Home Page Chess Life Online 2008 January Bobby Fischer Dies at 64
|Bobby Fischer Dies at 64
|By Jennifer Shahade
|January 18, 2008
Bobby Fischer, the only official American World Champion in history, died of kidney failure on Thursday, January 17 in Reykjavik, Iceland. He was 64.
Born in Chicago, March 9, 1943, Fischer was raised in Brooklyn, New York. He became U.S. Junior Champion at 13, U.S. Open Champion at 14 and the youngest GM in history at 15 years old, until his record was broken over three decades later, by Judit Polgar in 1991. At thirteen years old, Bobby Fischer played the so-called "Game of the Century" against Donald Byrne.
More than any other American player, Fischer was responsible for boosting the game to a new level of popularity. In his 1972 World Championship match against Boris Spassky, millions of Americans tuned in to watch the games live on television. The game became a metaphor for the Cold War, with Fischer representing the rugged individualist and Spassky representing a generic product from the Russian Grandmaster machine. The reality was much more complicated than that, which you can read about in the in-depth book, Bobby Fischer Goes to War by David Edmonds and Jim Eidinow.
The match started with a double fiasco. In the first game, Fischer lost in a surprising way, grabbing a pawn with 29...Bxh2, allowing his bishop to be trapped.
The second game was even more shocking as Fischer forfeited, not even showing up at the board. Somehow, Fischer's demands were all met, and he managed to win the the match 12.5-8.5. Here is one of his more impressive games from the sixth round of the match:
After his dramatic match victory, Americans bought more chess sets, took more chess lessons and USCF membership skyrocketed. Fischer's financial demands brought chess match prize pools to a new height: Chess was at its height of popularity in the United States.
Many books have been written about Fischer, including the excellent biography by Frank Brady, Profile of A Prodigy. However, the most memorable Fischer book was written by the man himself, 60 Memorable Games. Out of print now, the frank writing style and brilliant play captivated rising young chess stars around the country. For more Fischer history and analysis, you can also check the September 07 issue of Chess Life Magazine.
Fischer forfeited his World title in 1975, when he did not defend against Anatoly Karpov. Then he mostly disappeared from public view, and entirely from competitive chess. Fischer did not resurface to the competitive chess scene until 1992 when he played an exhibition rematch against Boris Spassky. Fischer won 10-5 and earned over three millions dollars.
Fischer has lost a lot of fans in recent years due to virulent anti-Semitic and anti-American comments. On Sept.11, 2001 he called the World Trade Center attack "wonderful news" on Phillipine radio. Fischer lived in Hungary and Japan because he could not return to United States. If he entered the U.S.A, he would be arrested for playing in the 1992 Spassky rematch despite international sanctions against Yugoslavia.
In 2004, Fischer was detained in Japan for trying to use an invalid passport. Iceland still had a soft spot for Fischer due to the 1972 match, and they offered him citizenship. It is fitting that Fischer spent the final years of his life in the same place where he reached the peak of his career and impact on chess history.