Fischer and Black Chess Players

In a recent article, Bobby Fischer’s last movie was said to be “The American Gangster.” That is unfortunate because that is not a favorable last impression of Black people. However, he did have some interesting interaction with Black chess players.

Archie Waters at a Fischer analysis session.

Archie Waters at a Fischer analysis session when the young GM played the brilliant queen sacrifice… not the Bryne game, but another!

Fellow Brooklynite and table tennis partner Archie Waters traveled with Fischer to Iceland. Here’s a bit on Mr. Waters from the Associated Press dated November 7, 2001:

Waters befriended the teen-age Fischer in Brooklyn in the 1950s and accompanied the chess genius to Iceland during his landmark world title match against Russian Boris Spassky in 1972. Waters played ping-pong with Fischer between his matches with Spassky. Born in Brooklyn, he attended Columbia University and later became the first black member of the prestigious Marshall Chess Club of New York.


Here was an interesting story taken from Tim Krabbe’s site concerning Waters’ meeting with Ton Sijbrands, the 1972 Draughts World Champion. Fischer was apparently interested in draughts (10×10 checkers) and Waters was supposed to introduce the two.

When Sijbrands became World Champion for the first time, in 1972, he won a trip to Reykjavik, to see the World Chess Championship match between Spassky and Fischer. I hoped to find an opportunity in him to get to Fischer. Word was that Fischer was interested in draughts, and there was a little black guy from New York in his entourage, Archie Waters, who was said to be his ping pong partner, and a very strong draughts player. I could see myself and Archie Waters, envoys paving the way for a historic meeting. But when Sijbrands and Waters got together, it turned out Waters had never heard of him and also, he thought he was the World Champion—in another variant of the game. It was a moving sight to see my World Champion and this other world champion explaining their rules to each other.


Fischer also befriended Walter Harris, the first Black player to make U.S. National Master. In an interview I conducted with Harris in 2005, he shared a conversation he had with Bobby Fischer in which Fischer told him that he had some talent and should work harder at his game. I asked Harris the other day if he had any stories to share and he said their conversations were very general but added,

I will always remember him as the great player that he was and what he gave to the game. I too will not dwell on the sadder aspects of his life.


Walter Harris

Walter Harris, a Fischer contemporary on the March 1964 cover of Chess Life.

I also remember an awkward situation with Fischer had with Atlanta Journalist and U.S. Expert, William Scott III. According to Michael Bacon, this is what happened at the 1972 Church’s Fried Chicken tournament in San Antonio, Texas:

There was a crowd of people surrounding Bobby, all asking for his autograph. Mr. Scott, tall and distinguished, among them. Mr. Scott thrust a program at Bobby and asked him to sign it. Bobby shot Mr. Scott a look and took the program. As Bobby was signing, Mr. Scott said, “I played in the U.S. Open in 1956, I believe, but I may be wrong-you’ll have to look it up… and finished ahead of you.” It was an innocent remark made to fill time and Mr. Scott meant nothing by it, but Bobby didn’t see it that way. He shot a look at Mr. Scott as he returned the signed program and said, “Oh yeah. Well what’s your rating now?” Mr. Scott, taken aback, mumbled something about being “only an expert.” Bobby said, “Um huh,” and turned to walk away. Link

I have been told by different people (including a player in Japan) that Fischer was aware and a visitor of The Chess Drum, but there is no confirmed proof of this. Although I can check the traffic from Iceland and Japan rather easily, there is no way to trace visits to specific people. He never sent me an e-mail although I had intended to interview him. I did post on his website once and informed him of The Chess Drum.


  1. Mr. Scott’s comment was completely out of place, especially for one seeking Fischer’s autograph.That’s the kind of thing you internalize for confidence building ( or brag about to your friends ) not bragging about to someone that probably didn’t know you existed.But most chess players are over-ruled by vanity.

  2. You’re right. You certainly don’t say that to the newly-crowned World Champion!

    While Fischer did not play in the tournament, other luminaries such as Anatoly Karpov and Tigran Petrosian were present. William Scott was pretty well-known in Atlanta circles, had a publishing company and an important figure in Atlanta chess. He drove all the way down to San Antonio for the 1972 tournament.

