Requiem For a Pariah: Bobby Fischer

I read the news last night and saw that Bobby Fischer had passed away. Like many people who were familiar with his life and accomplishments, there was mix of surprise, disappointment, and (sadly) relief.

Fischer was the yin/yang of fame and fortune – in his youthful prime, the greatest chess player who ever walked the earth, and in the years that followed, an increasingly paranoid, hateful, and divisive man.

He embodied the so-called American Dream: a lower-class kid who started playing competitive chess by the age of 8, to become an International Grandmaster by the age of 15. The highlight of his career was winning the 1972 world championship against then-Soviet opponent Boris Spassky in Reykjavík, Iceland. He was the first American to win the championship in over a century and, in light of the Cold War, was embraced as a hero by millions of people around the world. As a chess player, Fischer was imaginative, often employing so-called “traditional” moves in new ways. He closed down his opponents mercilessly.

The problem, which certainly did not begin late in life, was that he was a sheltered, neurotic, perhaps even mentally unbalanced individual. It wasn’t enough for him to control the chessboard: he demanded that everything about his playing environments be to his standards, which often meant no cameras, no illustrators, no televisions. He lived most of his life in reclusion, eventually leaving the United States (persecuted for playing chess in Yugoslavia while it was under embargo) to live throughout Europe and the Asian Pacific. He became an ex-pat with a paranoia streak. He became infamous for radio interviews he gave in the Philippines, denouncing conspiracies which were often anti-Semitic in nature. In short, he was a mess. I’ve read some of the transcripts (I didn’t want to believe it when I’d first heard), and it pretty much destroyed any respect I had for the man. I’m only thankful he wasn’t organized enough to start a militia.

He died of unknown causes on the same island which was the scene of his greatest triumph – Iceland. In this there is some dark poetry to be written. About heroes. About the duality of an unparallelled tenacity. But dark still. Very dark.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.