"Bobby Fischer's life for sale", now for real?

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Fischer MemorabiliaA remarkable item appeared on eBay several times in the past few years: a collection of valuables and belongings of Bobby Fischer. It was always mysteriously removed again within a couple of days, but currently a very similar item can be found at the website of Bonhams in New York, where Fischer's belongings are set to go on auction on June 10th.

Photo © Bonhams

As he spent the last decades of his life outside the US, 11th World Chess Champion Robert James Fischer (9.3.1943 - 17.1.2008) had placed many of his valuables and belongings into a storage unit in Pasadena (California). At the end of the 1990s the storage company decided to sell the contents of the unit after payment of the rent had stopped and then, in December 2005, Fischer's memorabilia suddenly appeared as an item on eBay. It wasn't the first time, and it wasn't the last either. The seller claimed that he had bought the material at a flea market.

Since May 7th, 2009 auction house Bonhams has a similar item on their website. The Bonham item (lot no. 3372) is entitled BOBBY FISCHER’S CHESS LIBRARY, INCLUDING NOTEBOOKS PREPARED FOR THE 1972 WORLD CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP and comprises, like the eBay item in 2005, over 300 chess books in various languages, approximately 400 issues of chess-related periodicals, "nine personal floppy disks (unexamined)", three sets of proofs for Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games (published 1969) and "four volumes of bound typescript detailing the match history of Boris Spassky from the 1950s to 1971 and fifteen volumes of ring- or string-bound manuscript notebooks with notation of the games of Mark Taimanov and Tigran Petrossian [sic] from the 1950s-1970, various hands".

The condition of the collection apparently varies: "generally a bit musty and a few volumes water-damaged but otherwise good or better." The description continues

The manuscript material centers on Fischer’s preparation for his historic match with Boris Spassky in 1972, certainly the most exciting moment in the history of American chess. Fischer’s win in “The Match of the Century” ended 24 years of Soviet domination of the World Championship and was viewed with elation in the doldrums of the Cold War. A telling memo appears in one of the bound typescripts: “Spassky seems to adopt defences for Black after prolonged experience with the white pieces against a particular defence. I had a conversation with Korchnoi after Hastings (January) – he had not been informed that I was preparing files for you – in which he made some remark that a possible weakness of yours was the Bc4 lines as White against the Sicilian….” Among the printed volumes there is an annotated German edition of the match record for the 1971 World Championship, many games bear Fischer’s own notes as to how the games could have been won (“31…RF4! Wins easily / 21gF Rg6 wins / 20.QFl! ” etc.)


Estimate: $50,000 - 80,000

Since items comprising Fischer's belongings have appeared on the internet several times, the question is whether we have to take it seriously. But perhaps we should, this time. Christina Geiger, expert at Bonhams: "We've included the item in our printed catalogue. Our site is not like eBay; people can place bids online in advance but the definite auction is at Bonhams, on June 10th in New York."

It's unknown who purchased the contents of the storage unit in Pasadena, and the current seller wants to stay anonimous. Fischer himself always claimed that the items were "stolen property". "I cannot comment on this, but I can tell you that I'm convinced that the seller is the owner of the items. It's standard procedure that a seller presents proof of ownership," Geiger said.

In the week before the auction, the items will be displayed at Bonhams. Geiger: "People are welcome to come and have a look themselves. The auction is on June 10th and the collection can be viewed on Sunday 7th, Monday 8th and Tuesday 9th."
Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

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