As a teenager, Fischer became famous as a chess prodigy. In 1972, he became the first, and so far the only, American to win the official World Chess Championship (though Wilhelm Steinitz, the first official world champion, became an American citizen while he was champion) defeating defending champion Boris Spassky, of the Soviet Union, in a match held in Reykjavík, Iceland. The match was widely publicized as a Cold War battle. Fischer is often referred to as one of the greatest chess players of all time. In 2005, Iceland awarded citizenship to Fischer in recognition of his 30-year-old match that put the country "on the map".
In 1975, Fischer failed to defend his title when he could not come to agreement with the international chess federation FIDE over the conditions for the match. He became more reclusive and played no more competitive chess until 1992, when he had a rematch with Spassky. The competition was held in Yugoslavia, which was then under a strict United Nations embargo. This led to a conflict with the US government, and he never returned to his native country.
In his later years, Fischer lived in Hungary, Germany, the Philippines, and Japan. During this time he made increasingly anti-American and anti-Semitic statements. During the 2004–2005 time period, after his U.S. passport was revoked, he was detained by Japanese authorities for nine months under threat of extradition. After Iceland granted him citizenship, the Japanese authorities released him to that country, where he lived until his death in 2008.
A 2002 article by Peter Nicholas and Clea Benson of The Philadelphia Inquirer suggests that Paul Nemenyi, a Hungarian Jewish physicist, may have been Fischer's biological father. The article quotes an FBI report that states that Regina Fischer returned to the United States in 1939, while Hans-Gerhardt Fischer never entered the United States, having been refused admission by US immigration officials because of alleged Communist sympathies. Regina and Nemenyi had an affair in 1942, and he made monthly child support payments to Regina. Nemenyi died in March, 1952.
In May 1949, the six-year-old Fischer learned how to play chess along with his sister in instructions found in a chess set that was bought at a candy store below their Brooklyn apartment. He saw his first chess book a month later. For over a year he played chess on his own. At age seven, he began to play chess seriously, joining the Brooklyn Chess Club and receiving instruction from its president, Carmine Nigro. He later joined the Manhattan Chess Club, one of the strongest in the world, in June, 1955. Other important early influences were provided by Master and chess journalist Hermann Helms and Grandmaster Arnold Denker. Denker served as a mentor to young Bobby, often taking him to watch professional hockey games at Madison Square Garden, to cheer the New York Rangers. Denker wrote that Bobby enjoyed those treats and never forgot them; the two became lifelong friends. When Fischer was thirteen, his mother asked the Master John W. Collins to be his chess tutor. Collins had coached several top players, including future grandmasters Robert Byrne and William Lombardy. Fischer spent much time at Collins' house, and some have described Collins as a father figure for Fischer. The Hawthorne Chess Club was the name for the group which Collins coached. Fischer also was involved with the Log Cabin Chess Club. Another mentor and friend during those years was the broadcaster and author Dick Schaap, who often took Fischer to basketball games of the New York Knicks.
Bobby Fischer attended Erasmus Hall High School at the same time as Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond. The student council of Erasmus Hall awarded him a gold medal for his chess achievements. Fischer dropped out of Erasmus in 1959 at age 16, the minimum age for doing so, saying that school had little more to offer him.
When Fischer was 16, his mother moved out of their apartment to pursue medical training. Her friend Joan Rodker, who had met Regina when the two were "idealistic communists" living in Moscow in the 1930s, believes that Fischer resented his mother for being mostly absent as a mother, a communist activist and an admirer of the Soviet Union, and that this led to his hatred for the Soviet Union. In letters to Rodker, Fischer's mother states her desire to pursue her own "obsession" of training in medicine and writes that her son would have to live in their Brooklyn apartment without her: "It sounds terrible to leave a 16-year-old to his own devices, but he is probably happier that way.
Fischer's first real triumph was winning the United States Junior Chess Championship in July 1956. He scored 8.5/10 at Philadelphia to become the youngest-ever junior champion at age 13, a record that stands to this day. In the 1956 U.S. Open Chess Championship at Oklahoma City, Fischer scored 8.5/12 to tie for 4-8th places, with Arthur Bisguier winning. He then played in the first Canadian Open Chess Championship at Montreal 1956, scoring 7/10 to tie for 8-12th places, with Larry Evans winning. Fischer's famous game from the 3rd Rosenwald Trophy tournament at New York 1956, against Donald Byrne, who later became an International Master, was called "The Game of the Century" by Hans Kmoch. At the age of 13, he was awarded the US title of National Master, then the youngest ever.
