31 October 2009

Fischer Announces Fischerandom

Fischer's initial press release about *his* version of chess was an item in Mark Crowther's THE WEEK IN CHESS (TWIC) no.88, dated 24 June 1996. Here's a copy of the press release:

Bobby Fischer returned to Buenos Aires, Argentina after 25 years and it was as if he had never left. At a press conference on June 19 in the Argentine capital, the World Chess Champion was received by hundreds of journalists and chess fans, many of whom had come from all over the world. It was apparent from the feeling of anticipation in the room before he arrived that the Fischer mystique is alive and well.

The object of the conference was to publicize the launch of Fischer's new game, Fischerandom Chess, and to announce the match of Fischerandom Chess between Philippine Grandmaster Eugene Torre and two-time Argentine champion International Master Pablo Ricardi which begins July 12. Both players attended the conference and displayed enthusiasm regarding the match and the new game.

Before taking questions from the assembled press, Fischer spoke out on several topics. He apologized for bringing up subjects unrelated to Fischerandom Chess, and he then began a counterattack on several companies that he claimed had been defrauding him of huge amounts of money as well as trying to destroy his image. He targeted the British publisher Batsford for releasing a forged and unauthorized new edition of his renowned chess classic "My 60 Memorable Games", for deliberately making erroneous changes in the text itself and for never having paid him royalties for the book. He also attacked the motion picture company Paramount, producer of the hit film "Searching for Bobby Fischer", saying he never received "a penny" from the film. He also mentioned a CD-ROM, "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess", that had been made using his name unlawfully. He strongly criticized US Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor for not protecting his intellectual property rights in direct contradiction with Kantor's position on Red China, which Kantor has denounced for alleged violations of international copyrights. Fischer angrily accused the U.S. government of a double standard and disgusting hypocrisy in this regard. He made the point that his new, improved version of classical chess will eliminate the large amount of study and analysis that are involved in chess. He stated that many games are prearranged before the players begin the game, and that even the so-called world championship matches between Russian players Kasparov and Karpov had been prearranged, and that this would be impossible in Fischerandom Chess.

Fischer also ridiculed the U.S. government for indicting him and issuing a federal arrest warrant in his name for his alleged violation of an executive order by then President Bush barring U.S. citizens from doing business with Yugoslavia. Fischer claimed one of the reasons the U.S. government has indicted him and issued the arrest warrant, which is valid all over the USA, was to prevent him from returning to the USA to get access to his enormous file on the first so-called world championship match between Karpov and Kasparov so that he could write a book proving that that match was prearranged move by move.

After making these impassioned remarks, Fischer answered questions from the press for nearly an hour. In explaining the concepts behind Fischerandom Chess, Fischer said that although the rules are basically the same as those of traditional chess, each game begins from a different starting position, randomly chosen by the Fischerandom Chess Computerized Shuffler, making creativity and chess talent more important than analysis and memorization. He also pointed out that due to such long hours in front of the computer screen and with books, many top young players today, such as Kamsky, Kramnik and Anand, wear thick glasses. He also mentioned that all of the study necessary to play conventional chess made it into hard work, and that he had got into chess in order to avoid work!

With many people wondering about the future of chess after the IBM computer Big Blue beat Garry Kasparov earlier this year, Fischer's statement that computers would be at a considerable disadvantage in Fischerandom Chess received a great deal of attention. He stated that without access to databases of the millions of opening variations in traditional chess, computers do not really play chess all that well.

Now the world awaits the first Fischerandom Chess match which will commence at Pasaje Dardo Rocha in the Argentine city of La Plata on July 12. The match between Torre and Ricardi will be played until one player accumulates four victories, draws not counting.

The appearance of Robert J. Fischer in Buenos Aires left no one disappointed. After finishing with the questions, Bobby signed autographs for the dozens of fans who had come to catch a glimpse of the legendary genius. Many of the chess fans had clear memories of his last visits to Buenos Aires in the early seventies. Fischer's popularity here was clearly shown as well by the intense coverage by all the local media. Everyone is eagerly looking forward to Bobby Fischer's next move, whether it be on or off the board.



I've truncated the press release to remove the rules, which were longer than the release itself. Since they represent an integral contribution to the history of chess960, I'll post them elsewhere. Crowther had this to say about Fischer's press conference (copied verbatim):


Bobby Fischer returned to the limelight three years after his match against Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia. Bobby Fischer provokes extreme reactions from most chess fans. I'm very much of the school that found both his play and his life-story fascinating (Bobby Fischer Profile of a Prodigy by Frank Brady is an excellent and very balanced account of his career up to 1972) and find it rather sad he won't return to over-the-board chess. (Brady quote "He [Fischer] accepted an invitation to compete in the great Capablanca Memorial Tournament to be held in Havana, Cuba from August 25th to September 26th. I know some people who cried with joy when they heard the news.") This would certainly be my reaction if he decided to play now. But the press conference and the wait from 1992 suggests that Fischer doesn't have the commitment to work on chess anymore, this press conference is Fischer effectively announcing his retirement.

Whilst I'm sure that he has thought very deeply about the development of the Fischerandom Chess I don't think that things have changed so radically in over-the-board chess as he makes out. Fischer himself brought to new heights the level of opening preparation required to compete at the highest level. Fischer on the way to the World Title in 1972 studied at least as hard as they do nowdays on the openings. Recent International Tournaments show that there is still a lot of creativity possible in the opening, and some players don't work especially hard on their openings. Karpov shows that you can get by playing a limited series of systems and rely upon the middlegame for results. Fischer's obsession with fixed games is certainly as a result of personal observation during his own career (I don't quite believe it was as rife as he says but it is certain that the Russian's did agree draws with each other very frequently in those days) but the rivalry between Karpov and Kasparov makes it impossible to believe they fixed games.

I think it was a big shock to Fischer when he came back against Spassky, it is said that friends from throughout the World sent him masses of analysis that was unlooked at during that match. The sheer volume of material probably brought it home to Fischer that there was no way back to the very pinnacle of World Chess (as a student of 19th Centuary chess Fischer should have known that with Andersson's comments about his match against Morphy) but it doesn't mean that he couldn't have competed at a high level. The message from Argentina is that he has no will to do the work on the openings. His demeanour against Spassky suggested that he did enjoy competing again but this didn't last after the match, perhaps he enjoyed it too much?

One wonders what Reshevsky would have made of all this. Reshevsky struggled against Fischer throughout the 60's when Fischer's superior knowledge of openings had a direct effect on their results (remember Fischer winning in about 12 moves due to a piece of Russian analysis refuted a quite standard Sicilian setup?).

So, its all over for Fischer, he leaves a legacy of superb games, one wonderful book, and a life story packed with incident. I wouldn't be Bobby Fischer for any money. His capacity to surprise, and also shock will remain but it would be the biggest shock of all to see him play chess again.

Crowther appears to have been more interested in Fischer than in the variant he was trying to promote. I suspect that was the case with most observers in the mid-1990s.

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