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Bobby Fischer 1943-2008

Country : Chicago, Illinois
Profession : Chess Player
Date of birth : 1943-03-09
Date of death : 2008-01-17
Cause of Death : Kidney Failure

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Robert James "Bobby" Fischer (March 9, 1943 – January 17, 2008) was an American chess Grandmaster, and the eleventh World Chess Champion. He is widely considered one of the greatest chess players of all time. Later in life he renounced his US citizenship and became an Icelandic citizen.

Fischer's achievements are legendary. At 13, he won a brilliancy that became known as the Game of the Century. Starting at age 14, he played in eight United States Championships, winning every one. At 15½, he became both the youngest Grandmaster and the youngest Candidate for the World Championship up until that time. He won the 1963-64 US championship 11-0, the only perfect score in the history of the tournament. In the early 1970s he became the most dominant player in modern history - winning the 1970 Interzonal by a record 3½-point margin and winning 20 consecutive games, including two unprecedented 6-0 sweeps in the Candidates Matches. In 1972, he wrested the World Championship from Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union in a match held in Reykjavík, Iceland that was widely publicized as a Cold War battle.

In 1975, Fischer did not 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 won a rematch against Spassky. The competition was held in Yugoslavia, which was then under a strict United Nations embargo. This led to a conflict with the US 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 anti-Semitic statements, despite his Jewish ancestry. During the 2004–05 time period, after his U.S. passport was revoked, he was detained by Japanese authorities for nine months under threat of extradition. After Iceland granted him citizenship, the Japanese authorities released him to that country, where he lived until his death in 2008.

Early years

Bobby Fischer was born at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, Illinois on March 9, 1943. Fischer's birth certificate listed his father as Hans-Gerhardt Fischer, a German biophysicist. His mother, Regina Wender Fischer, was an American citizen of Polish Jewish descent, born in Switzerland but raised in St. Louis, Missouri. She later became a teacher, a registered nurse, and a physician. The couple married in 1933 in Moscow, USSR, where Regina 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 she 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, was 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 US immigration officials because of alleged Communist sympathies. Regina and Nemenyi had an affair in 1942, and he made monthly child support payments to her. Nemenyi died in 1952.

In May 1949, the six-year-old Fischer and his sister learned how to play chess using the instructions from a chess set bought at a candy store below their Brooklyn apartment. When the family vacationed at Patchogue, Long Island that summer, Bobby found a book of old chess games, and studied it intensely. On November 14, 1950, his mother sent a postcard to the Brooklyn Eagle, seeking to place an ad inquiring whether other children of Bobby's age might be interested in playing him. The paper rejected her ad because no one could figure out how to classify it, but forwarded her inquiry to Hermann Helms, the "Dean of American Chess", who told her that master Max Pavey would be giving a simultaneous exhibition on January 17, 1951. Fischer played in the exhibition, losing in 15 minutes. One of the spectators was Carmine Nigro, president of the Brooklyn Chess Club, who introduced him to the club and began teaching him. In the summer of 1955, Fischer joined the Manhattan Chess Club, the strongest in the country.

In June 1956, Fischer began attending the "Hawthorne Chess Club", which was actually master John W. Collins' home. Collins had coached some of the country's leading players, including Robert and Donald Byrne and William Lombardy. Fischer played thousands of blitz and offhand games with Collins and other strong players, began studying the books in Collins' large chess library, and ate almost as many dinners at Collins' home as his own. Future grandmaster Arnold Denker was also a mentor to young Bobby, often taking him to watch the New York Rangers play hockey at Madison Square Garden. Denker wrote that Bobby enjoyed those treats and never forgot them; the two became lifelong friends. Fischer was also involved with the Log Cabin Chess Club of Orange, New Jersey, which in March 1956 took him on a tour to Cuba, where he gave a 12-board simultaneous exhibition at Havana's Capablanca Chess Club, winning 10 and drawing 2.

Fischer attended Erasmus Hall High School at the same time as Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond. In 1959, its student council awarded him a gold medal for his chess achievements. The same year, Fischer dropped out of high school at age 16, later explaining to Ralph Ginzburg, "You don't learn anything in school. It's just a waste of time."

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." The apartment was on the edge of the Bedford-Stuyvesant district, which had one of the highest homicide and general crime rates in New York.

