One Night in Bangkok I Played Chess for World Domination

ChessThe song goes “One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble.”  It was by Murray Head and was featured in the musical Chess.  This was a story put to music about the battle between Bobby Fischer, the brilliant American chess genius and Boris Spassky the efficient machine like Russian chess grandmaster.   (In the play, the antagonists are an American chess champion and a Russian chess champion and Fisher and Spassky are never mentioned but the characters are thinly veiled portraits of Fisher and Spassky)  Ostensibly this was a chess match between two magnificent chess players.  However, only slightly beneath the surface it was in reality a match between the United States and the the-production-company-chess-michael-falzon-and-castSoviet Union for dominance of the world.  (If you would like to hear the song, click here)

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can’t be too careful with your company
I can feel the Devil walking next to me.

1972wc Fischer vs Spassky The New York Times bookThe match took place at the height of the Cold War between the Russians and the US.  Everything from sports to ballet to politics was imbued with the animosity that characterized Russian American relations during this time frame.  The match took place in 1972.  Spassky was the defending world champion and Fischer was the United States great “Western Hope.”  The Russians were well known for being the greatest chess players in the world and few would have ever hoped that the US could challenge them at what amounts to their national game.  For the previous 24 years, the Russians had defeated all comers to remain the world chess champions.  All eyes, all hopes, all dreams, all aspirations and all of the US national pride rode on the shoulders of Bobby Fischer.  People who would not know the difference between a pawn and a knight were tuned into what would become one of the most epic battles of the entire Cold War.

I grew up playing chess when my father taught me the game at about the age of 6.  At the age of 8, I could beat my father easily.  I played whenever and whomever I could and rarely lost a game more than once to the same person.  I thought of chess as my game since it was a game of logic and intellect.

Bobby Fisher could have easily been described by the following adjectives:  eccentric, idiosyncratic, unconventional, unorthodox, unusual, strange, bizarre, peculiar and odd.  At age 15, Fischer became both the youngest grandmaster in history and the youngest candidate for the World Championship.  Fisher died in 2008 in Iceland at the age of 64.  This was the same country where he had defeated Spassky in 1972.

At the time of his death, Fisher was no longer a national hero (if he had ever been one).  He had been considered a fugitive from US justice over some tax payments that the government believed he owed for more than sixteen years.  Haunted and hounded by the US Department of Revenue, he had to flee arrest several times.  He no longer had the support of the American public due to his rabid anti-Semitic comments as well as his other anti-American views.  Few in this country saw him as upholding American values or the American way of life.

I don’t see you guys rating
The kind of mate I’m contemplating
I’d let you watch, I would invite you
But the queens we use would not excite you.

PokerPoker is a more popular game in the United State than chess.  It is estimated that there are over 60 million poker players in the US, forty millions of whom play regularly.   It is estimated that there are 45 million chess players in the US but only a small subset of this play regularly and there are only 90,000 active tournament players in the US for chess compared to 10 million Americans who play poker regularly for money.  Poker is a game of bluff, luck and intuition.  Chess is a game of logic, cognitive ability and foresight.  Both are games of strategy.  Poker favors an emergent strategy which takes stock of trends, cards, people, bets, emotions, tells and previous history to determine the best odds on which to place a bet, hold em or fold em.  Chess favors a predictive strategy which takes stock of position, history, foresight, patterns and possibilities to determine the next best move.  There is no luck in chess since both players have the same pieces and the same possibility for moves.  Poker can be determined by the luck of the draw wherein one player gets dealt a full house and the other player gets a pair of deuces.  Nevertheless, it is possible for the player with the deuces to still win.

Russian chess players versus American poker players!  In many ways, the differences between the two games highlight the way Americans seem to pursue foreign policy versus the way the Russians have pursued foreign policy.  To beat the Russians at chess required someone like Bobby Fisher who was perhaps the most creative and innovative chess player in the history of the game.  There was little that was methodical or predictable about Fisher’s game playing.  In many ways, Fisher was a poker player who adapted his skills to the game of chess.

“Fischer was a master of clarity and a king of artful positioning. His opponents would see where he was going but were powerless to stop him. I like to say that Bobby Fischer was the greatest Russian player ever. All of his great opening moves came from the Russians. He studied all of their methods. But what made Fischer a genius was his ability to blend an American freshness and pragmatism with Russian ideas about strategy.” – Bruce Pandolfini

Bobby_Fischer_graveThere are many claims to the “Great American Tragedy” but in my mind, few equal the tragedy of Robert Fischer.  Perhaps at some level, I can find myself identifying with him.  Not in terms of his anti-Semitic or anti-American opinions but certainly in his idiosyncrasies regarding his playing and his involvement in tournaments.  When I was a child, we used to play a game called “King of the Hill.”  You could only be king for so long and eventually either one or the entire group would pull you down.  This game taught me that you can only “reign” for so long and eventually whatever greatness you have will be eclipsed by others.  Great actors become has-beens.  Great athletes become washed-up.  Great singers become past their prime.  Great politicians outlive their times.  Great thinkers are no longer able to think great thoughts. Whenever we become “King of the Hill” there is only one direction to go.

