EHere is an anecdote about the brilliant young chess player who, long before he would proclaim his duel for the world championship a fight of the free world against world evil, is in the car with a colleague and the journalist Dimitri Bjelica. The journalist drives much too fast, the player yells at him: “Slow down, otherwise we’ll cause an accident!” To which the journalist: “If we die now, tomorrow the headline will be: ‘Dimitri Bjelica died in a car accident together with two other passengers come’.” The young chess player replies: “No, Dimitri, in America I’m better known than you.”
Humor wasn’t Bobby Fischer’s thing. According to many experts, self-mockery, situation comedy, all of this was absent from the man who won the world championship on September 1, 1972 in Reykjavik, Iceland. The history of chess may be full of megalomaniacs and drunkards – the famous Alekhine is said to have once challenged God to a duel in a drunken drunken state, with a pawn in front of God. But no one lived as much as Fischer from the ability to work so infinitely into what he had mastered.
To practice for days – openings, middlegames, endgame. Using psychological terror to drive his opponents to the brink of insanity until they were no longer able to counter his brutal offensive play. One of the very few bon mots that has survived from Bobby Fischer’s mouth is: “I have never won against a healthy player.”
However, that was probably also the downfall of this man: the inability to develop a little distance to himself and things, a little composure. After taking the title from Boris Spasski in a match in Reykjavík in 1972 – his opponent complained of mental problems during the games due to Fischer’s constant antics – the American never defended the title again.
It was believed he couldn’t bear the thought of ever losing a game again, all the more so because he was a world champion and a national hero. On the chessboard he had cleared away the overwhelming Soviets like a bulldozer single-handedly. A world champion who was supposed to meet Fischer’s requirements was not allowed to suffer a defeat. A world champion had to be perfect, he had to be infallible. Qualities that one shouldn’t ask of people, but which this man expected of himself.
Shortly after his birth on March 9, 1943, Robert James Fischer would fall victim to broken family relationships. He never met his father, a German physicist. His mother Regina, a nurse, was left to look after her grumpy son alone in brawny America in the 1950s. Fischer grew up in Brooklyn and soon became a member of the local chess club.
Already his first years on the board made him famous. As a 13-year-old, he played a match against Donald Byrne that critics described as the game of the century. In 1963, Fischer managed another great victory against the same opponent: “The final combination was so clever that the moment I gave up, both grandmasters, who were commenting on the game for the spectators, believed I had won.” , Byrne said afterwards.
At the age of 14, Fischer was US champion for the first time – the youngest at the time. He earned the title of grandmaster in 1958, at age 15. That same year, he dropped out of school at Brooklyn’s Erasmus High School to devote himself full-time to chess. He went to fight. Between 1957 and 1966 Fischer won the American championship eight times in a row, and in 1964 he managed to win all eleven games.
But even this genius was not spared setbacks. At the Candidates Tournament for the World Cup in Curaçao in 1962, he only finished fourth – the trigger for his hatred of the Soviets: he poisoned that the players had played mutually agreed draw games in order to save their strength for the fight against him. Fischer was successful: his criticism later led to the World Chess Federation FIDE changing the mode for candidate tournaments and introducing duels instead of round-robin tournaments.
And the player developed another peculiarity in the first half of the 1960s – namely that of demanding nerves not only from his opponents, but also from the tournament organizers and officials by demanding perfect lighting, absolutely quiet spectators and large fees. Or just write your own rules. In 1965, the US government refused him a visa to attend the Capablanca Memorial Tournament in Havana, Cuba. Fischer then played from New York, he had his moves transmitted by telex.
However, the American still had to wait for the World Cup. His next attempt failed when he dropped out of the 1967 Interzonal Tournament in Sousse. The reason, of course: trouble with the organizers. Only in the following qualifying cycle did he prevail. In 1970 he superiorly won the Interzonal tournament in Palma de Mallorca. What followed is still unique in chess history. Fischer won the Candidates’ competitions against Mark Taimanow of the Soviet Union and Bent Larsen of Denmark, each with a sensational result of six wins and no defeats.
Taimanov, also a valued concert pianist, was then banned from performing in the Soviet Union. A victim of the American, who is now also being discovered by the media – young, handsome with his side parting, his tailor-made suits and his then smooth movements. Fischer himself was reluctant to take part. He was offered a substantial sum for hair tonic advertising; he declined on the grounds that he would not use the product at all. When asked about his relationship with women, he is said to have replied: “Chess is better.” The hype remained.
An experience that former world champion Tigran Petrosian – an extremely unpleasant defensive strategist – had to make in his preliminary match for the world championship. Defeated by a score of 6.5 to 2.5, he said: “Everything is always about Fischer. It gets you down.” Petrosian’s words could have been the motto of the “match of the century” for the 1972 World Cup against Boris Spassky in Reykjavík.
The competition was on the verge of failure several times because of Fischer’s behavior. In addition, the American never missed an opportunity to blow things up even further by stylizing the clash on the board as a battle of systems. “It’s about a fight of the free world against the lying Russians,” he said. This caused astonishment, because up to that point, everyone who knew him had thought Fischer to be as political as a bag of oatmeal.
Despite the mission Fischer thought he was on, it took a lot of persuasion to get him to play at all. US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called and British millionaire James Slater increased the prize money. To be fair, Fischer received almost no support from the US Chess Federation, while his Soviet opponents had all the support of the apparatus – as long as they didn’t lose.
In the end, Fischer gave up a game without a fight, moved a game to a table tennis hall, constantly made new demands because of the light and the spectators and finally won by a clear margin of 12.5 to 8.5. The award ceremony – a document of madness: the officials swung their speeches, Fischer brooded over his pocket chess at the banquet. Pulled the characters, giggled – anyone who has seen these scenes knows what the term “mentally absent” means.
And so it’s not surprising that Bobby Fischer went insane after winning the world championship – as good as that can be diagnosed from a distance. He lived with friends in West Germany, only to ponder over a single move for years. Long a fallen star, he provoked the US government in 1992. The revenge against his great rival Spasski took place in 1992 in Sveti Stefan and Belgrade, in the state of Slobodan Milosevic. Fischer won, and then the FBI hunted him for years.
He later denied the Holocaust on Arabic radio, irony is too weak a word considering his mother was a Jewish-Polish immigrant herself. Finally he declared that 9/11 was just punishment for the great world criminal USA. He was heard from in Japan in 2005, where they no longer wanted him, before being deported he was beaten up. Finally he returned with his Japanese wife to Iceland, the place of his greatest triumph. The Icelanders said: We are so eccentric that one eccentric doesn’t matter anymore.
Fischer had long since finished with official chess. It is a truism that posterity always begins to speak of greatness when it runs out of other categories, when anecdotes become too ambivalent. Bobby Fischer has been called a genius and a madman. Above all, on January 17, 2008, a great chess player died.
You can also find “World History” on Facebook. We are happy about a like.