Young champion

On the tenth national rating list of the United States Chess Federation (USCF), published on May 20, 1956, Fischer's rating was a modest 1726, over 900 points below top-rated Samuel Reshevsky (2663). Fischer's first real success 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, a record that stood until 1994. 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. In the first Canadian Open Chess Championship at Montreal 1956, he scored 7/10 to tie for 8-12th places, with Larry Evans winning. Hans Kmoch christened Fischer's brilliancy against Donald Byrne at the 3rd Lessing Rosenwald Trophy tournament at New York 1956 "The Game of the Century". Kmoch wrote, "The following game, a stunning masterpiece of combination play performed by a boy of 13 against a formidable opponent, matches the finest on record in the history of chess prodigies."

In 1957, Fischer played a two-game match against former World Champion Max Euwe at New York, losing 0.5-1.5. On the United States Chess Federation's eleventh national rating list, published on May 5, 1956, Fischer was rated 2231, a master - over 500 points higher than his rating a year before. This made him at that time the country's youngest master ever. In July, Fischer successfully defended his US Junior title, scoring 8.5/9 at San Francisco. In August, he played in the U.S. Open Chess Championship at Cleveland, scoring 10/12 and winning on tie-breaking points over Arthur Bisguier, making Fischer the youngest U.S. Open Champion ever. He next won the New Jersey Open Championship, scoring 6.5/7. Fischer beat the young Filipino Master Rodolfo Tan Cardoso 6-2 in a match in New York.

Based on these achievements, the United States Chess Federation invited Fischer to play in the 1957-58 U.S. Championship. The tournament included such luminaries as four-time champion Reshevsky, defending champion Bisguier, and William Lombardy, who in August had won the World Junior Championship with the only perfect score (11-0) in its history. Despite Fischer's meteoric rise, he was considered too unseasoned to win such a tournament; Bisguier predicted that Fischer would "finish slightly over the center mark". He scored eight wins and five draws to finish with 10.5/13, becoming in January 1958, two months shy of his 15th birthday, the youngest US champion in history - a record that still stands.

U.S. Championships

Fischer played in eight United States Chess Championships, each held in New York City, winning every one. His margin of victory was always at least one point.

His scores were:

  • 1957-58: 10.5/13
  • 1958-59: 8.5/11
  • 1959-60: 9/11
  • 1960-61: 9/11
  • 1962-63: 8/11
  • 1963-64: 11/11
  • 1965-66: 8.5/11
  • 1966-67: 9.5/11

Fischer missed the 1961-62 championship; there was no 1964-65 event. His total score is 74/90 (82.2%), with only three losses (to Edmar Mednis, Samuel Reshevsky, and Robert Byrne).

His 11-0 win in the 1963-64 championship is the only perfect score in the history of the tournament, and one of about ten perfect scores in high-level chess tournaments ever. David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld call it "the most remarkable achievement of this kind."


Fischer at the age of 17 playing world champion Mikhail Tal in Leipzig.

Forced to attend high school, Fischer missed the 1958 Olympiad. However, he represented the United States on top board with great distinction at four Olympiads:


Individual result

US team result

Leipzig 1960

13/18 (Silver)


Varna 1962



Havana 1966

15/17 (Silver)


Siegen 1970

10/13 (Silver)


His overall total was +40, =18, −7, for 49/65 or 75.4%. He had planned to play for the United States at the 1968 Lugano Olympiad, but backed out when he saw the poor playing conditions.

Grandmaster, Candidate

Fischer's victory in the US 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. Prior to the Interzonal, he played two short training matches in Yugoslavia. He drew both games against Dragoljub Janošević. Then he defeated Milan Matulović in Belgrade by 2.5-1.5.

Most observers doubted that a 15-year-old with no international experience could finish among the six qualifiers at the Interzonal, but Fischer told journalist Miro Radoicic, "I can draw with the grandmasters, and there are half-a-dozen patzers in the tournament I reckon to beat." Despite some bumps in the road, Fischer succeeded in his plan: after a strong finish, he ended up with 12/20 (+6=12-2) to tie for 5th-6th. The Soviet grandmaster Yuri Averbakh observed, "In the struggle at the board this youth, almost still a child, showed himself to be a fully-fledged fighter, demonstrating amazing composure, precise calculation and devilish resourcefulness." Fischer became the youngest person ever to qualify for the Candidates. Fischer also became the youngest Grandmaster in history at 15 years and 6 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 1958-59 US 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 Gligorić.

