$100,000 for Bobby Fischer
 
04.11.2017

$100,000 for Bobby Fischer

The first foreign cash I, a freshly baked graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, received in 1989. This was my first salary in the Soviet-Japanese joint venture "LIKO-Raduga". That diversified firm – a daughter company of the famous Mitsubishi – supplied foreign cars to the USSR, opened restaurants in Moscow and organized exhibitions.

I was hired (you will not believe it) literally from the street, when I saw the announcement of the search for a manager. I do not know how many people responded to that announcement but the firm selected only 24 candidates, including me, for passing a rather difficult exam. Among other requirements for candidates the knowledge of the Japanese language was indicated as a desirable, and apparently the fact that I had just graduated from the Oriental Studies Department of MGIMO specializing in Japan played a role: I was accepted.

The conditions were fantastic: the firm immediately provided me with a two-room apartment, company car, salary of five thousand dollars plus a certain amount in roubles, bonuses and interest on sales. My wages were paid in dollars only.

The older generation probably remembers that in those days various specialists, from plumbers in cities to tractor operators on collective farms preferred to receive compensation for their services not with money but bottles of vodka. It was the currency of the common people. Well, the bigger bosses – managers of trade bases and department stores, officials, etc. – preferred solid DMs and dollars.

And there was my first salary and I got my take-home pay of the cherished five thousand dollars. Returning to my apartment, I called friends and arranged a small party. Someone suggested: "Kirsan, we are all friends, let us see what such a lot of money looks like?" Well, I took out the packet; put the money on a convenient place and we began to look at it. And then I thought, what’s next?

It was a romantic time when the Soviet Union opened up to the world (primarily in the field of economics) and liberated a human initiative from economic slingshots and chains. Many managed to incredibly quickly earn inconceivable until then amounts of money and people literally went crazy from the wealth acquired out of the blue. As the popular duet "Ivasi" sang in those days:

"They raised my salary

By twenty-five roubles,

It has not happened to me before,

But the whole of my being is not much cheerful,

I feel that it is not enough, it is not enough, it is not enough!"

I do not know what my guests thought, looking at those five thousand dollars, but I suddenly saw that it was just money. Only a lot of it. Just yesterday, I, a student, saved every kopeck: I had enough to take a tram from the hostel to the institute only. And now I can just buy a car. And then one more. And more. So what is next?

And then I realized that money is not just an opportunity to get some material values. It gives freedom. Now I can go where I want, I can build a Buddhist temple in my native Kalmykia. By the way, I built several Orthodox churches in the end. That is, there were great prospects for useful and good deeds before me. It just required more money than five thousand dollars a month.

I decided: money should make money. Luckily, opportunities were in abundance at the time. I started gradually invest in my own projects and a year later I earned my first million dollars. But this is a slightly different story.

Money gives you self-esteem. At least that was the case for the legendary and very eccentric chess player Robert Fisher.

My acquaintance with Fischer began with an unfortunate incident. After I became FIDE President in 1995, I decided to meet with all the world chess champions to consult and discuss ways of chess development (the federation was in a very difficult financial situation and chess as a sport was almost forgotten). Everyone agreed to meet me except Fischer, who stated that he would not talk to any native of the USSR.

I was taken aback: How so? Why? I appealed to a famous Soviet-Hungarian chess player Andre Lilienthal, who lived in Budapest and knew Fischer well, asking him to act as an intermediary. It turned out that a hundred thousand copies of Fisher's book "My 60 Memorable Games" were translated and published in the seventies in the USSR that quite freely approached sacred for the West copyrights. The fee (Bobby estimated it at $100,000 – a dollar per copy) was not paid to the chess player. Spitfire genius was offended by the whole country.

Then I told Lilienthal that I was ready to pay this debt out of my personal funds. A couple of days later, my mobile phone rang. Bobby Fisher said in pure Russian he was ready to take money from me but he asked for cash because he did not trust bank transfers. He offered to meet at Lilienthal's apartment in Budapest. "And you know what?" he added. "Bring the Russian caviar."

Well, I didn’t mind caviar. I packed the money, caviar, a bottle of vodka (Fisher did not ask for this, but this is the tradition, which, as it turned out later, proved to be quite useful) and flew to Hungary.

Fisher met me at the airport. When we arrived to Andre’s home, first of all, the champion asked where the money was. I handed him the suitcase with dollars and he immediately began to count them methodically. But he changed his mind soon and simply put all the money in some sort of net-string bag like those we used to go to shop to buy bread and milk.

Meanwhile, Andre cooked dumplings; we drank vodka, ate caviar and talked. I played three games with Fischer and nearly ended one with a draw. Later, I started to get ready to go. Bobby volunteered to escort me to the airport. And then I noticed that passers-by seemed to be looking at us with strange expression on their faces. It turned out that Fischer took the same string bag with dollars almost falling out of it as he walked carelessly waving it.

Then I realized: Fisher needed this money not because he had nothing to eat (although he was rather modestly dressed). He valued them as a sign of recognition of his talent; it amused his ambition, which was enough for ten. I think, it did not even matter to him, be it dollars or not. He would be happy even if I brought him this amount in roubles, yuan or yen, but in the latter case it would have been a very heavy gear.

That's the point: in the final analysis money as such cannot make us happy, no matter what currency it is; happiness is given to us by something that we really value and transfer this value to beautiful colourful papers. Is it possible to buy health for money? A family? Love, friendship, dawn, the starry sky over the steppe?

But here's the paradox: it's a two-way process. Currency becomes money only when we trust it. Do you remember the attitude of the Soviet people towards rouble? In the USSR and later we called it "wooden rouble" for its low purchasing power and limited circulation. We laughed at those who had to receive their salaries in roubles. But everything changes eventually. I am sure that the country's recovery began when we started to trust our currency.

And its exchange rate does not matter in the end.

Do you remember when you were last interested in euro or dollar exchange rates? And it does not matter if, quoting an anecdote of perestroika times - ‘a pound of roubles will be worth a dollar’: while we believe in rouble, it will not let us down.