On January 17, 2008, chess legend Bobby Fischer died at the age of 64. He is regarded by many as the greatest chess player of all time.
Fischer was born in Chicago in 1943, but grew up in Brooklyn with his mother and sister, Joan. He began playing chess at age 6 after his sister and he bought a chess set from the candy store below their apartment. Both Joan and Fischer’s mother lost interest in the game, and Bobby began playing against himself and soaking up any chess literature he got his hands on. After playing in his first exhibition and losing within 15 minutes, a spectator and president of the Brooklyn Chess Club, Carmine Nigro, introduced Fischer to the club and began to mentor him. His skill level and love for the game increased rapidly and at age 12 he joined the Manhattan Chess Club which was the strongest chess club in the U.S.
After mentoring under chess grandmaster William Lombardy and learning total immersion in the game, Fischer made his first noticeable imprint in the chess community. At age 13, he won a “brilliancy” game, featuring sacrificial attacks and unexpected moves, against a leading chess master who was twice his age. The press dubbed it The Game of the Century.
He began playing in United States Chess Championships the next year, and would play in eight total during his lifetime. Fischer won every U.S. championship he played in, winning all of them by at least one point. He became the youngest chess grandmaster and the youngest person invited to play in a World Championship at age 15. He dropped out of high school when he was 16 to devote his life to pursuing chess full-time. In the sixth U.S. Championship he played at age 20, he scored a perfect 11/11 score, the only perfect score in the history of the tournament.
One of the most notable games in chess history was played between Fischer and Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. Known as the “Cold War Confrontation,” this highly publicized 1972 match in Reykjavík, Iceland, is still credited with bringing worldwide attention and popularity to the game, and it gained more attention than any chess match before or since then. Fischer defeated Spassky and became the first American-born World Champion of chess.
After refusing to defend his World Champion title in 1975, his opponent Anatoly Karpov was declared the champion by default, and Fischer disappeared from the chess world for nearly 20 years. He spent time in the Phillipines and Hungary, sometimes appearing on radio shows and making outlandish comments attacking the United States. In 1992, he reappeared in the chess world to play a private unofficial rematch against Spassky. He once again defeated his opponent, but had violated U.S. sanctions by playing the match in Yugoslavia, which was under a United Nations embargo. Because of the criminal charges against him, his U.S. passport was revoked and he was detained in a Tokyo airport in 2004 and fought against his deportation. The chess-loving country of Iceland granted Fischer full citizenship, and he moved there in 2005. He remained there the rest of his life, becoming a U.S. fugitive.
Over the years, his reputation had drawn both fandom and hatred for his intense game play and outspoken nature. He died in Reykjavík, home of his most famous match, due to kidney failure in 2008 at the age of 64. Spoken of him by French chess expert Olivier Tridon, “Bobby Fischer has died at age 64. Like the 64 squares of a chess board.”