Fred Waitzkin was smitten with chess during the historic Fischer-Spassky championship in 1972. When Fisher disappeared from public view, Waitzkin’s interest waned—until his own son Josh emerged as a chess prodigy.
In the past month, I decided to get back into chess, so when I stumbled across “Searching for Bobby Fischer” browsing my library’s collection, I had to check it out. I had heard the title as a kid, but that was the extent of my knowledge.
The story’s core is Josh and his chess training and competitions. I saw reflections of my childhood: my passion was computers. I spent hours pouring over obscure manuals and typing programs in from magazines. This was at a time long before computers or programmers were “cool”. Controlling the blinking cursor on our TV captivated my imagination.
Computers also fascinated my father. It was our shared interest (like chess for Fred and Josh.) And like Josh, I soon outpaced my dad.
But that’s where the similarity ends. There were no computing competitions. There were no computing clubs. No public computer centres to practice at. Mine was a private passion that I pursued for my own pleasure.
I think that difference meant Dad and I could continue our interest for decades without outside forces interfering. I’m glad that Josh and Fred appear to have a healthy relationship. Josh did and saw amazing things, but as a parent, I’m not sure the years of stress and tension were worth the lost childhood possibilities.
Throwing around the word “prodigy” is a curse. It sets kids up for failure. Let them find their passion, encourage it as best you can, but don’t place your expectations upon them.
Check out this book for the cold war chess politics, the father-son dynamics, and the world of competitive children’s chess.