Until late 1959, Fischer "had dressed atrociously for a champion, appearing at the most august and distinguished national and international events in sweaters and corduroys". A director of the Manhattan Chess Club had once banned Fischer for not being "properly accoutered", forcing Denker to intercede to get him reinstated. Now, encouraged by Benko to dress more sharply, Fischer "began buying suits from all over the world, hand-tailored and made to order". He boasted to journalist Ralph Ginzburg in 1961 that he had 17 suits, all hand-tailored, and that his shirts and shoes were also handmade.

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.

1960-62, 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). This was the only real failure of Fischer's competitive career. According to Larry Evans, Fischer's first sexual experience was with a girl to whom Evans introduced him during the tournament. Pal Benko says that Fischer did horribly in the tournament "because he got caught up in women and sex. ... Afterwards, Fischer said he'd never mix women and chess together, and kept the promise." Fischer concluded 1960 by winning a small tournament at Reykjavik with 4.5/5, and defeating Klaus Darga in an exhibition game in West Berlin.

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, 32 years Fischer's senior, 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. Reshevsky was declared the winner of the match.

Fischer was second behind former World Champion Tal at Bled 1961, which had a super-class field. He defeated Tal head-to-head for the first time, scored 3.5/4 against the Soviet contingent, and finished as the only unbeaten player, with 13.5/19.

In the next World Championship cycle, Fischer won the 1962 Stockholm Interzonal by 2.5 points, scoring an undefeated 17.5/22. He was the first non-Soviet player to win an Interzonal since FIDE instituted the tournament in 1948. Fischer's decisive victory made him one of the favorites for the Candidates Tournament in Curaçao, which began soon afterwards. 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). Tal fell very ill during the tournament, and had to withdraw before completion. Fischer, a friend of Tal's, was the only player who visited him in the hospital.

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. (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 one-on-one knockout matches; this was the format that Fischer dominated in 1971.

Fischer defeated Bent Larsen in a summer 1962 exhibition game in Copenhagen for Danish TV. He also defeated Bogdan Sliwa in a team match against Poland at Warsaw later that year.

In the 1962-63 U.S. Championship, Fischer had a close call. In the first round he lost to Edmar Mednis, his first loss ever in a U.S. Championship. Bisguier was in excellent form, and Fischer caught up to him only at the end. Tied at 7-3, the two met in the last round for the championship. Bisguier stood well but blundered, handing Fischer his fifth consecutive U.S. championship.

Semi-retirement in the mid-1960s

Fischer declined an invitation to play in the 1963 Piatigorsky Cup tournament in Los Angeles, which had a world-class field. His decision was probably influenced by ill will over the aborted 1961 match against Reshevsky. Instead, he played in the Western Open in Bay City, Michigan, which he won with 7.5/8. In August-September 1963, he won another minor event, the New York State Championship at Poughkeepsie, with 7/7, his first perfect score.

The 1963-64 U.S. Championship was expected to be exciting, particularly since Fischer had only narrowly won it the previous year. It was, but not as expected. "One by one Fischer mowed down the opposition as he cut an 11-0 swathe through the field, to demonstrate convincingly to the opposition that he was now in a class by himself." This stunning result brought Fischer more fame than any chessplayer had ever known, including a profile in Life magazine. Sports Illustrated diagrammed each of the 11 games in its article, "The Amazing Victory Streak of Bobby Fischer".

Fischer decided not to participate in the Amsterdam Interzonal in 1964, thus taking himself out of the 1966 World Championship cycle. He held to this decision even when FIDE changed the format of the eight-player Candidates Tournament from a round-robin to a series of knockout matches, which eliminated the possibility of collusion. He instead embarked on a tour of the United States and Canada from February through May, playing a simultaneous exhibition and giving a lecture in each of more than 40 cities. His 94% winning percentage over more than 2000 games is one of the best ever achieved. Fischer also declined an invitation to play for the United States in the 1964 Olympiad.

