Friday, October 30, 2009

Fruits and Nuts - Crazy Chess Players

When one thinks of chess players, visions of Hollywood glitz and glam instantly come to mind.  Handsome strapping lads with scores of beautiful women on their arms, being incessantly hounded by the paparazzi is pretty standard fare for top level chess players. Despite all of the glory, admiration and money being a top level chess player brings, it may surprise you to know that not all chess players are on Hollywood's A-list of celebrities.  It's true.  In fact, occasionally the game of chess actually draws some eccentric people.  I realize it's a little difficult to comprehend how this game might appeal to reclusive weirdos but believe me, there are some out there albeit hard to find.

Throughout chess history there have been a few fruits and nuts who combine to make the perfect "crazy salad". This is their moment.

Aron Nimzowitsch -
Nimzowitsch was a bit of an odd bird.  His most outrageous moment was perhaps when he lost first prize in a rapid tournament to Fritz Saemisch he jumped up on a table in the tournament room and screamed "Why must I lose to this idiot?"  However there were other oddities that landed him on this list.  Because honestly, have we not all insulted someone in a fit of rage or slashed all the 4 tires on their Ford Focus? We've all been there. So I cannot fault Nimzowitsch for that outburst.

Nimzowitsch's doctor told him he needed to exercise more.  The eccentric master heeded this advice by frequently performing aerobics in the chess hall during tournaments.  He also believed blood flow to his head would help him think better so he, on more than one occasion, would go to a corner of the chess hall and stand on his head for a few minutes.  Nimzowitsch also believed each time he attended a restaurant, regardless of where, the chef would intentionally give him less food than everyone else at the table.  Siegbert Tarrasch once remarked of Nimzowitsch, "he pretends to be crazy in order to drive us all crazy."

Carlos Torre -
Mexican Grandmaster Carlos Torre was addicted to pineapple sundaes. I don't mean he just liked them, I mean he was obsessed with pineapple sundaes like Hillary Clinton is addicted to pantsuits.  He would eat several a day, sometimes more than 10.  He also had somewhat of an affinity for being naked.  He was arrested once for running down 5th avenue completely nude.  Torre was also once riding a bus, filled with passengers, and decided it would be a good idea to take off all of his clothes while in transit.

Bobby Fischer -
American born legend, Fischer is on everyone's "Top 5 players of all time" list.  After Fischer's world championship in 1972, his train sort of derailed somewhere.   Fischer was bitterly anti-semitic and at some point became wholly anti-American after some ugly clashes with the US government over some tax issues and playing abroad.  After 9/11, Fischer was quoted on a foreign radio program celebrating the terrorist attacks saying things such as, "what goes around comes around for the United States." And he publicly called for the death of President Bush as well as a military takeover of the United States so that hundreds of thousands of Jewish ring-leaders could be executed.  Fischer also denied the holocaust and at one point after retiring from chess claimed that "exposing the Jews for the criminals they are, for the murderers they are" is now his life's work. 

Akiba Rubinstein -
Rubinstein was a bit of a recluse and was a little on the anti-social side.  Later in his career he very much disliked having visitors in his home and his wife would warn, even his close friends, "do not visit too long, or Mr. Rubinstein will kindly excuse himself by crawling out of a window."

Alexander Alekhine -
Although he did not suffer from clinical "crazy", Alekhine did suffer from severe addiction to the sauce.  It has been noted that his brilliance, although remarkable, could have been even more impressive had it not been for the fact that he lost (and won) many tournaments completely drunk.  Apparently Alekhine even relieved himself during the middle of tournaments, on the floor, more than once.

Paul Morphy -
The brilliant chess prodigy and American genius had somewhat of a mental collapse in his late 20's after dominating world champions in chess.  He became a celebrity worldwide and an instant hometown hero upon returning home from a European chess exhibition in which he brutalized every master he played. Despite his successes with chess, Morphy was indignant on launching a successful law career which never really came to fruition, due to his anti-secession stance on the American Civil War and other factors.  Occasionally prospective clients would come by his law practice but only to talk chess instead of law which annoyed Morphy, even to the point of outrage that people wanted to talk chess with him.  He also suffered from severe paranoia that his brother-in-law was trying to poison him.  The later years of his life he would only eat meals prepared by his mother for fear of being poisoned.  He all at once quit playing chess never to return to the game.

Wilhelm Steinitz -
Rounding out our list is the spirited firecracker Steinitz.  The Austrian born master was a very animated character who had a fierce temper and was noted by his contemporaries as a very poor loser and an equally poor winner.  He once spit on his opponent Blackburne in a chess match in a fit of anger. Later in his life, Steinitz claimed he could telephone anyone in the world without the use of a wire.  I admit that does not sound all that outlandish now, but this was 1899 we are talking about.  Steinitz would spend much of his time walking around his backyard, barefoot having imaginary conversations with people on his "wireless" phone. Apparently this behavior occurred in all types of weather. He also claimed he could move chess pieces with his mind.  Steinitz also tried to call God once with his wireless telephone and challenged God to a chess match.  Steinitz died in an insane asylum in 1900.


  1. I nearly died reading this by falling down in a fit of uncontrolled laughter, impaling myself on a pawn.