Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam, Finding Bobby Fischer: Chess Interviews (New in Chess, 2015; first published in 1994). 286 pp, $27.95/€24.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam isn't a professional player, but he is a man who loves chess and has a great affection for chess players. More than that, he has a remarkable ability as an interviewer to make himself almost invisible while allowing his subjects to express themselves on the widest array of subjects. When you read one of his interviews, you're not only going to learn about the player's views on the event that just finished, but his (or her) thoughts about his career, about the chess world, about life outside the game, his views about politics, the arts, religion - you name it. Maybe Gennadi Sosonko is able to delve even more deeply, at least when writing about figures from the former Soviet Union, but ten Geuzendam's books are at the very least a close second when it comes to offering a fully rounded picture of his subjects.
Most if not all of the interviews were originally published in New in Chess Magazine and date from 1986 to 1994, when the book was originally published. Contrary to what the title suggests, very little here has to do with Bobby Fischer. I'm sure the title helped (and helps) sales, but please: if you're buying the book because you crave more Fischer material, don't. The one chapter with Fischer does make for very interesting reading, as ten Geuzendam relates his visit with Fischer (but not an "interview") during the latter's 1992 rematch with Boris Spassky, but that, together with a short (three page) interview with Garry Kasparov about that match afterwards, is the extent of it.
Having said that, I think the book is very much worth buying if you love chess for the personalities as well as the game itself. I especially love the multi-generational nature of the book. The first section, "Bibles of the Best", is a series of interviews about what chess books some great players value most. In this section there are interviews with Dr. Meindert Niemeijer (a book collector) and Tim Krabbe (best known for his collection of chess curiosities - do check out his fantastic website if you haven't already) and then he interviews some legends: Garry Kasparov, Lev Polugaevsky, Mikhail Botvinnik, Anatoly Karpov and Jan Timman.
Then comes a series of interviews with some players who were still playing at a high level at the time of the interview, but whose best days were, in most cases, from the 60s through the early 80s. There's Viktor Kortchnoi, Vlastimil Hort, Boris Spassky, Svetozar Gligoric, Lajos Portisch, Miguel Najdorf, Bent Larsen and Vassily Smyslov. Anyone whose start in chess goes back to the 1980s or earlier will know these names very well; these are the sorts of people who would be playing in events like the Sinquefield Cup today. The interviews are not really about this or that chess event, however, but about their lives. All or almost all of the players went through various traumas in their lives (war and the brutality of the USSR, most notably), and each man is interesting as an individual and not just for his sporting successes.
The next section is on Karpov and Kasparov, and will probably be more interesting to those who weren't around when they ruled the earth, chessically speaking. For those of us who were, we might feel about Kasparov and Karpov - at least as they were in those years - the way Botvinnik did. Botvinnik trained both when they were young (more so Kasparov than Karpov), and in conversation with Sosonko in the early '90s said this: "With whom would I like to remain on a desert island, Karpov or Kasparov? I would say this: I now have quite good relations with Karpov. But if I had to choose between Karpov the champion and Kasparov the champion, I would prefer to remain alone on this desert island."
After that the crown princes of the day, Vladimir Kramnik (also trained for a time by Botvinnik) and Viswanathan Anand are interviewed, and then two female stars get their turn: Xie Jun (the first of a series of women's world champions from China) and Judit Polgar. Finally, the Fischer encounter and Kasparov's reflections on Fischer-Spassky 1992 close out the volume.
These interviews offer a sort of time capsule of the chess world and some of its leading figures from 20-30 years ago, a time when chess was going through radical changes (faster time controls, the end of adjournments, the early rise of computers and databases) and a time of a changing of the guard. The generations culminating with Fischer were finally on their way out, and while Kasparov and Karpov still held sway the next generation after them was starting to make its presence felt. But whether you are interested in the book out of nostalgia or from a love for chess history, I think you'll find the book a pleasure. Highly recommended.