Why Did Bobby Fischer Stop Playing Chess?
Chess is a game of strategy, logic, and skill. But for some, it is also a game of passion, obsession, and madness. One of the most brilliant and enigmatic chess players in history was Bobby Fischer, the first and only American world chess champion. He was a prodigy who rose to fame in the 1950s and 60s, challenging the Soviet dominance of the game and captivating the world with his genius and charisma. But he was also a troubled and controversial figure, who eventually withdrew from chess and public life, becoming a recluse and a fugitive. Why did Bobby Fischer stop playing chess? What drove him to abandon the game he loved and excelled at? What happened to him after he disappeared from the chess scene? In this blog post, we will explore the life and career of Bobby Fischer, his achievements and controversies, his reasons for quitting chess, and his legacy.
Here are some of the topics we will cover:
- Why Did Bobby Fischer Stop Playing Chess?
- Bobby Fischer’s grandmaster title and world championship candidate
- Bobby Fischer’s world championship match against Boris Spassky
- Bobby Fischer’s refusal to defend his title and disappearance
- Bobby Fischer’s reemergence and legal troubles
- Bobby Fischer’s death and legacy
Why Did Bobby Fischer Stop Playing Chess?
Bobby Fischer stopped playing chess because he was dissatisfied with the conditions and rules of the world championship, and because he became more isolated and paranoid from the world.
Bobby Fischer’s Early Chess Career And U.S. Champion
Bobby Fischer was born in Chicago on March 9, 1943. His mother was Regina Wender Fischer, a US citizen of Polish-Jewish descent, who worked as a nurse, teacher, and activist. His father was Hans-Gerhardt Fischer, a German biophysicist who left the family when Bobby was two years old1 Bobby grew up in Brooklyn, New York, with his mother and older sister Joan. He learned to play chess at the age of six from a chess set he found in his sister’s room. He soon became fascinated by the game and started playing at local chess clubs and tournaments.
Bobby Fischer was a chess prodigy who showed remarkable talent and dedication to the game. He won his first of a record eight U.S. Championships at the age of 14. In 1964, he won with an 11–0 score, the only perfect score in the history of the tournament2 He also won several international tournaments, such as the Portoroz Interzonal in 1958 and the Stockholm International in 1962. He became famous for his aggressive and uncompromising style of play, his deep knowledge of openings, his endgame skills, and his confidence and charisma.
Bobby Fischer’s Grandmaster Title And World Championship Candidate
Bobby Fischer became an international master at 14 and a grandmaster at 15, breaking several age records at the time. He qualified for the Candidates tournament in 1959, becoming the youngest player ever to reach this stage of the world championship cycle. The Candidates tournament was a series of matches among the top challengers for the world title, which was held by Mikhail Botvinnik of the Soviet Union. The Soviet players dominated chess since World War II, producing many world champions and grandmasters. They were also supported by their government, which considered chess as a symbol of national pride and prestige.
Bobby Fischer faced a formidable opposition in the Candidates tournament, which included former world champions Vasily Smyslov and Tigran Petrosian, future world champion Boris Spassky, and other strong Soviet players such as Paul Keres and Efim Geller. He finished fifth in the tournament with a score of 12½/28, losing four matches and drawing one. He later claimed that he was cheated by the Soviet players, who allegedly colluded against him by agreeing to quick draws among themselves and playing hard against him3 He also complained about the poor playing conditions and organization of the tournament.
Bobby Fischer continued to play in various tournaments in the early 1960s, but he also became more erratic and demanding. He often skipped or withdrew from events due to disputes over prize money, appearance fees, playing schedules, or other issues. He also developed a reputation for being rude, arrogant, and eccentric. He criticized other players for their mistakes or weaknesses, refused to give interviews or autographs, and expressed controversial opinions on politics, religion, or chess itself.
Despite his difficulties, Bobby Fischer remained one of the best players in the world and a serious contender for the world title. He qualified for the Candidates tournament again in 1962 by winning the Stockholm Interzonal with an impressive score of 17½/22. However, he performed poorly in the Candidates tournament in Curaçao, finishing fourth with a score of 14/27. He again accused the Soviet players of collusion and vowed never to play in such a tournament again. He demanded that the world championship should be decided by a series of knockout matches instead of a round-robin tournament4
Bobby Fischer’s demand was partially met by FIDE, the international chess federation, which changed the format of the Candidates tournament to a series of matches in 1965. However, Bobby Fischer did not participate in the 1964 Interzonal, which was a qualifier for the Candidates matches, because he was unhappy with the prize fund and the number of participants. He also skipped the 1966 Interzonal for similar reasons. He played only sporadically in other tournaments, winning some and losing others. He seemed to lose interest and motivation in chess, and his chances of becoming world champion seemed to fade away.
