Bobby Fischer

Robert James "Bobby" Fischer (born March 9, 1943), won the World Chess Championship on September 1, 1972 and lost the title when he failed to defend it on April 3, 1975. He is considered to be one of the most gifted chess players of all times and, despite his prolonged absence from competitive play, is still among the best known of all chess players.

Table of contents
1 Life and playing career
2 Chess innovations
3 Fischer's personality

Life and playing career

He was born in Chicago to Regina Wender, a riveter in a defense plant who later became a teacher, nurse and physician, and Gerhardt Fischer, a physician. His parents divorced when he was two years old and Fischer grew up with his mother and older sister. At the age of six, when the family had moved to Brooklyn, New York, Fischer taught himself how to play chess from the instruction booklet of a chess set. He practiced with his sister, but within weeks he proved far too strong a player for her.

When Fischer was 13, his mother asked John Collins to be his chess teacher. Collins had taught several top players, including William Lombardy and Robert Byrne. Fischer spent much time at Collins' house, and some have described Collins as a father figure for Fischer.

His first real triumph was winning the U.S. Junior Championship in July 1956, which at that time qualified him for the open tournament. In the same year, he played several brilliant games; his game against grandmaster Donald Byrne is referred to as "The Game of The Century''".

In January 1958, Fischer became US champion. Along with the title, Fischer qualified to participate in the Interzonals, the first step toward challenging the World Champion. Nobody gave the young Fischer much of a chance of qualifying from the Interzonal (the top six places qualified for the Candidates Tournament), so it was a surprise when, after a good finish, Fischer finished fifth equal and qualified, and with it he was awarded the title of Chess Grandmaster in 1958.

It was at this stage, during the Candidates Tournament, that Fischer came face to face with the Russian chess juggernaut, which was to set the tone for the rest of his playing career. Because of the number of Russian players involved in the tournament (the Soviet Union dominated international chess competition throughout most of its history), it was in principle possible for them to agree on short draws amongst themselves and concentrate their full efforts on the non-Russian contingent. Once the non-Russians were effectively eliminated, the Russians would then be left to fight amongst each other for the right to challenge the reigning World Champion (Mikhail Botvinnik at that time, who had recently beat Vassily Smyslov in a return match to reclaim his crown). Fischer believed that the Soviet players had in fact chosen to arrange the tournament in this way, and this led to a bitter battle between Fischer and the FIDE that eventually led to the dismantling of the Candidates Tournament into a series of knockout matches.

It was the 1969 candidates cycle that put Fischer on the road to the world championship. Although he had sat out the US Championship, Pal Benko, an American grandmaster who had won that tournament, willingly gave up his place in the Interzonal for Fischer. Fischer proceeded to win the Interzonal by a remarkable 3.5 points. He then demonstrated an awesome display of chess prowess in the Candidates matches, creating a lop-sided series of results which still have not been equalled by the world's top players. Both Mark Taimanov (USSR) and Bent Larsen (second best non-Russian player after Fischer himself) were demolished 6-0 with no draws conceded. Only former World Champion Tigran Petrosian, Fischer's final opponent in the Candidates matches, made any impression against Fischer's skill and strength. Petrosian scored early to end Fischer's unprecedented streak of wins, but nevertheless Fischer qualified by a comfortable score, 6.5 to 2.5. In 1971 Fischer had finally earned the right to challenge the World Champion, Boris Spassky.

The "Match of the Century" between Spassky and Fischer took place in Reykjavik, Iceland, from July through September 1972. At first, given his volatile temperament and the many demands he placed on the organizers, it appeared unlikely that Fischer would even show up, but at the last minute he decided to participate. It has been said that a phone call from Henry Kissinger appealing to his patriotism helped save the match; the fact that the British financier donated $125,000 to bring the prize fund up to $250,000 probably also helped.

Game one only increased the tension surrounding the match. Fischer, who had never defeated Spassky in their few previous encounters, appeared to have a comfortable game with the Black pieces when he committed a stunning blunder of a type not usually seen at master level chess. Following his loss Fischer made further demands on the organizers, and when they were not met he refused to appear for game two, giving a default win to Spassky. It looked like Fischer was going to disappear.

Fischer, however, played and won game three, and after that never looked back as he eased out a 12.5 - 8.5 win against Spassky. This cemented two milestones in Fischer's career--the ambition of being the World Chess Champion, and being the strongest rated player ever according to the Elo rating system (a rating of 2780, only to be eclipsed twenty years later by Gary Kasparov). It was also considered something of a Cold War propaganda victory for the United States, confirming, as it did, that the strongest player in the world in a sport dominated by the Soviets since World War II, was now an American.

In 1975 the time came for Fischer to defend his title, against Anatoly Karpov. Fischer had not played a single official game since winning the title and laid down strict conditions for the match. FIDE agreed to a number of his demands, but did not accept Fischer's demands on how the match would be won. Since the 1949 FIDE congress, the FIDE rules had been that World Championship matches would be made up of 24 games, with the first player to 12.5 points the winner. In the event of a 12-12 tie, the champion retained his title. Fischer, however, claimed this system encouraged the player in the lead to draw games, which was not good for chess. He instead wanted a match of an unlimited number of games, with the first player to score ten wins winning the match, draws not counting. In the event of the score reaching 9-9, the champion (Fischer) would retain his title - in effect, this meant that Fischer only needed to win nine games, while Karpov had to win ten. FIDE did not accept these conditions, and so Fischer resigned his title. Karpov became champion by default.

