I know Heath Ledger has already bumped the chess giant as the celebrity death of the week, but I’m just now getting my head around the fact that the greatest American chess player of all time is dead. I’m conflicted about Fischer the way I am about Mike Tyson. I know. Weird comparison. Stick with me.
Both were without argument phenomena in their fields. I spent many hours as a chess nerd ten-year-old dissecting the famous Fischer-Spassky games, and I remember watching Tyson knock out the heavyweight champion with one punch that took a man off his feet three times. (I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t watched it with my grandfather.) In both cases, at the top of their careers, these men were simply unstoppable.
Perhaps I’m thinking about this so much because I’ve read recently and will soon be examined over Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great. Tamburlaine, like Fischer and like Tyson, is simply unstoppable. The best generals that the world can throw at him, pagan and Christian and Muslim, fall one after another. Yet at the end his own appetites lead to his death. (I won’t give away the ending beyond that.)
At any rate, I have to attend a class in just a few minutes. Bobby Fischer the human being and Mike Tyson the human being horrify me. Yet Bobby Fischer the chess giant and Mike Tyson the power puncher fascinate me. I suppose that’s where I’ll have to leave that.