GM Bobby Fischer

© Dutch National Archive.
Full name
Robert James Fischer
Life
Mar 9, 1943 - Jan 17, 2008 (age 64)‎
Place of birth
Chicago, Illinois, US
Federation
United States

Bio

Bobby Fischer is the first and only American world chess champion in history.  Many also consider him to be the greatest chess player of all time, as well as the most famous.  Fischer sparked an entire generation of chess players, especially in the United States and Iceland.  

His success against the Russian chess empire of the 1960s and 70s remains as one of the most incredible individual performances by any chess player ever.  Out of his most famous quotes, perhaps one of his simplest statements displays the most important and fundamental truth about the game: "Chess demands total concentration".

Bobby Fischer with Euwe

Bobby Fischer with Max Euwe in 1972. | © Dutch National Archive.

In 1949, Fischer's family moved to New York City when he was six years old. Fischer started playing competitive games at the Brooklyn and Hawthorne Chess Clubs, and began drawing attention from chess players nationwide.  In 1956, Fischer won the US Junior Chess Championships, becoming the youngest player to win the tournament at that time.  The tournament win earned him a spot in the 1957 US Chess Championships. 

Prior to his US Championship debut in 1957, Fischer would win the US Open Championship, becoming the youngest ever winner of the tournament.  After defending his title as US Junior Champion and winning the New Jersey Open Championship, Fischer became the youngest National Master in American history.  Near the end of 1956, he played one of the most famous chess games of all time, known today as the game of the century!

Bobby Fischer with Collins and Lombardy
Young Bobby Fischer with Jack Collins and William Lombardy

At just 14 years old, Fischer played in his first United States Chess Championship. Pitted against the country's best, Fischer convincingly won the tournament with a +8 score, becoming both the youngest US Champion and an International Master. He would go on to win seven consecutive titles, winning each one by at least a one-point margin. 

After winning a round trip to Russia on a game show, Fischer played some matches in Yugoslavia to prepare for the 1958 Interzonal.  In finishing in the top six, Fischer qualified for the Candidates Tournament, becoming the youngest player at 15 years old to ever reach this stage of the World Championship cycle.  Qualifying for the Candidates Tournament earned Fischer the Grandmaster Title. He would be the youngest player ever to earn the title until Judit Polgar broke the record in 1991.

Fischer finished fifth in the 1959 Candidates Tournament, and soon after dropped out of high school to devote more time to chess.  In 1962, Fischer became the first non-Soviet player ever to win an Interzonal tournament, and qualified for the Candidates Tournament later that year.  Falling short, Fischer famously accused the Soviet players of pre-arranging draws to conserve energy in the tournament.

Bobby Fischer vs Mikhail Tal 1960 Olympiad
Fischer plays against World Champion Mikhail Tal in 1960 Olympiad | © Kohls, Ulrich - Wikipedia

Now taking a break from Candidates qualification, Fischer won the 1964 U.S. Championship with 11/11, the only perfect score in the history of the tournament.  After Fischer won his eighth US Championship, the American took a break from tournament chess to write My 60 Memorable Games, which is still one of the best-selling chess books today.

Bobby Fischer my 60 memorable games
Bobby Fischer's Chess Classic, My 60 Memorable Games
In 1970, Fischer made his return to chess, and after closing with a seven game winning streak, won the Interzonal Tournament by a 3½-point margin.  The tournament win meant Fischer qualified for the 1971 Candidates Tournament, which featured an eight player knockout.  Fischer beat Mark Taimanov 6-0 in the quarterfinals, and then repeated the score against Bent Larsen in the semifinals.  This twelve game stretch is considered by many to be the best individual performance by a chess player ever.

In his final Candidates match against Tigran Petrosian, Fischer won the first game, amassing a total of 20 consecutive wins against elite competition.  Petrosian would end the streak in the next game, but would go on to lose the match, 6½–2½, which meant that Fischer had earned his spot in the 1972 World Championship Match.

Fischer vs Spassky 1972
Fischer vs Spassky 1972

In 1972, he captured the world chess championship from Boris Spassky in a match publicized as a Cold War confrontation which attracted more worldwide interest than any chess championship before or since.  After starting off the match down 0-2 (he did not even show up to play the second game), he won an electrifying game 3 with an early novelty in the Benoni defense. 

 Fischer went on to win game 5 with the black pieces, and then played a positional masterpiece to win game 6.  Spassky, himself, gave Fischer a standing ovation immediately after this game.

Fischer eventually defeated Spassky by the score of 12½-8½ to become the 11th world champion.  In 1975, the enigmatic Fischer elected not to defend his world champion title-he is the only world champion to do this.  Afterward, Fischer became a recluse and disappeared from the chess scene entirely for 17 years.  In 1992, Fischer won an unofficial rematch against Spassky in Yugoslavia.

Bobby Fischer in Amsterdam 1972
The Enigmatic Fischer in Amsterdam 1972 | © Dutch National Archive.

Despite some of Fischer's incomprehensible decisions after becoming world champion, his legacy still lives on today.  Multiple generations of chess players either learned the game because of him, or were greatly inspired by his play.  Fischer has two books listed in Chess.com's top ten chess books, and 3 of the 7 movies listed in Chess.com's Chess Movies You Do Not Want To Miss are either about or closely related to Fischer.

Although he was known for his brilliant opening play and theoretical novelties on the biggest stages, as well as his fantastic middlegame play, his endgame play was also exceptional and well worth studying - Fischer was a complete player.  Fischer, the most famous player of all time, passed away on January 17, 2008 at the age of 64, the same number of squares as there are on a chessboard.

Bobby Fischer grave
Bobby Fischer's grave, located in Iceland

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