But first, a digression: I used to be extremely into chess as a kid. I remember a conversation I had with my friend Seth years ago, about who the best chess player in history had been.
(It's certainly strange the things that stick with you.)
I offered Paul Morphy and Seth suggested José Raúl Capablanca and said that a movie about Capablanca's life could have been incredible, but there was only one actor who could have done him justice.
Actually, it's because of that that I'm able to pin down the date of the conversation to late 94 or early 95. Seth said that Raul Julia was the only actor who could have portrayed Capablanca, and as he had recently died, the movie would never get made. Seth went on to tell an amusing story about how Capablanca was doing very well in a tournament but fumbled, lost badly, apologized to his opponent for his poor play, and quickly exited the hall. What had happened was that he saw that both his wife and his mistress had arrived to watch him play.
Wikipedia has a ranking of the best players as measured by the Elo system
Keep the following facts in mind while reading it, however.
A.) It's Wikipedia
B.) It comes with this disclaimer:
The average Elo rating of top players has risen over time. For instance, the average of the top 100 active player rose from 2644 in July 2000 to 2689 in January 2010, a 45 point increase. Many people believe that this rise is mostly due to a system artifact known as ratings inflation, making it impractical to compare players of different eras.
Arpad Elo was of the opinion that it was futile to attempt to use ratings to compare players from different eras; in his view, they could only possibly measure the strength of a player as compared to his or her contemporaries. He also stated that the process of rating players was in any case rather approximate; he compared it to "the measurement of the position of a cork bobbing up and down on the surface of agitated water with a yard stick tied to a rope and which is swaying in the wind"
Seth is also awesome, because he's the only person I know person not working for NPR who pronounces Kasparov correctly.
I've heard the opinion that Garry Kasparov may be the best player of all time. I don't have the expertise to evaluate that claim, but I feel he kind of got the shaft when he was beaten by Deep Blue. (Specifically, he was denied access to Deep Blue's games whereas it was programmed with knowledge of every game he had ever played. He was going in blind against the Kasparov Killer)
Anyways, as I mentioned, I was quite into chess as a kid. The accounts I'd heard of Bobby Fischer were that of a crusading hero, hurling Spassky down to ruin and crushing the Russian stranglehold on the noble sport forever. (I did grow up during the Cold War, after all)
(Apropos of nothing, Cillian Murphy apparently looks a lot like Bobby Fischer. His character's name in Inception was Robert Fischer. I'd say that was a meaningless coincidence, but it was probably a joke by the film makers instead.)
Fisher was always, shall we say, outspoken, but he completely lost his shit after September 11th, saying on a televised interview four hours after the attack,"I say death to President Bush! I say death to the United States! Fuck the United States! Fuck the Jews!..They are the worst liars and bastards. Now what goes around comes around. They're getting it back, finally. Praise God ... This is a wonderful day. Fuck the United States. Cry, you crybabies! Whine, you bastards! Now your time is coming."
He even went so far as to pen Osama Bin Ladin a thank you note,
Dear Mr. Osama bin Laden allow me to introduce myself. I am Bobby Fischer, the World Chess Champion. First of all you should know that I share your hatred of the murderous bandit state of "Israel" and its chief backer the Jew-controlled U.S.A. also know [sic] as the "Jewnited States" or "Israel West." We also have something else in common: We are both fugitives from the U.S. "justice" system.
On one hand he was clearly mentally ill at the end of his life, and for an indeterminate period leading up to that. But on the other hand...fuck!