Fischer wanted to play in the Capablanca Memorial Tournament, Havana 1965, but the State Department refused to endorse his passport as valid for visiting Cuba. Fischer instead proposed, and the tournament officials and players accepted, a unique arrangment: Fischer played his moves from a room at the Marshall Chess Club, which were then transmitted by teletype to Cuba. Luděk Pachman observed that Fischer "was handicapped by the longer playing session resulting from the time wasted in transmitting the moves, and that is one reason why he lost to three of his chief rivals". The tournament was an "ordeal" for Fischer, who had to endure eight-hour and sometimes even twelve-hour playing sessions. Despite this handicap, he tied for second through fourth places, with 15/21, behind former World Champion Vasily Smyslov, whom he defeated in their individual game. Fischer's tournament by teletype received extensive media coverage.

Fischer began 1966 by winning the U.S. Championship for the seventh time despite suffering consecutive losses to Robert Byrne and Reshevsky in the 8th and 9th rounds. He also reconciled with Mrs. Piatigorsky, accepting an invitation to the very strong second Piatigorsky Cup tournament in Santa Monica. Fischer began disastrously and after eight rounds was tied for last with 3/8. He then staged "the most sensational comeback in the history of grandmaster chess", scoring 7/8 in the next eight rounds. At the end, World Championship finalist Boris Spassky edged him out by a half point, scoring 11.5/18 to Fischer's 11. In 1967, Fischer won the US Championship for the eighth and final time before victories over strong fields at Monte Carlo (7/9) and Skopje (13.5/17). Fischer traveled to the Philippines and played a series of nine exhibition games against master opponents there, winning eight and drawing one.

In the next World Championship cycle, at the 1967 Sousse Interzonal, Fischer scored a phenomenal 8.5 points in the first 10 games. His observance of the Worldwide Church of God's sabbath was honored by the organizers, but deprived Fischer of several rest days, which led to a scheduling dispute. Fischer forfeited two games in protest and later withdrew, eliminating himself from the 1969 World Championship cycle.

In 1968, Fischer won tournaments at Netanya (11.5/13) and Vinkovci (11/13) by large margins. He stopped playing for the next 18 months, except for a win in a New York Metropolitan League team match over Anthony Saidy.

World Champion

In 1970, Fischer began a new effort to become World Champion. His dramatic march toward the title made him a household name and made chess front-page news for a time. He won the title in 1972, but forfeited it three years later.

The road to the world championship

The 1969 US 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. Benko, one of the three qualifiers, agreed to give up his spot in the Interzonal in order to give Fischer another shot at the world championship.

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 allowed 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.

After the Match of the Century, the unofficial World Championship of Lightning Chess (5-minute games) was held at Herceg Novi. Petrosian and Tal were considered the favorites, but Fischer overwhelmed the super-class field with 19/22 (+17=4-1), far ahead of Tal (14.5), Korchnoi (14), Petrosian (13.5), Bronstein (13), etc. Fischer lost only one game, to Korchnoi, who was also the only player to achieve an even score against him in the double round robin tournament. Fischer "crushed such blitz kings as Tal, Petrosian and Smyslov by a clean score". Tal marveled that, "During the entire tournament he did not leave a single pawn en prise!", while the other players "blundered knights and bishops galore".

In April-May 1970, Fischer won easily at Rovinj/Zagreb with 13/17 (+10=6-1), finishing two points ahead of a field that included such leading players as Gligoric, Hort, Korchnoi, Smyslov, and Petrosian. In July-August, he crushed the mostly grandmaster field at Buenos Aires, scoring 15/17 (+13=4) and winning by 3.5 points. In Siegen right after the Olympiad, he defeated Ulf Andersson in an exhibition game for the Swedish newspaper 'Expressen'. Fischer had taken his game to a new level.

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), far ahead of Larsen, Efim Geller, and Robert Hübner, who tied for second at 15-8. Fischer's 3.5-point margin set a new record for an Interzonal, beating Alexander Kotov's 3-point margin at Saltsjöbaden 1952. Fischer finished the tournament with seven consecutive wins (including a final-round walkover against Oscar Panno). Setting aside the Sousse Interzonal (which Fischer withdrew from while leading), Fischer's victory gave him a string of eight consecutive first prizes in tournaments.

