Jump to content

RIP Bobby Fischer


Recommended Posts

<h1 id="storyTitle" align="left">Chess master Bobby Fischer dies at 64 </h1>


Edition Date: 01/18/08

Bobby Fischer, the reclusive chess genius who became a Cold War hero by dethroning the Soviet world champion in 1972 and later renounced his American citizenship, has died. He was 64.Fisher died in a Reykjavik hospital on Thursday of kidney failure after a long illness, his spokesman, Gardar Sverrisson, said Friday.

Born in Chicago and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Fischer faced criminal charges in the United States for playing a 1992 rematch against Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia in defiance of international sanctions. In 2005, he moved to Iceland, a chess-mad nation and site of his greatest triumph.

As a champion, he used his eccentricities to unsettle opponents, but Fischer's reputation as a genius of chess was soon eclipsed, in the eyes of many, by his idiosyncrasies.

"Chess is war on a board," he once said. "The object is to crush the other man's mind."

Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion from Russia, said Fischer's ascent in the chess world in the 1960s and his promotion of chess worldwide was "a revolutionary breakthrough" for the game.

"The tragedy is that he left this world too early, and his extravagant life and scandalous statements did not contribute to the popularity of chess," Kasparov told The Associated Press.

Fischer lost his world title in 1975 after refusing to defend it against Anatoly Karpov. He dropped out of competitive chess and largely out of view, emerging occasionally to make erratic and often anti-Semitic comments, although his mother was Jewish.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the World Chess Federation, called Fischer "a phenomenon and an epoch in chess history, and an intellectual giant I would rank next to Newton and Einstein."

Spassky, reached briefly at his home in France, said: "I am very sorry, but Bobby Fischer is dead. Goodbye."

An American chess champion at 14 and a grand master at 15, Fischer dethroned Spassky in 1972 in a series of games in Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, to become the first officially recognized world champion born in the United States.

The match, at the height of the Cold War, took on mythic dimensions as a clash between the world's two superpowers.

Fischer played - and won - an exhibition rematch against Spassky on the resort island of Sveti Stefan, but the game was in violation of U.S. sanctions imposed to punish then-President Slobodan Milosevic.

In July 2004, Fischer was arrested at Japan's Narita airport for traveling on a revoked U.S. passport and was threatened with extradition to the United States to face charges of violating sanctions.

He spent nine months in custody before the dispute was resolved when Iceland granted him citizenship and he moved there with his longtime companion, the Japanese chess player Miyoko Watai. She survives him.

In his final years, Fischer railed against the chess establishment, alleging that the outcomes of many top-level chess matches were decided in advance.

Instead, he championed his concept of random chess, in which pieces are shuffled at the beginning of each match in a bid to reinvigorate the game.

"I don't play the old chess," he told reporters when he arrived in Iceland in 2005. "But obviously if I did, I would be the best."

Born in Chicago in March 9, 1943, Robert James Fischer was a child prodigy, playing competitively from the age of 8.

At 13, he became the youngest player to win the United States Junior Championship. At 14, he won the United States Open Championship for the first of eight times.

At 15, he gained the title of international grand master, the youngest person to hold the title.

Tall, charismatic and with striking looks, he was a chess star - but already gaining a reputation for volatile behavior.

He turned up late for tournaments, walked out of matches, refused to play unless the lighting suited him and was intolerant of photographers and cartoonists. He was convinced of his own superiority and called the Soviets "Commie cheats."

His behavior often unsettled opponents - to Fischer's advantage.

This was seen most famously in the showdown with Spassky in Reykjavik between July and September 1972. Having agreed to play Spassky in Yugoslavia, Fischer raised one objection after another to the arrangements and they wound up playing in Iceland.

When play got under way, days late, Fischer lost the first game with an elementary blunder after discovering that television cameras he had reluctantly accepted were not unseen and unheard, but right behind the players' chairs.

He boycotted the second game and the referee awarded the point to Spassky, putting the Russian ahead 2-0.

But then Spassky agreed to Fischer's demand that the games be played in a back room away from cameras. Fischer went on to beat Spassky, 12.5 points to 8.5 points in 21 games.

Millions of Americans, gripped by the contest, rejoiced in the victory over their Cold War adversary.

