Bobby Fischer: Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of a World Chess Champion
Forty years ago this week, Bobby Fischer became the first American to win the World Chess Championship, dethroning the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky in a nail-biting 24-game match in Reykjavík, Iceland. The competition unraveled as dramatically as its headlines: "The Match of the Century."
Fischer's victory in 1972 made the 29-year-old game player an intellectual rockstar. He made chess cool and ubiquitous, which was a welcomed distraction, considering the stubborn lingerings of the Cold War and the ongoing strain of Vietnam on the psyche of the American public.
However, at the apex of his popularity, Fischer suddenly disappeared from the public eye and did not play a competitive game of chess for the next 20 years. In 1992 he came out of obscurity and decided to rematch his old opponent Spassky in Belgrade, Yugoslavia—even though a United Nations embargo was in place. He ultimately won but at the cost of never being able to step foot on U.S. soil again. For the rest of his life, he hopscotched throughout Europe and Asia until he was granted citizenship from the same country where his international fame began—Reykjavík, Iceland. He died there in 2008 at the age of 64.
Although in his later years Fischer was known for his belligerent anti-Semitic and anti-American tirades, the world was unable to forget his contributions to the game of chess and his haunting genius. He inspired numerous books, songs, television shows, and films and is still considered one of the greatest chess players of all time.