  3. Actually, Mr Scott flew to San Antonio. He and a young fellow named Robert Butler won a tournament sponsored by Church’s. Robert used the money to pay for school, while Mr Scott took the trip to san Antonio.
    Since I was standing right there, I will say that Mr Scott said it with a smile on his face, as if to say, “I got you on the way up.” He said it as an older gentleman would say such a thing to a younger person. He meant nothing by it; was shocked, as was I, by Bobby’s response.
    After reading KING’S GAMBIT, by Paul Hoffman, it kinda reminds me of what he wrote about Kasparov’s competitiveness…

  4. I just can’t imagine how any World Champion would take it as an innocent joke… especially in a crowd of people with everyone looking on. It is what we would call “trash-talk”… innocent, yet biting. Fischer was known not have that kind of humour.

  5. Daaim, I do not understand what you mean by “…how any World Champion would take it as an innocent joke…”
    What, sir, do you mean by “it?”

    Please do not get me wrong…there was no “humour” involved in the encounter. Mr. Scott, a true gentleman if ever there was one, had no intention of “joking” about the fact that he had finished ahead of a young Bobby Fischer. Certainly, Bobby was not joking when he put down Mr. Scott…The thing that gets me, and always has, is how, after becoming World Champion, Bobby, rather smile and say nothing, or something like, “That was when I was much weaker…I’m stroonger than that now” ( with apologies to Bob Dylan), he had to say, with a cutting edge, what he said. Hey, that was Bobby!

  6. There is no way you can be objective here. If your account it accurate, Scott made a bad comment and it was inappropriate given the importance of Fischer’s arrival as a dignitary. You ask for someone’s autograph and then trash-talk them about how you played better than them? Imagine… a World Champion having to qualify his strength to a USCF Expert by saying, “I’m stronger now.” No kidding. Again… Scott wasted an opportunity to make a more lasting and constructive comment to Fischer.

  7. “If my account is accurate?” Why, sir, would it NOT be accurate?
    Mr. Scott did NOT, as you put it, “trash talk.” He was not that kind of person. If you had been there and heard what I heard, you would not possibly write these things!
    Whether or not Mr. Scott “wasted an opportunity…”, the fact is that his remark was an innocent one. He meant nothing by it, other than that he had participated in a tournament with Bobby before he became BOBBY FISCHER!
    As far as my being objective…I knew Mr Scott. I met Bobby Fischer. I was there when Bobby Fischer gave his autograph to Mr. Scott. Where, sir, were you?!
    Michael Bacon

  8. I did not play chess in 1972, but why is that an issue here?

    I read your account that you sent me and you stated, “As Bobby was signing, Mr. Scott said, ‘I played in the U.S. Open in 1956, I believe, but I may be wrong-you’ll have to look it up… and finished ahead of you.'” You being there with Scott has nothing to do with whether the comment was taken as an insult by Fischer… or was deemed inappropriate by people who read your account.

    In my opinion, it was not an appropriate comment to make to a newly-crowned World Champion since (1) Fischer had just become a national hero (2) was an honored guest at a top level event… and (3) Scott is asking FISCHER for an autograph presumably in front of other fans (at least one). His comment was an innocent one and he meant no harm, but it was not appropriate. Fischer’s response was inappropriate as well.

    Historic Note: Fischer was already an incredibly strong player and probably Grandmaster strength (already) in 1956. Fischer reeled off the “Game of the Century” with a beautiful queen sacrifice against Donald Bryne so he was already BOBBY FISCHER. That’s the whole point.

  9. I was informed by Tom Hales that my link to an article on William Scott was broken. I have found it and reproduced it here. I am not sure of the author, but it appears to have been done by a close relative.

    William Alexander Scott, III

    William Alexander Scott. III, a brilliant man of many talents, he continually surprised even those who knew him with the depth of his experience and wisdom, and the breadth of his intellectual interests. Businessman, and chess master, loving father and grandfather, film critic, radio show host, artist, poet and public servant, W A. Scott brought his intelligence, humor and integrity to all of his pursuits. He celebrated life.