Bobby Fischer’s World Championship Match Against Boris Spassky
Bobby Fischer’s chess career took a dramatic turn in 1970, when he decided to resume his quest for the world title. He played in several strong tournaments, winning them all with remarkable scores. He won the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal with 18½/23, qualifying for the Candidates matches. He then swept his opponents in the Candidates matches, defeating Mark Taimanov and Bent Larsen by 6–0 scores, and Tigran Petrosian by 6½–2½. He became the official challenger for the world title, which was held by Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union.
Bobby Fischer’s world championship match against Boris Spassky was one of the most anticipated and publicized events in chess history. It was also seen as a symbolic confrontation between the US and the USSR, amid the Cold War tensions and conflicts. The match was held in Reykjavík, Iceland, in 1972. It was scheduled for 24 games, with the first player to reach 12½ points or more being declared the winner.
The match was almost canceled before it started, due to Bobby Fischer’s numerous complaints and demands. He objected to the playing hall, the lighting, the cameras, the noise, and other aspects of the organization. He also asked for a larger share of the prize money, which was raised by donations from chess fans and sponsors. He threatened to boycott the match unless his conditions were met. He did not show up for the opening ceremony or the first game, which he forfeited by default. He also lost the second game, putting him in a 0–2 disadvantage.
Bobby Fischer finally agreed to play after receiving concessions from the organizers and a personal phone call from Henry Kissinger, then US Secretary of State, who urged him to represent his country. He won the third game with a brilliant sacrificial attack, becoming the first player to defeat Spassky in a world championship game with black pieces. He also won the fifth game with an unusual opening move, 1.c4, which he had never played before in a serious game. He equalized the score at 2½–2½.
The sixth game was a masterpiece by Bobby Fischer, who played flawlessly and outplayed Spassky in all phases of the game. Spassky resigned on move 41, facing inevitable checkmate. He then applauded Fischer’s performance, a rare gesture of admiration and respect in chess. Many consider this game to be Bobby Fischer’s best game ever, and one of the greatest games of all time.
Bobby Fischer took the lead in the match and never relinquished it. He won three more games (games eight, 10, and 13), while Spassky won only one (game 11). The rest of the games were drawn. After 21 games, Bobby Fischer reached 12½ points and became the new world chess champion. He ended Spassky’s reign and broke the Soviet monopoly of the title that had lasted since 1948.
Bobby Fischer’s victory was celebrated as a historic achievement and a triumph of individual talent over collective power. He became an American hero and a global celebrity. He also sparked an unprecedented interest and popularity for chess, especially among young people who wanted to emulate him or challenge him.
Bobby Fischer’s Refusal To Defend His Title And Disappearance
Bobby Fischer’s reign as world champion was short-lived and controversial. He did not play any official games after winning the title, except for a few simultaneous exhibitions in 1973. He also did not agree to defend his title against Anatoly Karpov , who had won the Candidates matches in 1974 and became his official challenger.
Bobby Fischer made several demands to FIDE regarding the conditions of his title defense. He wanted to change
the format of the match, the prize fund, the location, and other aspects of the organization. He wanted the match to be unlimited in length, with the first player to win 10 games being declared the winner, unless the score was 9–9, in which case he would retain his title. He also wanted 30 percent of the gross revenue of the match, regardless of the outcome. He threatened to forfeit his title if his demands were not met.
FIDE tried to negotiate with Bobby Fischer, but he was unwilling to compromise. FIDE also faced pressure from Karpov and the Soviet Chess Federation, who wanted the match to take place as soon as possible. FIDE eventually set a deadline for Bobby Fischer to sign a contract for the match, with the conditions that had been approved by a majority of its member federations. Bobby Fischer did not sign the contract by the deadline, and FIDE declared him in default and stripped him of his title. Karpov was named the new world champion by default in 1975.
Bobby Fischer did not accept FIDE’s decision and claimed that he was still the true world champion. He also accused FIDE of being corrupt and biased in favor of the Soviet players. He said that he would only play for his title under his own terms, and challenged Karpov to a match outside FIDE’s jurisdiction. However, no such match ever materialized.
Bobby Fischer withdrew from chess and public life after losing his title. He became a recluse and a mystery, living in various countries and avoiding contact with most people. He occasionally gave interviews or made statements, but they were often erratic and controversial. He expressed antisemitic views, despite his Jewish ancestry. He praised the September 11 attacks and criticized the US government. He renounced his US citizenship and became an Icelandic citizen in 2005.
Bobby Fischer’s Reemergence And Legal Troubles
Bobby Fischer reemerged in 1992 to play a rematch against Boris Spassky, who had lost his title to Karpov in 1978. The rematch was held in Sveti Stefan and Belgrade, Yugoslavia, which was under a United Nations embargo at the time due to the Yugoslav Wars . The match was organized by a Serbian businessman and chess enthusiast, Jezdimir Vasiljevic , who offered a prize fund of $5 million, with $3.35 million for the winner and $1.65 million for the loser.
