What Happened to Bobby Fischer?
Bobby Fischer was one of the greatest chess players of all time.
He became the youngest grandmaster in history at the age of 15, and the first American-born world chess champion at the age of 29.
He captivated the world with his brilliant and unconventional playing style, and his epic match against Boris Spassky in 1972, which was seen as a symbolic confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But what happened to Bobby Fischer after he reached the pinnacle of his chess career?
Why did he disappear from the public eye, and what led him to become a controversial and reclusive figure in his later years? This blog post will explore the life and legacy of Bobby Fischer, and try to answer some of these questions.
Early Life and Chess Career
Bobby Fischer was born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 9, 1943. His father was a physicist (scientist who studies matter and energy), and his mother, Regina Fischer, worked as a teacher, a nurse, and later a physician. His parents divorced when he was two years old, and he moved to Brooklyn, New York, with his mother and older sister in 194812
Fischer learned the moves of chess at age six from a chess set that his sister bought for him. He soon became fascinated by the game, and spent hours studying chess books and magazines. He joined the Brooklyn Chess Club at age seven, and the Manhattan Chess Club at age eight. He also played in Washington Square Park, where he faced strong opponents and learned to play fast23
He attracted international attention in 1956 with a stunning victory over Donald Byrne at a tournament in New York City. In what was dubbed the “Game of the Century,” Fischer sacrificed his queen on the 17th move to Byrne to set up a devastating counterattack that led to checkmate. The game showcased Fischer’s tactical genius and creativity24
At age 14, he won his first of a record eight US Championships, becoming the youngest national champion ever. He also qualified for the Interzonal Tournament, which was part of the World Championship cycle. He became an international master at age 15, and a grandmaster at age 15 years and six months, breaking the record held by Mikhail Tal by six months24
In 1959, he participated in his first Candidates Tournament, which determined the challenger for the World Championship. He finished fifth out of eight players, behind four Soviet grandmasters: Mikhail Tal, Paul Keres, Tigran Petrosian, and Vasily Smyslov. He was disappointed by his result, but gained valuable experience playing against the best players in the world24
In 1960, he published his first book, Bobby Fischer’s Games of Chess, which contained 34 annotated games from his early career. He also played a series of exhibition matches against Samuel Reshevsky and Bent Larsen, two of his main rivals for the US Championship. He defeated Reshevsky by a score of 5½–3½, but lost to Larsen by a score of 4–224
In 1961, he won his third US Championship with an impressive score of 9½–1½. He also played in two international tournaments: Bled in Yugoslavia, where he finished fourth behind Tal, Petrosian, and Keres; and Stockholm in Sweden, where he tied for first place with Boris Spassky. He also played a four-game match against Spassky in Mar del Plata in Argentina, which ended in a 2–2 draw24
In 1962, he participated in his second Interzonal Tournament in Stockholm. He finished second behind Petrosian, qualifying for the Candidates Tournament again. However, he accused some of the Soviet players of colluding to prevent him from winning the tournament by agreeing to quick draws among themselves. He also claimed that some of his games were fixed by biased or incompetent officials. He wrote an article titled “The Russians Have Fixed World Chess” for Sports Illustrated magazine, exposing what he believed was a conspiracy against him24
- In 1963, he played in his second Candidates Tournament in Curaçao. He started well, winning his first three games, but then lost his form and finished fourth out of eight players, behind Petrosian, Keres, and Geller. He again accused the Soviet players of collusion, and vowed never to play in a Candidates Tournament again unless the format was changed to a series of knockout matches. He also withdrew from the 1964 US Championship, breaking his streak of eight consecutive titles.
- In 1964, he published his second book, My 60 Memorable Games, which is regarded as one of the best chess books ever written. It contains 60 annotated games from his career, covering various openings, middlegames, and endgames. The book showcases Fischer’s deep analysis, clear explanations, and honest opinions. It also reveals his personality, humor, and passion for chess.
