- This article is about Bobby Fischerīs chess career. For his biography see: Bobby Fischer (biography)
Robert James "Bobby" Fischer (born March 9, 1943) is a former world chess champion, and the only American to win the FIDE World Chess Championship. He won the FIDE World Chess Championship on September 1, 1972, and lost the title when he failed to defend it on April 3, 1975. He was the second American to have been hailed as world chess champion, the first being Paul Morphy in 1858 (though Morphy did not proclaim himself world champion, so Wilhelm Steinitz, who did, is considered the first official world champion). Fischer is considered by most to have been one of the hardest working and most gifted chess players of all time. He is also well known for his eccentricity, unconventional behavior, and outspoken, anti-Semitic political views. Despite his prolonged absence from competitive play, or perhaps because of it, he still is among the best known of all chess players.
Early chess career
At the age of six, when the family had moved to Brooklyn, New York, Fischer taught himself the game of chess from the instruction booklet of a chess set. He practiced with his sister, but within weeks he proved far too strong a player for her. Fischer joined the Brooklyn Chess Club, at age 7, and was taught by the clubīs president, Carmine Nigro.
When Fischer was 13, his mother asked John W. Collins to be his chess teacher. Collins had taught several top players, including Robert Byrne and William Lombardy. Fischer spent much time at Collinsīs house, and some have described Collins as a father figure for Fischer. He attended but dropped out of Erasmus Hall High School, where many teachers remembered him as difficult.
Playing career before 1967
Fischerīs first real triumph was winning the U.S. Junior Championship in July 1956, which at that time qualified him for the invitational U.S. championship. In the same year, he played several brilliant games; his game against Donald Byrne, who later became an International Master, is referred to as "The Game of the Century", though many other games have also been described in similar terms (such as Kasparov-Topalov, 1999).
In January 1958, Fischer became the U.S. champion. Along with the title, he qualified to participate in the Interzonals, the next step toward challenging the World Champion. Nobody gave the young Fischer much of a chance of qualifying from the Interzonal (the top six places qualified for the Candidates Tournament), so it was a surprise when, after a good finish, Fischer tied for fifth place and qualified. His result also earned him the title of International Grandmaster. At the time, he was the youngest Grandmaster in the world, a record that stood until Judit Polgar of Hungary became a Grandmaster.
It was at this stage, during the Candidatesī Tournament in Yugoslavia in 1959, that Fischer came face to face with the Russian chess juggernaut, which was to set the tone for the rest of his playing career. It is alleged by Fischer and others, because of the number of Russian players involved in the tournament (the Soviet Union dominated international chess competition throughout most of its history), it was in principle possible for them to agree on short draws among themselves and concentrate their full efforts on the non-Russian contingent. Once the non-Russians were effectively eliminated, the Russians would then be left to fight against each other for the right to challenge the reigning World Champion (Mikhail Botvinnik at that time, who had recently defeated Vassily Smyslov in a return match to reclaim his crown). Fischer believed that the Soviet players had in fact chosen to arrange the tournament in this way. Aside from the Russiansī conduct, however, Fischer, still only 17 years old, did not have the maturity level required to survive in a super-tough competition like the Candidates Tournament (eight players playing four games against each of the others). He finished in the middle of the pack (12.5/28) and lost his four games against the winner of the tournament, Mikhail Tal.
For many years Fischer remained one of the strongest non-Soviet players (together with Lajos Portisch, Svetozar Gligoric, and Bent Larsen), but for different reasons did not qualify for a world championship match. In the 1962 cycle he confidently won the Stockholm interzonal (17.5/22) but in the Candidates tournament in Curaįao he finished 4th with a score of 14 out of 27. This was a big disappointment for him, since he had been playing very strongly in the previous year (first in Mar del Plata 1960 with 13.5/15, a 13/18 result in the first board at the Leipzig Olympiad, a second place in Bled 1961 with 13.5/19 and the victory at Stockholm) and thought himself to be the favorite.