Fischer continued his domination in the 1971 Candidates matches. First, he beat Mark Taimanov of the USSR at Vancouver by 6-0. "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." Less than two months later, he astounded the chess world by beating Larsen in their Denver match by the same score. 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. Gary Kasparov later wrote that no world champion had ever shown a superiority over his rivals comparable to Fischer's "incredible" 12-0 score in the two matches.

In August 1971, Fischer won a strong lightning event at the Manhattan Chess Club with a "preposterous" score of 21.5/22.

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 played a strong theoretical novelty in the first game, gaining the advantage, but Fischer played resourcefully and even won the game after Petrosian faltered. This gave Fischer an extraordinary run of 20 consecutive wins against the world's top players (in the Interzonal and Candidates matches), a winning streak topped only by Steinitz's 25 straight wins in 1873-82. Petrosian won decisively in the second game, finally snapping Fischer's 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 (+0=2−3).

Fischer's amazing results gave him a far higher rating than any player in history up until that time. On the July 1972 FIDE rating list, his Elo rating of 2785 was 125 points ahead of Spassky, the second-highest rated player (2660).

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 continued refusing to appear in Iceland until London financier Jim Slater donated an additional US$125,000 to the prize fund, bringing it 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 eleven, to win the match 12.5-8.5 and become the 11th World Chess Champion.

The Cold War trappings made the match a media sensation. It was called "The Match of the Century", and received front-page media coverage in the United States and around the world. Fischer's win 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. 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. 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. Membership in the United States Chess Federation doubled in 1972 and peaked in 1974; in American chess, these years are commonly referred to as the "Fischer Boom." Spassky, referring to professional chess, later summarized: "He made chess popular, briefly, and he made us all rich men." Fischer also 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.

Sudden obscurity

After the World Championship, Fischer virtually retired from chess: he did not play a serious game in public for nearly 20 years. In 1977, he played three games in Cambridge against the MIT Greenblatt computer program, winning all of them.

On May 26, 1981, a police patrolman arrested Fischer on the sidewalk of South Lake Avenue in Pasadena, claiming that he matched the description of a man who had just committed a bank robbery in that area. During the arrest, Fischer was slightly injured. He was held for two days and subjected to further assault and interrogation. He was released on $1000 bail and the matter was later dropped. Two weeks later, he published a 14-page pamphlet detailing these experiences and expressing outrage that the arrest had been pre-arranged.

In the early 1980s, Fischer stayed for extended periods in the San Francisco-area home of his friend, the Canadian Grandmaster Peter Biyiasas. In 1981, the two played 17 five-minute games. Despite his layoff from competitive play, Fischer won all of them, according to Biyiasas, who lamented that he was never even able to reach an endgame.

1992 Spassky rematch

After twenty years, Fischer emerged from isolation to play 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 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. 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.

Fischer won the match, 10 wins to 5 losses, with 15 draws. Many grandmasters observing the match said that Fischer was past his prime. Kasparov reportedly said, "Bobby is playing OK, nothing more. Maybe his strength is 2600 or 2650. It wouldn't be close between us." Fischer never played any competitive games afterwards.

During the match, the two contestants gave, in all, nine press conferences between games. The content of these press conferences can be found, in full, in the book No Regrets by Yasser Seirawan and George Stefanovic. Seirawan wrote, "After 23 September [1992], I threw most of what I’d ever read about Bobby out of my head. Sheer garbage. Bobby is the most misunderstood, misquoted celebrity walking the face of the earth". Seirawan wrote that Fischer is not camera shy, "smiles and laughs easily", and "is a wholly enjoyable conversationalist. A fine wit, he is a very funny man".

The U.S. 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 that implemented United Nations sanctions against engaging in economic activities in Yugoslavia. In front of the international press, Fischer was filmed spitting on the U.S. 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.

Life as an émigré

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

From 2000 to 2002, Fischer lived in Baguio City in the Philippines. He resided in the same compound as the Filipino grandmaster Eugenio Torre, a close friend who acted as his second during his matches with Spassky. Torre introduced Fischer to a 22-year-old woman named Justine Young. On May 21, 2001 Justine Young gave birth to Jinky Young at the Saint Louis University, Baguio City, Sacred Heart Hospital. Her mother claims that Jinky is Fischer's daughter, while Magnús Skúlason, a friend of Fischer's, has said that he is certain that Fischer is not the girl's father.

