How Bobby Fischer established his absolute dominance
chess in the 1957
US Junior Championship in San Francisco,
NM Roy Hoppe.
As told to Academic Chess founder, Eric Hicks.
Fischer began playing tournament chess in 1956. When he won the US Junior Championship in 1956 in Philadelphia, he did it as an unknown. It was the only major tournament he played in that year and it was considered in the scholastic community to be sort of a fluke. He was 13 years old. He was much lower rated then the rest of the contenders, a big psychological advantage because no one knew who he was or how well he could play. Plus the top rated junior of the day, Gil Ramirez did not play in the tournament. For winning first place in the US Junior of that year, Fischer won a portable electric typewriter. Reportedly he was not pleased with this prize.
In 1957 the Junior Championship happened to be in San Francisco at the Spreckles-Russel Dairy on 14th and Mission, just two blocks from the current Academic Chess headquarters. The morning before the tournament was scheduled to start the dairy hosted a milk and ice cream party for the young players. Bobby was nowhere to be seen. Young Bobby became the talk of the crowd. He was a type of mysterious character, who then would appear and disappear off of the scene. No one had seen him since his dramatic unexpected win of the 1956 tournament. According to Roy, the consensus on the scene was that no one expected Fischer to win the 1957 championship. Gil Ramirez was the overwhelming favorite.
When the first round started, Fischer was still not present. The young players were kind of whispering to each other on how the defending champion did not even show up to defend his crown. 10 minutes after the clocks had started; Fischer burst into the room, with a dramatic entrance that few in the room will ever forget. Fischer stormed in, and walked with extreme confidence and arrogance as if he was on a grand mission. Kids who were standing near the door when he walked in clamored over to greet him. Fischer ignored them determinedly walking straight to the tournament Director's table. Bobby was wearing patched and holed Levis, two different colors of Converse tennis shoes, and a flannel shirt. His head was shaved; by all accounts an intimidating presence.
George Koltanowski, world blindfold champion, and legendary California chess organizer was the tournament director for this event. He was stunned to see young Bobby storm across the room. Everyone in the quiet tournament hall heard Bobby ask, "What's first prize?!" Koltanowski walked Bobby to the prize table and showed him an electric typewriter, identical to the one he won the year before. Bobby stomped his feet and raised his voice and screeched, "I do not want another typewriter!" to the dismay of everyone.
Ivan Vegvary, a player in the tournament who was standing nearby kind of snickered and said, "Don't worry about it because you're not going to win it."
Ivan would be remembered for this comment.
Fischer glared at Ivan and said, "You don't know me."
Roy remembers himself and others taken back by this brash entrance.
In Swiss tournaments, the highest rated players play against the lowest rated players in the early rounds. Everyone was anticipating Gil Ramirez; the highest rated junior at the time, and Bobby Fischer to meet in one of the last rounds. Both Bobby and Gil finished their rounds early.
Outside of the tournament hall, Gil was playing speed chess with some other kids. Bobby walked up, observed for a moment and then walked away.
After winning his second round game, Bobby walked out again, and the strongest players in the tournament including Gil were playing speed chess again. Gil offered this time for Bobby to sit down and play. Bobby shook his head again and walked away. "Too weak" he said to a flabbergasted bystander.
It was not until after the 4th round, that Fischer accepted the invitation of Gil to play speed chess. Both he and Gil had won all four of their games and everyone was anticipating the moment when Gil and Bobby would meet in the tournament. But now the two would spar off in a speed chess dual. A large crowd gathered around as they set up the pieces and set the clock. One of the strongest Grand Masters of the time, Najdorf, pushed his way through the crowd to see the two young players' face off.
What happened next was an astonishing display of Fischer's chess genius. Bobby not only beat Gil; he beat Gil again and again decisively. Roy estimates they played 25-30 games, and Fischer did not lose or draw a single game. Fischer, who today is widely recognized as the best speed chess player of all time, played instantly. Roy does not remember Fischer using even a minute on any of his games. (Each player has 5 minutes) Gil had around a 2200 rating at the time, which was higher than Fischer's rating. Roy thinks that without a doubt, Fischer was already playing at Grand Master strength, even if his rating did not reflect it.
Everyone watching the speed chess match was stunned, and no one had a doubt after that who was going to win the tournament. Grand Master Najdorf commented, "Its like angels are moving his hand!" a comment Roy would never forget.
Roy, who was 13 at the time, told me that this event forever changed him. All at once, in the midst of a great young chess genius, Roy realized his own limitations in chess. Roy would play Bobby in Davis California in a beautiful win for Fischer that would later be published. Fischer bought Roy a drink in New York after Roy achieved his chess master's rating.
As for Bobby and Gil? Bobby of course won the 1957 Junior Championship in San Francisco with a final score of 8.5 out of 9. He won a second typewriter that he would later use to write the immortal "My 60 Memorable Games". For all the young players at the tournament, they already knew who was going to win after that memorable speed chess challenge. Gil then offered Bobby a ride to Cleveland to play in the US Open Championship. Bobby and Gil shared a room but were not the best of buddies. Bobby won the US Open Championship (an adult tournament) with a black eye, that by all accounts he got from a punch from Gil.
Fischer became the youngest chess world champion of all time.
Roy and Gil never achieved chess fame. They both stopped playing competitive chess, and now belong to the same bridge club in Marin.