Bobby Fischer

From New World Encyclopedia

Bobby Fischer
Bobby Fischer 1960 in Leipzig in color.jpg
Full name Robert James Fischer
Country United States, Iceland
Born March 9 1943(1943-03-09)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died January 17 2008 (aged 64)
Reykjavík, Iceland
Title Grandmaster
World Champion 1972–1975 (FIDE)
Peak rating 2785 (July 1972)
This article uses algebraic notation to describe chess moves.

Robert James "Bobby" Fischer (March 9, 1943 – January 17, 2008) was an American-born chess Grandmaster, and the eleventh World Chess Champion.

Fischer became famous as a teenager as a chess prodigy. In 1972, he became the first, and so far the only, American to win the official World Chess Championship, defeating defending champion Boris Spassky in a match held in Reykjavík, Iceland. The match was widely publicized as a Cold War battle. He is often referred to as one of the greatest chess players of all time. Iceland subsequently awarded Fischer citizenship in recognition of a 30-year-old match that put the country "on the map."

In 1975, Fischer failed to defend his title when he could not come to agreement with the international chess federation FIDE over the conditions for the match. He became more reclusive and played no more competitive chess until 1992, when he had a rematch with Spassky. The competition was held in Yugoslavia, which was then under a strict United Nations embargo.This led to a conflict with the United States government, and he never returned to his native country.

In his later years, Fischer lived in Hungary, Germany, the Philippines, and Japan. During this time he made increasingly anti-American and antisemitic statements. During the 2004–2005 time period, after his U.S. passport was revoked, he was detained by Japanese authorities for nine months under threat of extradition. He was then granted Icelandic citizenship and released to Iceland by the Japanese authorities. He lived in Iceland from 2005 until his death in 2008. Fischer's reclusive lifestyle made him an enigma to many.

Early years

Robert James Fischer was born at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, Illinois on March 9, 1943. His mother, Regina Wender, was a naturalized American citizen of Polish Jewish descent,[1] born in Switzerland but raised in St. Louis, Missouri. She later became a teacher, a registered nurse, and a physician. Fischer's birth certificate listed Wender's husband, Hans-Gerhardt Fischer, a German biophysicist, as Fischer's father. The couple married in 1933 in Moscow, USSR, where Wender was studying medicine at the First Moscow Medical Institute. They divorced in 1945 when Bobby was two years old, and he grew up with his mother and older sister, Joan. In 1948, the family moved to Mobile, Arizona, where Regina taught in an elementary school. The following year they moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Regina worked as an elementary school teacher and nurse.

A 2002 article by Peter Nicholas and Clea Benson of The Philadelphia Inquirer suggests that Paul Nemenyi, a Hungarian Jewish physicist, may have been Fischer's biological father. The article quotes an FBI report that states that Regina Fischer returned to the United States in 1939, while Hans-Gerhardt Fischer never entered the United States, having been refused admission by U.S. immigration officials because of alleged Communist sympathies.[2][3][4] Regina and Nemenyi had an affair in 1942, and he made monthly child support payments to Regina.[5] Nemenyi died in March, 1952.

In May 1949, the six-year-old Fischer learned how to play chess along with his sister in instructions found in a chess set that was bought[6] at a candy store below their Brooklyn apartment. He saw his first chess book a month later. For over a year he played chess on his own. At age seven, he began to play chess seriously,[7] joining the Brooklyn Chess Club and receiving instruction from its president, Carmine Nigro. He later joined the Manhattan Chess Club, one of the strongest in the world, in June, 1955. Other important early influences were provided by Master and chess journalist Hermann Helms and Grandmaster Arnold Denker. Denker served as a mentor to young Bobby, often taking him to watch professional hockey games at Madison Square Garden, to cheer the New York Rangers. Denker wrote that Bobby enjoyed those treats and never forgot them; the two became lifelong friends.[8] When Fischer was 13, his mother asked the Master John W. Collins to be his chess tutor. Collins had coached several top players, including future grandmasters Robert Byrne and William Lombardy. Fischer spent much time at Collins' house, and some have described Collins as a father figure for Fischer. The Hawthorne Chess Club was the name for the group which Collins coached. Fischer also was involved with the Log Cabin Chess Club. Another mentor and friend during those years was the broadcaster and author Dick Schaap, who often took Fischer to basketball games of the New York Knicks.

Bobby Fischer attended Erasmus Hall High School at the same time as Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond. The student council of Erasmus Hall awarded him a gold medal for his chess achievements.[9] Fischer dropped out of Erasmus in 1959 at age 16, the minimum age for doing so, saying that school had little more to offer him.