Anti-Jewish statements

Fischer, whose mother was Jewish, made occasional hostile comments toward Jews from at least the early 1960s. In 1961, he "made his first public statements despising Jews." Jan Hein Donner wrote that at the time of Bled 1961, "He idolized Hitler and read everything about him that he could lay his hands on. He also championed a brand of antisemitism that could only be thought up by a mind completely cut off from reality." Donner writes that he took Fischer to a war museum, which "left a great impression, since he is not an evil person, and afterwards he was more restrained in his remarks—to me, at least".

From the 1980s and thereafter, however, Fischer's hatred for Jews was a major theme of his public and private remarks. He denied the Holocaust and 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 1984 he sent an open letter to Encyclopedia Judaica, in which he vehemently denied being a Jew and denounced Judaism.

In the last years of his life, Fischer's primary means of communicating with the public was via sometimes-outrageous radio interviews. He 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. 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." In another radio interview, Fischer said that it became clear to him in 1977, after reading The Secret World Government by Count Cherep-Spiridovich, that Jewish agencies were targeting him. 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. In 2005, some of Fischer's belongings were auctioned on eBay. In 2006, Fischer claimed that his belongings in the storage unit were worth millions.

Fischer's library contained anti-Semitic and white supremacist literature such as Mein Kampf, Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, and The White Man's Bible and Nature's Eternal Religion by Ben Klassen, founder of the Church of the Creator. A notebook written by Fischer is filled with sentiments such as "8/24/99 Death to the Jews. Just kill the Motherfuckers!" and "12/13/99 It's time to start randomly killing Jews."

Anti-American statements

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 [sic] and Pentagon have been attacked", Bobby Fischer proclaimed "This is all wonderful news." Fischer stated "What goes around comes around even for the United States," and said that if the US fails to change its foreign policy, it "has to be destroyed". After calling for U.S. President George W. Bush's death, Fischer also stated he hoped for a coup d'état in the US, and that the military government would then execute "hundreds of thousands of American Jewish ring-leaders", "arrest all the Jews", and "close all synagogues". On October 28, 2001, Fischer's "right to membership in the United States Chess Federation [was] canceled" by a unanimous 7-0 vote of the USCF's Policy Board.

Fischer drafted a letter to Osama bin Laden, which began:

Dear Mr. Osama bin Laden allow me to introduce myself. I am Bobby Fischer, the World Chess Champion. First of all you should know that I share your hatred of the murderous bandit state of "Israel" and its chief backer the Jew-controlled U.S.A. also know [sic] as the "Jewnited States" or "Israel West." We also have something else in common: We are both fugitives from the U.S. "justice" system.

After Fischer's death, Chess columnist Shelby Lyman, who in 1972 had hosted the PBS broadcast of that year's Championship, said that "the anti-American stuff is explained by the fact that ... he spent the rest of his life [after the game in Yugoslavia] fleeing the US, because he was afraid of being extradited".

Detention in Japan

Fischer lived for a time in Japan. In July 2004 he was arrested at Narita International Airport near Tokyo for allegedly using a revoked US passport while trying to board a Japan Airlines flight to Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines. The passport, issued in 1997, had been said by U.S. officials to be revoked in 2003. Fischer believed that it was legally still valid.

Tokyo-based Canadian journalist and consultant John Bosnitch set up the "Committee to Free Bobby Fischer" after meeting Fischer at Narita Airport and offering to assist him. Bosnitch was subsequently allowed to participate as a friend of the court by an Immigration Bureau panel handling Fischer's case. He then worked to block the Japanese Immigration Bureau's efforts to deport Fischer to the United States and coordinated the legal and public relations campaign to free Fischer until his eventual release. Fischer renounced his United States citizenship. A month later, it was reported that Fischer was marrying Miyoko Watai, the President of the Japanese Chess Association, with whom he had been living since 2000. Fischer also appealed to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell to help him renounce his citizenship. Japan's Justice Minister rejected Fischer's appeal that he be allowed to remain in the country and ordered him deported.

Asylum in Iceland

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 US and Japanese governments, and also in recognition of his 1972 match, which had "put Iceland on the map". The US 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 US while Bush was in power.

Upon his arrival in Reykjavík, Fischer was welcomed by a crowd and gave a news conference. He lived a reclusive life in Iceland, avoiding entrepreneurs and others who approached him with various proposals.

