30 January 2008

Fischer News Boom

In Fischer's Keywords, I wondered, 'How do you sort through 1500 [Fischer] stories [dredged up by Google News] to find those that are interesting? What can you learn from this mountain of information?' Six days later, there are now over 1750 Fischer stories. In a few weeks the oldest of those will start to disappear from the results. Which of these stories are worth highlighting and sharing; which are instantly forgettable?

There are three kinds of stories that match a search on 'chess fischer'.

  • The first kind are stories that mentions Fischer in passing. A few of the most recent are 'Imagine Bobby Fischer petitioning to change the rules of chess' and 'The first "non-Soviet" champion since Bobby Fischer, Anand believes...'

  • The second kind are stories that reprint an Associated Press (AP) or other news service article. These stories aren't particularly interesting and Google has tools to filter them out.

  • The third kind are stories that tell us something we don't know. This is not so easy because, like many chess players, I know a lot about Fischer.

My goal is to locate that third kind of story. First, keywords count. A story that mentions Fischer's mother by name is likely to be more informative than a story that mentions only that he was a chess grandmaster who beat Spassky in Iceland in 1972. Second, sources count. A story from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, or the Guardian is going to be better written and more accurate than a story based on old AP articles.

Here are a few stories, a few historical, a few current, returned by searches on 'Regina' (24) and 'Targ' (3).

  • Prodigy by Bernard Taper • 'The latest prodigy of the chess world is a fourteen-year-old Brooklyn boy named Robert Fischer, who a few weeks ago, at a tournament held in Cleveland, upset some two hundred of his elders and putative betters, including a number of the country’s top-ranking players, to win the United States Open Chess Championship.' (7 September 1957!)

  • Notes of a Fringe-Watcher • 'William Targ's beliefs in the paranormal trickled down to his son Russell, and now they have descended on Russell's attractive and energetic daughter Elisabeth. Her mother Joan, by the way, is the sister of chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer.' (March/April 2001)

  • Bobby Fischer's final bizarre act • 'The American chess prodigy's eccentricities didn't end with his death. As Neil Tweedie discovered in Reykjavik this week, the reclusive genius had arranged his own secret 'guerrilla' burial. Now its legality is being questioned.' (25 January 2008)

  • Bobby Fischer, chess genius, heartless son • 'He thrust chess on to the front pages when he beat the defending Soviet world champion at the height of the Cold War. But Bobby Fischer, the prodigy from Brooklyn who died this month, was a deeply disturbed individual with a cruel streak that he turned on his own mother.' (28 January 2008)

  • Fischer's 'widow' and nephews in legal tussle for £1m estate • 'Document may show chess master wed in Japan. Question remains over 'daughter' in Philippines' (28 January 2008)

That's a useful catch for a few minutes spent fishing.


In a comment to my previous post, Stephen Dann, chess columnist for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, wrote,

I've done about 50 Google Alerts on Fischer during the last week, seeking interesting headlines and blog comments, and received noteworthy results, and non-Fischer chess info purely by accident. How can all this info be put into a useful consensus? My usual tech circle has other ideas. I think it is worthwhile because of Fischer's role. What is your take?

I don't find much of the Google News information to be truly useful. In fact, the bulk of it is repetitive, therefore useless. Having said that, if 10% of it is worth reading, that makes nearly 200 Fischer articles that are worth considering. As for consensus, I'm not sure it's possible, or even desirable. It's always interesting to know what other people think, and if they disagree with each other, where's the harm? We have to rely on each other to uncover the gems, and no single person holds exclusive rights on the area to be mined.

The unfortunate truth is that there is nothing online that comes close to 'Profile of a Prodigy' or 'Bobby Fischer's Chess Games', two printed resources I refer to whenever I'm confronted with writing about Fischer. The printed word is eternal, the electronic word ephemeral. I don't see that changing anytime soon.


Unknown said...

Unfortunately, it all has to be done by hand as a labor of love by amateur chess historians.

My comments, which I just read above, also do not print out from your site, as the commentary ends after the first page (Wm. Targ's beliefs paragraph). The ends and means of doing chess research in 2008 have changed, but there is no bright light at the end of this tunnel.

S. Dann

Mark Weeks said...

Hi Stephen - Some day the entire content of the John G. White collection in Cleveland will be available via the Internet. Ditto the Van der Linde collection in The Hague. I can't imagine what tools we will use to sort through that staggering mass of material. Can you? - Mark