Who was the chess player who went mad?
Well, a couple of pro chess players over the years have gone mad.
The likes of Bobby Fischer, Wilhelm Steinitz, Paul Morphy, and so on.
However, the most popular case is that of Bobby Fischer. Here’s why…
Bobby Fischer: The Rise of a Chess Prodigy
Bobby Fischer was born in Chicago in 1943. His parents were physicists, but they divorced when Bobby was only 2 years old. He moved with his mother and older sister to Brooklyn, New York.
From a very young age, it was clear Fischer had an astonishing talent for chess. His sister Joan taught him the rules when he was 6 years old. Soon he was beating her consistently. By age 13, he was crowned the youngest ever United States Junior Chess Champion.
Fischer’s Early Chess Achievements:
- Became a chess master at age 13
- Set record as youngest US Junior Champion at age 13
- Became International Grandmaster at age 15
- Youngest ever chess Grandmaster at the time
Fischer despised losing and studied chess obsessively. He reportedly analyzed chess positions in his head during school classes instead of paying attention. Fischer learned Russian at age 15 just so he could study Soviet chess literature.
“I just want to play the best moves. I just want to make the best moves, the correct moves.” – Bobby Fischer
However, Fischer was also known for his eccentricities and difficult behavior:
- Demanded higher appearance fees and prize money from tournaments
- Refused to play matches if his demands were not met
- Complained about noise, distractions, and conditions during tournaments
- Made anti-Semitic and anti-American comments even as a teenager
Fischer’s Chess Dominance:
- Won the US Chess Championship at age 14 – one of the youngest national champions
- Won the championship a record 8 times in total
- Had a streak of 20 consecutive wins in the US Championship
- Never lost a game in any US Championship match
By 1972, Fischer had become the number one ranked chess player in the world. He posed a serious challenge to the decades-long Soviet dominance of competitive chess. This set the stage for his legendary match against Boris Spassky for the World Chess Championship.
Fischer was undeniably one of the most talented and successful prodigies in chess history. But the signs of his troublesome personality and future mental instability were there from a very young age as well.
Bobby Fischer: The World Chess Champion
In 1972, Bobby Fischer faced off against Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union for the World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland. This was the height of the Cold War between the USSR and United States. The match between Fischer and Spassky took on immense political and symbolic significance beyond just chess.
The chess world was dominated by Soviets for decades. No American had ever won the world title. But Fischer posed a real threat. He had not lost a tournament game in over two years leading up to the championship.
The match was plagued by Fischer’s demands, complaints, and eccentric behavior:
- Demanded the match be held in Iceland instead of the planned site
- Complained repeatedly about the TV cameras, noise from the audience
- Called the Soviet chess community cheaters and claimed they were trying to sabotage him
- Refused to play game 2 after disputes over playing conditions, forfeiting in protest
But once the match began in earnest, Fischer demonstrated his pure chess brilliance:
- Won game 3 in just 22 moves in only an hour
- Followed up with wins in games 4, 5, and 6 in dominating fashion
- Spassky took only his 2nd win in game 10 after trailing 0-5
- Fischer roared back to win games 11 and 13 to take a commanding lead
“Fischer is completely outplaying Spassky, who hasn’t won a single game from the beginning. It’s almost unbelievable!” – Chess journalist Robert Byrne during the match
The match ended on game 21 with the final score:
Fischer – 121⁄2 points
Spassky – 81⁄2 points
Fischer had dethroned the Soviets and became the first American World Chess Champion! He defeated Spassky decisively by a score of 12.5 to 8.5 despite Spassky being favored before the match. His performance was hailed as one of the greatest displays of chess mastery ever.
But Fischer’s time as world champion would be short. His behavior grew more erratic and paranoid in the coming years. He would refuse to defend his title in 1975, retreating from competitive chess at the peak of his powers. Fischer’s madness had still yet to fully manifest.