115226110.jpg

Chess Champion Bobby Fischer

Bobbie Fischer was the greatest chess player in history.  But the more he won the higher up the hill he went.  The higher up the hill he went, the farther he had to fall down.  I stopped playing chess regularly many years ago.  The more games I won, the harder it was to play.  I could not bear the idea of losing or the possibility of losing.  Despite the fact that I had always learned from losing in my early years of chess playing, I could no longer accept the idea of losing.  I told myself repeatedly that one has to lose to get better and that even if someone beat me, I could adapt and overcome.  Something inside me lost the drive to win.  I lost the will to power. I no longer aspired to be a “higher” man.   It simply seemed like too much work.

“The higher man is distinguished from the lower by his fearlessness and his readiness to challenge misfortune.”  ― Friedrich NietzscheThe Will to Power

russia versus US chess setI can only imagine what it must have been like to be Fischer. The entire esteem of the United States was riding on his match with Spassky.  All minds and all hearts needed him to beat the Russian.  We had to show the world that we were not only the economic and physical match for the Russians but we were also their intellectual match.  The Free World, democracy and God were riding on the outcome of Fischer’s match with Spassky.  Can you imagine the pressure that was riding on Fischer’s shoulders?  The stress that he had to cope with would have been incomprehensible.  I think it would have driven most people stark raving mad, which I sometimes suspect it did to Bobbie.

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can’t be too careful with your company
I can feel the Devil walking next to me.

Obama-and-Putin-s-International-Chess-Match--115652It is now almost 50 years later and we are still playing chess with the Russians.  Obama and Putin have taken the place of Kennedy and Khrushchev.  The game of chess is still pitted against the game of poker.  World fortunes and prestige still ride on the outcome of matchups between us and the Russians.  The pawns have become the Arabs while the rulers of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, ISIS, Iraq, Jordan and Europe fill in for the knights, bishops and rooks.  Putin is the King for the Red side and Obama is the King for the White Side.  The head of the Sunnis will fill in for the Red Queen while the head of the Shiites can fill in for the White Queen.  Let the games roll on.

“The more things change, the more they are the same.” — Alphonse Karr

Time for Questions:

Do you play chess?  Do you play poker?  Which do you prefer? Why?  Have you ever played in a tournament?  What does it take to be great?   Which strategy works best in politics?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“I believe every chess player senses beauty, when he succeeds in creating situations, which contradict the expectations and the rules, and he succeeds in mastering this situation.” — Vladimir Kramnik

 

Ask Dr. John: Wisdom for the World?

Dear “Ask Dr. John” is a new syndicated column for men only.  Each week Dr. John Persico Jr. will answer questions from his many loyal followers concerning a wide range of life issues.  The comments given in this column are not medical in nature and readers are advised to use discretion before following any advice or recommendations.  The author claims no responsibilities for sickness or death as a result of information or suggestions provided in this column.

Dear Dr. John,

I came home today and found my wife in bed with three of my best friends.  What should I do?

PS:  My wife is 19 years old and I am 74 but we have been happily married for several months now.

Signed,

Frustrated

————

Dear Frustrated,

I have thought about your situation very carefully.  At your age it might be easier to find a new wife than new friends.  I would give her an early buyout on your prenuptials and try to mend fences with your friends.

Yours truly,

Dr. John


Dear Dr. John,

I have the greatest grandchildren in the world.  My youngest grandson is smart, handsome and athletic.  He will surely be a pro-football player.  He is only three years old now but you can easily see how great he will be.  I bought him a football for Christmas and he handles it like a pro.  My problem is that none of my friends really listen when I try to talk to them about him.  Do you think they are just jealous?  I am not sure what to do as they do not listen very well.

Signed,

Grandfather of the Greatest Grandson in the world.

———–

Dear Grandfather of the Greatest Grandson in the world,

I am sure they are just jealous.  Sounds like your grandson is truly amazing.  Have you thought of entering him in the Guinness Book of World Records?

Keep hammering away at them, they are bound to come around.

Yours truly,

Dr. John


 

Dear Dr. John,

I would like to retire early but I do not think I have enough money in my savings yet.  I am 45 years old and I am tired of working for a living.  Do you think there is any way that I could get my Social Security early?  It has been really hard for me these past few years as I hate my job and my work.  I am bored most of my working day.  I would rather sit home and watch football on TV.

