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Former World Chess Champ Bobby Fischer dead at 64

He was a genius on a chess board. No doubt about it. Off the board he was controversial and often wrong. Though some of his claims, like the Soviet players collaborating at the 1962 Candidates Tournament in Curacao, were eventually proved true.

My interest in chess was sparked by the Fischer-Spassky match in 1972.(I met and played Boris at a US Open played in South Florida in the 1980's and got my clock cleaned in 26 moves.) Joining the US Chess Federation in 1973 and beginning to play correspondence chess the next year. 34 years later I'm still playing competitive corr. chess. You could say Fischer affected my life. As it may have for fellow Wizbang contributor Jim Addison, Jim is an active over the board player today.

Sadly after reaching the pinnacle of the chess world, Fischer basically disappeared from sight. His only return to the chess board being a re-match with Spassky in 1992.(Ironically one of my current CC games is at a position after 19 moves only seen before in one of that year's match games) Genius at the chess board if often short lived or takes its toll in other ways. Other greats of the game at a young age, Mikhail Tal and Paul Morphy among others, burned out or died young or both. In Fischer's case, it looks like he burned out. Where do you go once you become the best in the world? RIP Bobby.

REYKJAVIK, Iceland - Bobby Fischer, the reclusive chess genius who became a Cold War icon 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, his spokesman, Gardar Sverrisson, said Friday. There was no immediate word on cause of death.

Born in Chicago and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Fischer was wanted 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.

Garry Kasparov, the former Russian chess champion, said Fischer's ascent in the chess world in the 1960s and his promotion of chess worldwide was "a revolutionary breakthrough" for the game. But Fischer's reputation as a genius of chess was eclipsed, in the eyes of many, by his idiosyncrasies.

"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.

He 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.

Spassky said in a brief phone call from his home in France that he was "very sorry" to hear of the death of his friend and rival.

An American chess champion at 14 and a grand master at 15, Fischer dethroned the Spassky in 1972 in a series of games in Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, to claim America's first world chess championship in more than a century.

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 threatened with extradition to the United States. He spent nine months in custody before the dispute was resolved when Iceland granted him citizenship.

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.

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


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Comments (22)

I played competitive chess ... (Below threshold)
Paden Cash:

I played competitive chess for a short while. I lost interest (wasn't very good). One of the very best beginner books for chess players is BF teaches chess. He will be greatly missed. Play on Bobby

I just started learning to ... (Below threshold)

I just started learning to play. May he rest in peace.

I used to be3 low mediocre ... (Below threshold)

I used to be3 low mediocre "club" chess player (last rating: 1370), I was awed at Fischer's genius. When he was in his prime, he was virtually unbeatable. It is a tragedy that during his championship tenure 1972-1975, he did absolutely nothing to promote the game, thus wasting a once-in-a-century opportunity.

A few years back, he gave a couple of interviews to a Phillipine radio station and he was allowed to spew his own brand of anti-semitic hatred. It was vile and disgusting. When I heard that, any admiration I ever had for him evaporated.

Though some of his... (Below threshold)
Though some of his claims, like the Soviet players collaborating at the 1962 Candidates Tournament in Curacao, were eventually proved true.

The problem is, that's not all Bobby said. He claimed that all Soviet-era players collaborated to "fix" games in every international tournament they ever competed in, not just Curacao. Few paid any attention to his wild, over-the-top claims ("The Russians have fixed world chess").

Later on, of course, some of what Bobby said was proven correct. But I wonder if he hadn't been such a pissy little drama queen, perhaps he would have been taken more seriously.

I actually think the really... (Below threshold)

I actually think the really interesting character in American chess history is not Fischer, but rather Paul Morphy. Kid from New Orleans takes on the world chess powers and wins. Staunton runs away in fright! It would be fun if someone made a period biopic movie about Mr. Morphy.

Morphy was a true genius an... (Below threshold)

Morphy was a true genius and unbeatable. But Fischer was an absolute genius as well. It's too bad that his life ended up like it did. Our current top players are not nearly as interesting (Vladimir Kramnik, Kasparov).

My favorite player though, is the undoubted pure attacking genius of all time, Misha Tal.

Sorry, no love lost for thi... (Below threshold)
Son Of The Godfather:

Sorry, no love lost for this anti-American, anti-Semite crapweasel.

See ya, Bobby.

Interestingly enough, a stu... (Below threshold)

Interestingly enough, a study done on Hollywood actors revealed that Oscar winners live longer than actors who haven't won Oscars.

The theory is that once have achieved the pinnacle of success, actors can enjoy their lives and not worry about occasional bad roles. The same isn't true about chess champions. I wonder why? If they gave out gold statues or diamond-encrusted superbowl-type rings, would that help?

I was a teenage MK in Mexic... (Below threshold)

I was a teenage MK in Mexico when Fischer "reigned." Since I played chess well and since I was one of the very few Americans in the city, my friends took to calling me Fischer or Bobby. (Heady stuff, I'm telling you! -- grin)

Anyway, his book dramatically altered my style of chess play.

Check and mate. ww... (Below threshold)

Check and mate. ww

I'm with Son of the Godfath... (Below threshold)

I'm with Son of the Godfather. BF was a fan of communism, denied the Holocaust ever happened, rejected his Jewish heritage, and said in a radio interview the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was "wonderful news".