In 1957, Fischer played a two-game match against former World Champion Max Euwe at New York, losing 0.5-1.5. He then successfully defended his US Junior title, scoring 8.5/9 at San Francisco. Next, he won the U.S. Open Chess Championship at Cleveland on tie-breaking points over Arthur Bisguier, scoring 10/12. Fischer defeated the young Filipino Master Rodolfo Tan Cardoso by 6-2 in a match in New York. He next won the New Jersey Open Championship. From these triumphs, Fischer was given entry into the invitational U.S. Chess Championship at New York. He won, with 10.5/13, becoming in January 1958, at age 14, the youngest US champion ever (this record still stands).
Fischer eventually played in eight United States Chess Championships, each held in New York City, winning every one.
His scores were:
His 11-0 win in the 1963-64 championship is the only perfect score in the history of the tournament, and one of only a handful of perfect scores in high-level chess tournaments ever, one that has been called "the most remarkable achievement of this kind.
Fischer had been forced to attend school, and therefore missed the 1958 Olympiad. But he represented the United States on top board with great distinction at four Olympiads:
|Olympiad||Individual result||US team result|
|Leipzig 1960||13/18 (Silver medal)||Silver.|
|Havana 1966||15/17 (Silver)||Silver|
|Siegen 1970||10/13 (Silver)||Fourth|
His overall total was +40, =18, −7, for 49/65 or 75.4%. He had planned to play for the United States at the 1968 Lugano Olympiad, but backed out when he saw the playing hall with its bad lighting.
Before the Candidates' tournament, Fischer competed in the 1958-9 US Championship (winning 8.5/11) and then in international tournaments at Mar del Plata, Santiago, and Zurich. He played unevenly in the two South American tournaments. At Mar del Plata he finished tied for third with Borislav Ivkov, half a point behind tournament winners Ludek Pachman and Miguel Najdorf. At Santiago, he tied for fourth through sixth places, behind Ivkov, Pachman, and Herman Pilnik. He did better at the strong Zurich event, finishing a point behind world-champion-to-be Mikhail Tal and half a point behind Svetozar Gligoric.
Fischer had, up to this point, dressed like a normal teenager, in jeans and casual shirts, at chess tournaments, but was influenced by veteran Grandmaster Miguel Najdorf, whom he met at Mar del Plata, to improve his appearance. Najdorf dressed well in fine suits. Fischer's strong performances increased his income, and he soon became known for his elegant dress at major events, built up an extensive wardrobe of custom-made suits, and took considerable pride in his image as a young professional.
At the age of 16, Fischer finished a creditable equal fifth out of eight, the top non-Soviet player, at the Candidates Tournament held in Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1959. He scored 12.5/28 but was outclassed by tournament winner Tal, who won all four of their individual games.
Fischer struggled in the subsequent Buenos Aires tournament, finishing with 8.5/19 (won by Viktor Korchnoi and Samuel Reshevsky on 13/19). This was the only real failure of Fischer's competitive career. According to Larry Evans, Fischer's first sexual experience was with a girl to whom Evans introduced him during the tournament. Pal Benko says that Fischer did horribly in the tournament "because he got caught up in women and sex. ... Afterwards, Fischer said he'd never mix women and chess together, and kept the promise. Fischer concluded 1960 by winning a small tournament at Reykjavik with 4.5/5,, and defeating Klaus Darga in an exhibition game in West Berlin.
In 1961, Fischer started a 16-game match with Reshevsky, split between New York and Los Angeles. Despite Fischer's meteoric rise, the veteran Reshevsky (born in 1911, 32 years older than Fischer) was considered the favorite, since he had far more match experience and had never lost a set match. After 11 games and a tie score (two wins apiece with seven draws), the match ended prematurely due to a scheduling dispute between Fischer and match organizer and sponsor Jacqueline Piatigorsky. The hard-fought struggle, with many games being adjourned, had delayed the original match schedule, causing some logistical challenges for site bookings. Reshevsky received the winner's share of the prizes. Fischer later made up with Mrs. Piatigorsky by accepting an invitation to the second Piatigorsky Cup, Santa Monica 1966, which she helped to sponsor.
