January 19, 2008
Friday January 18, 2008
Bobby Fischer in 1971: ‘All I want to do, ever, is play chess.’ Photograph: AP
He gained international fame in 1972 when he beat the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky in what was dubbed the “match of the century” to become the first US chess champion for a century.The match between the eccentric and highly individualistic American and Spassky, who was backed by the mighty Soviet chess establishment, captured the public imagination.
But his reputation as a chess genius with a ferocious attacking style was eclipsed, in the eyes of many, by his idiosyncrasies.
He refused to defend his title in 1975 when the World Chess Federation (FIDE) did not accept all his conditions for a title defence, so he forfeited the title to another Soviet, Anatoly Karpov.
Fischer then fell into obscurity before resurfacing to play an exhibition rematch against Spassky in 1992 on the resort island of Sveti Stefan off Montenegro.
Fischer won, but the game was played in violation of international sanctions imposed on Slobodan Milosevic, then president of Yugoslavia.
Fischer became a wanted man, but managed to evade authorities for 12 years until July 16 2004 when he was arrested and later detained in Japan. On March 22 2005, he was freed and granted Icelandic citizenship. He renounced his US citizenship and lived in Iceland until his death.
Fischer was accused of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, despite being of Jewish descent.
He shocked the world with his comments following the September 11 2001 attacks on America.
“This is all wonderful news,” he announced live on Filipino radio. “I applaud the act. The US and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians, just slaughtering them, for years. Robbing them and slaughtering them. Nobody gave a shit. Now it’s coming back to the US. Fuck the US. I want to see the US wiped out. Death to the US.”
The Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, another former world champion, said today that Fischer’s ascent through the chess world in the 1960s was “a revolutionary breakthrough” for the game.
“The tragedy is that he left this world too early, and his extravagant life and scandalous statements did not contribute to the popularity of chess,” Kasparov said.
According to Kasparov, Fischer changed the game in a way that had not been seen since the late 19th century.
“The gap between Mr Fischer and his contemporaries was the largest ever,” Kasparov once said. “He singlehandedly revitalised a game that had been stagnating under the control of the communists of the Soviet sports hierarchy.”