In the next cycle, Fischer did not compete. He reaffirmed his conviction that the Soviet players had a non-aggression pact and concentrated on playing against him (in a Sports Illustrated article, Fischer accused the Soviet players of prearranging draws). Therefore, he decided not to participate in the Amsterdam interzonal in 1964. He held to this decision even when FIDE changed the format of the eight-player Candidates Tournament from a round-robin to a series of knockout matches. (This replaced the rule in the previous two cycles that had addressed the complaints by limiting the number of Soviet participants, a situation that Soviet chessplayers considered extremely unfair.) In the next cycle, at the Sousse Interzonal (1967), he failed to qualify for the final stages of the World Championship due to a very controversial forfeit (see below).
At home, Fischer won all eight U.S. Championships that he competed in, beginning with the 1957-1958 championship and ending with the 1966-1967 championship. His string includes his win in the 1963-1964 championship, which he won with an 11-0 record, the only perfect score in the history of the Championship.
The 1967 Interzonal tournament was played in 1967 at Sousse, Tunisia, and was the first major chess tournament to be held in Africa. In the first seven rounds, Fischer got off to a good start, winning five games, and drawing two. However, he had complaints about the tournament conditions: the lighting was poor, he was unsatisfied with the way people could take photographs during the game and he had concerns that his round nine game against Efim Geller had been needlessly rescheduled in such a way so that, as he understood it, he had to play six games in six consecutive days, an inconvenience most players did not have to suffer (Viktor Korchnoi, however, had to play eight games in eight consecutive days). When the tournamentīs organizing committee refused to change Fischerīs schedule to insert an extra rest-day, he announced his intention to withdraw from the tournament.
Fischerīs round eight game against Viktor Korchnoi had been postponed owing to Fischerīs religious beliefs, so, with his round nine game against Geller also postponed, his next scheduled game after this annoucement was in round ten, against Aivars Gipslis. Fischer did not appear for this game, and a forfeit loss was recorded against him. Before his round eleven game however, he was persuaded to return to the event. Fischer turned up just short of an hour late for this game, which was against Samuel Reshevsky, but won anyway; Reshevsky was apparently shaken by Fischerīs late arrival, and it was reported that he nearly withdrew from the tournament himself in protest (if Fischer had been an hour or more late, he would have forfeited). Fischer then drew against Korchnoi in their postponed game and beat Robert Byrne in round twelve. However, throughout all this he was protesting that his forfeit loss against Gipslis was incorrect, and when he was informed that said forfeit had to stand, he once again indicated his intent to withdraw. He forfeited his next scheduled game against Vlastimil Hort, despite various officials trying to convince him to play.
The day after this second forfeit, Fischer indicated that he intended to complete the rest of the tournament after all. The official tournament report states that "The upheaval among the players on receipt of this news was indescribable." The organizers sent a communique to all players, stating that if Fischer was to continue in the event, he must acknowledge in writing his forfeit losses against Gipslis and Hort, and that if he forfeited a third game, he would be expelled from the tournament. According to the official report, the players agreed to this, but, because Fischer was observing his Sabbath, he apparently did not receive the communique until shortly before his next scheduled game, against Bent Larsen.
Fischer was not present at the start of that game, so, as is usual in such cases, Larsen played his first move, started Fischerīs clock, and waited for his opponent to arrive. Around twenty-five minutes into the game, Fischer telephoned the organisers from Tunis restating his intention to rejoin the event and saying that he would like to play Larsen as soon as he could get to Sousse, which would require a further postponement of the game. Since his clock had already been started, the request was refused. Fischer therefore forfeited this game as well and was consequently expelled from the tournament. All of Fischerīs results were annulled, and he returned to America three days later.
Had Fischer completed the tournament, it is likely that he would have had qualified for the Candidates matches, even with his forfeit losses; indeed, he might even have won the event. Instead, Larsen won the tournament with 15.5/21, and Fischer had to wait until the next cycle, starting in 1969, to challenge for the World Championship.
