Robert James "Bobby" Fischer (born March 9, 1943) is a former world chess champion, and the only American to win the FIDE world chess championship. He won the FIDE World Chess Championship on September 1, 1972, and lost the FIDE title when he failed to defend it on April 3, 1975. He was the second American to have been hailed as world chess champion, the first being Paul Morphy in 1858 (though Morphy was not in the line of champions that later began with Wilhelm Steinitz). Fischer is considered by most to have been one of the hardest working and most gifted chess players of all time. He is also well known for his eccentricity, unconventional behavior, and political views. Despite his prolonged absence from competitive play, or perhaps because of it, he still is among the best known of all chess players.
Life and playing career
Fischer was born in Chicago to Regina Wender, an American riveter in a defense plant who later became a teacher, nurse and physician, and Hans-Gerhardt Fischer, a German biophysicist. 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 the game of 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 W. Collins to be his chess teacher. Collins had taught several top players, including Robert Byrne and William Lombardy. Fischer spent much time at Collins's house, and some have described Collins as a father figure for Fischer. He attended but dropped out of Erasmus Hall High School, where many teachers remembered him as difficult.
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 Donald Byrne, who later became an International Master, is referred to as "The Game of the Century," though many other games have also been described in similar terms (such as Kasparov-Topalov, 1999).
Becoming a Grandmaster
In January 1958, Fischer became the U.S. 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 International Grandmaster.
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 FIDE that eventually led to the dismantling of the Candidates Tournament into a series of knockout matches.
Preparing for the World Championship
It was the 1969 candidates' cycle that put Fischer on the road to the world championship. The first step in the championship process was the zonal tournaments around the world. The U.S. Championship that year was also the zonal, with the top three finishers qualifying for the next stage, the Interzonal. Fischer, however, had sat out the U.S. Championship because of disagreements about the tournament's format and prize fund. To enable Fischer to compete for the title, the third-place finisher, Grandmaster Pal Benko, gave up his coveted place in the Interzonal. All the other participants also had to agree to defer to Fischer, which they did. This unusual arrangement was the work of Ed Edmondson, then the Executive Director of the United States Chess Federation.
Fischer proceeded to win the Interzonal by a remarkable 3.5 points, finishing with seven consecutive wins (one by default). He continued his awesome display of chess prowess in the Candidates matches, creating a lopsided series of results which still has not been equaled by the world's top players. Both Mark Taimanov (USSR) and Bent Larsen of Denmark, the 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. Fischer won the first game to complete a remarkable streak of twenty consecutive wins. Petrosian broke the streak by beating Fischer in the second game. After three draws, however, Fischer won the next four games to win the match 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 London financier Jim Slater donated $125,000 to the prize fund, bringing it 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, the first rating of 2700+ ever. After Fischer, dozens of players, including Garry Kasparov, have broken the 2700 barrier). 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.
Publicity of chess in the United States
Fischer's winning of the title brought both him and chess tremendous publicity in the United States. The US public went wild over Fischer's victory against Spassky. Fischer became an instant celebrity whose name became known by people who knew nothing about chess. He received countless product endorsement offers, and even made an appearance on national TV. Membership in the United States Chess Federation tripled, and in the US countless people took up the game, creating what is commonly called the "Fischer Boom" years. The last time chess had been so topical among the general American public had been when Paul Morphy returned to the US after beating Europe's greatest masters.
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, instead selecting a format in which, unlike all prior matches, the challenger would have no greater burden to unseat the defending champion. Fischer refused to accept and was held to have resigned his title. Karpov became champion by default.
Fischer then disappeared, and did not publicly play chess for nearly twenty years.
Disappearance and aftermath
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 20 years of non-competition. This match — which was played with his new clock (see "Chess innovations", below) — took place in Budva, FR Yugoslavia, in spite of a severe UN embargo which included sanctions on sports events. He insisted that organizers bill the match as "The World Chess Championship", although at this time Garry Kasparov was the recognized FIDE champion. The purse for this match was reported to be $1 million.
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.
Fischer won the match and collected the $3.3 million prize. Then he disappeared again. Then in 1999 he gave a call-in interview to a Hungarian radio station that started off with him answering questions of listeners, but quickly degenerated into an incoherent rant in which Fischer described himself as the victim of an international Jewish conspiracy.
The Budapest station eventually cut him off, but a similar episode occurred after the September 11, 2001 terrorism attacks. Here, Fischer gave a broadcast interview to Bombo Radyo, a Baguio City-based small public-radio station. "This is all wonderful news," Fischer said. "I applaud the act. The U.S. 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 U.S. Fuck the U.S. I want to see the U.S. wiped out."
Similar broadcasts were made through a station in Iceland. The sudden re-emergence was apparently triggered when some of Fischer's belongings, which had been stored in a Pasadena, California storage unit, were sold by the landlord in response to nonpayment of rent. Fischer has been reported to be living in Budapest, and most recently Japan.
