Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bobby Fischer 1943- 2008

He inspired me, as he did thousands of other kids, with his legendary chess skills, and his world championship win over Boris Spassky at one of the many depths of the Cold War:

Mr. Fischer was the most powerful American player in history, and the most enigmatic. After scaling the heights of fame, he all but dropped out of chess, losing money and friends and living under self-imposed exile in Budapest, Japan, possibly in the Philippines and Switzerland, and finally in Iceland, moving there in 2005 and becoming a citizen.

More on Fischer vs. Spassky in 1972, and its rematch twenty years later:

In 1992, he came out of a long seclusion for a $5 million rematch against his old nemesis, the Russian-born grandmaster Boris Spassky. The match, in Yugoslavia, commemorated the 20th anniversary of the two men’s monumental meeting in Reykjavik and Mr. Fischer’s most glorious triumph.

Mr. Fischer won the rematch handily, but it was a sad reprise of their face-off in the summer of 1972.

In that earlier encounter, Mr. Fischer wrested the world championship from the elegant Mr. Spassky to become the first and, as yet, only American to win the title, one that Soviet-born players had held for more than four decades. It was the cold war fought with chess pieces in an out-of-the-way place.

Mr. Fischer won with such brilliance and dramatic flair that he became an unassailable representative of greatness in the world of competitive games, much as Babe Ruth had been and Michael Jordan would become.

“It was Bobby Fischer who had, single-handedly, made the world recognize that chess on its highest level was as competitive as football, as thrilling as a duel to the death, as aesthetically satisfying as a fine work of art, as intellectually demanding as any form of human activity,” Harold C. Schonberg, who reported on the Reykjavik match for The New York Times, wrote in his 1973 book “Grandmasters of Chess.”

He was ahead of his time in other ways as well ...

Fischer renounced his U.S. citizenship and spent nine months in custody before the dispute was resolved when Iceland — a chess-mad nation of 300,000 — granted him citizenship.

"They talk about the 'axis of evil,'" Fischer said when he arrived in Iceland. "What about the allies of evil ... the United States, England, Japan, Australia? These are the evildoers."

Like his other extravagances, he took it a little too far ...

He praised the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying, "I want to see the U.S. wiped out," and described Jews as "thieving, lying bastards." Fischer's mother was Jewish.

Checkmate, Bobby. You'll be missed by this very average chess player.

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