And then Fischer disappeared, and did not publicly play chess for nearly twenty years.

Fischer emerged from isolation to challenge Spassky (then placed 96-102 on the rating list) to a "Revenge Match of the 20th Century" in 1992 after twenty years of non-competition. This match - which was played with his new clock - took place in the war-torn Montenegro, and generated some controversy. He insisted that organizers bill the match as "The World Chess Championship", although at this time Gary Kasparov was the recognized FIDE champion. In a pre-match press conference, filled with histrionics, Fischer spat on a document from the U.S. State Department forbidding Fischer to play in the Balkan state because of economic sanctions in place at the time. In response, Fischer was indicted and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He has since not returned to the United States.

After the match, which Fischer won rather handily, he promptly disappeared again. He has been reported to be living in Budapest, and most recently Japan, although as usual little is known for certain about Fischer or his future plans.

Although Fischer has not played chess in public since 1992, there have been a number of rumours about him playing on the internet (none of them widely accepted as having basis in reality). In 2001, rumours surfaced claiming that Fischer played speed chess anonymously at the Internet Chess Server, using extremely disadvantageous and unconventional openings and still beating very strong players. British Grandmaster Nigel Short reported his experience in a message which was discussed in a Usenet thread; some suspected Fischer games played against two International Masters are recorded here. It has been suggested that the mysterious Fischer is in fact a computer; an analysis can be found in items 134 and 139 of Tim Krabbé's chess diary. When interviewed on this, Fischer stated he never plays online.

Chess innovations

In 1988, Fischer filed US Patent number 4,884,255 for a new type of digital chess clock. Previously, time limits in chess had consisted of a requirement to play a certain number of moves within a certain period of time - for example, a time limit of two hours for the first 40 moves and one hour for every block of 20 moves thereafter was quite normal. Fischer's clock instead gave each player a fixed period of time at the start of the game and then added a small amount after each move. In this way, the players would never be desperately short of time, but games could also be completed more quickly, doing away with the need for adjournments (in which a game is left incomplete to be finished at a later date). Although it was slow to catch on, as of 2003 a very large number of top class tournaments use Fischer's system, though usually in combination with the more traditional (at lower levels, more traditional clocks are still employed as they are cheaper).

On June 19, 1996, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Fischer announced and advocated a variant of Chess called Fischer Random Chess. This was essentially a refinement of an old idea: randomly shuffling the initial squares of the pieces. Fischer believed that this would reduce the importance of memorizing opening moves, instead making creativity and talent more important. The variation has enjoyed moderate success, with a small number of matches and tournaments involving Grandmasters being organised, and, in 2003, the establishment of a World Championship in the variant. Fischer himself, however, has not played the game in public (just as he has not played orthodox chess in public since 1992).

Fischer's personality

As one of the most famous chess players of all time, Fischer's personality, as well as his chess, has been the subject of considerable interest.

One of the most famous articles dealing with Fischer's personality is a 1962 piece written by Ralph Ginzburg for Harper's Magazine, "Portrait of a Genius As a Young Chess Master". Although conducted when he was just eighteen, the paucity of interviews with Fischer in later years has meant this one is still widely quoted and alluded to. In it, Fischer is reported as making disparaging comments about women chess players ("They're all weak, all women. They're stupid compared to men.") and Jewish players ("there are too many Jews in chess. They seem to have taken away the class of the game. They don't seem to dress so nicely, you know."). He also talks about his estrangement from his mother (who was herself Jewish) and his chess ambitions (including a desire to build and live in a house shaped like a rook).

As well as the above-mentioned innovations Fischer has made since his retirement from chess, he has made a number of statements and publications which - despite having zero chess content - have been widely reported and discussed. Among the earliest was Fischer's pamphlet (published under the name Robert D. James) I Was Tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse!. This details Fischer's experiences following his arrest in 1981 after being mistaken for a wanted bank robber. It alleges (at some length) that he was treated "brutally" at the hands of the police. He was eventually charged with damaging prison property (specifically, one mattress).

In 1984, Fischer wrote to the editors of the Encyclopaedia Judaica asking for his name to be removed from the publication on account of him not being Jewish (it seems he was included because his mother was Jewish, since, Judaism being an ethnic religion by maternal lineage, a Jewish mother would indeed make him Jewish regardless of his personal faith). In recent years he has given interviews with Pablo Mercado and Grandmaster Eugenio Torre on the Philippine radio station Radio Bombo, in which he has confirmed his fanatical anti-Semitism - among other things, he has spoken of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, and has denied the holocaust happened. He also used the interviews to complain about products such as the computer program Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess using his name without permission (the program was based on Fischer's book of the same name).

In another Philippine broadcast, he applauded the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. In 2003, Fischer's United States Chess Federation membership was revoked following his criticism of US foreign policy and anti-Zionist comments.

Papers came to light in 2002 revealing that the FBI suspected Fischer's mother was working with the Soviets, and had spied on her since the 1940s. They also suspected that Fischer himself may have been approached by the Soviets. This is in addition to rather more expected KGB material detailing the combined efforts of the soviet chess sports organization against him.

Back to Bobby Fischer Fischer Biography

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