Contending for the World Championship (1969-1972)
It was the candidatesī cycle that started in 1969 that put Fischer on the road to the world championship. The first step in the championship process was the zonal tournaments around the world. The U.S. Championship that year was also the zonal, with the top three finishers qualifying for the next stage, the Interzonal. Fischer, however, had sat out the U.S. Championship because of disagreements about the tournamentīs format and prize fund. To enable Fischer to compete for the title, the third-place finisher, Grandmaster Pal Benko, gave up his coveted place in the Interzonal, for which he received a modest $2,000 payment from the United States Chess Federation (USCF). All the other participants also had to agree to defer to Fischer, which they did. This unusual arrangement was the work of Ed Edmondson, then the Executive Director of the USCF.
Fischerīs dominance before the World Championship match began with the USSR Vs. The World Match. Although Fischer had the highest rating on Arpad Eloīs list of anyone playing for the World, he allowed Bent Larsen to face Boris Spassky on first board, while he played Tigran Petrosian on second board. Fischer defeated Petrosian with a score of two wins, two draws, and no losses.
Fischer proceeded to win the Interzonal by a remarkable 3.5 points, finishing with seven consecutive wins (one by default). He continued his awesome display of chess prowess in the Candidates matches, annihilating his opponents with a lopsided series of results which still has not been equalled by the worldīs top players. Both Mark Taimanov (USSR) and Bent Larsen of Denmark, the second best non-Soviet player after Fischer himself, were obliterated 6-0 with no draws conceded. Only former World Champion Tigran Petrosian, Fischerīs final opponent in the Candidates matches, made any impression against Fischerīs skill and strength. Fischer won the first game to complete a remarkable streak of twenty consecutive wins, a feat which has been compared to throwing back-to-back no-hitters in baseball. Petrosian broke the streak by beating Fischer in the second game. After three draws, however, Fischer won the next four games to win the match by a comfortable score, 6.5 to 2.5. In 1971 Fischer had finally earned the right to challenge the World Champion, Boris Spassky.
Fischerīs career-long stubbornness about match and tournament conditions was manifest in the run-up to his match with Spassky. Of the possible sites, Fischer preferred Yugoslavia while Spassky preferred Iceland. For a time it appeared that the dispute would be resolved with an unusual split schedule, putting some games in each location, but that arrangement fell through. At one point Fischer announced that he would not play the match. In answer to Fischerīs objection that the prize fund was inadequate, London financier Jim Slater donated an addition of $125,000, bringing the prize fund to $250,000. It has also been said that Henry Kissinger telephoned Fischer, appealing to his patriotism in urging him to play. For whatever reason, Fischer eventually decided to go ahead. The "Match of the Century" between Spassky and Fischer took place in Reykjavík, Iceland, from July through September 1972.
Game one only increased the tension surrounding the match. Fischer, who had never defeated Spassky in their few previous encounters, appeared to have a comfortable game with the Black pieces when he committed a stunning blunder of a type not usually seen at master level chess. Following his loss Fischer made further demands on the organizers, and when they were not met he refused to appear for game two, giving a default win to Spassky. It looked like Fischer was going to disappear.
Fischer, however, won game three after Spassky sportingly agreed to his demand that the game take place in a back room, away from spectators and cameras. After that, Fischer never looked back as he carved out a 12.5 - 8.5 win against Spassky. Several games were immediate classics, particularly his wins in games 6, 10, and 13. This cemented two milestones in Fischerīs career--the ambition of being the World Chess Champion, and being the highest rated player ever according to the Elo rating system (a rating of 2780 after the Spassky match, although he had been as high as 2795 in 1971). Since then, Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, and Vladimir Kramnik have all surpassed Fischerīs highest rating. The win over Spassky was also considered something of a Cold War propaganda victory for the United States, confirming as it did that the strongest player in the world, in a sport dominated by the Soviets since World War II, was now an iconoclastic American who defeated the mighty Soviet chess establishment almost single-handed.
