Friday, January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer, First U.S. World Chess Champion, Dies

Jan. 18 (Bloomberg)—Bobby Fischer, the first U.S.-born chess player to become world champion, died yesterday in Iceland of an unspecified illness, the country’s national radio said. He was 64, and had lived in secrecy and obscurity for decades.

Born in Chicago and raised in New York, Fischer became the youngest U.S. national champion by age 14 and a grandmaster a year later. In 1972, he defeated Russian champion Boris Spassky in a world championship match in Iceland at the height of the Cold War. The game became known as the ``match of the century’’ and his win was a monumental event in a century which saw the sport dominated by Soviet players.

He was the greatest U.S. chess player. ``The gap between Mr. Fischer and his contemporaries was the largest ever,’’ fellow grandmaster Garry Kasparov wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2004.

Fischer was known for unpredictable tactics at the board, keeping opponents guessing by rarely repeating specific opening strategies during matches, and displaying a genius for attack. He had a reputation for eccentricity and petulance that matched his talents. During the 1972 Spassky match, he constantly demanded changes to tournament conditions and provisions for the players.

Fischer’s victory was followed by two decades of withdrawal from competitive play and he lived as a recluse. The first challenger to his title was Russian Anatoly Karpov in 1975. Fischer eventually boycotted the match, and he lost his title without making a single move. It was his last competitive game for almost 20 years.

Second Spassky Match

In 1992, Fischer emerged for a re-match with Spassky in Yugoslavia. He won the match, taking some $3.5 million in prize money. The U.S. government issued a warrant for his arrest for taking part in the competition, claiming he violated United Nations sanctions against the country. By then, a split in chess authorities meant Kasparov was widely recognized as world champion, although Fischer objected.

Spassky was ``very sorry’’ to hear of former opponent’s death, he told the New York Times from France.

Fischer moved to Iceland in 2005 after publicly criticizing his home country on several occasions and eventually renouncing U.S. citizenship. Though his mother was Jewish, he frequently made anti-Semitic remarks in press interviews.

Fischer was arrested at a Japanese airport in 2004, where he was accused of trying to leave the country on a revoked passport. After considering his deportation to the U.S., the authorities released him to Iceland in 2005 after the country offered him citizenship. 

Posted by SPN on 01/18 at 09:44 AM
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