Last modified on June 15, 2024, at 17:13

Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer in Amsterdam, Jan. 1, 1972
Bobby Fischer in Amsterdam in 1972, around the time he won the world chess championship.

Robert James Fischer (1943-2008[1]), popularly known as Bobby Fischer, was the only American to become the official world chess champion[2] when he defeated Soviet grandmaster Boris Spassky in a dramatic 1972 match in Iceland. Fischer's championship was the culmination of a record-setting 20 consecutive victories in qualifying tournaments, which included two 6-0 records in the "Candidates Tournaments" in 1971. He was by far the highest-rated player in the first official FIDE ratings, as published in July 1971, and Fischer is the only person to win the U.S. championship with a perfect score (11 wins in 11 games, at age 20 in 1963–64); one of his wins received the Brilliancy Prize.[3]

Fischer was a devout member of an evangelical church through his championship years, refusing to play chess on the Sabbath (which resulted in his withdrawing from a tournament in 1967 in which he had an enormous lead[4]) and tithing a half-million dollars of his earnings.[5]

Fischer was the inventor of the popular, challenging variant originally called "Fischer Random Chess," but later unfairly denying him credit by renaming it Chess960 or freestyle chess.

Fischer was also superb at speed chess, and won the first unofficial world blitz chess title in 1970.[6] While growing up, he learned Russian on his own, in order to study Russian chess literature.

He forfeited his title to Soviet Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov in 1975 when he refused to defend his title, unable to agree on any proposed conditions for a match with Karpov. He did not publicly play chess again until 1992, when he played and won a return match in Yugoslavia in violation of a United Nations embargo against that country at that time. The Deep State prosecuted him on that technicality in his absence, and revoked his passport without notice to him such that he was seized at an airport in Japan and imprisoned for 6 months there before being granted asylum by Iceland.[7]

Fischer set several records in the 1960s for winning every game in a tournament, which is otherwise unheard of. He also invented a type of chess clock and created a variation on chess which is very popular today, known as Chess960.

Grandmaster Lev Alburt, a three-time American champion, said of Fischer: "Fischer was a great natural talent, but no greater talent than other of the game's best players. The difference was he gave 98% of his life to chess. Others, perhaps, gave 30%. So Fisher surpassed them. When, after '72, he became afraid that some accident may cost him his title, he stopped playing. He had nothing else in his mind and no wife or children. As Garry Kasparov pointed out, since nature abhors a vacuum, Fischer quickly filled up with the worst ideas.[8]

Chess may have led Fischer to Christ. He specifically requested and received a Catholic burial despite not having that background.[9] Earlier in life he mentioned that "I can remember times coming home from a chess club at four in the morning when I was half asleep and half dead and forcing myself to pray an hour and study (the Bible) an hour. You know, I was half out of my head-stoned almost."[10]

The author Robert Green wrote about Bobby Fischer in his book Mastery:

Throughout history we read of masters in every conceivable form of human endeavor describing a sensation of suddenly possessing heightened intellectual powers. After years of intense absorption in a particular field over a long period of time (well past the 10,000 hour mark), they come to understand all of the parts involved in what they are studying. They reach a point at which these parts become internalized and they are now seeing the whole, the dynamic itself of their particular field. For example, the great chess Master Bobby Fischer spoke of being able to think beyond the various moves of his pieces on the chessboard; after awhile he could see “fields of forces” that allowed him to anticipate the entire direction of the match.[11]

Famous moves

Bobby Fischer is legendary for brilliant, unusual winning moves that no other grandmaster would have made.[12] He is considered one of the finest players ever at the endgame. In particular, he is renowned as the master of bishop endings.

Bobby's Trap

In 1958, when Bobby Fischer was only 15 years old, he defeated a top, renowned grandmaster in only ten moves with what has become known as "Bobby's Trap." It uses the Bc4, and then Bb3, which are called Bobby's signature moves, and attains checkmate through ingenuous use of a bishop, a knight, and a sacrifice.[13]

Favorite opening

With the white pieces, Fischer liked to play "e4" (King's pawn advancing by two pieces), followed by Bb5 (to threaten the opponent's king), as he played in Game 10 of the Match of the Century.[14] That game began with the traditional moves of the Ruy Lopez opening.