Bobby Fischer agreed to play despite the political and legal risks involved. He also defied a warning from the US government, which informed him that his participation in the match would violate an executive order imposing US sanctions on Yugoslavia. The US government threatened to revoke his passport and prosecute him for tax evasion and violating the embargo.
Bobby Fischer ignored the US government’s warning and played the match anyway. He arrived in Yugoslavia with a letter from Vasiljevic that stated that he was not subject to any sanctions or restrictions. He also held a press conference where he denounced the US government and spat on a copy of its letter.
The match was played under Fischer’s preferred rules, with no adjournments or draws by agreement. It was scheduled for 30 games, with the first player to reach 10 wins or more being declared the winner. Bobby Fischer won the match with a score of 10–5, with 15 draws. He showed that he still had some of his chess skills and creativity, but he also made some mistakes and blunders that indicated that he was out of practice and rusty.
Bobby Fischer’s victory earned him $3.35 million, but it also earned him a warrant for his arrest from the US government. He became a fugitive and a stateless person, as his passport was revoked and no country would grant him asylum or citizenship. He lived as an émigré for over a decade, traveling to various countries such as Hungary, Germany, Japan, Philippines, and Iceland.
Bobby Fischer’s legal troubles came to a head in 2004, when he was arrested in Japan while trying to board a flight to Manila. He was detained at Narita International Airport for using a revoked US passport. He faced deportation to the US, where he could face up to 10 years in prison for violating the sanctions on Yugoslavia.
Bobby Fischer fought against his deportation and applied for political asylum in Japan. He also claimed that he had renounced his US citizenship in 2001 and that he was now a citizen of Serbia-Montenegro , which had succeeded Yugoslavia after its dissolution . However, neither claim was recognized by Japan or any other country.
Bobby Fischer received support from various chess players and fans who appealed for his release and protection. He also received support from Iceland , which had hosted his world championship match against Spassky in 1972. Iceland offered him Icelandic citizenship by a special act of its parliament , allowing him to travel to Iceland and live there until his death.
Bobby Fischer accepted Iceland’s offer and flew to Reykjavík in March 2005. He was greeted by a crowd of supporters and journalists, who welcomed him as a hero and a legend. He lived in Iceland for the last three years of his life, mostly in seclusion and privacy. He died on January 17, 2008, at the age of 64, from renal failure. He was buried in a small cemetery in Selfoss, a town near Reykjavík.
Bobby Fischer’s Death And Legacy
Bobby Fischer’s death was mourned by many chess players and fans who admired his achievements and contributions to the game. He was widely regarded as one of the greatest chess players of all time, as well as the most famous. He inspired an entire generation of chess players, especially in the US and Iceland, where chess became more popular and respected because of him.
Bobby Fischer also left a lasting legacy in chess theory and practice. He wrote several books and articles on chess, such as My 60 Memorable Games , which is considered as one of the best chess books ever written. He also invented Fischer random chess , also known as Chess960 , a chess variant in which the initial position of the pieces is randomized to one of 960 possible positions. He also patented a modified chess clock that added a time increment after each move, now a standard practice in top tournament and match play.
However, Bobby Fischer’s legacy was also tainted by his controversies and scandals. He was criticized for his erratic and demanding behavior, his antisemitic and anti-American views, his violation of international law, and his withdrawal from chess and public life. He was seen by some as a genius who went mad, or a hero who became a villain.
Bobby Fischer remains a complex and fascinating figure in chess history. He was a prodigy who became a champion, a champion who became a recluse, a recluse who became a fugitive, and a fugitive who became an émigré. He was a man who loved chess but hated the world, a man who sought glory but shunned fame, a man who challenged authority but followed his own rules.
Bobby Fischer once said: “Chess is life.” For him, chess was indeed his life, but it was also his downfall.
Bobby Fischer was a chess legend who changed the game forever. He was a brilliant and charismatic player who achieved the highest level of success and fame. He was also a troubled and controversial person who faced many challenges and conflicts. He was a paradox and a mystery, a hero and a villain, a genius and a madman.
Bobby Fischer’s story is a fascinating and tragic one, full of triumphs and failures, joys and sorrows, hopes and regrets. It is a story that teaches us about the beauty and the danger of chess, the power and the peril of talent, the glory and the cost of fame.
Bobby Fischer’s story is also a story that inspires us to pursue our dreams and passions, to challenge ourselves and our opponents, to create and to innovate, to learn and to improve, to love and to hate, to live and to die.
Bobby Fischer’s story is, in short, a story that is worth telling and remembering
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.