Why would I want to reinstate Fischer?

I have received the following question from a reader of my web site:

At 07:32 AM 3/31/99 -0500, Howard Goldowsky ( howard.goldowsky@analog.com ) wrote:

"Why would you want to reinstate Fischer, someone who is a self-proclaimed US law breaker? Aren't there plenty of other good chess players in the US who are infinitely more charismatic than Fischer, who with the help of some creativity, can promote chess?
Bobby Fischer

"Feel free to copy any of this onto the net - perhaps you feel others would be interested in these comments.


"Howard Goldowsky"

My answer was:

I have studied the law in great detail and his playing a chess match with Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia in 1992 broke no law.

If that match did break the law, then all of the officers of the United States Chess Federation need to go to jail because the USCF purchased more than $500,000 worth of chess books from Yugoslavia during that time period (after receiving an "opinion of counsel" that it was all right to do so).

As far as I know, Bobby Fischer is the only person ever to have been criminally charged with violating sanctions against Yugoslavia on the basis of an "Executive Order" by President George Bush. The charges against Fischer are obviously absurd and ridiculous and without basis in law.

The question is whether Fischer should be shunned merely because of his political views, views which many consider to be offensive and objectionable. My answer to that question is "no".

In answer to your other question, no, there is nobody else in America who has promoted chess and who can promote chess the way that Bobby Fischer can and did. We are still Searching for another Bobby Fischer. We have never found one and probably never will.

One must also take into consideration the fact that Bobby Fischer more than any other American is credited with bringing down Communism. The fact that he alone virtually without help could defeat the entire Soviet chess machine is often cited by former Soviets as demonstrating that their system did not work and must be abolished.

The fact is that Bobby Fischer has done for chess what no other man ever has or probably ever will. Now, he is hiding out in Budapest, wanted for extradition by the United States Government, his exact whereabouts known only to a few trusted chess playing friends.

What did this man to do to deserve this? What crime did he commit?

The answer: Bobby Fischer played a much publicized match for the World Chess Championship against Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia in 1992 for a total purse of five million dollars. For this and for this alone, the United States Government under the George Bush administration, yes that same President George Bush who refused to take Baghdad when he had it in his hands for fear of destabilizing the regime of Saddam Hussein, issued a warrant for the arrest of Bobby Fischer. Fischer has been pursued like a dog ever since.

George Bush was so stupid that he thought Saddam Hussein was going to voluntarily step down and resign after losing the war and that there was absolutely no need for US troops to occupy Baghdad, even though the entire Iraqi Army was on the border with Kuwait and the only military force inside Iraq at that time was the US Army. That same moron President George Bush decided that Bobby Fischer had committed a crime for doing nothing more than playing a chess match in Yugoslavia for money.

We, the chess players of the world, owe everything we have to Bobby Fischer: our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor. Before Bobby Fischer won the world chess championship by defeating Boris Spassky in Iceland in 1972, the United States Chess Federation had less than 5,000 members. By the end of 1972, it had more than 70,000 members. Every mother suddenly wanted her little kid to be just like Bobby Fischer. The Search for the next Bobby Fischer had begun.

Chess masters gave up their jobs washing dishes in dirty restaurants and suddenly found themselves in great demand as highly-paid teachers of chess. Shelby Lyman, a professional book thief and minor master who could barely hold a 2250 rating, became a celebrity and was nominated for the Emmy Award. According to the general public, the three greatest chess players in the world were Bobby Fischer, Boris Spassky and Shelby Lyman.

We now play chess with the "Fischer Clock". When we go to the movies, we watch "Searching for Bobby Fischer". The award for "Best Chess Book of the Year" went to a book entitled "The Bobby Fischer I knew and other stories", even though inside only a few sentences in the book were actually about Fischer. If you want to attract attention in chess, you need to invoke the name Bobby Fischer. No other name will do it.

Yet, for all these years, Bobby Fischer lived in poverty. He lived for years in a neighborhood in Brooklyn where few white men dared to walk. (I went by the place a few weeks ago, but I did so in the daytime, not at night). He also lived for years in a 5x8 cubical in the YMCA on 34th Street in New York City.

Meanwhile, his books were plagiarized and copied and translated into many languages of the world. Not a dime in royalties was paid to Fischer. Grandmasters of chess re-wrote his notes, claiming their notes to be Fischer's, and left pieces hanging and put kings into check, and claimed that mates existed which were not there, all along claiming that Fischer had written this.

In 1992, he was offered a way out. He was invited to play a re-match against Spassky in Yugoslavia for five million dollars. He would have been a fool not to accept this offer.

The match against Spassky did not violate any law. In addition, "sporting events" were exempted from the sanctions. A chess match is clearly a "sporting event."

It is true that "commercial contacts" with Yugoslavia were forbidden by the Executive Order of President Bush (but not by any law). A typical example of a commercial contract which was actually forbidden by this order was the importation of $500,000 worth of chess books by the United States Chess Federation from Yugoslavia during that exact time period. In order to sanitize this deal, the United States Chess Federation, after paying for half of the books, made a deal with the Yugoslavs that it would receive shipment of the books now but would not pay for them until the war was over and sanctions had been lifted.

Later, after the war was temporarily over and sanctions had been lifted, the USCF decided that it was illegal to buy the books after all, and therefore refused to pay the balance owed to the Yugoslavs, which was $235,000, even though the USCF had long since received the books and sold them.

This created great controversy. However, Michael Cavallo, who took over as Executive Director of the USCF in 1997, informed me that the first thing he did when he got into office was to pay the debt which was justly due to the Yugoslavs for their books.

The USCF is an organization with 85,000 members. As such, the USCF should have some political clout. One reason why the USCF does not have any political clout is that the members of the USCF are denied the right to vote. Only a carefully selected closed group of 454 "voting members" are allowed to vote. Therefore, no political figure is going to pay attention to the wishes of the President of the United States Chess Federation, because he knows that the President of the USCF only represents those 454 insiders who are allowed to vote.

President Nixon publicly pardoned and ordered the release of Jimmy Hoffa from prison, even though everybody knew that Hoffa was guilty of a crime, because Hoffa had influence in the Teamsters Union, the largest single union in America.

Bobby Fischer, a man who is not remotely guilty of anything, should receive the support of the United States Chess Federation. We should all be demanding that the utterly baseless criminal indictment of Bobby Fischer be dropped.

Sam Sloan

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