When Fischer was 16, his mother moved out of their apartment to pursue medical training. Her friend Joan Rodker, who had met Regina when the two were "idealistic communists" living in Moscow in the 1930s, believes that Fischer resented his mother for being mostly absent as a mother, a communist activist and an admirer of the Soviet Union, and that this led to his hatred for the Soviet Union. In letters to Rodker, Fischer's mother states her desire to pursue her own "obsession" of training in medicine and writes that her son would have to live in their Brooklyn apartment without her: "It sounds terrible to leave a 16-year-old to his own devices, but he is probably happier that way."[10]

Young champion

Fischer's first real triumph was winning the United States Junior Chess Championship in July 1956. He scored 8.5/10 at Philadelphia to become the youngest-ever junior champion at age 13,[11] a record that has yet to be eclipsed. In the 1956 U.S. Open Chess Championship at Oklahoma City, Fischer scored 8.5/12 to tie for 4-8th places, with Arthur Bisguier winning. He then played in the first Canadian Open Chess Championship at Montreal 1956, scoring 7/10 to tie for 8-12th places, with Larry Evans winning.[12] Fischer's famous game from the 3rd Rosenwald Trophy tournament at New York 1956, against Donald Byrne, who later became an International Master, was called "The Game of the Century" by Hans Kmoch. At the age of 12, he was awarded the U.S. title of National Master, then the youngest ever.

In 1957, Fischer played a two-game match against former World Champion Max Euwe at New York, losing 0.5-1.5.[13] He then successfully defended his U.S. Junior title, scoring 8.5/9 at San Francisco. Next, he won the U.S. Open Chess Championship at Cleveland on tie-breaking points over Arthur Bisguier, scoring 10/12. Fischer defeated the young Filipino Master Rodolfo Tan Cardoso by 6-2 in a match in New York. He next won the New Jersey Open Championship.[14] From these triumphs, Fischer was given entry into the invitational U.S. Chess Championship at New York. He won, with 10.5/13, becoming in January 1958, at age 14, the youngest U.S. champion ever (this record still stands). He earned the title of International Master with this victory, becoming the youngest player ever to achieve this level (a record since broken).[15][16][17]

Grandmaster, Candidate

Fischer's victory in the U.S. Championship qualified him to participate in the 1958 Portorož Interzonal, the next step toward challenging the World Champion. The top six finishers in the Interzonal would qualify for the Candidates Tournament. Fischer surprised the pundits, tying for 5th and 6th places at the Interzonal, with 12/20, after a strong finish.[18] This made Fischer the youngest person ever to qualify for the Candidates, a record which stood until 2005 (it was broken under a different setup by Magnus Carlsen). It also earned him the title of Grandmaster, making him the youngest grandmaster in history at 15 years and six months. This record stood until 1991 when it was broken by Judit Polgar. Fischer remained the youngest grandmaster in the world until Florin Gheorghiu earned the title in 1965.

Before the Candidates' tournament, Fischer competed in the 1958-1959 U.S. Championship (winning 8.5/11) and then in international tournaments at Mar del Plata, Santiago, and Zurich. He played unevenly in the two South American tournaments. At Mar del Plata he finished tied for third with Borislav Ivkov, half a point behind tournament winners Ludek Pachman and Miguel Najdorf. At Santiago, he tied for fourth through sixth places, behind Ivkov, Pachman, and Herman Pilnik. He did better at the strong Zurich event, finishing a point behind world-champion-to-be Mikhail Tal and half a point behind Svetozar Gligoric.[19]

Fischer had, up to this point, dressed like a normal teenager, in jeans and casual shirts, at chess tournaments, but was influenced by veteran Grandmaster Miguel Najdorf, whom he met at Mar del Plata, to improve his appearance. Najdorf dressed well in fine suits. Fischer's strong performances increased his income, and he soon became known for his elegant dress at major events, built up an extensive wardrobe of custom-made suits, and took considerable pride in his image as a young professional.[20]

At the age of 16, Fischer finished a creditable equal fifth out of eight, the top non-Soviet player, at the Candidates Tournament held in Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1959. He scored 12.5/28 but was outclassed by tournament winner Tal, who won all four of their individual games.[21]

1962 Candidates setback

In 1960, Fischer tied for first place with the young Soviet star Boris Spassky at the strong Mar del Plata tournament in Argentina, with the two well ahead of the rest of the field, scoring 13.5/15. Fischer lost only to Spassky, and this was the start of their relationship, which began on a friendly basis and stayed that way, in spite of Fischer's troubles on the board against him.