Signed,

Would Like to Stop Working Early

———

Dear Would Like to Stop Working Early,

I know the feeling.  Many of my friends feel like you do.  However, most of them are in their seventies and like you they do not have enough in their savings to retire on.  Thus, they are still working part-time.  I have several good friends who are greeters at Walmart.  They are often bored.

I am not an expert on Social Security but I doubt that the government will give you an early out.  I think your best option would be to join the military and see if you can stay in long enough to get a good military pension.  The military has some good openings now in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq.  I doubt you would be bored over there, particularly if you asked for a combat assignment.

Yours truly,

Dr. John


Dear Dr. John,

I have a lot of aches and pains.  I still smoke and I don’t like to exercise.  My medical doctor says I am overweight, but I think he is wrong.  I am 5’ 8” inches tall and weigh 240 lbs.  Do you think that is too much weight for my height?  I am fifty three years old.  Can I lose weight without exercising or dieting?  I understand that neither of these activities are healthy and they are not much fun.

Signed,

I Want to Be Healthy

—————

Dear I Want to Be Healthy,

It is very difficult to say if you are overweight.  There are many factors that must be considered before one can render such an opinion.  Do you run or walk each day?  Do you get much activity doing housework or in the yard at home?  How many calories do you burn each day?  How much do you eat?

Many magazines in the food section of your local market will have an array of health tips and suggestions that you may want to read about losing weight and staying healthy.  My favorite book is “How to stay healthy even while you smoke and over eat and avoid exercise.”  This book has been on my shelf or years.  I have learned a great deal about health from this book.  See if you can purchase a copy from Amazon.com

I am sure it will help you as much as it has helped me.

Yours truly,

Dr. John


 

Dear Dr. John,

I have been an atheist all my life.  My last siblings died a few months ago and I have been thinking a lot now about death and dying.  I am seventy years old.  Do you think it is too late to start believing in God?  Would he accept my apologies?  Do you think I would be seen as a hypocrite by all the people I have been making fun of for years?

Signed,

Is It Time to Repent?

—————–

Dear Is It Time to Repent?

I don’t think it is ever too late to change your mind.  As you get older, it might be a good idea to hedge your bets.   As for your friends, I think I would explain to them that you had a change of heart and have finally come to your senses.  Apologize to them for all the times that you knocked their God and said what idiots they were to believe in God.  Start reading the Bible and try to remember some quotes such as:

“For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. He will strike down the non-believers.” 

Yours truly,

Dr. John


 

Dear Dr. John,

I live in a trailer park with a lot of other retirees.  Every Friday night, the guys play poker for low stakes in the community center.  This is a guy thing only.  However, one of the guys has started insisting that we let his wife play too.  I think she has been badgering him to be included.  He is a real wuss and won’t say no.  She usually comes around during the game to kibitz and look over his shoulder.  None of the other guys want to let her play but we don’t want to hurt our friend’s feelings.  What do you think we should do?

Signed,

It’s a Guy’s Thing

________________

Dear it’s a Guy’s Thing,

Look at it this way.  If you let her play, before you know it all the other wives will want to play to.  You have got to “Nip it in the bud” as Barney Fife used to say.

Here is what I think you should do.  Change your game to Thursday nights but don’t let her know.  Be sure to tell everyone that the new night is a secret for only the regulars to know about.  You can explain that this is necessary because the IRS was going to audit the game.  If that lie does not work, then simply think up another lie.  Remember “Nip it in the bud” or your guy only poker games will be a thing of the past.

Yours truly,

Dr. John


Dear Dr. John,

This is an election year and I take my voting very seriously.  I am torn between Trump and Hillary.  My friends think I am crazy and want me to support Cruz.  I don’t like Cruz because I think he is a Canadian and not really an American.  I like Hillary because she is for the common woman.  I like Trump because he is for the common man.  Should I support the common man or should I support the common woman?

Signed,

Political Dilemma

———————————

Dear Political Dilemma,

Wow, this is a tough one.  There is good and bad on both sides here.  Hillary is cuter than Trump but Trump has more money.  Hillary has held a high political office as First Lady but Trump has casinos all over the world.  Hillary will probably help us defeat ISIS but I would bet on Trump to defeat Mexico and make them pay for it.

It’s a tough call, but I would go with Hillary.  She stood by her man and you have got to give her points for loyalty.

Yours truly,

Dr. John

Well, that’s it for this week readers.  Stay tuned for more exciting “Ask Dr. John” columns to come in the next few weeks.


 

 

%d bloggers like this: