My Summer Holiday with Bobby Fischer


You have probably experienced it yourselves. One minute you're thinking about something and the next moment it happens. "Speak of the devil and he appears", that's how popular wisdom describes those situations. The Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung gave these coincidences a name: he called them synchronicities.

One such synchronicity happened to me this summer. On July 11th, I remember the date precisely, my friends and I were chatting about this and that. At one moment - and I can't remember how or why - the name of the famous American chess-player Bobby Fischer came up. We talked about him for maybe half and hour and then we all forgot about it.

Two days later Bobby Fischer was detained at Tokyo's international airport as he was trying to board a flight for the Philippines with an invalid passport.

I could not believe my ears when I heard the news. And I recalled the discussion I was involved in two days before. One person then said he had not heard of the controversial grandmaster for a long time. He said he thought Bobby Fischer had died some time in the 1980s.

Although I know nothing about chess whatsoever, I was quite positive that Bobby Fischer was alive and well at least in the summer of 1992 when he appeared at a seaside resort in Yugoslavia to play a rematch of the legendary 1972 Reykjavik game against Boris Spassky. I was so sure of it because I was there.

In the summer of 1992, I was holidaying in Montenegro on the Sveti Stefan island in the Adriatic. A former fishermen's village with picturesque stone houses jammed on a tiny island had been turned into an exclusive seaside resort some time in the 1960s. In 1992 it was obvious that the place had seen better times. And also the choice of guests had changed.

Instead of film stars and world politicians, the typical guests in 1992 were young muscular Serbian men, weighed down with gold jewellery and annoying everybody by their loud manners and noisy jet skis. Wartime profiteers, the locals whispered. Other holidaymakers at the Sveti Stefan resort were the UN troops and staff from Croatia who were spending their R&R time on the Montenegrin island. Among them also Mr Fred Eckhard, who is now the spokesman for the UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

All of a sudden journalists and TV crews stormed the remote island and the eyes of the world turned to it because the controversial Serbian businessman by the name of Jezdimir Vasiljevic, decided to stage a replay of the Reykjavik match between Bobby Fischer and the Russian-born Boris Spassky - by that time a French citizen. I remember a banner was put up on the restaurant wall reading "The World Chess Championship 1992: Fischer-Spassky Revenge Match of the Twentieth Century".

The Montenegrin match eventually earned Bobby Fischer 3 million dollars but also brought down on him the wrath of the US authorities who said that by doing business in Yugoslavia he violated a US and United Nations embargo. Bobby Fischer had spent twelve years hiding in several places around the world until he was arrested in Japan last month.

Lying on the beach on the Adriatic coast in the summer of 1992 I had little knowledge that history was being written right there before my eyes. And I would have kept them wide open, had I known that twelve years later I would be writing this Letter from Prague.