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Chess legend Bobby Fischer is no more: reports

other Updated: Jan 18, 2008 20:09 IST

US-born chess legend Bobby Fischer, whose tortured genius prompted both awe and outrage, has died at the age of 64, Icelandic media reports said on Friday.

"We know that he died yesterday in his home in Reykjavik," Gudmundur Hermannsson, a journalist at the Morgunbladid newspaper, told AFP, confirming a report on Icelandic television.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

"He was ill for a few months," said the journalist, who did not divulge his source. "He was hospitalised last year. It was not disclosed exactly what was wrong."

Fischer, who made world headlines by defeating Soviet world champion Boris Spassky in a Cold War chess showdown in Reykjavik in 1972, took Icelandic citizenship in 2005 to avoid being deported to the United States.

He was wanted for breaking international sanctions by playing a chess match in Yugoslavia in 1992.

Considered by many as the greatest chess player of all time, Fischer's particular genius was a troubled one that saw his life run steadily downhill since his moment of glory at age 29.

Despite having a Jewish mother, Fischer was an outspoken anti-Semite, using broadcasts at far-flung radio stations to accuse Jews of everything from his legal woes to an alleged conspiracy to kill off elephants.

His anti-US rhetoric became equally inflammatory over the years.

In the 1972 "match of the century" in Iceland, Fischer, throwing regular tantrums over the position of cameras and the audience, relied on his own wit to end 24 years of Soviet chess supremacy by dethroning Spassky, who had by his side an army of Russian master strategists.

Fischer, whose chess education had consisted of locking himself in a room for days on end facing off against himself, refused to play after his triumph and was stripped of his title in 1975.

Fischer's paranoia was reinforced in 1981 when his scruffy appearance made him a mistaken suspect in a California bank robbery. In another of his interviews on Filipino radio, Fischer accused the media of trying to "poison the public against me."

"They constantly use the words eccentric, eccentric, eccentric, weird," Fischer said. "I am boring. I am boring!"

Fischer returned to chess in 1992 with a rematch against Spassky in Yugoslavia, then in the throes of the Balkan wars. At a press conference he spat on a US government notice warning him he was breaking sanctions and proceeded to defeat Spassky once again, winning more than three million dollars on which he boasted he would never pay tax.

On July 13, 2004, Fischer was taken into custody at Tokyo's Narita airport for travelling on a passport which Washington said was revoked.

With Japan deliberating for months on whether to send him to the United States, Iceland came to his rescue, granting him citizenship in tribute to his role in making the small island -- and the game of chess -- famous in 1972.

Also coming to Fischer's aid was Spassky, who in an open letter said he was ready to share a jail cell with him if Fischer was extradited to the United States.

"Just let us play chess," said the twice-defeated Spassky.