your read!