- In 1965, he played a series of exhibition matches against some of the top players in the world: Ossip Bernstein, Miguel Najdorf, Oscar Panno, and Tigran Petrosian. He won all of them convincingly, except for the match against Petrosian, which ended in a 3–3 draw. He also played in two international tournaments: Havana in Cuba, where he tied for second place with Smyslov behind Spassky; and Capablanca Memorial in Havana, where he won with a score of 15–2.
- In 1966, he played in two more international tournaments: Santa Monica in California, where he tied for first place with Spassky; and Piatigorsky Cup in Santa Monica, where he finished third behind Spassky and Larsen. He also played a six-game match against Petrosian in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which ended in a 3–3 draw.
- In 1967, he played in two more international tournaments: Monte Carlo in Monaco, where he finished second behind Larsen; and Skopje in Yugoslavia, where he tied for first place with Gligoric. He also played a four-game match against Gligoric in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, which ended in a 2–2 draw.
- In 1968, he played in only one international tournament: Netanya in Israel, where he won with a score of 11½–2½. He also played a four-game match against Reshevsky in New York City, which ended in a 2–2 draw.
- In 1969, he played in only one international tournament: Herceg Novi in Yugoslavia, where he won with a score of 19–4. He also played a six-game match against Spassky in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, which ended in a 3–3 draw.
World Championship and Disappearance
- In 1970, Fischer decided to resume his quest for the World Championship after FIDE agreed to change the format of the Candidates Tournament to a series of knockout matches. He also agreed to play in the US Championship again after a six-year absence. He won the tournament with an unprecedented perfect score of 11–0. He also played in two major team events: USSR vs Rest of the World match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where he defeated Petrosian on board one; and Siegen Chess Olympiad in Germany, where he led the US team to a silver medal behind the Soviet Union.
- In 1971, he played in three Candidates matches to determine the challenger for the World Championship. He swept Mark Taimanov and Bent Larsen by 6–0 scores each, setting a record for the most consecutive wins in high-level chess. He then faced Petrosian in the final match, and won by a score of 6½–2½, with four wins, one loss, and three draws. He thus earned the right to challenge Boris Spassky, the reigning world champion from the Soviet Union.
- In 1972, he played the World Championship match against Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland. The match was highly publicized and politicized, as it was seen as a symbolic confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Fischer almost forfeited the match due to his demands and complaints about the playing conditions, but was persuaded to continue by a phone call from US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. He lost the first game by an uncharacteristic blunder, and forfeited the second game by not showing up. He then won the third game, and went on to win seven more games, losing only one more and drawing eleven. He defeated Spassky by a score of 12½–8½, becoming the first American-born world chess champion. He also won the $156,000 victor’s share of the $250,000 purse.
- In 1973, he did not play any official games, but gave some simultaneous exhibitions and interviews. He also published his third book, Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, which is an instructional book for beginners.
- In 1974, he did not play any official games either, but gave some more simultaneous exhibitions and interviews. He also announced that he would not defend his title unless FIDE agreed to his conditions, which included increasing the number of games in the match from 24 to 36, and requiring the challenger to win by a margin of two points.
- In 1975, he refused to defend his title when FIDE rejected his conditions and set a deadline for him to sign a contract for the match against Anatoly Karpov, the Soviet grandmaster who had won the Candidates Tournament. Fischer did not sign the contract, and FIDE declared Karpov the new world champion by default. Fischer then disappeared from the public eye, and did not play any official games for nearly 20 years.
Reappearance and Controversy
- In 1992, he reappeared to play an unofficial rematch against Spassky in Sveti Stefan and Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The match was organized by a Serbian businessman and chess patron, Jezdimir Vasiljevic, who offered a prize fund of $5 million. Fischer won the match by a score of 10–5, with 15 draws. However, his participation in the match violated an executive order issued by US President George H.W. Bush that imposed sanctions on Yugoslavia due to its involvement in the Bosnian War. The US government issued a warrant for his arrest for violating the order and evading taxes on his income from the match. Fischer became a fugitive from US law enforcement, and renounced his US citizenship. He also made several anti-American and antisemitic statements during and after the match, expressing his support for Yugoslavia and its leader Slobodan Milosevic, denying the Holocaust, and praising Adolf Hitler.
