A bizarre game of chess
Couple recalls adventure of meeting Bobby Fischer
Source: The Frederick News - Post
NEW MIDWAY -- For a Frederick County couple, the death of Bobby Fischer rekindled the memory of a bizarre encounter with the reclusive chess grandmaster.
About 30 years ago, Fischer invited Arleen and Steven Chafitz of New Midway to meet him in Los Angeles to discuss an endorsement of their new invention -- an advanced electronic chess computer game called "Boris."
"We knew he was eccentric," Arleen said, "but not to the degree we found when we got there. We knew that he was so brilliant he had to be eccentric, but we didn't expect to have a problem meeting to discuss business."
Steven recounted the details of a meeting that led him to believe Fischer was intensely paranoid.
For starters, the couple got a phone call at home from the legendary world champion, saying he had just bought the game and was so impressed with it, he wanted to discuss endorsing it.
The Chafitzes were excited by the prospect as they flew to California, checked into a hotel and followed the instructions Fischer's assistant gave them before they left Maryland.
They called the female assistant, whose full name they were never told. She instructed them to wait for a call and they would meet with Fischer the next day.
"The next morning," Steven said, "the call came and the game was on."
The woman told them to go to a pay phone in a particular place and at a specific time. The call came and the woman asked Steven who was with him. He told her "Just Arleen" and she said, "Good. I'll call you in an hour at a different pay phone."
"We were on the move again," he said, "being played like pawns by the ultimate chess master. He was ... moves ahead."
After a call from a third pay phone, the couple was instructed to return to their hotel room for the meeting.
"Waiting at the phone booths," Arleen said, "made us feel like we were going to meet Superman. We were laughing. We thought it was the biggest joke. I wondered if we were in a TV show or something. I didn't know he was that eccentric!"
Not long after they got back to their room, Steven said a woman dressed entirely in black came through the door, followed by Fischer.
"He was a large man with a scruffy, expressionless face, heavy-set and somewhat unkempt," Steven said. "Fischer looked behind the door, inspected the bathroom and walked around the room in what appeared to be some type of inspection for any surreptitious listening devices or for someone hiding in a drawer."
Also, the drapes were quickly drawn, as Fischer wanted the room dark enough so there wasn't enough light for someone to take pictures or read lips with a telescope from across the street, Steven said.
During a two-hour discussion, Arleen said, Fischer must have gotten up a million times to walk around the room again.
Steven said Fischer was impressed with the chess computer and interested in designing programs.
"He wanted total control of the process," he said. "Working with others seemed to create a problem for Bobby."
Arleen said the couple was already working with the best programmers in the country.
"They were very brilliant people and when a lot of brilliant people get together, there's no way they can work together," she said.
Steven said Fischer pressed the endorsement issue, telling them nothing would happen with their new product unless they worked with him. But when he said he wanted $1 million for the endorsement, the couple was floored.
"That's a lot of money," Steven said. "I certainly would have considered it if I thought it would have worked."
The price for the endorsement of the player who had become the first American to win the official World Chess Championship left Arleen believing he just wanted the money.
The game called Boris was successful without Fischer's endorsement and the couple went on to produce a successful electronic backgammon game and others.
"The day we met Bobby Fischer was the closest we ever got to being in a real life chess game," Steven said.