Fischer struggled in the subsequent Buenos Aires tournament, finishing with 8.5/19 (won by Viktor Korchnoi and Samuel Reshevsky on 13/19).[22] This was the only real failure of Fischer's competitive career.

In 1961, Fischer started a 16-game match with Reshevsky, split between New York and Los Angeles. Despite Fischer's meteoric rise, the veteran Reshevsky (born in 1911, 32 years older than Fischer) was considered the favorite, since he had far more match experience and had never lost a set match. After 11 games and a tie score (two wins apiece with seven draws), the match ended prematurely due to a scheduling dispute between Fischer and match organizer and sponsor Jacqueline Piatigorsky. The hard-fought struggle, with many games being adjourned, had delayed the original match schedule, causing some logistical challenges for site bookings. Reshevsky received the winner's share of the prizes.[9] Fischer later made up with Mrs. Piatigorsky by accepting an invitation to the second Piatigorsky Cup, Santa Monica 1966, which she helped to sponsor.

In the next World Championship cycle, Fischer won the 1962 Stockholm Interzonal by 2.5 points, scoring 17.5/22, making him one of the favorites for the Candidates Tournament in Curaçao, which began soon afterwards.[23][24] He finished fourth out of eight with 14/27, the best result by a non-Soviet player but well behind Tigran Petrosian (17.5/27), Efim Geller, and Paul Keres (both 17/27).[25] When Tal fell very ill during the tournament, and had to withdraw before completion, Fischer was the only player who visited him in the hospital.[9].

Following his failure in the 1962 Candidates (at which five of the eight players were from the Soviet Union), Fischer asserted, in an article entitled "The Russians Have Fixed World Chess" which was published in Sports Illustrated magazine, August 1962, that three of the Soviet players (Tigran Petrosian, Paul Keres, and Efim Geller) had a pre-arranged agreement to draw their games against each other, in order to save energy and to concentrate on playing against Fischer, and also that a fourth, Victor Korchnoi, had been forced to deliberately lose games to ensure that a Soviet player won the tournament. It is generally thought that the former accusation is correct, but not the latter.[26] (This is discussed further at the World Chess Championship 1963 article). Fischer also stated that he would never again participate in a Candidates' tournament, since the format, combined with the alleged collusion, made it impossible for a non-Soviet player to win. Following Fischer's article, FIDE in late 1962 voted a radical reform of the playoff system, replacing the Candidates' tournament with a format of knockout matches.[27]

Involvement with the Worldwide Church of God

In an interview in the January, 1962 issue of Harper's Magazine, Fischer was quoted as saying, "I read a book lately by Nietzsche and he says religion is just to dull the senses of the people. I agree."[28][29] Nonetheless, Fischer said in 1962 that he had "personal problems" and began to listen to various radio ministers in a search for answers. This is how he first came to listen to The World Tomorrow radio program with Herbert W. Armstrong and his son Garner Ted Armstrong. The Armstrongs' denomination, The Worldwide Church of God (then under its original name, the Radio Church of God), predicted an imminent apocalypse. In late 1963, Fischer began tithing to the church. According to Fischer, he lived a bifurcated life, with a rational chess component and an enthusiastic religious component.

At the 1967 Sousse Interzonal his religious observances led to problems with the organizers (see below).

Fischer gave the Worldwide Church of God $61,200 of his 1972 world championship prize money. However, 1972 was a disastrous year for the church, as prophecies by Herbert W. Armstrong were unfulfilled, and the church was rocked by revelations of a series of sex scandals involving Garner Ted Armstrong. Fischer, who felt betrayed and swindled by the Worldwide Church of God, left the church and publicly denounced it.[30]

World Champion

In 1970, Fischer started a new effort to become World Champion. As he became a viable contender, much positive publicity for chess arose. In 1972, he succeeded in his quest, but forfeited his title a few years later.

The road to the world championship

Bobby Fischer's score card from his round 3 game against Miguel Najdorf in the 1970 Chess Olympiad in Siegen, Germany. Throughout his career, Fischer used the older descriptive chess notation system when recording his games, never switching to the modern algebraic system.

The 1969 U.S. Championship was also a zonal qualifier, with the top three finishers advancing to the Interzonal. Fischer, however, had sat out the US Championship because of disagreements about the tournament's format and prize fund. To enable Fischer to compete for the title, Grandmaster Pal Benko gave up his Interzonal place. This unusual arrangement was the work of Ed Edmondson, then the USCF's Executive Director.