Dislike of King's Gambit

Fischer was not a fan of the King's Gambit, but did play it successfully a few times.[15]

Criticism of Communists in Candidates Tournament

Bobby Fischer playing chess against Boris Spassky in 1974.

Bobby Fischer courageously exposed the cheating by communist Soviet Union players whereby they would collusively play each other to draws, thereby puffing each other's scores, while trying harder against non-Soviet players such as Fischer. In the 1962 Candidates Tournament in Curaçao, the Soviet players apparently teamed up with other to reach scores of 17½ points (winner) and two at 17 points, thereby exceeding Fischer with 14 points. A careful analysis of the games demonstrates that Fischer was right in complaining about the unfair collusion by the Soviet players. Ultimately chess organizers agreed with Fischer and changed the rules to reduce the possibility of collusion by players.

Paranoia and Offensive Statements

Bobby Fischer in 2005.

As someone who spent nearly all his time in isolation studying chess, without a wife at least until well after age of 60, Fischer seemed to become paranoid. He would overreact to incidents like the unexpected sale of his goods in a storage locker by its owner to satisfy unpaid invoices. He read fringe books. He would say many off-the-wall, offensive things. But people who knew him did not think he was an evil person, and today his work in chess is highly respected despite his extremely offensive, off-topic remarks.

Fischer was, indeed, victimized by false accusations, and a relentless, unjustified persecution which forced him to become a desperate fugitive for the last 15 years of his life. He was falsely accused of fathering a child, which DNA disproved after he died. He was indicted in 1992 for the "crime" of playing a game of chess in the "wrong" country, Yugoslavia, without prior approval by the United States government even though the Berlin Wall had already been torn down by then. The bizarre criminal charges carried a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, and forced Fischer to become a fugitive from the same country (the United States) which he had honored by winning the World Chess Championship against the communist Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. This unusual persecution imposed enormous personal hardship on Fischer.[16]

Late in life and prevented by the United States from returning as a free man, Fischer (whose mother was Jewish and he had many Jewish friends and admirers) made anti-Semitic and anti-American remarks in the media over the next ten years. While in his never-ending exile, he praised of the September 11, 2001 attacks when he stated "well, this is all wonderful news. It's time for the [expletive] US to get their heads kicked in. It's time to finish off the US once and for all."[17] This cost him his membership in the United States Chess Federation (USCF), which has since been restored. This was generally viewed as symbolic, since Fischer not only did not play chess anymore, and his angry comments may have been due to how the United States was attempting to extradite and imprison him for having played a harmless game of chess contrary to so-called international law. In 2004, Fischer was arrested in Japan, and afterward took asylum in Iceland. He died of kidney failure in January 2008.

Fischer often signed his name as “Robert James” and demanded to be excised from a Jewish encyclopedia, for several reasons including that he was uncircumcised.[18] According to Grandmaster Larry Evans, Fischer had once told him that he admired Hitler because "he imposed his will on the world." At a 1992 press conference, Bobby Fischer called communism, rightly enough, “a mask for Bolshevism,” but he then stunned his audience by calling Bolshevism “a mask for Judaism.” On January 14, 1999, during an interview on Filipino radio, Bobby Fischer said, “You know they [Jews] invented the Holocaust story. There’s no such. There was no Holocaust of the Jews in World War II.” Bobby Fischer also admitted to belief in a “giant conspiracy of the Jewish world government.” Yet, despite, Bobby Fischer's openly anti-Semitic remarks, he had several close Jewish friends. According to the American Jewish master Ron Gross: "Bobby says we’re all victims of the conspiracy."

