Who Was Bobby Fischer?
Bobby Fischer first learned the game of chess at age 6 and eventually became the youngest international grandmaster at the age of 15. He reportedly had an I.Q. of 181. In 1972, he became the first American-born world chess champion after defeating Boris Spassky. An eccentric genius, who was believed to have an I.Q. of 181, Fischer became known for his controversial public remarks in his later years. He was granted Icelandic citizenship in 2005, following legal trouble with the United States.
Robert James Fischer was born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 9, 1943. Fischer's parents divorced when he was a toddler, and he began learning chess at the age of 6 after his older sister Joan bought him a chess set. He continued to hone his skills as a youngster at the Brooklyn Chess Club and Manhattan Chess Club. Fischer had a strained relationship with his mother, who supported his chess endeavors, but preferred that he pursue other areas of interest.
A brilliant, highly competitive player who lost himself in the game, Fischer earned a place in the record books at age 14 when he became the youngest player to win the U.S. Chess Championship. Then in 1958, at 15, he became the youngest international grandmaster in history by placing sixth at a tournament in Portoroz, Yugoslavia (now Slovenia).
Match of the Century
During the early 1960s, Fischer continued to be involved in U.S. and world championship matches but was also making a name for himself with his erratic, paranoid commentary. After having a 20-game winning streak in the early 1970s, Fischer once again made chess history in 1972 with his defeat of the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky at the Reykjavik, Iceland world championships, thus marking the first time an American chess player had won the title. Fischer's defeat of a Soviet opponent, which became known as the "Match of the Century," took on iconic proportions in the midst of the Cold War and was seen as a symbolic victory of democracy over Communism. Fischer's historic win also made chess a popular game in the United States.
Despite his global popularity, Fischer's controversial behavior continued to make headlines. In the mid-1970s he refused to play Anatoly Karpov, the challenger to his title, and was thus stripped of his championship by the International Chess Federation. Fischer was reportedly homeless for a time in the Los Angeles area, becoming involved with a fringe church. He also became known for making anti-Semitic remarks despite the fact that his mother was Jewish.
On the 20th anniversary of the famed Fischer/Spassky game, the two met again in 1992 to play a $5 million rematch in Yugoslavia, although travel to the country by American citizens was illegal at the time. Fischer continued to live abroad for several years to avoid facing criminal charges in the U.S., during which time he continued his anti-Semitic diatribes, and on a radio broadcast he celebrated the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
In July 2004, Fischer was detained at a Japanese airport for trying to leave the country with an invalid passport and he was jailed for several months. He was eventually granted citizenship by Iceland and moved there in 2005.
Fischer died of kidney failure on January 17, 2008, in Reykjavík, Iceland.
Miyoko Watai, a Japanese women's chess champion and general secretary of the Japanese Chess Federation, claimed that she had married Fischer in 2004, although the validity of their marriage was questioned. Another woman claimed that she had a daughter with Fischer. His body was exhumed to be DNA tested, and the claim of paternity was found to be false. In 2011, an Icelandic court ruled that Watai was Fischer's widow and the sole heir to his estate.
Books and Films on Fischer's Life
Several books and films have been made about Fischer's life and career. Fischer himself published works like Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess (1966) and My 60 Memorable Games (1969), while biographies on the icon include Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall... by Frank Brady (2011), Fischer's childhood friend. The documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World, directed by Liz Garbus, was released in 2011.
Pawn Sacrifice, a film that focuses on Fischer's chess matches and the psychology of his troubled genius, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2014 and was released in U.S. theaters a year later. Directed by Edward Zwick, actor Tobey Maguire played the role of Fischer, with Liev Schreiber portraying Spassky.
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