Before the Interzonal, in March and April 1970, the world's best players competed in the USSR vs. Rest of the World match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, often referred to as "the Match of the Century." Fischer agreed to allow Bent Larsen of Denmark to play first board for the Rest of the World team in light of Larsen's recent outstanding tournament results, even though Fischer had the higher Elo rating. The USSR team won the match (20.5-19.5), but on second board, Fischer beat Tigran Petrosian, whom Boris Spassky had dethroned as world champion the previous year, 3-1, winning the first two games and drawing the last two.[31]

Following the Match of the Century, the unofficial World Championship of Lightning Chess (5-minute games) was held at Herceg Novi. Fischer annihilated the super-class field with 19/22(+17=4-1), 4.5 points ahead of Tal. Later in 1970, Fischer won tournaments at Rovinj/Zagreb with 13/17 (+10=6-1), and Buenos Aires, where he crushed the field of mostly Grandmasters with no losses: 15/17 (+13=4). Fischer had taken his game to a new level. He defeated Ulf Andersson in an exhibition game for the Swedish newspaper 'Expressen' at Siegen 1970.[32]

The Interzonal was held in Palma de Mallorca in November and December 1970. Fischer won it with a remarkable 18.5-4.5 score (+15=7-1), 3.5 points ahead of Larsen, Efim Geller, and Robert Hübner, who tied for second at 15-8.[33] Fischer finished the tournament with seven consecutive wins.[34]

Fischer continued his domination in the 1971 Candidates matches. First, he beat Mark Taimanov of the USSR at Vancouver by 6-0. A couple of months later, he repeated the shutout against Larsen at Denver, again by 6-0.[35] Just a year before, Larsen had played first board for the Rest of the World team ahead of Fischer, and had handed Fischer his only loss at the Interzonal. "The record books showed that the only comparable achievement to the 6-0 score against Taimanov was Wilhelm Steinitz's 7-0 win against Joseph Henry Blackburne in 1876 in an era of more primitive defensive technique."[36]

Fischer won a strong lightning event in New York in August 1971 with an overwhelming score of 21.5/22.[37]

Only former World Champion Petrosian, Fischer's final opponent in the Candidates matches, was able to offer resistance in their match played at Buenos Aires. Petrosian unleashed a strong theoretical novelty in the first game and had Fischer on the ropes, but Fischer defended with his customary aplomb and won the game. This gave Fischer a streak of 20 consecutive wins against the world's top players (in the Interzonal and Candidates matches), the second longest winning streak in chess history after Steinitz's 25-game streak from 1873 to 1882.[38] Petrosian won decisively in the second game, finally snapping Fischer's winning streak. After three consecutive draws, Fischer swept the next four games to win the match 6.5-2.5 (+5=3−1). The final match victory allowed Fischer to challenge World Champion Boris Spassky, whom he had never beaten before (+0=2−3).

World Championship match

Fischer's career-long stubbornness about match and tournament conditions was again seen in the run-up to his match with Spassky. Of the possible sites, Fischer preferred Yugoslavia, while Spassky wanted Iceland. For a time it appeared that the dispute would be resolved by splitting the match between the two locations, but that arrangement fell through. After that issue was resolved, Fischer refused to play unless the prize fund, which he considered inadequate, was doubled. London financier Jim Slater responded by donating an additional $125,000, which brought the prize fund to an unprecedented $250,000. Fischer finally agreed to play.

The match took place in Reykjavík, Iceland, from July through September 1972. Fischer lost the first two games in strange fashion: the first when he played a risky pawn-grab in a drawn endgame, the second by forfeit when he refused to play the game in a dispute over playing conditions. Fischer would likely have forfeited the entire match, but Spassky, not wanting to win by default, yielded to Fischer's demands to move the next game to a back room, away from the cameras whose presence had upset Fischer. The rest of the match proceeded without serious incident. Fischer won seven of the next 19 games, losing only one and drawing 11, to win the match 12.5-8.5 and become the 11th World Chess Champion.

The Cold War trappings helped serve to make the result somewhat of a media sensation. This was an American victory in a field that Soviet players had dominated for the past quarter-century, players closely identified with, and subsidized by, the Soviet state. The match was called "The Match of the Century," and received front-page media coverage in the United States and around the world. With his victory, Fischer became an instant celebrity. Upon his return to New York, a Bobby Fischer Day was held, and he was cheered by thousands of fans, a unique display in American chess.[39] He received numerous product endorsement offers (all of which he declined) and appeared on the covers of LIFE and Sports Illustrated. With American Olympic swimming champion Mark Spitz, he also appeared on a Bob Hope TV special.[40] Membership in the United States Chess Federation doubled in 1972[41] and peaked in 1974; in American chess, these years are commonly referred to as the "Fischer Boom," according to Spassky, referring to professional chess.

