Former world chess champion Gary Kasparov has a fascinating review of the new biography of Bobby Fischer written by Frank Brady [HT: Tyler Cowen]. Kasparov reflects on the fascinating contrast between Fischer’s incredible insight and rationality at the chessboard and the paranoid delusions that eventually destroyed his life away from the board. I briefly wrote about Fischer here when he passed away three years ago.
It is tempting to conclude from Fischer’s story that child chess prodigies are likely to descend into madness. But that doesn’t seem to be true as a general rule. Kasparov himself was almost as much a prodigy as Fischer, yet he has been very successful in his life away from chess. The Polgar sisters seem similarly sucessful and happy. Back in 1987, I met Boris Spassky, the man whom Fischer defeated for the world championship, and a major child chess prodigy in his own right. Spassky was friendly and personable, and very articulate in both Russian and English. By all accounts, he seems well-adjusted and relatively normal. Ironically, Brady recounts that Spassky was one of the very few people who managed to get along with Fischer even after the latter’s descent into madness and paranoia.