Fischer was second behind former World Champion Tal at Bled 1961. He defeated Tal head-to-head for the first time, scored 3.5/4 against the Soviet contingent, and finished as the only unbeaten player, with 13.5/19.
In the next World Championship cycle, Fischer won the 1962 Stockholm Interzonal by 2.5 points, scoring 17.5/22, making him one of the favorites for the Candidates Tournament in Curaçao, which began soon afterwards. He finished fourth out of eight with 14/27, the best result by a non-Soviet player but well behind Tigran Petrosian (17.5/27), Efim Geller, and Paul Keres (both 17/27). Tal fell very ill during the tournament, and had to withdraw before completion. Fischer, a friend of Tal's, was the only player who visited him in the hospital..
Following his failure in the 1962 Candidates (at which five of the eight players were from the Soviet Union), Fischer asserted, in an article entitled The Russians Have Fixed World Chess, which was published in Sports Illustrated magazine, August 1962, that three of the Soviet players (Tigran Petrosian, Paul Keres, and Efim Geller) had a pre-arranged agreement to draw their games against each other, in order to save energy and to concentrate on playing against Fischer, and also that a fourth, Victor Korchnoi, had been forced to deliberately lose games to ensure that a Soviet player won the tournament. It is generally thought that the former accusation is correct, but not the latter. (This is discussed further at the World Chess Championship 1963 article). Fischer also stated that he would never again participate in a Candidates' tournament, since the format, combined with the alleged collusion, made it impossible for a non-Soviet player to win. Following Fischer's article, FIDE in late 1962 voted a radical reform of the playoff system, replacing the Candidates' tournament with a format of knockout matches.
In an interview in the January, 1962 issue of Harper's Magazine, Fischer was quoted as saying, "I read a book lately by Nietzsche and he says religion is just to dull the senses of the people. I agree. Nonetheless, Fischer said in 1962 that he had "personal problems" and began to listen to various radio ministers in a search for answers. This is how he first came to listen to The World Tomorrow radio program with Herbert W. Armstrong and his son Garner Ted Armstrong. The Armstrongs' denomination, The Worldwide Church of God (then under its original name, the Radio Church of God), predicted an imminent apocalypse. In late 1963, Fischer began tithing to the church. According to Fischer, he lived a bifurcated life, with a rational chess component and an enthusiastic religious component.
Fischer gave the Worldwide Church of God $61,200 of his 1972 world championship prize money. However, 1972 was a disastrous year for the church, as prophecies by Herbert W. Armstrong were unfulfilled, and the church was rocked by revelations of a series of sex scandals involving Garner Ted Armstrong. Fischer, who felt betrayed and swindled by the Worldwide Church of God, left the church and publicly denounced it.
Fischer decided not to participate in the Amsterdam Interzonal in 1964, thus taking himself out of the 1966 World Championship cycle. He held to this decision even when FIDE changed the format of the eight-player Candidates Tournament from a round-robin to a series of knockout matches, which eliminated the possibility of collusion. Fischer instead embarked on a continent-wide tour through the United States and Canada lasting several months, where he played simultaneous exhibitions and gave lectures. He also turned down an invitation to play for the United States in the 1964 Olympiad.
Fischer wanted to play in the Capablanca Memorial Tournament, Havana 1965, but Americans were not allowed to travel to Cuba at that time. Fischer had traveled to Cuba to play as a youth, before Fidel Castro assumed power in 1959. Fischer was able to play by telegraph, staying in New York and playing from the Marshall Chess Club. His games lasted longer because of the transmission delays and receipt of moves logistics. But Fischer tied for second through fourth places, with 15/21, behind former World Champion Vasily Smyslov, and defeated Smyslov in their game. Chess became a news item in the United States with this unusual achievement.
Fischer started 1966 by winning the U.S. Championship for the seventh time. He then finished second at the 1966 Santa Monica supertournament, just behind world finalist Boris Spassky, scoring 11/18. In 1967, he won the US Championship for the eighth and final time before victories over strong fields at Monte Carlo (7/9) and Skopje (13.5/17). Fischer traveled to the Philippines and played a series of nine exhibition games against Master opposition there, winning eight and drawing one.
In the next World Championship cycle, at the 1967 Sousse Interzonal, Fischer scored a phenomenal 8.5 points in the first 10 games. His observance of the Worldwide Church of God's sabbath was honored by the organizers, but deprived Fischer of several rest days, which led to a scheduling dispute. Fischer forfeited two games in protest and later withdrew, eliminating himself from the 1969 World Championship cycle.