Publicity of chess in the United States
Fischerīs winning of the title brought both him and chess tremendous publicity in the United States. The U.S. public went wild over Fischerīs victory against Spassky. Fischer became an instant celebrity whose name became known by people who knew nothing about chess. He received countless product endorsement offers, and even made an appearance on national TV. Membership in the United States Chess Federation tripled, and in the U.S. countless people took up the game, creating what is commonly called the "Fischer Boom" years. The last time chess had been so topical among the general American public had been when Paul Morphy returned to the US after beating Europeīs greatest masters.
In 1975 the time came for Fischer to defend his title, against Anatoly Karpov. Fischer had not played a single official game since winning the title and laid down strict conditions for the match. FIDE agreed to a number of his demands, but did not accept Fischerīs demands on how the match would be won. Since the 1949 FIDE congress, the FIDE rules had been that World Championship matches would be made up of 24 games, with the first player to 12.5 points the winner. In the event of a 12-12 tie, the champion retained his title. Fischer, however, claimed this system encouraged the player in the lead to draw games, which was not good for chess. He instead wanted a match of an unlimited number of games, with the first player to score ten wins winning the match, draws not counting. In the event of the score reaching 9-9, the champion (Fischer) would retain his title - in effect, this meant that Fischer only needed to win nine games, while Karpov had to win ten. FIDE did not accept these conditions, instead selecting a format in which, unlike all prior matches, the challenger would have no greater burden to unseat the defending champion. Fischer refused to accept and was held to have resigned his title. Karpov became champion by default. According to Garry Kasparov, who devoted most of Volume IV of My Great Predecessors to Fischer and the Western challenge to Soviet chess domination, Fischer would probably have lost to Karpov, had they played. Kasparovīs assessment is based upon the excellent form of Karpov, who was already very strong in 1975 and who went on to achieve an outstanding tournament record as World Champion, and from discussions with Karpovīs seconds, who had prepared openings designed to deal with Fischer. Some critics have pointed out that Kasparov might have been trying to boost his own reputation, by boosting the reputation of the man he himself defeated. Kasparovīs speculation aside, it should be noted that Fischer was heavily favored to win the aborted match with Karpov by chess experts of that time.
Unfortunately, after his defeat of Spassky, Fischer disappeared and did not publicly play chess for nearly twenty years.
Disappearance and aftermath
Fischer emerged from isolation to challenge Spassky (then placed 96-102 on the rating list) to a "Revenge Match of the 20th Century" in 1992 after 20 years of non-competition. This match — which was played with his new clock (see "Chess innovations", below) — took place in Budva, FR Yugoslavia, in spite of a severe UN embargo which included sanctions on sports events. He insisted that organizers bill the match as "The World Chess Championship," although at this time Garry Kasparov was the recognized FIDE champion. The purse for this match was reported to be $5 million.
In a pre-match press conference, filled with histrionics, Fischer spat on a document from the U.S. State Department forbidding Fischer to play in the Balkan state because of economic sanctions in place at the time. In response, Fischer was indicted and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Fischer won the match, although he managed to collect only a portion of the $3.3 million prize. Then he disappeared again.
Although Fischer has not played chess in public since 1992, there have been a number of rumors about him playing on the Internet (none of them widely accepted as having basis in reality). In 2001, rumors surfaced that Fischer played speed chess anonymously at the Internet Chess Club, using extremely disadvantageous and unconventional openings and still beating very strong players. British Grandmaster Nigel Short reported his experience in a message that was discussed in a Usenet thread; others suspected Fischer played games against two International Masters. in his online chess diary, Tim Krabbé analyzed the moves made by the anonymous ICC player. Initially, in item 134, Krabbé believed the player was a computer. But after analzing the time between moves on a particular game, he concluded (in 139) that the player was Fischer and "at 58... is frighteningly strong at blitz." When asked about the Internet reports, Fischer stated he never plays online.
