A review of My 60 Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer

Reviewed by Paul Kane

My 60 Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer
October 2008, Pages: 384, Paperback; ISBN: 9781906388300

Except for the conversion from English descriptive to algebraic notation, this is an unaltered reissue of Bobby Fischer’s classic games collection, originally published in 1969. Naturally enough, it is a work of genius that hardly requires your reviewer’s recommendation. My 60 Memorable Games represents Fischer’s main piece of writing on chess, though there was an earlier book of games and there are other minor bits and bobs to be found elsewhere, which are hitherto uncollected (e.g. an article on the King’s Gambit, annotations to some few nineteenth century games).

Altogether, the book covers the period from 1957 to 1967, and so we miss out on Fischer’s thoughts regarding the games played when he was in his prime (roughly 1970-1972). Also, a few of the selected games are not Fischer’s best from this period. One can abide the inclusion of the three losses, because they were all played against world-class opponents (Tal, Spassky and Geller), but the game against Walther (number 9) is simply awful. Walther plays poorly, yet Fischer plays worse and should certainly have lost, though the game was eventually drawn.

That said, there are masterpieces here aplenty, chief among them perhaps the victory over Robert Byrne in the USA Championship 1963-1964. And a couple of the draws – against Tal at Leipzig 1960 and Gligorich at Bled 1961 – are spectacular. Of course, whatever the game under consideration, Fischer’s annotations are pretty much as good as it gets and always worth reading and studying. As a writer, he has a kind of hard-ass, New York voice – ‘It’s tough right down the line,’ he says at one point in a game played with Petrosian in 1958 – and his analyses are deep and (as we know from experience with past ‘improved’ editions of this book) invariably correct. Undoubtedly, they will give pleasure to all who love chess.

One could say much about Fischer’s life, though Fitzgerald’s ‘Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy’ seems as good a summation as any. Or one could just plumb for the concluding remark that Fitzgerald gives to the owl-eyed mourner at Gatsby’s funeral. Of My 60 Memorable Games one can say that it will live and be read as long as chess is played. As a product of the human mind, it should be placed alongside Euclid’s Elements and the sonnets of Shakespeare. It is an engaging, analytical, above all veridical work of genius.

And speaking of veridicality, the epigraph that opens the book (Lasker’s ‘On the chessboard lies and hypocrisy do not survive long…’) likewise expresses a concern for truth, but perhaps it was put there for another reason too. It could be construed as Fischer’s apology to a world champion whom he had, in his earlier years, rashly and wrongly described as ‘a coffeehouse player’. Certainly, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

About the reviewer:Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com