Friday, January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer: 1943 - 2008 - RIP

Bobby Fischer was a divisive figure in American culture. With an IQ believed to be above 185, he was considered a "high genius", and there is little doubt that his superior intelligence was both his greatest asset and his mortal enemy.

Fischer was known first as the greatest American chess player, becoming the youngest player ever to achieve the status of International Grandmaster at age 15. Renown for showing his opponents no quarter, he would literally crush them on the chess board with his devastating style and utterly original strategies. He eventually ascended to World Champion after several hard fought defeats, yet Fischer's national fame came during the height of the Cold War while defending his crown against the Soviet champion Borris Spassky in 1972. The press and the public saw this chess match as a proxy for the international political issues of the time, and Fischer's decisive victory rocketed him and the game of chess to stardom in the US.

In 1975, Fischer refused to defend his championship against Anatoly Karpov because they could not agree on the logistics of the match, about which Fischer had many bizarre requests. He lost his crown by default, and basically disappeared from competitive chess for the next 20 years.
He would only emerge to make incongruous and racist public remarks, and in 1992, to play a rematch against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia. The US Department of Treasury warned Fischer his participation in the event (namely the collection of the winnings) would put him in contention with a UN Embargo against sporting events in that country. Fischer won the match, and then promptly disappeared again to avoid prosecution. Since then he accepted political asylum in Iceland, renouncing his US citizenship.

Throughout his life, people close to Fischer witnessed a man slowly devouring himself. His public life and behavior became more and more bizarre culminating in a lashing out at Jews and comments that America "got what they deserved" after 9/11. His anger, paranoia, and vitriol for his fans, opponents, and his country never ceased. I hope in death, he finally finds peace. RIP.

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