On September 11, 2001, during the terror attacks on the World Trade Center in which nearly 3,000 people were killed, Fischer said in a radio interview, "this is all wonderful news. It’s time for the f****** US to get their heads kicked in. It’s time to finish off the US once and for all. Yes, I applaud the act. . . . F*** the US. I want to see the US wiped out."[19]

Bobby Fischer and exercise to increase mental performance

See also: Chess and increasing mental performance and Exercise

Valley News reported concerning Bobby Fischer and exercise to increase mental performance:

Bobby Fischer is revered for his mastery of chess. According to Garry Kasparov, he was a decade or so ahead of his time.

But Fischer was body as well as mind. A teacher, at a summer camp the prodigy-to-be had attended as a child, told me that he had been the best underwater swimmer at a summer camp he attended.

It is hard to think of a sport that Fischer did not try at one time or another. Tennis, baseball, weight-lifting, ping pong and walking (at a world-class level, as a trainer described it) come to mind, in addition to swimming.

His physical efforts complemented his apparently natural high level of energy and stamina. At his best, a glow of health and physical strength seemed to encompass him — the aura probably intimidating many who would oppose him on the chessboard.

Part of his legacy was a conscious and public embrace of the mind-body connection. Until Fischer, that awareness was honored more in the breach than in the actual world of chess at large.

Magnus Carlsen, the current world champion, sounded very much like Fischer of half a century ago when he told Men’s Health magazine: “Training your brain is just as important as training your body. … It’s just like a muscle — if you’re not using it, you can lose it.”[20]

According to the Columbus Dispatch:

When he wandered the streets of New York in his teens and 20s, he walked much faster than most other people.

A Yugoslavian sportsman of exceptional endurance and ability confessed to me that he found it difficult to keep up with Fischer.

"Bobby's legs seemed to be stretching out to the horizon with each step," he said.

Fischer might have possessed more than a little athletic ability. A New York teacher remembered him as "the best underwater swimmer" at a summer camp.

At the chessboard, "the kid from Brooklyn" was mercilessly competitive, exhausting his opponents by relentless and prolonged efforts to win.

But his competitiveness could also have a boyish quality, as when he taunted Boris Spassky while they swam in a hotel pool during a 1966 tournament that took place in Santa Monica, Calif.

"I swim faster than you," Fischer told his Soviet foe.

Or when, during the same event, a construction worker overheard him declaring: "I'm going to crush Nadjorf and Larsen! Petrosian doesn't stand a chance. Just wait until I get to play Spassky."[21]


  • “I like the moment when I break a man's ego.”[22]
  • "I'm a great goodwill ambassador for the United States!"[23]
  • "I would rather be free in my mind, and be locked up in a prison cell, than to be a coward and not be able to say what I want."[24]

Notes and references

  2. Paul Morphy of Louisiana was widely regarded as the #1 player in the world in the 1850s, but this was in an era before an official world champion was determined.
  3. See Fischer v. R. Byrne,
  4. "Fischer withdrew from the 1967 Sousse Interzonal tournament in the 1966–1969 World Championship cycle, after leading with 8½ points from the first 10 games," due to a dispute resulting from his Sabbath observance and request for additional rest days. [1]
  7. Guðmundur G. Thórarinsson, who was both a former Icelandic Parliamentarian and former president of the Icelandic Chess Federation, wrote: "The only person in the world to have been indicted for a violation of this regulation – a regulation that has long since ceased to be in force, and a violation committed in a country that no longer exists – is Robert James Fischer. This case is an example of a barbarous violation of human rights." Chessbase article
  8. Chess Life, March 2008, page 24
  11. [Greene, Robert. Interviews with the Masters: A Companion to Robert Greene's Mastery (pp. 5-6). Brass Check Marketing. Kindle Edition.
  17. Bobby Fischer on September 11, 2001 Transcript everything2org. Accessed 18 January 2008. The interview can also be heard on YouTube, but does contain the uncensored expletives.
  20. Shelby Lyman on Chess: Mind-Body Connection
  21. Fischer even swam as if victory were only option

External links