Bobby Fischer and Larry Evans

Evans (right) helping Fischer prepare for his World Championship match

Bobby Fischer is perhaps the most celebrated American chess player of the Twentieth Century. His latent talent is of no question, but understanding his success suggests going beyond his acumen and studying also those who influenced him. His friend and mentor Larry Evans is one such figure, and their long-standing friendship contributed to Fischer’s career. Fischer’s first considerable success was winning the U.S. Junior Chess Championship in July 1956. He scored 8½/10 at Philadelphia to become the youngest-ever Junior Champion at age 13, a record that still stands. Later that year in the first Canadian Open Chess Championship at Montreal, he scored 7/10 to tie for 8–12th places, with Larry Evans winning. Unfortunately Fischer would move on in 1960-61 to experience the only significant failure of his competitive career at the Buenos Aires tournament, finishing with 8½/19 (won by Viktor Korchnoi and Samuel Reshevsky). Evans explained that Fischer was distracted. Evans had introduced him to a girl, and after Fischer’s first sexual experience and resultant distraction from chess, Fischer realized his mistake and vowed not to mix chess and women again. Eight years later, Fischer was writing his My 60 Memorable Games, and his friend Larry Evans assisted him.

Signed, First Edition of Fischer's My Memorable 60 Games

The book was an immediate best-seller. Fischer would later write to Evans, in a letter published in Chess Life in 1974, that the usual system (24 games with the first player to get 12½ points winning, or the champion retaining his title in the event of a 12–12 tie) was bad for chess. It encouraged the player in the lead to draw games. Not counting draws, he thought, would be a more accurate test to determine the world’s best player. After Evans decided not to enter the world championship cycle ever again, he focused his efforts on assisting Fischer, as a fellow American, in his quest for the world title. Fischer chose Evans as his second for the Candidates matches leading up to the World Chess Championship 1972 against Boris Spassky. Unfortunately, the two had a disagreement, and Fischer did not choose him for the championship match itself. Evans would comment to Time magazine and ABC’s Wide World of Sports that this was one of the most important matches.