Fischer won the tournaments at Netanya 1968 (11.5/13) and Vinkovci 1968 (11/13) by large margins. He stopped playing for the next 18 months, except for a win in a New York Metropolitan League team match over Anthony Saidy.
The 1969 US Championship was also a zonal qualifier, with the top three finishers advancing to the Interzonal. Fischer, however, had sat out the US Championship because of disagreements about the tournament's format and prize fund. To enable Fischer to compete for the title, Grandmaster Pal Benko gave up his Interzonal place. This unusual arrangement was the work of Ed Edmondson, then the USCF's Executive Director.
Before the Interzonal, in March and April 1970, the world's best players competed in the USSR vs. Rest of the World match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, often referred to as "the Match of the Century." Fischer agreed to allow Bent Larsen of Denmark to play first board for the Rest of the World team in light of Larsen's recent outstanding tournament results, even though Fischer had the higher Elo rating. The USSR team won the match (20.5-19.5), but on second board, Fischer beat Tigran Petrosian, whom Boris Spassky had dethroned as world champion the previous year, 3-1, winning the first two games and drawing the last two.
Following the Match of the Century, the unofficial World Championship of Lightning Chess (5-minute games) was held at Herceg Novi. Fischer annihilated the super-class field with 19/22(+17=4-1), 4.5 points ahead of Tal. Later in 1970, Fischer won tournaments at Rovinj/Zagreb with 13/17 (+10=6-1), and Buenos Aires, where he crushed the field of mostly Grandmasters with no losses: 15/17 (+13=4). Fischer had taken his game to a new level. He defeated Ulf Andersson in an exhibition game for the Swedish newspaper 'Expressen' at Siegen 1970.
The Interzonal was held in Palma de Mallorca in November and December 1970. Fischer won it with a remarkable 18.5-4.5 score (+15=7-1), 3.5 points ahead of Larsen, Efim Geller, and Robert Hübner, who tied for second at 15-8. Fischer finished the tournament with seven consecutive wins (Fischer's final game of the tournament against Oscar Panno went 1.c4 1-0. It was not technically a win by default however, as Panno came to the board and resigned before one hour was up).
Fischer continued his domination in the 1971 Candidates matches. First, he beat Mark Taimanov of the USSR at Vancouver by 6-0. A couple of months later, he repeated the shutout against Larsen at Denver, again by 6-0. Just a year before, Larsen had played first board for the Rest of the World team ahead of Fischer, and had handed Fischer his only loss at the Interzonal. "The record books showed that the only comparable achievement to the 6-0 score against Taimanov was Wilhelm Steinitz's 7-0 win against Joseph Henry Blackburne in 1876 in an era of more primitive defensive technique.
Fischer won a strong lightning event in New York in August 1971 with an overwhelming score of 21.5/22.
Only former World Champion Petrosian, Fischer's final opponent in the Candidates matches, was able to offer resistance in their match played at Buenos Aires. Petrosian played a strong theoretical novelty in the first game and had Fischer on the ropes, but Fischer defended and won the game. This gave Fischer a streak of 20 consecutive wins against the world's top players (in the Interzonal and Candidates matches), the second longest winning streak in chess history after Steinitz's 25-game streak from 1873 to 1882. Petrosian won decisively in the second game, finally snapping Fischer's winning streak. After three consecutive draws, Fischer swept the next four games to win the match 6.5-2.5 (+5=3−1). The final match victory allowed Fischer to challenge World Champion Boris Spassky, whom he had never beaten before (+0=2−3).
The match took place in Reykjavík, Iceland, from July through September 1972. Fischer lost the first two games in strange fashion: the first when he played a risky pawn-grab in a drawn endgame, the second by forfeit when he refused to play the game in a dispute over playing conditions. Fischer would likely have forfeited the entire match, but Spassky, not wanting to win by default, yielded to Fischer's demands to move the next game to a back room, away from the cameras whose presence had upset Fischer. The rest of the match proceeded without serious incident. Fischer won seven of the next 19 games, losing only one and drawing eleven, to win the match 12.5-8.5 and become the 11th World Chess Champion.
