Bobby Fischer’s been in the slammer in Japan of all places, since last summer. Never having seen the inside of a Japanese prison, my prejudices have me imagining it as squeaky-clean, super efficient and strict-but-fair in the best traditions of the Samurai. I could be wrong. Quality-control wise, prisons are unreliable places.
But all that’s about to change and may already have changed by the time you read this, because Iceland’s Parliament jumped through the proscribed legislative hoops pursuant to granting our wayward American chess champion Icelandic citizenship. If all goes well, Iceland will send a diplomatic delegation to Japan and spirit the spirit of chess from the clink to Reykjavik, the city of his thirty-three year ago defeat of Russian champion Boris Spassky.
Bobby got in trouble with America when he went to Belgrade in Yugoslavia to play an exhibition match in 1992. All of this is very ancient history, but the U.S. is amazingly unforgiving when their nose has been tweaked. Bobby tweaked it by making a little over $3 million in that exhibition at a time when Yugoslavia was under U.S. sanctions. Unable to return without being thrown in an American slammer, Bobby’s been on a sort of personal world-tour since then, vilifying America, along with Jews and blacks and whoever else crosses his disintegrating mind while on the radio.
Meanwhile, in America, Rush Limbaugh does the same thing for really big bucks and White House acclaim.
Bobby’s weird there’s no doubt, but his country’s mounted a vendetta against him and that’ll make a guy weird under even lesser circumstances. America of course makes itself look small and vengeful and just downright silly when it gets into these kinds of pissing matches. Particularly when it took an almost Audie Murphy kind of pride in Bobby’s trashing of the Ruski Spassky. Cold War days, good-guys against bad-guys days. The Cold War allowed certain strange bedfellows for America, what with Peron and Mubarak and Saddam and that super-evil Fischer guy.
I understand Bobby’s wrath as well as his frustration because, when I lived in Prague I was unable to so much as buy a newspaper at the Corinthian Towers Hotel without similarly putting myself at risk. The hotel was owned by Libyan investors and the American sanctions against Libya reached to such unlikely places as Prague and the grounds of the hotel. It was pretty much the laughingstock of Prague, this rule, but was backed by the full moral outrage of the American Embassy. I confess, I actually used to buy my daily International Herald Tribune there and on several occasions had coffee in the forbidden coffee shop. Oh, the shame of it.
So, in the eyes of the law Bobby and I are each guilty of pretty much the same crime. I’m a recreational chess player and even that designation will draw a snigger from any of my several local opponents. But partner-in-crime to Bobby Fischer, that’s me. I don’t rage against Jews or my country because I like them both pretty well, but cuff me and send me off, it’s the same ridiculous crime and I’m as guilty as he, less the $3 mil.
Perhaps if Bobby and I shared a cell my endgame would improve.