Fischer won the 'Chess Oscar' award for 1970, 1971, and 1972. This award, started in 1967, is determined through votes from chess media and leading players.

Fischer was also the (then) highest-rated player in history according to the Elo rating system. He had a rating of 2780 after beating Spassky, which was actually a slight decline from the record 2785 rating he had achieved after routing Taimanov, Larsen, and Petrosian the previous year. Because of his accomplishments up to this point in his life as a pioneer of professional chess, some leading players and some of his biographers rank him as the greatest player who ever lived.[42]Leonard Barden wrote, "Most experts place him the second or third best ever, behind Kasparov but probably ahead of Karpov."[43]

Forfeiture of title to Karpov

Fischer was scheduled to defend his title in 1975. Anatoly Karpov eventually emerged as his challenger, having defeated Spassky in an earlier Candidates match. Fischer, who had played no competitive games since his World Championship match with Spassky, laid out a proposal for the match in September 1973, in consultation with a FIDE official, Fred Cramer. He made the following three principal demands:

  1. The match should continue until one player wins 10 games, without counting the draws.
  2. There is no limit to the total number of games played.
  3. In case of a 9-9 score, champion (Fischer) retains his title and the prize fund is split equally.

A FIDE Congress was held in Nice in June 1974, headed by FIDE president Max Euwe and consisting of both US and USSR representatives. It ruled that the match should continue until six wins, not 10. However, Fischer replied that he would resign his crown and not participate in the match. Instead of accepting Fischer's forfeit, FIDE agreed to allow the match to continue until 10 wins, but ruled it should not last longer than 36 games and rejected the 9-9 clause. In response, Fischer sent a cable to Euwe on June 27, 1974:

As I made clear in my telegram to the FIDE delegates, the match conditions I proposed were non-negotiable. Mr. Cramer informs me that the rules of the winner being the first player to win ten games, draws not counting, unlimited number of games and if nine wins to nine match is drawn with champion regaining title and prize fund split equally were rejected by the FIDE delegates. By so doing FIDE has decided against my participating in the 1975 world chess championship. I therefore resign my FIDE world chess champion title. Sincerely, Bobby Fischer.

In a letter to Larry Evans, published in Chess Life in November 1974, Fischer claimed the usual system (24 games with the first player to get 12.5 points winning, or the champion retaining his title in the event of a 12-12 tie) encouraged the player in the lead to draw games, which he regarded as bad for chess. Not counting draws would be "an accurate test of who is the world's best player."[44] Former U.S. Champion Arnold Denker, who was in contact with Fischer during the negotiations with FIDE, claimed that Fischer wanted a long match to be able to play himself into shape after a three-year layoff.[45]

Due to the continued efforts of U.S. Chess Association officials,[46] a special FIDE Congress was held in March 1975 in Bergen, North Holland in which it was accepted that the match should be of unlimited duration, but the 9:9 clause was once again rejected by a narrow margin of 35 votes to 32.[47] After no reply was received from Fischer, Karpov officially became World Champion by default in April 1975. In his 1991 autobiography, Karpov expressed profound regret that the match did not take place, and claimed that the lost opportunity to challenge Fischer held back his own chess development. Karpov met with Fischer several times after 1975, in friendly but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to arrange a match.[48] Garry Kasparov has argued that Karpov would have had a good chance to defeat Fischer in 1975.[49]

Sudden obscurity

After the World Championship, Fischer did not play another serious game in public for nearly 20 years. He did not defend his title and public perception was reflected in the decline of interest in chess in the West in the following years.

In 1977, Bobby Fischer played three games in Cambridge, Massachusetts against the MIT Richard Greenblatt computer program. Fischer won all the games.[50][51]

Spassky rematch

After 20 years, Fischer emerged from isolation to challenge Spassky (then placed 96-102 on the rating list) to a "Revenge Match of the 20th century" in 1992. This match took place in Sveti Stefan and Belgrade, FR Yugoslavia, in spite of a United Nations embargo that included sanctions on sporting events. Fischer demanded that the organizers bill the match as "The World Chess Championship," although Garry Kasparov was the recognized FIDE World Champion. Fischer had only ever mentioned resigning his "FIDE" title. He insisted he was still the true world chess champion, and that for all the games in the FIDE-sanctioned World Championship matches, involving Karpov, Korchnoi and Kasparov, the outcomes had been pre-arranged. In a 2005 interview he explained his attitude toward Kasparov: "Anyone who prepares matches in advance and, especially, who plays contractual games, is a liar and a dealer. I just call Kasparov a criminal."