The Cold War trappings helped serve to make the result somewhat of a media sensation. This was an American victory in a field that Soviet players had dominated for the past quarter-century, players closely identified with, and subsidized by, the Soviet state. The match was called "The Match of the Century", and received front-page media coverage in the United States and around the world. With his victory, Fischer became an instant celebrity. Upon his return to New York, a Bobby Fischer Day was held, and he was cheered by thousands of fans, a unique display in American chess. He received numerous product endorsement offers (all of which he declined) and appeared on the covers of Life and Sports Illustrated. With American Olympic swimming champion Mark Spitz, he also appeared on a Bob Hope TV special. Membership in the United States Chess Federation doubled in 1972 and peaked in 1974; in American chess, these years are commonly referred to as the "Fischer Boom." Spassky, referring to professional chess, later summarized: "He made chess popular, briefly, and he made us all rich men.
Fischer won the 'Chess Oscar' award for 1970, 1971, and 1972. This award, started in 1967, is determined through votes from chess media and leading players.
A FIDE Congress was held in Nice in June 1974, headed by FIDE president Max Euwe and consisting of both U.S. and USSR representatives. It ruled that the match should continue until six wins, not 10. However, Fischer replied that he would resign his crown and not participate in the match. Instead of accepting Fischer's forfeit, FIDE agreed to allow the match to continue until 10 wins, but ruled it should not last longer than 36 games and rejected the 9-9 clause. Many considered that clause unfair because it would require the challenger to win by at least two games (10-8). In response to FIDE's ruling, Fischer sent a cable to Euwe on June 27, 1974:
In a letter to Larry Evans, published in Chess Life in November 1974, Fischer claimed the usual system (24 games with the first player to get 12.5 points winning, or the champion retaining his title in the event of a 12-12 tie) encouraged the player in the lead to draw games, which he regarded as bad for chess. Not counting draws would be "an accurate test of who is the world's best player. Former U.S. Champion Arnold Denker, who was in contact with Fischer during the negotiations with FIDE, claimed that Fischer wanted a long match to be able to play himself into shape after a three-year layoff.
Due to the continued efforts of US Chess Association officials, a special FIDE Congress was held in March 1975 in Bergen, North Holland in which it was accepted that the match should be of unlimited duration, but the 9:9 clause was once again rejected by a narrow margin of 35 votes to 32. After no reply was received from Fischer, Karpov officially became World Champion by default in April 1975. In his 1991 autobiography, Karpov expressed profound regret that the match did not take place, and claimed that the lost opportunity to challenge Fischer held back his own chess development. Karpov met with Fischer several times after 1975, in friendly but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to arrange a match. Garry Kasparov has argued that Karpov would have had a good chance to defeat Fischer in 1975.
On May 26, 1981, a police patrolman arrested Fischer on the sidewalk of Lake Street in Pasadena, claiming that he matched the description of a man who had just committed a bank robbery in that area. During the arrest, Fischer was slightly injured. He was held for two days and subjected to further assault and interrogation. He was released on $1000 bail and the matter was later dropped. Two weeks later, he published a 14-page pamphlet detailing these experiences and expressing outrage that the arrest had been pre-arranged.
In the early 1980s, Fischer stayed for extended periods in the San Francisco-area home of his friend, the Canadian Grandmaster Peter Biyiasas. In 1981, the two played 17 five-minute games. Despite his layoff from competitive play, Fischer won all of them, according to Biyiasas, who lamented that he was never even able to reach an endgame.
The purse for Fischer's re-match with Spassky was reported to be US$5,000,000 with two-thirds to go to the winner. Fischer won the match, 10 wins to 5 losses, with 15 draws. Many grandmasters observing the match said that Fischer was past his prime. In the book Mortal Games, Kasparov is quoted: "Bobby is playing OK, nothing more. Maybe his strength is around 2600 or 2650. It wouldn't be close between us. Fischer never played any competitive games afterwards.
During the match, the two contestants gave, in all, nine press conferences between games. The content of these press conferences can be found, in full, in the book No Regrets by Yasser Seirawan and George Stefanovic. On page 291, Seirawan writes, "After 23 September , I threw most of what I’d ever read about Bobby out of my head. Sheer garbage. Bobby is the most misunderstood, misquoted celebrity walking the face of the earth". We also learn that Fischer is not camera shy (page 85), that "He smiles and laughs easily" (page 96), and that "... Bobby is a wholly enjoyable conversationalist. A fine wit, he is a very funny man" (page 303).
