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Bobby Fischer | Biography: 30 Intriguing Facts (the Greatest of All Time?)

Robert James (Bobby) Fischer was born on March 9th, 1943. Still, to this day, he is a figure who fascinates not only followers and players of chess but the world at large. Described as a great chess player but a terrible person, there is little doubt that this brilliant man was also seriously mentally disturbed. After a bizarre but intriguing life, he died a recluse in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 2008.   

What has made Bobby Fischer the subject of, or the inspiration for, books, movies, and much discussion? From child prodigy and international hero to political fugitive, the life of Bobby Fischer has the makings of a Greek tragedy, with many questions left unanswered.

There have been many debates about Bobby Fischer. Was he the greatest of all time? Would he be able to compete in modern-day tournaments with the same degree of success? Did his obsession with chess trigger his mental decline? What drove his paranoia and his fanatical anti-Semitism? 

These are 30 intriguing facts about Bobby Fischer:

1. Fischer’s Parentage is Not Definite

In 1942, Regina, Bobby’s mother, had an affair with Paul Nemenyi, a Hungarian physicist. He financially supported and took a great interest in Bobby, born in 1943. Later investigations supported the claims that Nemenyi was Bobby’s father, which means that both his parents were Jewish, even though he became intensely anti-Semitic.

2. Fischer Started Playing Chess When He Was Six Years Old

At the time of Bobby’s birth, Regina was homeless, moving around the country, teaching, and involved in political activism. In 1949 the family moved to Manhattan and then Brooklyn. Bobby’s interest in chess began when, at age six, his sister bought him his first chess set.

3. Fischer Played His First Tournament In 1952

Bobby was nine years old when his mentor, Carmine Nigro, hosted a tournament in which Bobby played. Fischer described Nigro as the main factor in his decision to play chess.

4. At Age 13, Fischer Played “The Game Of The Century” 

At a tournament in New York, Bobby won public acclaim at the age of 13 by beating American Master Donald Byrne in what became known as “the game of the century.”

5. Fischer Was The Youngest US Chess Champion

In July 1957, Bobby Fisher successfully defended his Junior Champion title. The following month, he became the US Chess Champion by winning the US Open Chess Championship in Cleveland. The victory also earned him the title of International Master at the tender age of 14!

6. Bobby Fischer -The Youngest Ever Grand Master

Having been invited to play in Russia and Yugoslavia, Bobby Fischer played in a Candidates Tournament in Portoroz, where he qualified at fifteen as a Grand Master, the youngest ever.

7. Fischer Won Every US Chess Championship He Played In

From 1957 to 1967, Bobby Fischer won every US Championship he played in, a total of eight, winning by at least a one-point margin each time.  

8. Fischer Was Poorly Educated By Choice But A Genius 

At 16, Bobby Fischer decided to drop out of school to concentrate on his career as a chess player. With an IQ of 181 and a photographic memory, Fischer was perfectly placed to become a world-class player.

9. Fischer Changed His Style As His Fame Grew

Initially, in his international career, Bobby wore cardigans and corduroys to even the most prestigious tournaments but was encouraged to dress better. Therefore, he soon boasted of owning seventeen personally tailored suits and wore only handmade shirts and shoes. 

10. Fischer Worked Hard Preparing For Tournaments

Although a school dropout, Bobby learned several languages so that he could read foreign publications and articles about his various opponents and how they played. 

11. Fischer Had Strange Demands While Preparing For A Game

Fischer became increasingly demanding regarding conditions for a game, including total silence, but he prepared for a match while listening to loud rock music in his room.

12. The 1972 World Chess Championship Was One Of His Last Public Games

After beating Boris Spassky in 1972 to become world champion, Fischer became reclusive, refusing to defend his title in 1975. His public utterances became more and more vitriolic, with communism, the USA, and Jews being his primary targets.

