Former chess champion Bobby Fischer dies

Chess legend Bobby Fischer, whose tortured genius earned him both worldwide acclaim and disdain, has died at the age of 64 at his home in Iceland.

“I can confirm that he died yesterday [Thursday] in his home due to an illness,” close friend Gardar Sverrisson said. Fischer was reportedly hospitalised for a period last year.

Einar Einarsson, the chairperson of a Fischer support group in Iceland, said the cause of death was kidney failure.

“He was not a man who wanted to seek medical attention. He didn’t believe in Western medicine,” Einarsson said.

United States-born Fischer, who made world headlines by defeating Soviet world champion Boris Spassky in a celebrated Cold War chess showdown in Reykjavik in 1972, took Icelandic citizenship in 2005 to avoid being deported to the US.

He was wanted for breaking international sanctions by playing a chess match in Yugoslavia in 1992.

Considered by some as the greatest chess player of all time, Fischer’s particular genius was a troubled one that saw his life run steadily downhill since his moment of glory at age 29.

He was said to have an IQ higher than Albert Einstein’s and once thought his gift would win him undying fortune.
He would make extravagant demands over matches in a way more commonly seen in boxing.

But while the theatrics made him a celebrity—and are credited with helping him unnerve his opponents—he also succeeded in alienating himself from all but a small band of friends and chess enthusiasts.

Despite having a Jewish mother, Fischer was an outspoken anti-Semite, using broadcasts at far-flung radio stations to accuse Jews of everything from his legal woes to an alleged conspiracy to kill off elephants.

His anti-US rhetoric became equally inflammatory over the years.

In the 1972 “match of the century” in Iceland, Fischer, throwing regular tantrums over the position of cameras and the audience, relied on his own wit to end 24 years of Soviet chess supremacy by dethroning Spassky, who had by his side an army of Russian master strategists.

Fischer, whose chess education had consisted of locking himself in a room for days on end facing off against himself, refused to play again after his triumph and was stripped of his title in 1975.

His paranoia was reinforced in 1981 when his scruffy appearance made him a mistaken suspect in a California bank robbery. In another of his interviews on Filipino radio, Fischer accused the media of trying to “poison the public against me”.

“They constantly use the words eccentric, eccentric, eccentric, weird,” Fischer said. “I am boring. I am boring!”

He returned to chess in 1992 with a rematch against Spassky in Yugoslavia, then in the throes of the Balkan wars. At a press conference he spat on a US government notice warning him he was breaking sanctions, and proceeded to defeat Spassky once again, winning more than $3-million on which he boasted he would never pay tax.

He was back in the media spotlight on September 11 2001 when he rang up a Filipino radio station to hail the “wonderful news” of the terrorist attacks on the US and launch a profanity-laden anti-Jewish tirade.

‘Utterly dominated chess’

“For two years of his life he completely and utterly dominated chess like no one has before,” said David Edmonds, who co-authored a book on the 1972 match, Bobby Fischer Goes to War.

“I think many in the chess world don’t want Bobby Fischer’s anti-Semitic and violently anti-American remarks to sully his reputation as one of the greatest chess players of all time,” Edmonds said.

In one part of the September 11 broadcast, Fischer declared that “nobody has single-handedly done more for the US than me” by making it seem “as an intellectual country.”

“But now I’m not useful anymore. You see, the Cold War is over and now they want to wipe me out, get everything I have, put me into prison,” he said.

On July 13 2004, Fischer was taken into custody at Tokyo’s Narita airport for travelling on a passport that Washington said had been revoked.

With Japan deliberating for months on whether to send him to the United States, Iceland came to his rescue, granting him citizenship in tribute to his role in making the small island—and the game of chess—famous in 1972.

“He was quite happy to be in Iceland, but perhaps he felt a little bit trapped ... since he could not travel. The US government was always after him,” Einarsson said on Friday.

Fischer never married his Japanese fiancée, the head of the Japan Chess Association, Miyoko Watai, but she visited him frequently in Iceland, Einarsson said.

“She was here last week ... She has been informed” of his death, he said.

Spassky also continued to support Fischer despite the controversy. In an open letter he wrote he was ready to share a jail cell with him if Fischer was extradited to the United States.

“Just let us play chess,” said the twice-defeated Spassky.—AFP

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