The U.S. Department of the Treasury had warned Fischer beforehand that his participation was illegal as it violated President George H. W. Bush's Executive Order 12810 that implemented United Nations sanctions against engaging in economic activities in Yugoslavia. In front of the international press, Fischer was filmed spitting on the U.S. order forbidding him to play. Following the match, the Department obtained an arrest warrant for him. Fischer remained wanted by the United States government for the rest of his life and never returned to the United States.
From 2000 to 2002, Fischer lived in Baguio City in the Philippines. He resided in the same compound as the Filipino grandmaster Eugenio Torre, a close friend who acted as his second during his matches with Spassky. Fischer played tennis at the Baguio Country Club, where he met a 30-year-old girl friend from Davao in Baguio City.
Torre introduced Fischer to a 22-year-old woman named Justine Ong (or Marilyn Young). Together, they had a daughter named Jinky Ong, born in 2002 (or 2001) at the Saint Louis University, Baguio City, Sacred Heart Hospital.()
In 2001, Nigel Short said that he had played almost 50 blitz games online with a person whom he believed to be Fischer, but the person's identity has not been verified, and Fischer denied that he was the person.
In 1961 Fischer "made his first public statements despising Jews. In 1984 Fischer sent an open letter to Encyclopedia Judaica, in which he vehemently denied being a Jew and denounced Judaism. In recent years, Fischer's primary means of communicating with the public was via sometimes-outrageous radio interviews. Fischer participated in at least 34 such broadcasts between 1999 and 2006, mostly with radio stations in the Philippines, but also with stations in Hungary, Iceland, Colombia, and Russia.
In 1999, he gave a call-in interview to a radio station in Budapest, Hungary, during which he described himself as the "victim of an international Jewish conspiracy." Fischer's sudden re-emergence was apparently triggered when some of his belongings, which had been stored in a Pasadena, California storage unit, were sold by the landlord, who claimed it was in response to nonpayment of rent. In 2005, some of Fischer's belongings were auctioned on eBay. In 2006, Fischer claimed that his belongings in the storage unit were worth millions. Fischer, whose mother was Jewish, made occasional hostile comments toward Jews from at least the early 1960s. From the 1980s and thereafter, however, his hatred for Jews was a major theme of his public and private remarks. He denied the "Holocaust of the Jews," announced his desire to make "expos[ing] the Jews for the criminals they are [...] the murderers they are" his lifework, and argued that the United States is "a farce controlled by dirty, hook-nosed, circumcised Jew bastards. In one of his radio interviews, Fischer said that it became clear to him in 1977, after reading The Secret World Government by Count Cherep-Spiridovich, that the Jews were targeting him.
Hours after the September 11, 2001, attacks Fischer was interviewed live by Pablo Mercado on the Baguio City station of the Bombo Radyo network, shortly after midnight September 12, 2001 Philippines local time (or shortly after noon on September 11, 2001, New York time). Fischer commented on U.S and Israeli foreign policy that "nobody cares ... [that] the US and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians for years". Informed that "the White House [sic] and Pentagon have been attacked", Bobby Fischer proclaimed "This is all wonderful news." Fischer stated "What goes around comes around even for the United States." and said that if the US fails to change its foreign policy, it "has to be destroyed." After calling for President Bush's death, Fischer also stated he hoped for a coup d'état in the US, and that the military government would then execute "hundreds of thousands of American Jewish ring-leaders", "arrest all the Jews", and "close all synagogues".Subsequent to that interview, Fischer's "right to membership in the United States Chess Federation [was] canceled" by a unanimous 7-0 of the USCF, taken on October 28, 2001.
Chess columnist Shelby Lyman, who in 1972 had hosted the PBS broadcast of that year's Championship, said after Fischer's death that "the anti-American stuff is explained by the fact that ... he spent the rest of his life [after the game in Yugoslavia] fleeing from the US, because he was afraid of being extradited".
Fischer was arrested at Narita International Airport in Narita, Japan, near Tokyo for allegedly using a revoked US passport while trying to board a Japan Airlines flight to Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines. The passport, issued in 1997, had been said by U.S. officials to be revoked in 2003. Fischer assumed that it was still valid.
