Bobby Fischer/Can a Chess Player be Spiritual?

Spassky vs. Fischer, 1972 World Championship Match

Spassky vs. Fischer, 1972 World Championship Match

I’ve been trying to get into chess lately, mostly playing games online at Yahoo.  I randomly went on Wikipedia to look up Bobby Fischer, just to briefly look over his bio.  I was shocked.  I had watched “Searching for Bobby Fischer”, which I think is a great movie by the way, but during the movie Fischer is portrayed as somebody to look up to, somebody mysterious, somebody you would never expect to have mental problems.  And since chess is a mind game, you might expect the World Champion to have a “beautiful mind”, something to be envied.  You might think they’d apply their skill to everything around the world.

I don’t envy Bobby Fischer, I pity him.  Fischer had some major mental issues.  He wanted America and the whole race of Jews to be annihilated.  It makes me wonder what he would have been capable of had he been exposed to more love throughout his life.

So this put a damper on my views of chess.  How could somebody so highly regarded in the game (many consider him to be the best chess player ever) have such nonsensical views outside of the game? I began to question if great chess players tend to lose the meaning of life.  I began thinking of the Bible quote:

What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? (Mk 8:36)

Also, a little reference to one of my favorite bands Chevelle—in their song Point #1, the lyrics say “It seems I’ve gained the world but have nothing.  To keep tabs upon this loss isn’t wasted time.”

And I started wondering.  Are there any world champions in chess that are charismatic, unselfish, spiritual, that aren’t absolutely consumed by it? There’s just sort of this plain, matter of fact connotation that goes along with chess players.  Other sports like baseball, soccer, they are team games, you are forced to play with one another, communicate with each other, pick each other up when you are down.  Relationships are built that last a lifetime.  I think this contributes to why they are my favorite sports.  I do like golf which is another solo sport.  Still, golf is physical and outdoors with beautiful scenery around.  Watching Tom Watson at the British Open really gave me a positive view of golf.  There was a certain spiritual aura about him, he was at peace with himself, he WAS unselfish, he appreciated the crowd and respected other players.  While Tiger was throwing clubs and cursing, Watson reacted in a much more mature way.

I can’t think of another sport like chess where it is so nearly 100% mind.  And when the great players are dedicating so much of their mind towards chess that means they aren’t devoting it to God.  I think it’s easy to get distracted and obsessed with the sport.  However, I think you can play it for God, just like baseball or any other sport.  I’ve made some stupid mistakes in chess and said some stupid comments like “man, that was stupid” or “I hate this game, I suck at this game.” On the other end, if you’re dominating the game, some people will start talking trash.  A holy person isn’t going to act this way, they will win and lose with humility.  And it feels better that way.

I particularly found some help from the comments in the following article, specifically the 1st comment:  http://chessstuff.blogspot.com/2005/02/can-christians-play-chess.html

This helped me not only to feel better about being a devout, spiritual Catholic and chess player simultaneously, but also to reason through competitions and sports in general.  Competition with the right heart challenges us to become better people.  Competition isn’t for everyone though.

Watson had a spirit about him during the British Open that I really enjoyed watching.

Watson had a spirit about him during the British Open that I really enjoyed watching.

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