ON THIS DATE in 1958, fourteen-year-old Bobby Fischer won the United States Chess Championship, topping 13 of the nation’s best players.
The American chess world was “aghast with wonder, admiration, envy, and excitement,” wrote chess expert Arthur Bisguier of Fischer’s victory, which launched a strange but brilliant chess career.
Fischer would win seven more U.S. Championships while gaining notoriety for his prickly personality and constant complaining. The young man was “a little snot,” wrote Corky Siemaszko of the Daily News. He walked out of some tournaments and seemed continually dissatisfied with the crowds, the lighting, the temperature, and the prize money at chess events.
In 1972, Fischer was in prime form as a personality and player while battling the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky for the world chess championship. “Mr. Fischer’s characteristic petulance, loutishness and sense of outrage were the stuff of front page headlines all over the globe,” reported The New York Times in 2008. He griped about the television cameras, forfeited one game, and insisted the match be transferred to a more secluded setting. Then he beat Spassky 12.5 to 8.5 to become the first and only American to win a world chess championship.
Fischer’s later life was filled with bizarre statements and behavior. In 1999, he raved on a radio station about an international Jewish conspiracy (Fischer’s mother and biological father were Jewish), and he called the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon “wonderful news.” He died at age sixty-four in 2008.
Also on this date …
JAN. 8, 1638: Elisabetta Sirani was born in Bologna, Italy. By age seventeen she had completed more than 90 works of art.
As a teenager, Sirani became the breadwinner of her family when her artist father’s gout ended his painting career. The young artist specialized in working quickly. On one occasion, a grand duke asked her to paint him a Madonna, and Sirani created one on the spot.
In 1994, the U.S. Postal Service issued a holiday stamp featuring Sirani’s Madonna and Child painting (right) from 1663. It was the first holiday stamp to feature the work of a woman artist.
JAN. 8, 1815: JORDAN NOBLE, fourteen, played drums during an American victory over British troops at the Battle of New Orleans. This is a big deal because in a pre-electronics age, the drum was a military communication device that sounded up to 30 different instructions to soldiers, telling them to commence firing, to cease firing, and more.
Jordan was justifiably proud of his role in the victory. For years, the biracial ex-slave from Georgia carried a card that identified him as “Jordan B. Noble, the veteran drummer who had the pride and satisfaction of beating to arms the Americans … on the 8th of January, 1815.”
JAN. 8, 1864: DAVID O. DODD, seventeen, was hanged by the Yankees for spying during the Civil War. known as the “Boy Martyr of the Confederacy,” Dodd (left) had been discovered behind Union lines with a Morse Code message that revealed precise information about Union strength in Little Rock, Arkansas. He refused to name his informant before his hanging, making him a hero in the Confederacy.