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From American idol to paranoid outcast

other Updated: Jan 18, 2008 23:08 IST
B Shrikant
B Shrikant
Hindustan Times
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A maverick, recluse, genius, racist, rebel and a man who defied convention and some times acted beyond conviction — former World Champion Bobby Fischer was all this and much more.

A chess player par excellence, Fischer changed the face of the game and shook its foundation as no one before him had ever managed to do. Fischer was as unpredictable on the board as off it and was a master of the mind games that would leave his opponents exasperated.

<b1>With his innovative style and eccentric manners, Fischer remained an enigma to his countless fans who were mesmerized by his genius and irritated by his irascible behaviour and anti-Semitic utterances. But above all, Fischer was man who won the most talked-about World Championship title in 1972 by winning a match that pulled chess from the lower half of the back pages and put it on the front pages of newspapers all around the world, and then chucked away a chance to defend it by refusing to play against Anatoly Karpov, setting up demands that were impossible for FIDE to accept.

Born in March 1943, Fischer defeated Borris Spassky of the Soviet Union in the World Championship final at Reykjavík, Iceland, in 1972, becoming the first and only American thus far to win the biggest title in a sport dominated at that time by players from the Soviet Union. The cold war had made it a clash not between Fischer and Spassky but between the US and the Soviet Union, over a board of 64 squares.

Fischer's victory was hailed as the victory of an American over the evil communist designs but the American establishment turned against him when he returned to the scene in controversial manner in 1992, playing Spassky in a rematch in Yugoslavia, ignoring United Nations sanctions. He pocked around $3 million for his victory but then vanished from the chess scene. There were claims that he used to play on the internet with a pseudonym but neither Fischer nor his friends confirmed them.

But Fischer made another controversial appearance when he supported the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and claimed he wanted to see America "wiped out". His passport was withdrawn by US authorities. He waged a battle with American bank and shifted to Iceland in March 2005 after being jailed for eight months in Japan fighting deportation.

Though many thought Fischer had lost his mind because of his unpredictable behaviour, the maverick was still capable of playing chess at a high level. A top chess website claimed last year that Fischer called up at the end of a televised match between two of Iceland's top players and suggested moves that would have resulted in a dramatic victory for the player who actually lost the game.

There were other reports a few months back of his illness and him being hospitalised but the chess world ignored them. His passing away in his adopted country of Iceland on Friday at the age of 64 — the way he had lived all his life in mystery — took away from the world probably the greatest chess player ever to grace the game.