13. Bobby Fischer Wrote Several Books

As well as many articles, Bobby wrote or co-authored several chess books. These were some of his most important writings:

  • Bobby Fischer’s Games of Chess (1959)
  • Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess (1966)
  • My 60 Memorable Games(1969)

14. In 1981, Fischer Was Arrested In Pasadena

While walking in Pasadena, Bobby was arrested because he resembled someone who had just committed a robbery. He was held for several days, during which he alleged in a pamphlet that he had been mistreated by the police.

15. Fischer Had A Relationship With A German Chess Player 

Boris Spassky introduced Fischer to Petra Stadler. He later apologized after the German chess player wrote a tell-all book about the relationship, which lasted for two years until 1990.

16. Fischer’s Famous Rematch with Spassky Was In 1992

In what Fischer insisted be labeled The World Chess Championship, a rematch with Spassky was held in Yugoslavia for what is still the largest purse in chess history, $5 million. Fischer won $3.35 million.

17. Fischer Defied The President

After the rematch, Fischer faced arrest by US authorities for ignoring an executive order by President Bush banning economic activity with Yugoslavia. Fischer literally spat on a copy of the order at a press conference. 

18. Fisher’s Life As A Fugitive

After the rematch, Fischer, unable to return to the US, lived in various places, including Budapest, Hungary (where he reportedly had a relationship with a 19-year-old chess master) and the Philippines, where he allegedly fathered a daughter (later disproved by DNA tests).

19. Fischer Was Arrested In Japan

In 2004 Fischer was arrested for attempting to use an invalid US passport. He was held for 16 days, and then an order was made for his deportation to the US.

20. Fischer Marries For The First Time

In September 2004, while in prison, Fisher married Miyoko Watai, President of the Japanese Chess Association, with whom he had been living while in Japan.

21. Bobby Fischer Is Granted Citizenship By Iceland

After some pressure, the Iceland government granted full citizenship to Fischer in March 2005, and he moved into an apartment in Reykjavik.  

22. Bobby Fischer Dies In Obscurity in 2008

At age 64, Bobby Fischer died of kidney failure in Iceland. At his own request, only his wife, best friend, and neighbor in the apartment block attended the funeral.

23. Bobby Fischer’s Antisemitism Was Vitriolic

Although Jewish by birth, Bobby Fischer had no association with any Jewish community or family members and professed a general hatred of Jews. He idolized Hitler, denied the Holocaust, and was convinced he was being targeted by Jewish agencies.

24. Fischer Applauded The Events Of 9/11

Fischer alienated what support he enjoyed in the US by openly supporting those who organized and carried out the attacks of 9/11 and saying he hoped that there would be a military coup d’etat in the US, so that America could be punished for its crimes against Palestine.

25. Fischer Was A Troubled Human Being

While people spoke of his bizarre behavior and paranoid conspiracy theories, many friends described him as humorous, kind, and friendly. He was never formally diagnosed with any psychological disorder.

26. Fischer Disliked The Game Of Chess

After his 1992 rematch with Spassky, Fischer became more and more disparaging of the game of chess and developed a different version that he called Fisherandom, which relied on an understanding of the game rather than memorized strategies.

27. Fischer Invented A Revised Chess Clock

Fischer complained that he should have received royalties for a clock that he developed and patented in 1988, a form of which is widely used in tournaments.

28. Fischer’s Body Was Exhumed In 2010

Because of a dispute over his estate, Bobby Fischer’s body was exhumed in 2010 to obtain DNA samples, which were used to prove that he was not the father of Jinky Young, the daughter of a woman he had lived with in the Philippines.

29. Fischer Had An Unbroken Record Of Wins

An amazing fact about Bobby Fisher is that he never lost a match or a tournament from the age of 23 for the rest of his playing career.

30. Fischer Is Still Regarded As A Uniquely Gifted Player

Many chess players and students of the game believe that Bobby Fischer’s gift for doing the unexpected, his willingness to sacrifice pieces, and his understanding of the game, make him the greatest player of all time.

Last Word

With a complex, brilliant mind, a unique gift for chess, an unparalleled commitment to the game, and a fragile mental balance – Bobby Fisher’s story is of a troubled life filled with intriguing facts.