SI Vault
Bobby Fischer
William Nack
July 29, 1985
While conducting a search that turned into an obsession, the author discovers a great deal about the chess genius who drifted into seclusion after winning the world title
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July 29, 1985

Bobby Fischer

While conducting a search that turned into an obsession, the author discovers a great deal about the chess genius who drifted into seclusion after winning the world title

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"How do you know it was Fischer?" I asked. Spencer pulled out an old newspaper photo of Fischer and flashed it from behind the counter. "I know him," she said. "I see him a lot in here."

Turning to Brooks, I said, "A day! I missed him by a lousy day!"

But he was here! He was in town, certainly in the neighborhood. I left the library, went to a deli and bought a Diet Sunkist and a bag of cheese corns and sat on the stoop of The Church of the Open Door, thinking Bobby might stroll past any time now and look at me and figure I was O.K., just a bum feeding the pigeons. Ha! So I flipped some cheese corns to the birds strutting past and waited in the gathering dusk. Where is he? At 6:10 p.m., I walked up the stairs and into the library and began my regular tour of the place, like a night watchman with a key.

Nothing in Philosophy and Religion, nor in the Newspaper Room, where Fischer used to go last fall to read Harry Golombek's commentaries on the Karpov-Kasparov world title match in The Times of London. Nor in the downstairs head. It was 6:30 p.m., then 7:15.

Another quick swing throught the rooms revealed nothing. It was 7:30 p.m., then 7:45. Suddenly the bell rang, signaling 15 minutes left before closing. The man reading the trigonometry book looked up in the back of History. A bum dressed even worse than I, with holes in his pants and a torn coat, sauntered toward the door. At 7:51, I got up from a table and walked out of History and into the rotunda.

Passing the card catalogs, I glanced up and stopped—jerked to a stop and froze. There he was. Bobby Fischer was standing about 15 feet away, and for an instant he looked right at me, so I could see his face straight on, and I think my mouth dropped open but I can't be sure, because all I can remember is how it suddenly went dry and how I ducked behind the card catalogs and leaned my head against the files and said, in a suppressed whisper, "Oh my God! I found him. I don't believe this. Now what the hell do I do?"

I had never seen him in my life, except in dated photographs, but I knew it was Fischer, just plain knew it the instant I saw him. The long face. The brown eyes. The half-inch beard. The brown hair revealing a slightly balding patch at the back of his pate. About 6'2". He was carrying a plastic bag—Ben Lewis said Fischer was carrying a bag when he met him—and as I emerged from behind the files, he was already ducking into the telephone booth, as he had when Brooks first saw him. He had materialized out of nowhere at closing time, as if he had descended from the dome to use the phone. After watching him disappear into the booth, I dashed downstairs to watch the exits.

At almost eight sharp, as the guards were seeing patrons out the door, Fischer came down the winding staircase and walked quickly past me to the Hope Street exit. He went through the door, took a left, then moved fast down the stairs to the street. I followed him, about 30 feet behind. Halfway down the stairs, he turned his head and saw me again. Does he think I'm following him? He never turned back again. Nearing the corner of Sixth and Hope, Fischer suddenly stopped and picked up a public telephone. Of course, I thought, an old trick to lose a tail! Head down, I swept past him, crossed Sixth Street to a row of hedges at the Lincoln Savings and Loan and crouched down to hide. Looking around, he appeared not to have noticed me.

He was on the phone about five minutes. Not sure what he was going to do, I crossed Hope, doubled back across Sixth to his side of the street and lurked about in wait. Fischer hung up the phone, crossed Sixth, passed the hedges of the Lincoln Savings and Loan and strode quickly into the night. I followed him at a distance of 50 yards, at times having to break into a trot to keep up. Ron Gross had been right. "Fischer is a fast walker," Gross had said. "With those long, fast strides he takes, he's hard to keep up with."

Half-jogging, I watched him as he disappeared in shadows and reappeared in the light, his bag twirling and swinging at his side. Everywhere he went, I trailed just behind him on the other side of the street. I could not hear him whistling, but he moved as if he were.

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