In the recent book "White King and Red Queen," the British author Daniel Johnson said the match was "an abstract antagonism on an abstract battleground using abstract weapons ... yet their struggle embraced all human life."

"In Spassky's submission to his fate and Fischer's fierce exultant triumph, the Cold War's denouement was already foreshadowed."

The victory made Fischer the first U.S.-born world champion. Paul Morphy, an American, was regarded as the world's best player from 1858 to 1862, and William Steinetz, an Austrian immigrant to the United States, was an official champion from 1886 to 1894.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This dude was a massive anti-Semite, and pretty much sounds like an asshole...

Fischer, whose mother and probable biological father were both Jewish, made occasional hostile comments toward Jews from at least the early 1960s. From the 1980s, however, his hatred for Jews was a major theme of his public remarks. He denied the "Holocaust of the Jews," announced his desire to make "expos[ing] the Jews for the criminals they are [...] the murderers they are" his lifework, and argued that the United States is "a farce controlled by dirty, hook-nosed, circumcised Jew bastards."

In 1999, he gave a call-in interview to a radio station in Budapest, Hungary, during which he described himself as the "victim of an international Jewish conspiracy." Fischer's sudden re-emergence was apparently triggered when some of his belongings, which had been stored in a Pasadena, California storage unit, were sold by the landlord, who claimed it was in response to nonpayment of rent. Fischer interpreted this as further evidence of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy perpetrated by "the Jew-controlled U.S. Government" to defame and destroy him.

Hours after the September 11, 2001, attacks Fischer was interviewed live by Pablo Mercado on the Baguio City station of the Bombo Radyo network, shortly after midnight September 12, 2001 Philippines local time (or shortly after noon on September 11, 2001, New York time). Fischer commented on U.S and Israeli foreign policy that "nobody cares ... [that] the US and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians for years". Informed that "the White House and Pentagon have been attacked", he proclaimed "This is all wonderful news." Fischer stated "What goes around comes around even for the United States" and said that if the U.S. fails to change its foreign policy, it "has to be destroyed." After calling for President Bush's death, Fischer also stated he hoped that a Seven Days in May-type military coup d' etat would take over power in the U.S. and then execute "hundreds of thousands of American Jewish leaders", "arrest all the Jews" and "close all synagogues".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I’m not condoning Fisher’s anti-American and anti-Semitic rants nor am I excusing them b/c of his mental illness. Just some musings here because, through my husband, I was at one time tangentially connected to the world of chess. A link to the NYT obit follows my musings.

My husband used to play chess at a fairly high level, including coaching school chess teams when we lived overseas. I also need to add that my husband is completely sane. He’s a bit rusty now but, when we were young and traveling the world, he always carried a chess set in his backpack and his chess playing provided us with the opportunity to meet some incredibly interesting people (a highlight was getting to know the chess players who lived in what were then countries within the Eastern/Soviet bloc).

As deeply disturbed as Fisher was, in the world of professional chess, he was known as a genius whose chess games have been described as “innovative”, “elegant”, and “beautiful”. The thousands of hours that he spent preparing for each match, the careful working out of various scenarios/situations - possible plays and counter-plays (sometimes twenty moves ahead) and then memorizing them – these are strategies have now become standard operating procedure in the world of professional chess. It is possible that Fisher was able to master the game of chess at the depth he did because of an obsessive compulsion.

It seems that, when Fisher stopped playing chess at the professional level, his mental condition quickly spiraled downward. That makes me wonder if chess, in some way, helped to keep his mental condition in “check”. He was rabidly anti-Semitic, anti-American, and paranoid – these may have been manifestations of his mental illness. From what I have read, he was emotionally dysfunctional during his last years.

I don’t know if anyone else has heard or remembers the rumors that circulated during the height of his playing years but it was said that not only did Fisher’s mother and mentors prevent/discouraged him from getting treatment for his mental condition but the Nixon administration/U.S. government also prevented/discouraged treatment on the grounds that it might have interfered with his “genius”, affected his play, and prevented him from defeating the Soviet player. If that rumor is true, it is very troubling, partly because it is extremely selfish and partly because it reinforces the stereotype the mental illness, genius, and creativity are connected. It may be that, if Fisher had received the treatment he was denied, he may have continued functioning and playing chess.


Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...