“The most individualistic, intransigent, uncommunicative, uncooperative, solitary, self-contained and independent chess master of all time, the loneliest chess champion in the world. Bobby Fischer is also the strongest player in the world. In fact, the strongest player who ever lived” – Larry Evans
1972 saw turbulence in Northern Ireland, the Vietnam War was at its peak and Ceylon became a republic and changed to Sri Lanka. But the world was tuned-on into only one man – Bobby Fischer. 1972 was unlike any year.
Every sport gets that one genius that comes in once in a lifetime, shakes it to its very core and nothing remains the same ever again. Chess was blessed with Robert James "Bobby" Fischer, popularly called Bobby! The world of chess had been dominated by the Russians since the 1800’s, and often when this domination happens in any sport for such a prolonged time, its popularity takes a hit. Chess was going through its own toughest test in the late sixties. And then came Bobby.
He was an eccentric, lanky American who was obsessed with one thing - Chess. This obsession fuelled him restlessly to chase his dream to become the world champion and conquer the world.
In the fall of 1972, a little country called Iceland became the center of the world when it won the bid to host the world chess championship of 1972, often dubbed since as the Match of the Century. It was between the Challenger Bobby Fischer of America and the reigning World Champion Boris Spassky of Russia. It was played at the height of the cold war between the two super powers, a lot was at stake – outside of chess too.
A World Championship Chess Match has 24 games. 1 point for a win, ½ a point for a draw and 0 for a loss. Bobby needed 12 ½ points to become the new world champion, Spassky needed 12 to retain it.
Opening Moves: Bobby blundered and lost the 1st game. In a fit of frustration, he started making demands to remove all the cameras in the playing room as he was disturbed by their hum and could not concentrate.
His appeal was rejected, so he never showed up for the 2nd game. Spassky was awarded the win and this meant Bobby trailed by 0-2. It’s a hard lead to beat in a 24 game match.
In game 3, Bobby came back to continue and this time he used “Son of Sorrow”, which is the riskiest defense of all and is full of complete unexplored danger. Bobby was saying, we are not going to make a draw. We are going to fight to death here. It was a real test of genius for Spassky. The world held its breath. Bobby won it.
The Middle Game: All of Bobby’s antics were finally cracking Spassky’s calm demeanor and he went on to win points in successive games 3, 4 and 5.
The Wild Card: Game 6 is the most celebrated game of the whole match – when Bobby did the “Gotcha” on the entire world. Apart from the eccentricity and the air of arrogance he carried, if anything, Bobby was most well-known for his consistent opening move in his chess game. He always first played the pawn in front of his queen to E4 – the most sought after opening in a game of chess. But Bobby cherry picked the moment to surprise the whole world – none more so than Spassky – by playing the English opening C4. It instantly threw all of Spassky’s preparation out the window. Bobby stretched the whole game even more by playing a very anti-Bobby game, an almost slow motion build-up of the attack – first depriving Spassky of his mobility and then taking his pieces gently and finally a poetic capture of his opponent’s king. It was the most different and the most beautiful game Bobby Fischer ever played. At the end of it, Spassky stood up and applauded the American. Of the gesture, Bobby said to his coach, “Did you see what Boris did? That’s a sportsman, he is a real sportsman”.
The End Game: Bobby needed only one win to become the new World Champion. Game 21 started and it reached the move 40, the move where it was adjourned for the players to go, study it overnight and come back with a strategy to win.
The next morning, Spassky was the first to arrive, he walked straight over to the referee and uttered one line. “There is another world champion. His name is Robert James Fischer”. As soon as he came to the venue, Bobby was given the news and was instantly engulfed by the reporters, everyone wanting to know how it felt to have conquered the world. He immediately ran to his car and drove off – saying one less line than Spassky
I had arrived!!! Both literally and figuratively. I had just completed my MBA from one of the top institutes in the WORLD!!
I had just stepped off the Bombay local. It was the first day of my job, I was in my pristine white Giza cotton shirt, merino wool blazer and fine Italian shoes. Oh my God!
My shoes were not polished and I was wondering what to do.
Just then I heard, “Shoe polish!” and noticed a teenager sitting with his workstation ready to polish shoes. I went up to him, put my foot on his workstation and he began buffing my shoes with all earnestness.
I looked around the station in the midst of chaos. There were vendors selling fruits. Above, I saw people removing old movie posters from a hoarding. I saw the tangle of electric cables and then I noticed an old blind man in his 80s finding his way through the crowd. He had a bowl into which people were putting coins and he would yell out a “Thank you!” each time the new coins made a sound.
I thought to make his day and looked into my wallet. The currency of the lowest denomination I had was a 10 rupee note. I placed it into his bowl. He touched it, gave a smile and yelled, “Thank you!”
Being the modest person I am, I said, “It is ok, you can keep the ten rupees.” From my voice he could sense I was close to him and was not walking away. He held out his hand.
He held out his hand almost to touch me. I, however, was not interested in shaking his hand. This was a person standing in the ‘railway station’, but in order to stop his hand from touching my pristine white shirt, I held out my hand.
Now here I was, my feet on a pedestal, the boy polishing my shoe and my hand in a blind old man’s. I was looking like a cricket umpire signaling a leg bye that went for four runs!
He held my hand and with a big smile said, “Sir you are kind, very kind. May I know who you are?”
Normally I would have not replied to such a question from a stranger, but noticing his age and the fact that he was blind, I felt there might not be too much harm in doing so, so I said, “I am Nishanth. I am from...”
Instantly, he replied, “Oh! What a nice name! ‘Nisha’ means ‘midnight’, and ‘Nisha ka Anth’ means ‘the one who ends midnight, the one who ends darkness’. Very nice name Sir. Very nice, but who are you?”
I was wondering whether he was going to ask me to fund his eye surgery! I told him that I was from Kerala, settled in Chennai. “Oh Kerala! This is the place where you are from, but who are you?”
I answered that I had just finished my MBA and worked in…, but before I could complete my sentence, he said, “MBA! Wow! That’s very good Sir. My cousin wanted to do a MBA but he is very old now. Very good Sir, but that is your degree. Who are YOU?”
I was getting confused here. I was being challenged by someone who seemed to be non-existent in my world. I had cleared interviews with consultancy companies, been to top ranked universities in the country. Now here was a challenge I was finding difficult to overcome!
All of a sudden a light shone upon me. I thought perhaps it was God trying to speak to me. Was I the ‘Chosen One’? Was I the new Avatar? It was Avatar alright, but the poster of the movie Avatar being removed and the light from the metal sheet being reflected onto my face.
Suddenly the ridiculousness of my answers was apparent. All this while I had thought my identity was my name, the degrees I had earned, the place I had lived in or the designation I held. But these were just labels. I had never thought I could be someone beyond all this! A smile appeared on my face and on his. I stopped fighting to take my hand from his grip, and he loosened his grip and walked away.
“Sir! Can you put your feet on the ground?” said the boy who had finished polishing my shoes. I smiled and did so.
Sometimes we think we are what we do, the language we speak, the place we are from. We label ourselves as engineers, IT professionals, MBA degree holders. But we are far deeper and greater than that. I urge all of you to look inward and ask that question and I promise you, it will take you on an incredible journey.
That day I embarked on a journey to find out who I really was. I have still not got the answer. I thought I had arrived, but now I know, I am seeking.