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I Remember Bobby

My brother and I had a board set up in the same position as Fischer and Spassky’s in far away Reykjavik that summer of ’72. We sat mesmerized for hours every day, our attention divided equal parts between the board and the endearingly goofy Shelby Lyman on TV.

The broadcast was on WNET, Channel 13 in New York, soon to be PBS, primitive even by 1972 standards. After all, Telstar had launched in 1962, allowing transoceanic images to be beamed across the globe. Despite this technological innovation, poor Shelby was reduced to receiving news of a move by either Fischer or Spassky over the phone, then moving the piece on the in-studio board. Until the next move, which could be an hour off, Shelby filled the air with analysis, curiosities and the occasional talking head. In part, the primitive telecast was attributable to the fact the combatants were holed up in a back room, courtesy of Bobby’s idiosyncratic demands.

Of course even before this, we were on pins and needles. While in awe of Bobby’s abilities, it still seemed David and Goliath-like, with Bobby going up solo against the organized chess might of the Evil Empire. Notwithstanding David’s success, how many times can the little guy come out on top? Nor did our David inspire optimism, as he initially threatened to call off the match. Then after finally leaving for Iceland he absolutely blundered away game one and forfeited game two.

It was not until game three that we breathed a sigh of relief and by game six, well, the rest was anticlimactic. To this day I vividly recall predicting the move Fischer should make the morning after an adjournment (I think it was game four). They were heady days to be a chess player, and an American. Even years later when Fischer went on his anti-American rant, I still held a soft spot for Bobby. Part of me felt the government had pushed his fragile psyche to the breaking point. In larger part I never forgot the feelings he stirred in those innocent days in our den, just me, my brother, Shelby and the elegant chess board.

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