Good riddance to a true scumbag.

As a human, he was dispicab... (Below threshold)

As a human, he was dispicable, as a chess player phenominal. But when asked whom he thought was the best chess player of all time, Fischer without hesitation always says Paul Morphy. Paul Morphy accomplished everything he did while still a teenager. He resigned from the game because noone else in the world could even challenge him. Paul quit because he was so far beyond the game. Bobby quit because he went bats*#t.

A touch (or more) of madnes... (Below threshold)

A touch (or more) of madness is not at all uncommon in the chess greats. Morphy himself spent his life filing nuisance lawsuits against nearly every prominent figure in New Orleans, whom he suspected of having stolen from his father's estate. (Incidentally, he was only induced to play competitive chess when, after finishing law school at 18, he had to wait until age 21 to practice in Louisiana. Yet he was so far ahead of the best players in the world, the notoriety meant he was never taken seriously as an attorney).

Wilhelm Steinitz thought he could talk to God on his special telephone, and claimed to be able to give Him Pawn and move odds.

Fischer, however, outdid them all. He was willing to walk out on principle at a moment's notice. Had the USCF's Ed Edmondson not stayed with him throughout the Championship cycle, he never would have made it - he would have found something wrong and quit.

Interestingly, Fischer didn't qualify for the Championship cycle he eventually won. Pal Benko gave up his qualification spot in the Interzonals after USCF wrangled a ruling from FIDE (the world chess organization) allowing them to name the replacement for a withdrawn player (normally, the next player in qualifying would have taken his place).

His paranoia only got worse over time, and he believed in every conspiracy known to man, and few that weren't. A sad waste of great talent.

Rest in peace.

He was a arogant little sno... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

He was a arogant little snot and his movie SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER stunk he was just typical of a liberal jerk

Jeremy Schapp did a good pi... (Below threshold)

Jeremy Schapp did a good piece for ESPN on Fisher last year, I wonder if they will rerun that again this week/weekend?

Dick Schapp followed Bobby everwhere, I believe.

I also became excited about... (Below threshold)

I also became excited about and learned chess during the Spassky-Fisher match.

He was a great player who inspired me.
I look at Fisher as a chess player, his personal life bs I could care less about.

According to the 1973 Guinn... (Below threshold)
Aerosin Lloma:

According to the 1973 Guinness Book Of World Records, Fischer had a 187 I.Q. There is an old saying, "There's a fine line between genius and insanity." I know Fischer was a person that offended many, many people, but let him rest in peace. He had a rough life, was really a tortured soul.

His accomplishemnts in Chess have yet to be matched. He won 20 games in a row at the Grand Master level. Although it is true that Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik achieved higher FIDE (World) chess ratings, this was due to inflation. Bobby Fischer still has the highest ever United States Chess Federation (USCF) rating at 2810.

As to his personal life, just show some mercy. 64 is a young age to die, and this guy was truly a tortured soul. Can you imagine how much he suffered to say and do some of the things he did?

And upon reaching the eight... (Below threshold)

And upon reaching the eighth rank, the lowly pawn can be exchanged for any piece of the players choosing except a King.

Tonite I understand the final condition of that rule. A promotion to King is reserved for instances like these. Godspeed Bobby. RIP

RIP Bobby Fischer. At age 6... (Below threshold)

RIP Bobby Fischer. At age 64, just like the number of chess squares...

We have created a memorial page to pay tribue to Bobby Fischer at

Feel free to share your comments and thoughts.


He had a rough lif... (Below threshold)
He had a rough life, was really a tortured soul.

Sorry, I gotta call bullshit on this. If Fischer's life was "rough", it was mostly because he was a such a hate-filled asshole. The unhinged lunatic ravings that he became notorious for in his later years weren't anything new, they were always there, waiting to come out.

We all have our own "besetting sins", as the old Puritans used to call them. One might be prone to anger, or lust, or laziness, for example. Fischer's besetting sin was hate. He was a world-class hater, and as his life progressed, his hate grew and grew until it consumed him.

I hope he is at peace now, where he no longer feels the need to hate.

I'm with OregonMuse here...... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

I'm with OregonMuse here...screw him. Yeah, he played a great chess game, but not only was he a rabid anti-semite, he was an extreme anti-American as well, going so far as to after 9/11 (from a telephone call overseas) get interviewed on a radio show PRAISING the terrorists for their work! Iceland can keep his freezing carcass for all I care. Give me Kasparov, instead.

Regarding Bobby's "paranoid... (Below threshold)

Regarding Bobby's "paranoid" character just remember that in 1981 the Pasadena local police tortured the World Chess Champion because they thought he was a bank robber(!),3 USA administrations were chasing Bobby,around the world for 12 years just because he violated sanctions against Yugoslavia in 1992 abd finally,in 2004, his arrest and the 9 month prisoning in Japan caused great damage to his health.
Bobby did not kill any children, did not kill any civilians, did not caused collateral damage, did not invade any country, he just inspired the world with his art and genius.

Yes, he was "out of the system", he was not "politically correct", he was the perfect enemy for the Big Brother!

Rest in peace Robert Fischer, your country can relax now that you are not around to checkmate her!






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