Although Fischer has not played chess in public since 1992, there have been a number of rumors about him playing on the Internet (none of them widely accepted as having basis in reality). In 2001, rumors surfaced claiming that Fischer played speed chess anonymously at the Internet Chess Club, 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. 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.
Detention in 2004
On July 13, 2004, Fischer was detained at Narita International Airport in Narita, Japan near Tokyo for allegedly using a revoked U.S. passport while trying to board a Japan Airlines flight to Ninoy Aquino International Airport near Manila, Philippines. Fischer used a genuine passport that the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland issued to him in 1997, but which was revoked in 2003. It has been reported that Fischer traveled frequently between Tokyo and Manila using his U.S. passport.
He has been wanted by the United States government since 1992 when his match with Spassky in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia violated the presidential executive order #12810 of George H. W. Bush based on UN sanctions against engaging in economic activities in Yugoslavia. Japan and the United States currently maintain a mutually binding extradition treaty.
A website called "Fischer Watch"  (http://www.angelfire.com/ab7/fischer/index.htm) has been set up to track Fischer's dealings with the U.S. State Department. It provides a timeline of the events, along with supporting articles and documentation.
Bobby Fischer says he is renouncing his U.S. citizenship according to the AFP.
On August 16, 2004, it was reported that Fischer would be marrying Miyoko Watai, the President of the Japanese Chess Association, with whom he has been living since 2000. There has been speculation that the move occurred in order to aid Fischer's chances of being allowed to stay in Japan. He also appealed to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell to help him renounce his citizenship.
On August 24, Japan's Justice Minister rejected Fischer's appeal that he be allowed to remain in the country and ordered him deported.
In 1988, Fischer filed for U.S. Patent #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). Other aspects of Fischer's patent, such as a synthesized voice announcing how much time the players have, thus eliminating the need for them to keep looking at the clock, have not been adopted. The patent expired in November of 2001 because of overdue maintenance fees.
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. Formally, chess would then be one of the possible setups of FRC or Chess960 as they call it today because of its 960 possible setups. 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 organized, and, in 2003, the establishment of a World Championship in the variant. GM Peter Svidler from Russia won a match against GM Peter Leko in Mainz to become the first Chess960 world champion. In 2004, Svidler has to defend his WNCA (World New Chess Federation) title against GM Levon Aronian. Fischer himself, however, has not played the game in public (just as he has not played orthodox chess in public since 1992).
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, it is widely believed, was herself Jewish, though Fischer denies this - in a Harpers' magazine interview, dated 1962, Fischer had no problem admitting that his mother was 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).
Fischer has had some deeply controversial political views, including a rabid and unapologetic anti-semitism.
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  (http://home.att.ne.jp/moon/fischer/list/p_42/42_0.htm). By Jewish Law standards he would be considered Jewish since his mother was. 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. Apparently 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.
Fischer cites the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer as an example of a "Jewish conspiracy" to make money off him and sully his reputation at the same time. The film is about a child chess prodigy and deals with Fischer as both an American ideal of a chess champion and an example of the kind of ruthless and petty competitor that the child in the film refuses to emulate.
In the early 1970s, Fischer was a member of Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God but had broken with the group by 1977.
Fischer in popular culture
Fischer became a popular icon after his win against Spassky, and that match was fictionalized in the British musical Chess, whose American protagonist was loosely but recognizably modeled after Fischer.
Fisher is the author of two best-selling books on chess: My 60 Memorable Games and Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess. More recently, his name appeared in the title of the film Searching for Bobby Fischer.
Quotations about Fischer
"His chess technique is nearly a miracle. In their youth, only a few players could handle the endgame so precisely. Only two such players are known to me, Smyslov and Capablanca."
— Former world chess champion Max Euwe about teenage Fischer.
Quotations by Fischer
"All that matters on the chessboard is good moves."
"Chess is life."
"This just shows, what goes around comes around, even to the US." (http://www.findarticles.com/cf_dls/m1111/1822_304/83553505/p1/article.jhtml) — About the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In an interview on Philippine radio, he was quoted as saying, "This is all wonderful news. It's time ... to finish off the U.S. once and for all."
"The United States is a farce controlled by dirty, hook-nosed circumcised Jew bastards."  (http://www.ishipress.com/fischer1.htm)
Also on Philippines radio, on May 24, 1999: "America is totally under control of the Jews, you know. I mean, look what they're doing in Yugoslavia ... The Secretary of State [then Madeleine Albright] and the Secretary of Defense [then William S. Cohen] are, are dirty Jews."
Writings of Bobby Fischer
My 60 Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1969) (the new edition was edited by J Nunn and introduces some mistakes, Fischer did not authorize the text changes)
Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess by Bobby Fischer, Donn Mosenfelder, Stuart Margulies (Bantam Books, May 1972, ISBN 0553263153)