Born in Chicago on March 9, 1943, Robert James Fischer was a child prodigy, competitively playing chess from the age of 8. Bobby Fischer popularized the game of chess, making
it front-page news, and justifying a vast increase in the amount of
money awarded to the winner of the World Championship. As the first
American World Champion, he drew world-wide attention for his eccentric
antics and his extraordinary skill. Fischer was so superior to his world-class
opponents that he won the qualifying rounds of the world championship
with unprecedented wipeout scores of 6-0, 6-0, 6-0. Further, he was singlehandedly
able to defeat the combined efforts of the entire, very powerful, Soviet
Fischer possessed a rare talent, combined with a volatile
personality. His refusal to continue a match with chess master Reshevsky
in 1961, turning away from the 1962 World Championship, and deserting
an international tournament in Sussa in 1967, are only some of the examples
of his hot temper.
Fischer began playing chess at the age of 6, with the
help of his older sister. His playing style was highlighted by the precision
of his thinking, sharpened to be almost mechanical. Considered by many
to be the best player ever, Fischer became the youngest player to win the United States Junior Championship at age 13. At 14, he won the United States Open Championship for the first of eight times. At 15, he became an international grand master, the youngest person to hold the title.
When asked if he had invented a new chess formula, Fischer's usual answer
was: "No, my secret lies in the mistakes made by my opponents.
I was just successful at using them to my advantage."
He became a Cold War hero in 1972 when he defeated
Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union at a widely followed series of matches
in Iceland to become the first officially recgonized word chess champion born in the United States. The Fischer-Spassky match took on mythic dimensions as a clash between the world's two superpowers. He forfeited
the title in 1975, however, when he refused to defend his title against Anatoly Karpov. Fischer dropped out of competitive chess after this, spending time in Hungary and the Philippines, and emerging occasionally to make outspoken and often outrageous comments.
He resurfaced for a dramatic rematch against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia in
1992, beating him 10-5 to win $3.35 million.
After that, the fiercely private Fischer disappeared,
living in secret outside the United States. The U.S. government accused
Fischer of violating U.N. sanctions against Yugoslavia and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, by playing in the
1992 rematch against Spassky, and placed an international "wanted" alert for
his whereabouts and return.
While incognito, Fischer intermittently gave interviews
with a radio station in the Philippines, often digressing into anti-Jewish
rants and accusing American officials of hounding him. In radio
interviews, he praised the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, saying
America should be "wiped out,'" and described Jews as "thieving,
lying bastards.'' Fischer's mother was Jewish. He also announced that
he had abandoned chess in 1996 and launched a new version in Argentina,
"Fischerandom,'' or random chess, a computerized shuffler that randomly distributes
chess pieces on the back row of the chess board at the start of each
After decades of evading the public eye and U.S. justice
officials, former world champion Bobby Fischer was taken into custody
by Japanese immigration after
allegedly trying to leave the country with an invalid passport. Fischer was detained at Narita Airport outside Tokyo while trying to board
a Japan Airlines flight for the Philippines on July 13, 2004. He was threantened with extradition. Fischer renounced his U.S. citizenship and spent nine months in custody before the dispute was resolved when Iceland - a chess-mad nation of 300,000 - granted him citizenship.
Fischer moved to Iceland in 2005 to avoid extradition to the United States, where he was wanted for playing in the 1992 chess match in
the former Yugoslavia in violation of the international sanctions. The
sanctions were imposed on the former Yugoslavia for provoking warfare
in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Fischer died of kidney failure on January 17, 2008, at the age of 64, in Reykjavik, Iceland after a long illness.
Sources: Talmadge, Eric. "Ex-Chess Champ Fischer
Detained in Tokyo" The
Associated Press, (July 16, 2004) ;
The Jerusalem Post, "Former Chess Champion Dies, aged 64," (January 19, 2008)