“The United States is an illegitimate country ... (it) belongs to the red man, the American Indian.”
-- Bobby Fischer (March 24, 2005)
Robert J. Fischer shocked the world with his chess genius, and stunned the
world with his vanishing act. Bobby became U.S. Champion by the time he was
14. At fifteen years, six months, he was named “grandmaster” (the youngest
in history at the time). After a meteoric career that alternated between
brilliance and turmoil, Fischer defeated Soviet Boris Spassky to claim
America’s first World Championship in 1972 and is arguably the greatest
chess player who has ever lived. Living as a virtual recluse since 1977,
Fischer’s myth has grown through endless rumors, innuendo, and speculation,
and his shadow still looms large over the chess community.
“From my close contact with authors and chess players, I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.”
-- Marcel Duchamp
Fischer was unpredictable, egotistical, and difficult -- a chess genius without peer, and without much in the way of social graces. John Collins was one of Bobby’s earliest chess teachers. In his book, My Seven Chess Prodigies, Collins had this to say about young Bobby: “I, nor nobody else, taught Bobby. Geniuses like Beethoven, Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, and Fischer come out of the head of Zeus, seem to be genetically programmed, know before instructed. So, I might have said of Bobby what Wenzel Ruzicka, a noted music teacher, said of Franz Schubert: ‘This one has learned from God’.”
The Brooklyn-born Fischer’s chess accomplishments certainly qualify as “godly.” In a 1971 tournament game against Soviet legend Tigran Petrosian, a power outage caused a postponement. Petrosian argued that Fischer’s chess clock should continue to run even though Bobby obviously could not see the board. The Soviet grandmaster claimed that Fischer was analyzing the position in his head. Here’s the catch: Fischer agreed. During the eleven minutes of darkness, the clock ran and, of course, Fischer won. A year later, Bobby easily defeated World Champ Spassky after losing the first game and callously forfeiting the second.
It was after defeating Spassky that his reclusive, paranoid nature reached fruition. Fischer has never officially defended his title (he sees it as having never lost the title) and, since his descent into obsessive secrecy began, “searching for Bobby Fischer” has become a cottage industry. Fischer sightings are the stuff of lore. For example, on May 26, 1981, he was jailed for vagrancy in Pasadena. The police, claiming that the disheveled Fischer resembled a bank robbery suspect, took him in. Once in custody, his clothes were taken from him. To avoid freezing, Bobby cut open a mattress and crawled in. He was promptly charged with destroying prison property. During this ordeal, the former champion was beaten, choked, degraded verbally, deprived of the right to make a phone call, and threatened with the prospect of being sent to a mental hospital for “observation.” Fischer penned a short pamphlet on this experience, “I Was Tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse” in which he declares, “legality is a sham at the jailhouse.” Not surprisingly, the author had still credited himself as “Bobby Fischer, The World Chess Champion.”
The pamphlet is a melodramatic recounting of an admittedly harrowing experience. Fischer himself calls it “...a brief outline, a hastily written sketch, of the horrendous and incredible but astonishingly true events that occured (sic) to me in my life between about 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, May 26, 1981 and about 1:30 p.m. Thursday, May 28, 1981. I do not pretend this is literature. However, it is absolutely accurate in all the main points, at least a thousand times more accurate and truthful than anything you will hear from the other side...”
It ain’t exactly Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” but it has pathos. To
illustrate Fischer’s continuing hold on the chess community, this pamphlet
was a bestseller in chess clubs across the country despite the fact it never
makes mention of the game.
“Chess is a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever when they are only wasting their time.”
-- George Bernard Shaw
If all this sounds a tad, uh, “offbeat,” we must consider that madness and chess aren’t exactly strangers. America’s first chess legend, Paul Morphy, devoured the chess world in the mid-19th century. His retirement at the height of his powers pre-dates Fischer’s by 100 years...and Morphy supposedly spent the rest of his days talking to himself as he meandered through the streets of his native New Orleans. The great Czech world champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, saw his game reach such a level of perfection that he took to challenging God, offering him odds. (When Fischer heard of this, he first stated that no one could give odds to the Almighty. However, after some thought, Bobby boasted, “But with white, I should be able to draw against him.")
A political chameleon, the enigmatic Fischer once entered a tournament in Cuba and played chess against Communist icons like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara yet, it was craven Commie-hater Henry Kissinger who appealed to the chess master’s patriotic interests in 1972 to convince Fischer to go through with the Spassky match. Bobby’s mother, Regina, was an avowed left-winger whose radical anti-war stance kept the White House from inviting her son for lunch after his defeat of Spassky. Despite his mother’s Jewish heritage, Bobby openly admires Adolf Hitler and believes the Bolshevik Revolution was “orchestrated by Jews.” He renounced Judaism and joined up with Ted Armstrong’s fundamentalist Christian sect, the Worldwide Church of God, in 1961. Fischer calls current champion, Garry Kasparov “Weinstein the Jew” (after his father’s death, the Russian grandmaster dropped “Weinstein” for his mother’s more chess-like surname, “Kasparov") and he will not read Chess Life magazine because it is “run by Jews.” He called the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE, the international governing body of the game) “a crooked organization run by Communists from Moscow.”
In 1992, Fischer finally succeeded in making himself an authentic fugitive by playing an exhibition match against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia. The U.S. charged him with violating sanctions and he has since been legitimately on the run...only surfacing after September 11 to express his thoughts about the terror attacks on a Filipino radio station.
In an interview with Radio Bombo in Baguio City, Fischer said: “This is all wonderful news. It is time to finish off the U.S. once and for all. I was happy and could not believe what was happening. All the crimes the U.S. has committed in the world. This just shows, what goes around comes around, even to the U.S.”
More recently, he was detained by Japanese officials in July 2004 for using an invalid U.S. passport (Fischer says he was “kidnapped"). Even as Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi contemplated handing him over to American authorities, Iceland (where Fischer defeated Spassky in 1972 and remains a folk hero) granted him citizenship. The 62-year-old Fischer arrived there in late March and wasted no time voicing his opinions about his native land.
“Bush does not respect law,” he said, calling Koizumi a “stooge” for America. “The U.S. is evil. They talk about the axis of evil. What about the allies of evil ... the U.S., England, Japan, Australia? These are the evildoers.”
Since Iceland has an extradition treaty with the U.S., Fischer’s future is still in doubt. When asked if he intended to tone down his anti-U.S. rhetoric, he chuckled.
“I grew up with the concept of freedom of speech. I’m too old,” he said. “It’s too late for me to adjust to the new world, the new world order.”
Now, it’s Washington’s move.
Mickey Z. is the author of several books and can be found on the Web at: http://www.mickeyz.net.
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