    In 1991 “W. A.”, as he was known to family and friends, was honored for his “valiant service” with the Allied Forces in Liberating the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and was appointed by President George Bush to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. It was an honor in which he took particular pride, along with his membership in the now legendary Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. In 1991, he was also included among the “Hidden Treasures: African-American Photographers in Atlanta. 1870-1970” at the APEX Museum.

    W. A. Scott’s life began in Johnson City, Tennessee, where he was born on January 15, 1923. That year his family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where his father W, A. Scott, II, founded the Atlanta Daily World newspaper in 1928. He attended the Atlanta University Elementary (Oglethorpe) and Laboratory high schools. From childhood he worked at the Atlanta World in various capacities from paper-boy and clean-up person, to sports statistician, movie and play critic and photographer.

    “W.A.” was studying Business Administration and Mathematics at Morehouse College, and waiting to marry his childhood sweetheart Marian Willis, when he was called up for the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. He served from 1943 to 1946. He and Marian married on August 28, 1944, just before he was shipped overseas. Scott served as a photographer with the 318th Airbase Squadron and the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion, While with the 183rd in Germany. Scott was one of the first Allied soldiers to enter Buchenwald. After the war he returned to Atlanta, and completed his education at Morehouse. He began his married life with Marian. and in 1948 became Circulation Manager of the Atlanta Daily World. During the years Scott covered many events of historical significance occurring in this area, sometimes as the lone African-American walking into a Southern hamlet to investigate a lynching. In 1984, he became Public Relations and Advertising Manager, a post he held until his death.

    Throughout his years, “W. A.” was active in the life of Atlanta and involved in many civic and professional associations. In 1986, Scott was appointed by Mayor Andrew Young to serve on the “Committee of 150” to plan the city’s 150th anniversary, and by Governor Joe Frank Harris as a charter member of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust. He served on a number of boards: the NAACP, the Educational Foundation of Metro Atlanta(Better Business Bureau); the Atlanta Council of International Visitors; the Educational Information and Referral Service, Inc.. (American Association of University Women), Grady Memorial Hospital Board of Visitors; the ZACHOR Committee of the Atlanta Jewish Federation and as Historian for the Tuskegee Airmen. Inc.

    Scott was a member of the First Congregational Church: the Georgia Council of Human Relations; the Greater Atlanta Council of Human Relations: the Committee to Celebrate the First Official National Holiday Commemorating the Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.; and was a charter member of the Atlanta Area UNICEF Advisory Board. In addition, he served as a member of the Advisory Committee of the Atlanta Housing Authority: a Community Advisor for the Atlanta Family Services Society, a member and exhibitor with the Atlanta Arts Festival and on the Public Affairs Advisory Council for the Headquarters, United States Army Command.

    Well known in the area for his expertise in chess, and rated an expert by the United Chess Federation, Scott was President of the Atlanta Chess Association for three years. He was proud to have won the Georgia State Open Chess Championship in 1963, followed in 1967 by three distinct honors: Atlanta Chess Club Champion, Speed Champion, and Chairman of the host committee for the 68th Annual U.S. Open Chess Championship Tournament.

    William Alexander Scott, III is survived by a family that will long celebrate his wonderful life; his wife, Marian; son, William A. Scott, IV; daughter, Alexis Scott Reeves; mother, Lucille McAllister Scott; son-in-law, David L. Reeves; grandchildren, Cinque Scott Reeves, David Leslie Reeves, Jr., Emily Zsarah Scott, William A. Scott V, and Kai Lawarren Scott; aunts, Mrs. Vashti Scott Ellis, Mr. and Mrs. J. Russell Simmons (Ruth Scott), and Dr. Joan M. Gordon, Savannah, Georgia; uncle. Mr. and Mrs. C. A, Scott; niece, Ms. Alicia L. Scott, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; nephew, Dr. Thomas M. Scott. Galesburg, Illinois: grandnieces, Adia Nicole Scott and Adrienne Alicia Crawford; sister-in-law, Mrs. Portia Thomas Scott, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; many other relatives and friends.


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