The purse for Fischer's re-match with Spassky was reported to be US$5,000,000 with two-thirds to go to the winner.[52] Fischer won the match, 10 wins to 5 losses, with 15 draws. Many grandmasters observing the match said that Fischer was past his prime. In the book Mortal Games, Kasparov is quoted: "Bobby is playing OK, nothing more. Maybe his strength is around 2600 or 2650. It wouldn't be close between us."[53] Fischer never played any competitive games afterwards.

The US Department of the Treasury had warned Fischer beforehand that his participation was illegal as it violated President George H. W. Bush's Executive Order 12810[54] that implemented United Nations sanctions against engaging in economic activities in Yugoslavia. In front of the international press, Fischer was filmed spitting on the US order forbidding him to play. Following the match, the Department obtained an arrest warrant for him. Fischer remained wanted by the United States government for the rest of his life and never returned to the United States again.

Life as an émigré

Fischer again slid into relative obscurity. With his new status as fugitive from American justice, his rhetoric and vitriol against the U.S. intensified. For some of these years Fischer lived in Budapest, Hungary allegedly having a relationship with young Hungarian chess master Zita Rajcsanyi[55][56]. He claimed to find standard chess stale and he played varieties such as Chess960 blitz games. He visited with the Polgár family in Budapest and analyzed many games with Judit Polgár, Zsuzsa, and Zsófia Polgár.[57]

In the Philippines

From 2000 to 2002, Fischer lived in Baguio City in the Philippines in the same compound as the Filipino grandmaster Eugenio Torre, a close friend who acted as his second during his matches with Spassky. Fischer played tennis at the Baguio Country Club. Torre introduced Fischer to a 22-year-old woman named Justine Ong (or Marilyn Young). Together, they had a daughter named Jinky Ong, born in 2002 (or 2001) at the Saint Louis University, Baguio City, Sacred Heart Hospital.[58]

Anti-Jewish statements

In 1961 Fischer "made his first public statements despising Jews."[59] In 1984 Fischer sent an open letter to Encyclopedia Judaica, in which he vehemently denied being a Jew and denounced Judaism.[60] In recent years, Fischer's primary means of communicating with the public was via sometimes-outrageous radio interviews. Fischer participated in at least 34 such broadcasts between 1999 and 2006, mostly with radio stations in the Philippines, but also with stations in Hungary, Iceland, Colombia, and Russia.

Fischer, whose mother was Jewish, made occasional hostile comments toward Jews from at least the early 1960s.[29][61] From the 1980s his hatred for Jews was a major theme of his public and private 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."[62] In one of his radio interviews, Fischer said that it became clear to him in 1977, after reading The Secret World Government by Arthur Cherep-Spiridovich, that the Jews were targeting him.[63].

Anti-American statements

Hours after the September 11, 2001, attacks Fischer was interviewed live by Pablo Mercado on a Baguio City station 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 U.S. and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians for years."[64][65] Chess columnist Shelby Lyman, who in 1972 had hosted the PBS broadcast of that year's Championship, said after Fischer's death that "the anti-American stuff is explained by the fact that … he spent the rest of his life [after the game in Yugoslavia] fleeing from the U.S., because he was afraid of being extradited".[66]

Asylum in Iceland

Fischer lived briefly in Japan. Seeking ways to evade deportation to the United States, Fischer wrote a letter to the government of Iceland in early January 2005 and asked for Icelandic citizenship. Sympathetic to Fischer's plight, but reluctant to grant him the full benefits of citizenship, Icelandic authorities granted him an alien's passport. When this proved insufficient for the Japanese authorities, the Althing agreed unanimously to grant Fischer full citizenship in late March for humanitarian reasons, as they felt he was being unjustly treated by the U.S. and Japanese governments.[67] Fischer unsuccessfully requested German citizenship on the grounds that his late father, Hans Gerhardt Fischer, had been a lifelong German citizen. The U.S. government filed charges of tax evasion against Fischer in an effort to prevent him from traveling to Iceland.

Shortly before his departure to Iceland, on March 23 2005, Fischer and Bosnitch appeared briefly on the BBC World Service, via a telephone link to the Tokyo airport. Bosnitch stated that Fischer would never play traditional chess again. Fischer denounced President Bush as a criminal and Japan as a puppet of the United States. He also stated that he would appeal his case to the US Supreme Court and said that he would not return to the U.S. while Bush was in power.

Fischer lived a reclusive life in Iceland.


Church of Laugardælir, Fischer's resting place.

