Robert James "Bobby" Fischer, born March 9, 1943 in Chicago, won the world chess championship in 1972 and lost the title when he failed to defend it in 1975. He is considered to be one of the most gifted chess players of all times and, despite his absence from competitive play, is still possibly the best known of all chess players.
Fischer's mother was a riveter in a defense plant who later became a teacher, nurse and physician. His father was a physicist. His parents divorced when he was two years old and Fischer grew up with his mother and older sister. At the age of six, when the family had moved to Brooklyn, New York, Fischer taught himself the game of chess from the instruction booklet of a chess set. He practiced with his sister, but within weeks he proved far too strong a player for her.
When Fischer was 13, his mother asked John Collins to be his chess teacher. Collins had taught several top players, including William Lombardy and Robert Byrne. Fischer spent much time at Collins' house, and some have described Collins as a father figure for Fischer.
His first real triumph was winning the U.S. Junior Championship in July 1956, which at that time qualified him for the open tournament. In the same year, he played several brilliant games; his game against grandmaster Donald Byrne is referred to as "The Game of The Century".
In January 1958, Fischer became US champion. Along with the title, Fischer qualified to participate in the Interzonals, the first step toward challenging the World Champion. Nobody gave the young Fischer much of a chance of qualifying from the Interzonal (the top four places qualified for the Candidates Tournament), so it was a surprise when, after a good finish, Fischer qualified, and with it he was awarded the title of Chess Grandmaster in 1958.
It was at this stage, during the Candidates Tournament, that Fischer came face to face with the Russian chess juggernaut, which was to set the tone for the rest of his playing career. Because of the number of Russian players involved in the tournament (the Soviet Union dominated international chess competition throughout most of its history), it was possible for them to agree on short draws amongst themselves and concentrate their full efforts on the non-Russian contingent. Once the non-Russians were effectively eliminated, the Russians would then be left to fight amongst each other for the right to challenge the reigning World Champion (Mikhail Botvinnik at that time, who had recently beat Vassily Smyslov in a return match to reclaim his crown). These tactics led to a bitter battle between Fischer and the FIDE that eventually led to the dismantling of the Candidates Tournament into a series of knockout matches.
It was the 1969 candidates cycle that put Fischer on the road to the world championship. Although he sat out the Interzonals, Pal Benko, an American grandmaster who had qualified for the Candidates, willingly gave up his place in the Candidates for Fischer. Fischer demonstrated an awesome display of chess prowess in the Candidates matches, creating a lop-sided series of results which still haven't been equalled by the world's top players. Both Mark Taimanov (USSR) and Bent Larsen (second best non-Russian player after Fischer himself) were demolished 6-0 with no draws conceded. Only former World Champion Tigran Petrosian, Fischer's final opponent in the Candidates matches, made any impression against Fischer's skill and strength. Petrosian scored early to end Fischer's unprecedented streak of wins, but nevertheless Fischer qualified by a comfortable score, 6.5 to 2.5. In 1971 Fischer had finally earned the right to challenge the World Champion, Boris Spassky.
The "Match of the Century" between Spassky and Fischer took place in Reykjavik, Iceland, from July through September 1972. At first, given his volatile temperament and the many demands he placed on the organizers, it appeared unlikely that Fischer would even show up, but at the last minute he decided to participate. It has been said that a phone call from Henry Kissinger appealing to his patriotism helped save the match; the fact that the British financier donated $125,000 to bring the prize fund up to $250,000 probably also helped.
Game one only increased the tension surrounding the match. Fischer, who had never defeated Spassky in their few previous encounters, appeared to have a comfortable game with the Black pieces when he committed a stunning blunder of a type not usually seen at master level chess. Following his loss Fischer made further demands on the organizers, and when they were not met he refused to appear for game two, giving a default win to Spassky. It looked like Fischer was going to disappear.
Fischer, however, played and won game three, and after that never looked back as he eased out a 12.5 - 8.5 win against Spassky. This cemented two milestones in Fischer's career--the ambition of being the World Chess Champion, and being the strongest rated player ever according to the Elo rating system (a rating of 2780, only to be eclipsed twenty years later by Gary Kasparov).
In 1975 the time came for Fischer to defend his title, against Anatoly Karpov. Fischer had not played a single official game since winning the title and laid down strict conditions for the match, which FIDE was not prepared to agree with. Fischer would not compromise. He was stripped of his title and Karpov became World Champion by default.
And then Fischer disappeared, and was not heard of for twenty years.
Fischer emerged from isolation to challenge Spassky (then placed 96-102 on the rating list) to a "Revenge Match of the 20th Century" in 1992 after twenty years of non-competition. This match took place in the war-torn Montenegro, and generated some controversy. He insisted that organizers bill the match as "The World Chess Championship", although at this time Gary Kasparov was the recognized FIDE champion. In a pre-match press conference, filled with histrionics, Fischer spat on a document from the U.S. State Department forbidding Fischer to play in the Balkan state because of economic santions in place at the time.
After the match, which Fischer won rather handily, he promptly disappeared again. He has been reported to be living in Budapest, and most recently Japan, although as usual little is known for certain about Fischer or his future plans. Rumors exist that Fischer has been playing chess anonymously on the Internet, though these rumors have not been proven. In 2001, British grandmaster Nigel Short reported that he played against someone he believed to be Fischer on the Internet.
In recent years he has given interviews with a Phillipine radio station, in which he has confirmed his fanatical anti-Semitism. He has also applauded the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
In 2001, rumours surfaced claiming that Fischer plays speed chess anonymously on the internet, using extremely disadvantageous and unconventional openings and still beating very strong players. British Grandmaster Nigel Short reported his experience in a message which was discussed in a Usenet thread; some suspected Fischer games played against two International Masters are recorded here. It has been suggested that the mysterious Fischer is in fact a computer; an analysis can be found in items 134 and 139 of Tim Krabbé's chess diary.