Our Columnist, Harry Benson

Longtime Quest columnist Harry Benson receives glowing reviews from Leonard Cassuto of bn.com for his new book, “Bobby Fischer,” which reveals rare photographs of the chess genius. Last month, in Benson’s column, “It Seems Like Yesterday,” he shared first with Quest a peek into his latest project.

Bobby Fischer, May 1972 (powerHouse Books, July 2011)

Quest, July 2011: “Chess genius Bobby Fischer was the most complicated and the most fascinating person I have ever known. We first met in November 1971 when Life magazine sent writer Brad Darrach and me to Buenos Aires, where Bobby was to play a “Candidates Match” against the Russian former title-holder Tigran Petrosian, the last opponent before Bobby could play for the title of World Champion against the current Russian champion Boris Spassky.

Bobby was wary of the press, but we got along because I knew nothing about chess. By the time we left Buenos Aires, Bobby had agreed to see me in May 1972 at Grossinger’s in upstate New York where he would be in training for the title match. Brad and I became the only outsiders Bobby would talk with.

Bobby thought of himself as an athlete, and he trained with single-minded persistence. He was determined that Spassky would not wear him down at the table. He followed a strict regimen each day to prepare for the demands of the grueling upcoming match in Iceland. After a daily workout in the gym followed by a sauna and rubdown, Bobby would swim laps and stay underwater for as long as he could (as shown in the photograph here). Bobby repeatedly said to me, “Spassky, I am going to crush him.”

Bobby’s prediction did come true, in what the press has called “A Battle of the Cold War.” Boris Spassky resigned during the twenty-first game of the World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland, on September 1, 1972. I was to photograph Spassky that morning, but when I arrived at his hotel, he was leaving and said to me, “There is a new world champion, Robert James Fischer.” I immediately went to Bobby’s hotel to give him the news. My being the first to tell Bobby that he was the new champion made it into the front-page story in the New York Times the next day.

Although controversy surrounds Fischer’s later years, to me the real Bobby Fischer was the genius who single-handedly won a superlative battle for America against the Russians in the middle of the Cold War. That, to me, is his legacy.”

Click here and skip to page 48 to view the column as it appeared in our July issue.