- In 1996, he published his fourth book, I Was Tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse!, which is a pamphlet that details his alleged mistreatment by US authorities during his brief detention in California in 1981 for bank fraud charges that were later dropped. He also claimed that he was a victim of a Jewish conspiracy that wanted to destroy him and his chess legacy.
- In 1997, he registered a patent for a modified chess clock that added an increment of time after each move, now known as Fischer clock or Fischer mode. He also invented Fischer random chess (also known as Chess960), a chess variant in which the initial position of the pieces on the back rank is randomized to one of 960 possible positions, following certain rules that preserve the dynamic nature of the game and reduce the reliance on memorized openings.
- In 1999, he gave a radio interview in Budapest, Hungary, where he praised the September 11 attacks on the US, and called for a worldwide boycott of American goods and services. He also repeated his antisemitic views and denied that he was Jewish, despite his mother’s ancestry. He also claimed that he had been cheated out of his world title by FIDE and Karpov, and that he was still the true world champion.
- In 2000, he gave another radio interview in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he expressed his admiration for Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and his hatred for George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon. He also challenged anyone in the world to a Fischer random chess match for a prize of $5 million.
- In 2004, he was arrested at Narita International Airport in Tokyo, Japan, for trying to board a flight to Manila, Philippines, with an invalid US passport that had been revoked by the US government. He was detained for nine months while the US sought his extradition on the charges related to his 1992 match in Yugoslavia. He resisted the extradition, and appealed to several countries for asylum. He also received support from various chess organizations and personalities, who petitioned for his release and recognition of his chess achievements.
- In 2005, he was granted Icelandic citizenship by a special act of the Icelandic parliament, which recognized his contribution to Iceland’s history and culture through his 1972 match against Spassky. He was then allowed to leave Japan and fly to Reykjavik, where he was welcomed by his supporters and fans. He settled in Iceland, where he lived until his death in 2008.
Death and Legacy
- In 2008, he died of renal failure at the age of 64 in Reykjavik, Iceland. He was buried in a private ceremony at Laugardaelir Church Cemetery in Selfoss, Iceland. His estate was estimated to be worth about $2 million, but it was disputed by several claimants, including his Japanese partner Miyoko Watai, his Filipino daughter Jinky Young, his nephews Alexander and Nicholas Targ, and the US government. The dispute was finally resolved in 2012, when an Icelandic court ruled that Watai was Fischer’s legal widow and heir.
- Fischer is widely regarded as one of the greatest chess players of all time. He made numerous lasting contributions to chess theory, practice, and culture. His book My 60 Memorable Games is considered a classic in chess literature. His chess clock and Fischer random chess are widely used in modern chess tournaments and matches. His matches against Spassky and other Soviet players inspired generations of chess players and fans around the world. His playing style was characterized by clarity, logic, accuracy, and aggression. He was known for his deep preparation, sharp tactics, positional understanding, endgame mastery, and psychological warfare. He also had a high IQ and a photographic memory that enabled him to recall thousands of games and variations.
- Fischer is also remembered for his controversial and eccentric personality. He had a troubled personal life and suffered from mental illness that made him an exile from his country and from the game. He made numerous antisemitic statements, espite his Jewish heritage. He also made anti-American statements, despite his American citizenship. He renounced his world title, despite his chess ambition. He isolated himself from his friends and family, despite his need for companionship. He was a paradoxical and tragic figure, who fascinated and puzzled the chess world and the public alike.
Conclusion What Happened to Bobby Fischer?
Bobby Fischer was a chess legend who rose to fame and glory, and then fell into obscurity and disgrace. He was a genius who revolutionized the game of chess, and a madman who alienated himself from society. He was a hero who challenged the Soviet chess dominance, and a villain who supported the enemies of his country. He was a human who had flaws and virtues, strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows. He was a phenomenon that will never be repeated, and a mystery that will never be solved.
Benjamin Miller is the founder and editor of The Extra Game. He plays chess, scrabble and Monopoly at a masters level. He is a board game enthusiast, publisher, designer, and reviewer with over 10 years of experience in the industry. He loves to share his passion, knowledge, and recommendations for board games with the world.