Bobby Fischer: A Psychological Autopsy

The number of neurologically diverse individuals involved in competitive chess has caused some to wonder whether the game drives people mad. Perhaps in very high doses (and to the exclusion of all else) it is not a healthy thing, though one might argue that the issue is the obsessive nature of the person playing chess rather than the game itself. I suspect that obsessive video game playing is much more damaging, especially if they feature gratuitous violence and sociopathic behaviour by some of the featured characters.

Instead I suspect that people with different minds are often attracted by the logical nature of chess together with the opportunity it presents for controlled social interaction. You greet your opponent before the game, shake hands afterwards and may indulge in some post game analysis in which the subject matter (what happened in the game) is clearly laid out. The environment will usually be quiet and you get to mingle with a group of people who are generally rather shy and thoughtful.

Were these the characteristics what attracted Bobby Fischer to chess? Maybe, and it was interesting to read this article on Fischer which the author describes as a psychological autopsy. There is a certain taboo against this kind of post mortem diagnosis but it provides fascinating food for thought. For example Michael Fitzgerald wrote a couple of books in which he speculated that many great historical figures had Asperger’s Syndrome, and that this is what led to their great creativity.

Whatever the case it’s clear the Bobby Fischer was a quite extraordinary person, and his likely mental problems should make us sympathetic to his suffering rather than critical of many of the crazy things he came out with. Here is one of his games which serves as a reminder about his genius:

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in Southport in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days he teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 14 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game.