Bobby Fischer and the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club | Mechanics' Institute

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Bobby Fischer and the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club

Bobby Fischer may or may not be the strongest chess player of all-time, but he is unquestionably the best known. Since his classic Cold War world chess championship match in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1972 against Boris Spassky, which landed him on the covers of Time and Newsweek, Bobby has been known to hundreds of millions of people around the globe.

Interest in Fischer’s life remains strong even after his death in 2008, witness the Liz Garbus documentary Bobby Fischer against the World (2011) the Hollywood production Pawn Sacrifice (2015), starring Tobey Maguire as Bobby and Liev Schreiber as Boris and the definitive Fischer biography Endgame (2011) by Frank Brady.

Bobby had connections to the Mechanics’ Institute long before he became famous outside the chess world. His 50-board simultaneous exhibition at the M.I. on April 13, 1964, is still remembered by old-timers, but arguably more important was his less documented visit to San Francisco in 1957.

That Fischer won his second U.S. Junior Open, held at the Spreckels-Russell Dairy (1717 Mission Street), is a matter of public record, but his subsequent two weeks in San Francisco less so. During his time in The City Bobby stayed at the home of Gil Ramirez who was himself a great chess talent (1957 California state champion as a high school student) who honed his skill at the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club.

Ramirez took Fischer to the M.I. Chess Club each day where he solved endgame studies given to him by future International Master (and M. I. Chess Director) William Addison, analyzed games and played plenty of blitz chess where he often gave time odds taking one minute to his opponent’s five!

This San Francisco sojourn proved to be excellent training for Bobby. In his next tournament, the U.S. Open chess championship held in Cleveland, Ohio, Bobby surprised everyone by tying for first with Grandmaster Arthur Bisguier and taking the title on tiebreak. The transformation from promising junior to world class player continued the next few months culminating with Bobby taking the 1957/58 U.S. Chess Championship title over the Christmas holidays.

The Mechanics’ Chess Club doesn’t have an any objects from Fischer’s visits in 1957, but among the artifacts found in Peter Grey’s recently donated chess archive was the game score you see here. It was discovered by Mechanics’ Chess Club Coordinator Paul Whitehead in Peter’s copy of the Jack Spence booklet on the 1957 Cleveland U.S. Open and features the signature of the young Bobby only a few weeks after his stay at the M. I. Chess Club.

Posted on May. 31, 2016 by John Donaldson