Ecuadorian chess master who beat Bobby Fischer and two other world champs, called himself a ‘dabbler’
Although he gave up international competition in his early 30s, Ecuadorian chess master César Muñoz, was a rising star in the game 50 years ago. After defeating European champions Icelander Fridrik Olafson and the Dane Bent Larsen in Reykjavik in 1957, he beat U.S. phenomenon and future world champ Bobby Fischer in the 1960 Chess Olympics in Leipzig, Germany.
Asked in a 1994 interview in a U.S. chess magazine why he gave up the game, Muñoz said that he had difficulty with its intensity. “The concentration you need to be successful is incredible and, for me, matches became overwhelming, too much to handle,” he said.
“I loved the game as an amateur and always considered myself something of a gentleman dabbler.”
He added: “I played many sports when I was young, football, volleyball and track and field, where there is also pressure but it is different than chess. With those sports, you compete on a big field with teammates and the physical activity allows you work out the tension and anxiety. In chess, at the top level, it is like you are in a fish bowl, under the bright lights. Sometimes it feels like your head is about to explode.”
Following his early success, Muñoz couldn’t maintain his winning edge, even in local matches. “In the 1960s, I lost to other Ecuadorian players and knew it was time to do something else.” Following college, he worked as a civil engineer for several years in Guayaquil before assuming the presidency of the National Sports Federation of Ecuador.
Bobby Fischer went on the become the first U.S. world chess champion, defeating Russia’s Boris Spassky 1972.
According to Muñoz, who died in 2000, the pressure of chess competition took a toll on Fischer too. “I corresponded with him for several years and he told me he felt like he was going crazy sometimes,” Muñoz said. “I think that explains what happened to him after he became famous.”
In 1975, Fischer refused to defend his title due a disagreement about tournament rules. In 1992, he played Spassky in a friendly match in Yugoslavia in violation of U.S. sanctions against the country. After the U.S. issued a warrant for his arrest, Fischer lived as an émigré for the rest of his life, dying in Iceland in 2008.