FISCHER vs SPASSKY 1992
Is Bobby Fischer a criminal? In December 1992
the following article in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun
Sentinel won an award from the Chess Journalists
THE FISCHER INDICTMENT
by GM Larry Evans and Larry Parr
The indictment of Bobby Fischer raises the issue of whether it
was a criminal act for an American citizen to play chess for
money in Yugoslavia.
Before the massive growth of our federal government, there
was a clearcut distinction between criminal and illegal
behavior. One exception back in those days was Prohibition,
when millions of Americans who dared to sip nightcaps of
cream sherry suddenly became criminals.
Did Bobby commit a criminal act when he pushed his king's
pawn two squares against Boris Spassky (who is not being
prosecuted by France)? Did Bobby become a gangster when
he played 7 b4 in game 11? Arguably, he acted illegally when
he violated an executive order signed by President Bush.
An executive order? Not a law passed by Congress? That's
right. The American Leviathan state now has provisions for
locking up people who won't obey the stroke of a president's
pen and, perhaps even worse, who injure the egos of
Washington bigwigs by spitting on their orders.
The bottom line is whether Rembrandt, were he alive today,
would become a criminal by putting brush to canvas for
money and producing a portrait of, say, match organizer
Jezdimir Vasilyevic. Using the logic of the mammoth modern
state in which unpopular and, perhaps, illegal behavior is
equated with criminal conduct, then Rembrandt ought to be
tossed in the slammer for ten years. Using the logic of both
common and natural law, then Rembrandt would remain free
to contract his services to the highest bidder.
To be sure, Rembrandt practiced the high art of painting,
whereas Fischer practices the lesser art of chess. But chess
is indisputably an art, and anyone who wishes to play ought to
be able to do so anywhere in the world. In this country, it's still
called freedom of expression.
In 1964 GM Evans enraged the right wing by defying a State
Department ban on Cuba and competing in the Capablanca
Memorial. In 1981 GM Evans enraged the left wing by
lecturing on chess in South Africa. There are always people
who would allow the government to stifle our basic right to
travel anywhere in peacetime.
The Bricker Amendment
In the 1950s conservative senator John Bricker (R. -- Ohio)
introduced an amendment to make our Constitution the
supreme law of the land in all instances. If memory serves,
the amendment failed by one vote, defeated by a coalition of
"moderate" Republicans and liberal Democrats.
You ask: Isn't the Constitution now the supreme law of the
The Supreme Court ruled that U.S. obligations under
international treaties take precedence over rights guaranteed
to citizens in the Bill of Rights. The UN Treaty Against
Genocide is a case in point. If ratified by our Senate, the
treaty provides penalties for causing "mental harm" to any
member of a minority group. A black rapper, for example, who
advocates rough sex with a Jewish Princess, could face
penalties if a Jewish Princess decided the song caused her
emotional distress. Or someone who administers IQ tests
reflecting differences in racial performance could be liable to
penalties if the test results caused anyone distress.
So, then, Bobby Fischer won 10 games, lost 5, drew 15, and
got paid a little over $100,000 for each of those games. Now
we are suddenly told that he is a criminal even though his
actions produced no direct victim. He killed no one and injured
no identifiable individual; he just played chess. Except in the
most compelling circumstances, the authors do not believe in
punishing people for victimless crimes.
City on a Hill
America was once distinguished from Europe and the rest of
the world by its economic opportunity, minimal state, and
wide-ranging freedoms. The First Amendment still stands, and
the Bill of Rights is basically healthy. But if we all ignore the
difference between illegal and criminal behavior, and if we all
accept the idea that people can go to jail because of an
Executive Order, then the distinction between America, once
a Shining City on a Hill, and the remainder of the world, will be
Where and how to play chess should be left to the individual
conscience. Our conscience would not permit us to play
chess in the Yugoslavia of ethnic cleansers; Bobby's
conscience, assuming that he has one, permits him to take
money from evil men who do evil things.
Bobby may not be a man whose hand you would shake. But
he is not a criminal.
Fischer vs Spassky 1992 - January 26, 2004 - Evans on Chess - Chess
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