Chess Incarnate Bobby Fischer on the Spectrum

So much has been written in the wake of Bobby Fischer’s death. It’s all covered, the chess brilliance as well as the strangeness of his life. Mr. Fischer was the essence of chess in human form. When someone operates at the genius level, particularly as a child, we are naturally in awe. We want to know more about them and unknowingly apply pressure to push them into the sunlight, so we can observe and marvel. He captured the imagination of millions and struck fear into the hearts (and minds) of any would be opponent. But he did not want to be on display. Of course the great game would ultimately reclaim its source material in an inescapable checkmate, a predestined gambit; 64 squares, 64 years.

Photo Credit: Steve A. Furman

In reading about his life and quirks it seems quite probable to me that Bobby Fischer was on the Asperger’s spectrum.

Asperger’s Syndrome is the dominance of specialized thinking and an obsession to do one task, one way, one step at a time. This specialized thinking is detail oriented, logical and original. But the person often has challenges developing skills such as conventional socialization and communication. Definition: Brian R. King

If you have browsed my writings in the past, you know I have an adult son with Asperger’s. He is in many ways a genius as well. A passionate student of history and geography with a nearly photographic memory and a mind crammed with facts, and full of quirks.

It is clear that Mr. Fischer lived a tortured existence; paranoid and demanding, in nearly every facet of his daily life. Fully consumed with chess and only chess, he dropped out of school because it robbed him of his time to play. His fixation on the kind of chairs he sat in during tournaments, his insistence that he could hear the TV cameras whirring behind glass, down to a small, locked suitcase that contained special diet and nutrient items. All of these things point to someone who is part of the spectrum community.

Growing up I remember the focus placed on his match with Boris Spassky in 1972. That event, but mostly Bobby Fischer, got me and so many others interested in chess. The match defined a moment in history between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Russians have always dominated chess, Bobby Fischer was the western world’s first hope of cracking that monopoly, and he did.

Photo Credit: The New York Times

As more is discovered and awareness is raised about Asperger’s, the people who have this condition will be able to integrate more comfortably into society at large. Perhaps Mr. Fischer’s life would have been better understood if neuro-typicals knew more about these still largely secret ways human neurology operates.

Photo Credit: The New York Times

He’s gone now, reclaimed by the universe. I hope his stunning performances on the chess stage will be how he is remembered.


  • Play chess and teach your kids how to play
  • Watch the film Searching for Bobby Fischer
  • Learn more about Asperger’s Syndrome

Why Should Neuro-Typicals Make All the Rules?

My son is an Aspie. That means he has Asperger’s Syndrome. Probably more frequently known as autism. I attended a day long seminar yesterday entitled Asperger’s Success: All Things Positive, Practical and Possible. It was an incredible experience full of ideas and dialogue, but mostly of hope. Brian R. King is an Aspie and he has given all of us a precious gift by having the vision and courage to define Asperger’s Syndrome in a completely new way. Usually Asperger’s is defined as someone who has a broken mind. A brain that doesn’t work like the majority of us who are referred to “neuro-typical” (one good label deserves another).

Here is how Brian defines Asperger’s.

The dominance of specialized thinking and ability that prioritizes doing one task, one way, one step at a time with limited flexibility. This occurs to various degrees and results in strengths in the areas of focus (especially in the area of specialization), honesty, detail orientation, logic and original thinking. This tendency toward specialization also often results in challenges developing more generalized and complex skill sets such as conventional socialization and communication.

Brian takes a very different approach, saying that Asperger’s is not a syndrome, but a spectrum, not a disease but a collection of characteristics. He gave all of us sitting in the audience hope and energy. You can find more at his web site here. To see Wikipedia’s Asperger’s entry go here.

My son is now 26 years old. When we were going through the school system, no one really understood how he processed information. Most of the educators didn’t know what to do. Asperger’s did not enter the official psychological diagnostic manuals until 1994. As the years progressed it got better in school. Julian survived quite well, but I wish it would have been easier for him. We didn’t have web sites, email or blogs to connect other parents or kids. Now you can do a simple search and find out so many things.

One in 94 children born today will be on the spectrum. For reference, Juvenile Diabetes affects one in 150 children. Asperger’s is being diagnosed at a very rapid pace these days. And although there is a lot more awareness and money being raised to find a cure, Brian is championing a new concept. These kids/adults are not broken. The neuro-typicals shouldn’t make all the rules. Education, not therapy will make a bigger difference in the lives of these special people. But the neuro-typicals (NTs) must “get it.” They have to start seeing that these people can make just as valuable a contribution to society and culture as anyone else.

Julian got his Bachelor of Science degree last year. He lived in a dorm on the campus of Edgewood College for four years and thrived. It was an amazing accomplishment. He is working part time now and doing very well. But independence is the goal. Success the endgame. As Brian says, “success is when you find the place where passion and ability meet.”

If you are looking for help or to help, you might want to take a look at Disability Community Solutions, a not for profit organization. “The mission of DCS, in partnership with persons with disabilities, their families and corporations, is to elevate the experience from standard to extraordinary.” You can visit them online here.

Brian in action.