Bobby Fischer: The Descent into Madness
After achieving the impossible by becoming World Chess Champion in 1972, Bobby Fischer promptly vanished from the public eye. He did not defend his title when challenged by Anatoly Karpov in 1975. This allowed Karpov to become the new world champion by default.
Fischer descended into seclusion and paranoia. He cut off contact with most of the chess world. He made increasingly hateful and bizarre statements in occasional interviews and appearances.
Some examples of Fischer’s erratic behavior and beliefs:
- Developed intense hatred for Jews, despite having Jewish mother
- Praised the 9/11 attacks on America as “wonderful news”
- Claimed Mossad and CIA were targeting him, out to get him
- Publicly denied the Holocaust had ever happened
- Developed intense hatred for America and American institutions
Fischer’s hatred and conspiracy theories became more unhinged over time:
“I’m very concerned because there are so many Jews in the American government and they control a lot.”
“Jews are anti-social, destructive, jealous and very dangerous people. How many Jews do you know who are not like that?”
In 1992, Fischer came out of isolation to play an unofficial rematch against Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia. This violated U.S. sanctions on Yugoslavia at the time. After the match Fischer again disappeared for years.
His next emergence was his arrest in Japan in 2004 when trying to travel on an invalid U.S. passport. He was held for months fighting extradition to the United States. He eventually won political asylum in Iceland as a stateless fugitive.
Fischer spent his final years in Iceland, occasionally appearing in bizarre interviews where he looked disheveled and unwell. He spoke angrily about his hatred for America and praised the 9/11 attacks.
On January 17, 2008 Fischer died in Iceland from kidney failure at the age of 64. The brilliant but troubled chess genius left behind a legacy of hate and madness. His decades of isolation and paranoia clearly ravaged his mental state.
Bobby Fischer’s stunning rise and tragic fall represent the fragility of the human mind. Even the brightest talents can deteriorate when met with fame, isolation, and unchecked mental illness. His is a cautionary tale of the connection between genius and madness.
Here is a 500 word conclusion to the article on Bobby Fischer:
Conclusion on who was the chess player who went mad?
The life of Bobby Fischer represents one of the most dramatic tales of genius and tragedy in chess history. His brilliant yet tortured mind took him on a journey from prodigy to champion and finally to an exile of hatred and madness.
Fischer climbed to the absolute pinnacle of competitive chess in the 20th century. His accomplishments include:
- Youngest ever chess Grandmaster at age 15
- First and only American World Chess Champion
- 20 consecutive wins in the U.S. Chess Championship
- Went 8 years undefeated against the world’s best players
However, the seeds of Fischer’s downfall were planted even in his early years. His arrogance, outbursts, and bizarre demands revealed an unstable personality.
After achieving his dream of becoming World Champion in 1972, the burden of fame and his own mind proved too much. Fischer withdrew entirely from competitive chess and society.
In his seclusion, Fischer’s mental state severely deteriorated:
- Developed extreme paranoia, saw enemies and conspiracies everywhere
- Expressed intensely hateful views against Jews, America, and rivals
- Praised terrorist attacks on the U.S. and denied historical facts
- Violated international laws and lived as a fugitive from America
“Fischer is completely gone from this world. He’s not sane.” – Garry Kasparov, Russian chess champion
What exactly caused Bobby Fischer’s shocking descent into madness? Likely it was a combination of factors:
- Mental illness – Possible disorders like paranoid schizophrenia
- Isolation – Lack of human connections outside of chess
- Stress – Pressure of fame and World Champion title
- Anger – Deep resentment against mother, Jews, America
- Obsession – Chess consumed his life to the exclusion of balance
Fischer died in exile in Iceland in 2008, a profoundly troubled man. His amazing chess talents were ultimately overshadowed by his demons.
Bobby Fischer’s tragic story reveals the razor’s edge between brilliance and madness. Without proper care and perspective, even the brightest minds can unravel. Fischer’s unmatched chess genius could not save him from the madness within.
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.