Robert Bobby Fisher: Titan who put US on world chess map

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Aug 31, 2020 06:41 PM IST

This American chess grandmaster, who became the World Champion in 1972, is considered the greatest chess player of all-time.

Genius in the game of 64 squares. This American chess grandmaster, who became the World Champion in 1972, is considered the greatest chess player of all-time. Renowned in the chess world for his brilliant style and impeccable record, Fischer is credited for having popularised chess in the United States.

Robert Bobby Fisher.(File photo)
Robert Bobby Fisher.(File photo)

Early life

Born in Chicago, Illinois on March 9, 1943, Fischer was raised by his mother Regina Wender Fischer single-handedly. At the age of six, he began to play chess with his sister Joan.

When Joan and Regina were unavailable to play with him, Fischer pitted his chess skills against himself.

During a family vacation in Long Island, New York, Fischer came across a book on chess which he read up thoroughly. Having watched her son spending too much time alone, Fischer even requested Brooklyn Eagle newspaper to feature an advertisement for any child who might wish to play chess with him. The newspaper declined her request but forwarded her query. In response, she received information about a chess event.

Fischer joined the event and, though he lost to a former Scottish master, his abilities impressed Brooklyn Chess Club president Carmine Nigro so much that the latter invited the youngster to join the club and began teaching him the game.

Breakthrough In May 1956, Fischer took part in the US Amateur Championship in New Jersey at which he won 3 games, lost one and drew two. Soon after that, he joined the Hawthorne Chess Club members of which gathered at the home of famous chess player Jack Collins twice a week. Fischer utilised his time there by taking part in practice and he also read up almost every book available in Collins’ chess library.

During the same year, Fischer, then 13 years old, won the US Junior Chess Championship to become the youngest champion in the event. He attracted global attention when, in a tournament in New York, he defeated Donald Byrne in what became popular as the Game of the Century.

Meteoric rise

In 1957-58, the United States Chess Federation invited 14-year-old Fischer to play the US Championship by dint of his strong ratings. During the tournament, Fischer won eight games and drew five to clinch the title and become the youngest US Champion. He won seven more US titles in 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1965 and 1966. During the event in 1964, Fischer established a record by winning all 11 games, which made him the first and only player from the US to script the stunning score. In August 1958, he achieved the grandmaster title at the Portoroz Interzonal in Yugoslavia after winning six and losing two games. During the same year, during a visit to the Soviet Union on an invitation, he spent all his time at the Moscow Central Chess Club and played with Tigran Petrosyan.

Climax and self-imposed break

Between 1972 and 1975, Fischer won the World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland, by defeating Russian Boris Spassky. The game, whic attracted more publicity amid the US-USSR Cold War that then prevailed, witnessed Fischer

become the first native-born American to hold the title of world champion. In 1975, Fischer refused to defend his title when an agreement could not be reached with the Federation Internationale de Echecs, also known as International Chess Federation (FIDE). The global apex chess body declared Russian player Antoly Karpov as the champion by default. Thereafter, Fischer went on a long, self-imposed break from the game that lasted almost 20 years.

Comeback and final years

He resumed active participation in Chess only in 1992, when he played first match against Spassky in Montenegro, Yugoslavia. The match sparked controversy as Yugoslavia was then under United Nations embargo and his participation had violated an executive order. The US government issued a warrant for Fischer’s arrest. In 2004, he was arrested in Japan. Later, the US government seized his passport. Iceland then came forward to give him citizenship. He moved to Iceland where he lived till he died in 2008.

Interesting facts

In 1958, Bobby Fischer became the youngest grandmaster in history when he received the title. When he won the world championship in 1972, it was a huge achievement for an American chess player since the then Soviet Union was till that time the all-conquering power in the game and all the world champions since World War II were nationals of the Soviet Union.

Fischer published a book titled My 60 Memorable Games in 1969. Unlike other anthologies, this book is more mature and objective as it talks about core analyses of Fischer’s games. It sheds light not just on his victories but also on nine of his drawn games and three losses.

In 1988, Fischer filed a patent for a unique clock which gives fixed time to each player from the beginning of the game even between the game for the completing the moves.

The clock, which obtained the patent in 1989, became a standard one in major chess tournaments.

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