Tokyo-based Canadian journalist and consultant John Bosnitch set up the "Committee to Free Bobby Fischer" after meeting Fischer at Narita airport and offering to assist him. Bosnitch was subsequently allowed to participate as a friend of the court by an Immigration Bureau panel handling Fischer's case. He then worked to block the Japanese Immigration Bureau's efforts to deport Fischer to the United States and coordinated the legal and public relations campaign to free Fischer until his eventual release. Fischer renounced his United States citizenship. A month later, it was reported that Fischer was marrying Miyoko Watai, the President of the Japanese Chess Association, with whom he had been living since 2000. Fischer also appealed to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell to help him renounce his citizenship. Japan's Justice Minister rejected Fischer's appeal that he be allowed to remain in the country and ordered him deported.
Seeking ways to evade deportation to the United States, Fischer wrote a letter to the government of Iceland in early January 2005 and asked for Icelandic citizenship. Sympathetic to Fischer's plight, but reluctant to grant him the full benefits of citizenship, Icelandic authorities granted him an alien's passport. When this proved insufficient for the Japanese authorities, the Althing agreed unanimously to grant Fischer full citizenship in late March for humanitarian reasons, as they felt he was being unjustly treated by the US and Japanese governments. Fischer unsuccessfully requested German citizenship on the grounds that his late father, Hans Gerhardt Fischer, had been a lifelong German citizen. The US government filed charges of tax evasion against Fischer in an effort to prevent him from traveling to Iceland.
Shortly before his departure to Iceland, on March 23 2005, Fischer and Bosnitch appeared briefly on the BBC World Service, via a telephone link to the Tokyo airport. Bosnitch stated that Fischer would never play traditional chess again. Fischer denounced President Bush as a criminal and Japan as a puppet of the United States. He also stated that he would appeal his case to the US Supreme Court and said that he would not return to the US while Bush was in power.
Upon his arrival in Reykjavík, Fischer was welcomed by a crowd. He gave a news conference in which he was reminded of a past friend, Dick Schaap, by Schaap's son, and Fischer showed that he was still pointedly resentful over his falling out with Schaap Sr. Fischer had an apartment in Reykjavík as his new home.
Fischer lived a reclusive life in Iceland, avoiding entrepreneurs and other people who approached him with various proposals.
On December 10 2006, Fischer phoned in to an Icelandic television station and pointed out a winning combination which was missed, by players and commentators alike, in a chess game that was televised live in Iceland.
Fischer was suffering from degenerative renal failure. This had been a problem for some years, but became acute in October 2007, when Fischer was admitted to a Reykjavík Landspítali hospital for stationary treatment. He stayed there for about seven weeks, being released in a somewhat improved condition in the middle of November. He returned home gravely ill in December apparently rejecting any further Western medicine.
Fischer stayed in an apartment in the same building as his closest friend and spokesman, Garðar Sverrisson, whose wife Kristín Þórarinsdóttir happens to be a nurse and looked after the terminally ill patient. Garðar's two children, especially his son, were very close to Fischer. They were his only close friends and contacts during the last two years of his life.
Fischer did not believe in prolonging life at any cost – such as by the use of large amounts of pain killers or permanent dependence on a dialysis machine. When he was released from the hospital his doctors gave him a few months to live. His wife Miyoko Watai flew in from Japan to spend the Christmas season with him. She returned on January 10, 2008, just before Fischer's death, and so had to make another trip almost immediately after.
In the middle of January his condition deteriorated and he was returned to the hospital, where elevated levels of serum creatinine were found in his blood. He died on January 17 2008, at home in his apartment in Reykjavík. Like his great predecessors Howard Staunton and Wilhelm Steinitz, he died at the age of 64. Magnús Skúlason, who stayed with Fischer until he died, said that his last words were, "Nothing soothes pain like the touch of a person.
Fischer had instructed Garðar that he wished to be buried in the small Catholic cemetery of Laugardælir church, outside the town of Selfoss, 60 km south-east of Reykjavik. It was a place Bobby had visited a number of times with Garðar and Kristín, whose parents live there. He said that the Laugardælur countryside would be perfect as his final resting place, should he die in Iceland. He did not wish anyone to be present at the funeral, except Miyoko Watai and Garðar's family, who would arrange it. On January 21st at noon, after a Catholic funeral presided over by Fr. Jakob Rolland of the diocese of Reykjavik, he was buried according to his wishes.