On August 16, 2004, it was reported that Fischer would be marrying Miyoko Watai, the President of the Japanese Chess Association, with whom he has been living since 2000.
After being held in jail in Japan for several months he was rescued by an Icelandic team including his friend Saemi Rokk (famous Icelandic policeman and a rock and roll dancer). As of 2005 Fischer lives in Iceland and has an Icelandic citizenship.
In 1988, Fischer filed for US patent 4,884,255 for a new type of digital chess clock. Previously, time limits in chess had consisted of a requirement to play a certain number of moves within a certain period of time — for example, a time limit of two hours for the first 40 moves and one hour for every block of 20 moves thereafter was quite normal. Fischerīs clock instead gave each player a fixed period of time at the start of the game and then added a small amount after each move. In this way, the players would never be desperately short of time, but games could also be completed more quickly, doing away with the need for adjournments (in which a game is left incomplete to be finished at a later date). Although it was slow to catch on, as of 2003 a very large number of top class tournaments use Fischerīs system, though usually in combination with the more traditional (at lower levels, more traditional clocks are still employed as they are cheaper). Other aspects of Fischerīs patent, such as a synthesized voice announcing how much time the players have, thus eliminating the need for them to keep looking at the clock, have not been adopted. The patent expired in November of 2001 because of overdue maintenance fees.
On June 19 1996, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Fischer announced and advocated a variant of chess called Fischer Random Chess. This was essentially a refinement of an old idea: randomly shuffling the initial squares of the pieces. Formally, chess would then be one of the possible setups of FRC or Chess960 (the current name) because of its 960 possible setups. Fischer believed that this would reduce the importance of memorizing opening moves, instead making creativity and talent more important. The variation has enjoyed moderate success, with a small number of matches and tournaments involving Grandmasters being organized, and, in 2003, the establishment of a World Championship in the variant. GM Peter Svidler from Russia won a match against GM Péter Lékó in Mainz to become the first Chess960 world champion. In 2004, Svidler successfully defended his WNCA (World New Chess Federation) title against GM Levon Aronian. Fischer himself, however, has not played the game in public (just as he has not played orthodox chess in public since 1992).
Fischer in popular culture
Fischer became a popular icon after his win against Spassky, and that match was fictionalized in the British musical Chess, whose American protagonist was loosely but recognizably modelled after Fischer.
Fischer is the author of two best-selling books on chess: My 60 Memorable Games and Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess. More recently, his name appeared in the title of the film Searching for Bobby Fischer.
Writings of Bobby Fischer
- My 60 Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1969, and Faber and Faber, London, 1969). A new edition, published by Batsford, London in 1995 and edited by John Nunn, introduced many changes of Fischerīs words and variations. Fischer did not authorize the text changes, and accuses the editors of having falsified his analysis on purpose, to make him look bad. Fischer only autographs the Simon and Schuster edition.
- Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess by Bobby Fischer, Donn Mosenfelder, Stuart Margulies (Bantam Books, May 1972, ISBN 0553263153)
- Bobby Fischer, Profile of a Prodigy by Frank Brady, McKay 1973. Fischer, in one of his radio interviews, said this book was "full of lies".
- Bobby Fischer Rediscovered by Andy Soltis, Batsford 2003. ISBN 0713488468
- Bobby Fischer Goes to War by David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Faber and Faber 2004. ISBN 0571214118
- My Great Predecessors, Part IV: On Fischer by Garry Kasparov, London 2004
- Twelve Great Chess Players and Their Best Games by Irving Chernev, Dover; August 1995. ISBN 0486286746
- The Worldīs Great Chess Games by Reuben Fine, Dover; 1983. ISBN 0486245128
- World chess champions by Edward G. Winter, editor. 19981 ISBN 0080249041
- World Champion Fischer (Chessbase, CD-ROM) - includes all Fischerīs games (around half annotated), biographical notes, and an examination by Robert Huebner of Fischerīs annotations in My Sixty Memorable Games.