Fischer was suffering from degenerative renal failure. This had been a problem for some years, but became acute in October 2007, when Fischer was admitted to a Reykjavík Landspítali hospital for stationary treatment. He stayed there for about seven weeks, but was released in a somewhat improved condition in the middle of November. He returned home gravely ill in December apparently rejecting any further Western medicine.

Fischer stayed in an apartment in the same building as his closest friend and spokesman, Garðar Sverrisson, whose wife Krisín happens to be a nurse and looked after the terminally ill patient. Garðar's two children, especially his son, were very close to Fischer. They were his only close friends and contacts during the last two years of his life.

In the middle of January his condition deteriorated and he was returned to hospital, where elevated levels of serum creatinine were found in his blood. He died on January 17, 2008, at home in his apartment in Reykjavík.


Fischer's estate was estimated at 140 million ISK (about one million GBP or US$2,000,000) and quickly became the object of a legal battle between Fischer's Japanese wife Miyoko Watai and a presumed Filipina heir, Marilyn Young.[68] The dispute seems to have been settled amicably in the Icelandic courts.[69]

Contributions to chess

Chess theory

Fischer was renowned for his opening preparation, and made numerous contributions to chess opening theory. He was considered the greatest practitioner of the White side of the Ruy Lopez; a line of the Exchange Variation (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0-0) is sometimes called the "Fischer variation" after he successfully resurrected it at the 1966 Havana Olympiad.

He was a recognized expert in the Black side of the Najdorf Sicilian and the King's Indian Defense. He demonstrated several important improvements in the Grünfeld Defense. In the Nimzo-Indian Defense, the line beginning with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 b6 5.Ne2 Ba6 is named for him.[70][71][72]

Fischer established the viability of the so-called "Poisoned Pawn" variation of the Najdorf Sicilian (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qb6). Although this bold queen sortie, snatching a pawn at the expense of development, had been considered dubious, Fischer succeeded in proving its soundness. He won many games with it, losing only to Spassky in the 11th game of their 1972 match. Today, the Poisoned Pawn is played by the world's leading players,[73] Indeed, 6.Bg5 is seldom seen at the highest level because 7...Qb6 is considered so strong.[74]

On the White side of the Sicilian, Fischer made advances to the theory of the line beginning 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 (or e6) 6. Bc4, which is now called the Fischer-Sozin Attack. In 1960, prompted by a loss to Spassky,[75] Fischer wrote an article entitled "A Bust to the King's Gambit" for the first issue of Larry Evans' American Chess Quarterly, in which he recommended 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d6.[76] This variation has since become known as the Fischer Defense to the King's Gambit.[77][78] After Fischer's article was published, the King's Gambit was seen even less frequently in master-level games, although Fischer took up the White side of it in three games (preferring 3.Bc4 to 3.Nf3), winning them all.


International Master Jeremy Silman listed Fischer as one of the five best endgame players. Silman called him a "master of bishop endings".[79]

The endgame of a rook and bishop versus a rook and knight (both sides with pawns) has sometimes been called the "Fischer Endgame" because of three instructive wins by Fischer in 1970 and 1971.[80]

Fischer clock

In 1988, Fischer filed for U.S. Patent 4,884,255 (PDF) for a new type of digital chess clock. Fischer's clock gave each player a fixed period of time at the start of the game and then added a small increment after each completed move. The Fischer clock soon became standard in most major chess tournaments. The patent expired in November 2001 because of overdue maintenance fees.


Fischer was a charter inductee into the United States Chess Hall of Fame in Washington, DC in 1985. He was inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame in Miami in 2001.[81]

Fischer's historical ratings from are very impressive. Although international ratings were only introduced in 1970, chessmetrics uses modern algorithms to rank performances retrospectively and uniformly throughout chess history. Fischer's peak rating was 2895 in October 1971. His one-year peak average was 2881, in 1971, and this is the highest of all time. His three-year peak average was 2867, from January 1971 to December 1973–the second highest ever, just behind Garry Kasparov. Chessmetrics ranks Fischer as the #1 player in the world for a total of 109 different months, running (not consecutively) from February 1964 until July 1974.

