Bobby Fischer

There’s much in the papers at the moment about the American Chess Grand Master Booby Fischer. This publicity has been generated by a new film called Bobby Fischer Against the World that sounds like it’s well worth seeing.

In the pieces I’ve read, Fischer comes across as a paranoid, complicated and ultimately selfish character, with the adjectives genius and loony seemingly used in equal measure (as is so often the case).

Rather than just write up his life story, I thought I would list my favourite top 10 “Fischer Facts” (in roughly chronological order) and then you can make up you own mind as to his sanity and his place in history….

1. Robert James Fischer was born in Chicago in March 1943. His father left when he was two and, as his communist leaning mother struggled to bring him up, he immersed himself in chess, memorizing huge numbers of famous games and finishes.

2. He became a Grand Master at the age 15, the youngest ever up till that time (1958)

3. As his reputation grew, so did his ego. Even if the organisers could get him to show up at a tournament due to his ever growing list of demands, once he was there, constant complaints about the audience, the lighting, the cameras etc, caused many to question his sportsmanship and accuse him of trying to psyche his opponents out. Fischer always denied this stating that he didn’t need to resort to mind games as he could beat them all anyway.

4.In what was generally seen by the US as a Cold War Victory, Fischer beat the Russian Grand Master Boris Spassky in 1972. The tournament was held in Iceland, one of the few countries that was acceptable to both the Americans and the Russians.

5.  After issuing the World Chess Federation with a list of 179 demands which had to all be met before he would compete, he famously didn’t defend his 1972 World Champion title when all but one were agreed. The single sticking point was Fischer’s demand that should the contest be a draw, he be allowed to keep his title and split the prize money.

6. In the early 1980’s he was mistakenly arrested for being a bank robber, and later published a document accusing the Police of torture.

7. He supposedly had all the metal fillings from his teeth removed in the 1980’s so that the CIA couldn’t control his mind.

8. In 1992 after 30 years as a recluse, he finally agreed to replay Boris Spassky (apparently for a £3m+ fee). The location chosen however was Yugoslavia, at that time under UN sanctions due to the Bosnian War, and the US Govt. issued Fischer with a warning that if he played, he would not be allowed back into the US. He won the match but lost the right to return home, and lived the rest of his life on the move, finally ending up in Iceland where he died in January 2008.

9. As if his naturally abrasive personality wasn’t enough, his views got more extreme with age, and he is on record both as a holocaust denier and as a celebrant of the 9/11 attacks on America, claiming he wanted to see the US “wiped out”.

10. Even after his death the intrigue continued, when in July 2010, Fischer’s remains were exhumed in order to settle a paternity claim. Fischer left an estimated fortune of about $2m which the Phillipino American Marilyn Young, claimed her daughter, Jinky was entitled to. DNA tests however proved that she wasn’t, but it was only in March this year that his millions were awarded to a Japanese woman, Miyoko Watai who was legally declared his widow by an Icelandic Court. Relatives of Fischer are (unsurprisingly) disputing this and appealing the decision, dragging the man’s influence on even longer, something he’d probably appreciate.

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