Fischer's estate was estimated at 140 million ISK (about 1 million GBP or US$2,000,000) and quickly became the object of a legal battle between Fischer's Japanese wife Miyoko Watai and a presumed Filipina heir, Marilyn Young. The dispute seems to have been settled amicably in the Icelandic courts.
He was a recognized expert in the Black side of the Najdorf Sicilian and the King's Indian Defense. He demonstrated several important improvements in the Grünfeld Defense. In the Nimzo-Indian Defense, the line beginning with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 b6 5.Ne2 Ba6 is named for him.
Fischer established the viability of the so-called Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Najdorf Sicilian (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qb6). Although this bold queen sortie, snatching a pawn at the expense of development, had been considered dubious, Fischer succeeded in proving its soundness. He won many games with it, losing only to Spassky in the 11th game of their 1972 match. Today, the Poisoned Pawn is a respected line played by many of the world's leading players.
On the White side of the Sicilian, Fischer made advances to the theory of the line beginning 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 (or e6) 6. Bc4, which is now called the Fischer-Sozin Attack. In 1960, prompted by a loss to Spassky, Fischer wrote an article entitled "A Bust to the King's Gambit" for the first issue of Larry Evans' American Chess Quarterly, in which he recommended 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d6. This variation has since become known as the Fischer Defense to the King's Gambit. After Fischer's article was published, the King's Gambit was seen even less frequently in master-level games, although Fischer took up the White side of it in three games (preferring 3.Bc4 to 3.Nf3), winning them all.
The endgame of a rook and bishop versus a rook and knight (both sides with pawns) has sometimes been called the "Fischer Endgame" because of three instructive wins by Fischer (with the bishop) in 1970 and 1971 over Mark Taimanov. One of the games was in the 1970 Interzonal and the other two were in their 1971 quarter-final candidates match.
On June 19, 1996, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Fischer announced and advocated a variant of chess called Fischer Random Chess, also known as Chess960, that is intended to allow players to contest games based on their understanding of chess rather than their ability to memorize opening variations.
Fischer Random was designed to remove the importance of opening book memorization. Fischer complained in a 2006 phoned-in call with a television interviewer that talented celebrity players from long ago, if brought back from the dead to play today, would no longer be competitive, because of the progress in memorization of opening books. "Some kid of fourteen today, or even younger, could get an opening advantage against Capablanca," he said, merely because of opening-book memorization, which Fischer disdained. "Now chess is completely dead. It is all just memorization and prearrangement. It’s a terrible game now. Very uncreative. Fischer described the unsavory side of chess in its current form at the highest levels.
Fischer is considered one of the greatest players of all time. Some leading players and some of Fischer's biographers rank him as the greatest player who ever lived. Many other writers say that he is arguably the greatest player ever, without reaching a definitive conclusion. Leonard Barden wrote, "Most experts place him the second or third best ever, behind Kasparov but probably ahead of Karpov.
After routing Taimanov, Larsen, and Petrosian in 1971, Fischer achieved a then-record Elo rating of 2785. He was rated so far ahead of Spassky and everyone else that he lost five rating points by beating Spassky 12.5-7.5 in played games, taking him to a 2780 rating.
Although international ratings were only introduced in 1970, Chessmetrics.com uses modern algorithms to rank performances retrospectively and uniformly throughout chess history. According to the Chessmetrics calculation, Fischer's peak rating was 2895 in October 1971. His one-year peak average was 2881, in 1971, and this is the highest of all time. His three-year peak average was 2867, from January 1971 to December 1973 - the second highest ever, just behind Garry Kasparov. Chessmetrics ranks Fischer as the #1 player in the world for a total of 109 different months, running (not consecutively) from February 1964 until July 1974.
Fischer's great rival Mikhail Tal praised him as "the greatest genius to have descended from the chess heavens.
American rival Grandmaster Arthur Bisguier, who won his first tournament game against Fischer, drew his second, and then lost the remaining 13, wrote "Robert James Fischer is one of the few people in any sphere of endeavour who has been accorded the accolade of being called a legend in his own time.
Speaking after Fischer's death, Serbian Grandmaster Ljubomir Ljubojevic said, "A man without frontiers. He didn't divide the East and the West, he brought them together in their admiration of him.
In a sympathetic obituary for Fischer, Kasparov wrote "he became the detonator of an avalanche of new chess ideas, a revolutionary whose revolution is still in progress."
There have been numerous books, in many languages, listing Fischer as author or endorsing the product. One such is