Fischer's great rival Mikhail Tal praised him as "the greatest genius to have descended from the chess heavens."[82]

American rival Grandmaster Arthur Bisguier, who could win just one of the 15 tournament games he contested against Fischer, wrote "Robert James Fischer is one of the few people in any sphere of endeavour who has been accorded the accolade of being called a legend in his own time."[83]

Speaking after Fischer's death, Serbian Grandmaster Ljubomir Ljubojevic said, "A man without frontiers. He didn't divide the East and the West, he brought them together in their admiration of him."[84]

In a sympathetic mention of Fischer while promoting his recent book, Kasparov wrote "he became the detonator of an avalanche of new chess ideas, a revolutionary whose revolution is still in progress."[85]


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  5. Bohm and Jongkind, 2003, 22, 135.
  6. Edward R. Brace. An Illustrated Dictionary of Chess. (Hamlyn, 1979, ISBN 0600329208), 103-104
  7. Bohm and Jongkind, 2003, 126.
  8. Arnold Denker, and Larry Parr. The Bobby Fischer I Knew And Other Stories. (San Francisco: Hypermodern Press, 1995)
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ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Agur, Elie. Bobby Fischer: A Study of His Approach to Chess. East Hampshire: Cadogan Press, 1992. ISBN 1857440013
  • Brace, Edward R. An Illustrated Dictionary of Chess. Hamlyn, 1979. ISBN 0600329208
  • Brady, Frank. Bobby Fischer, Profile of a Prodigy. David McKay, 1973. OCLC 2574422
  • Bohm, Hans, and Kees Jongkind. Bobby Fischer: The Wandering King. London: Batsford, 2003, ISBN 0713489359
  • Darrach, Brad. Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World. Stein & Day, 1974. ISBN 978-0812816181
  • Dautov, Petra. Bobby Fischer - wie er wirklich ist: Ein Jahr mit dem Schachgenie. ISBN 3980428133 (in German)
  • Denker, Arnold, and Larry Parr. The Bobby Fischer I Knew And Other Stories. San Francisco: Hypermodern Press, 1995. ISBN 1886040184
  • Donaldson, John, and Eric Tangborn. The Unknown Bobby Fischer. International Chess Enterprises, ISBN 1879479850
  • Edmonds, David, and John Eidinow. Bobby Fischer Goes to War. Faber and Faber, 2004. ISBN 0571214118
  • Estrin, Y., and I.B. Glaskov. Play the King's Gambit, Vol. 1. Pergamon Press, 1982.
  • Georgiev, Kiril, and Atanas Kolev. The Sharpest Sicilian: A Black Repertoire with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6. Sofia, Bulgaria: Simolini 94, 2007.
  • Gligoric, Svetozar. Play the Nimzo-Indian Defense. Pergamon Press, 1985.
  • Kasparov, Garry. My Great Predecessors, Part IV: On Fischer. London: Everyman Chess, 2004, ISBN 1857443950
  • Kazic, B. M. International Championship Chess: A Complete Record of FIDE Events. Pitman, 1974.
  • Levy, David N. L. How Fischer Plays Chess. Glen Cove, NY: RHM Press, 1975, ISBN 0890582092
  • Mayer, Steve. Bishop versus Knight: The Verdict. Batsford, 1997. ISBN 1879479737
  • Mednis, Edmar. How to Beat Bobby Fischer. (original 1974) reprint ed. New York: Dover; 1998. ISBN 0486298442. This expanded edition includes Fischer's losses from the second match with Spassky.
  • Müller, Karsten, and Frank Lamprecht. Fundamental Chess Endings. Gambit Publications, 2001. ISBN 1901983536
  • Pliester, Leon. Rubinstein Complex of the Nimzo-Indian Defense. International Chess Enterprises, 1995.
  • Plisetsky, Dmitry, and Sergey Voronkov, ed. Russians Vs. Fischer, second ed., Everyman Chess, 2005. ISBN 1857443802
  • Saidy, Anthony, and Norman Lessing. The World of Chess. New York: Random House, 1974. ISBN 978-0394487779
  • Silman, Jeremy. Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master. Siles Press, 2007. ISBN 1890085103
  • Soltis, Andrew. Bobby Fischer Rediscovered. Batsford, 2003. ISBN 0713488468
  • Wade, Robert G., and Kevin J. O'Connell. The Games of Robert J. Fischer. Batsford, 1972. ISBN 0713420995
  • Waitzkin, Fred. Mortal Games: The Turbulent Genius of Garry Kasparov. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1993.
  • Winter, Edward G. World Chess Champions. Oxford; New York: Pergamon Press, 1981. ISBN 0080240941
  • World Champion Fischer (ChessBase, CD-ROM) - includes all Fischer's games (around half annotated), biographical notes, and an examination by Robert Hübner of Fischer's annotations in My Sixty Memorable Games.

External links

All links retrieved November 16, 2023.

Preceded by:
Boris Spassky
World Chess Champion
Succeeded by:
Anatoly Karpov
Preceded by:
Arthur Bisguier
United States Chess Champion
Succeeded by:
Larry Evans
Preceded by:
Larry Evans
United States Chess Champion
Succeeded by:
Larry Evans


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