On December 10, 2006, Fischer telephoned an Icelandic television station and pointed out a winning combination, missed by the players and commentators, in a chess game that had been televised live in Iceland.


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, being 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 Kristín Þórarinsdóttir, a nurse, 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.

Fischer did not believe in prolonging life at any cost – such as by the use of large amounts of pain killers or permanent dependence on a dialysis machine. When he was released from the hospital his doctors gave him a few months to live. His wife Miyoko Watai flew in from Japan to spend the Christmas season with him. She returned on January 10, 2008, just before Fischer's death, and so had to make another trip almost immediately after.

In the middle of January his condition deteriorated and he was returned to the 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. Magnús Skúlason, who stayed with Fischer until he died, said that his last words were, "Nothing soothes pain like the touch of a person."

Fischer had instructed Garðar that he wished to be buried in the small Christian cemetery of Laugardælir church, outside the town of Selfoss, 60 km south-east of Reykjavik. It was a place Bobby had visited a number of times with Garðar and Kristín, whose parents live there. He said that the Laugardælur countryside would be perfect as his final resting place, should he die in Iceland. He did not wish anyone to be present at the funeral, except Miyoko Watai and Garðar's family, who would arrange it. On January 21 at noon, after a Catholic funeral presided over by Fr. Jakob Rolland of the diocese of Reykjavik, he was buried according to his wishes.

Fischer's estate was estimated at 140 million ISK (about 1 million GBP or US$2,000,000) and quickly became the object of a legal battle that may involve claims from five parties: Fischer's presumed daughter, his presumed wife, two of his American nephews and the American government due to unpaid taxes.

Contributions to chess

Opening theory

Fischer was renowned for his deep 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. Fischer's lifetime score in tournament and match games with 5.0-0 was six wins, three draws, and no losses (83.3%).

He was a recognized expert in the Black side of the Najdorf Sicilian and the King's Indian Defense. He used the Grünfeld Defence and Neo-Grünfeld Defence to win his celebrated games against Donald and Robert Byrne, and played an important theoretical novelty in the Grünfeld against reigning World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik. 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.

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). This bold queen sortie, snatching a pawn at the expense of development, had been considered dubious, but Fischer succeeded in proving its soundness. Out of ten tournament and match games as Black in the Poisoned Pawn, Fischer won five, drew four, and lost only one, the 11th game of his 1972 match against Spassky. Today, the Poisoned Pawn is a respected line played by many of the world's leading players.

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 sometimes named for him.In 1961, prompted by a loss the year before to Spassky,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 stated, "In my opinion, the King's Gambit is busted. It loses by force." Fischer recommended 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d6, which has since become known as the Fischer Defense to the King's Gambit. Surprisingly, Fischer later played the King's Gambit as White in three tournament games (preferring 3.Bc4 to 3.Nf3), winning them all.


Fischer had excellent endgame technique. International Master Jeremy Silman listed him as one of the five best endgame players, along with Emanuel Lasker, Akiba Rubinstein, José Capablanca, and Vasily Smyslov. Silman called him a "master of bishop endings".

The endgame of a rook, bishop, and pawns against a rook, knight, and pawns has sometimes been called the "Fischer Endgame" because of three instructive wins by Fischer (with the bishop) in 1970 and 1971 over Mark Taimanov. One of the games was in the 1970 Interzonal and the other two were in their 1971 quarter-final candidates match.

Fischer clock

In 1988, Fischer filed for U.S. Patent 4,884,255 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 Random Chess

On June 19, 1996, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Fischer announced and advocated a variant of chess called Fischer Random Chess, also known as Chess960, that is intended to allow players to contest games based on their understanding of chess rather than their ability to memorize opening variations.

Fischer Random was designed to remove the importance of opening book memorization. Fischer complained in a 2006 phoned-in call with a television interviewer that talented celebrity players from long ago, if brought back from the dead to play today, would no longer be competitive, because of the progress in memorization of opening books. "Some kid of fourteen today, or even younger, could get an opening advantage against Capablanca," he said, merely because of opening-book memorization, which Fischer disdained. "Now chess is completely dead. It is all just memorization and prearrangement. It’s a terrible game now. Very uncreative." Fischer described the unsavory side of chess in its current form at the highest levels.

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