Considered by many as the greatest chess player of all time, Robert James “Bobby” Fischer was born on March 9, 1943 in Chicago, Illinois, United States. His mother is Regina Wender Fischer, an American citizen of Polish-Russian Jewish descent. She was an English teacher, a registered nurse then became a physician. In Bobby Fischer’s birth certificate, his father is listed as Hans-Gerhardt Fischer, also known as Gerardo Liebscher, a German biophysicist. He has an elder sister named Joan.
In 1949, six year old Bobby Fischer learned to play chess upon reading only the instructions from a set bought at a candy store. Regina and Joan lost interest in the game and left Bobby to play alone. When the family vacationed at Patchogue, Long Island, Bobby found a book of old chess games and thoroughly studied it.
In 1950, Regina feared that Bobby Fischer was spending too much time alone, so she
placed an ad in the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper to see if other children of his
age might be interested in playing chess with her son. Her ad was forwarded
to Hermann Helms, the "Dean of American Chess". He informed her of the
simultaneous exhibition to be conducted by then Master Max Pavey in Jan 1951,
in which the 10-year old Bobby had played with but eventually lost after a
15 minutes match that drew a crowd of onlookers. Impressed with Bobby's play
and being one of the spectators and Brooklyn Chess Club President, Carmine
Nigro introduced him into the club and began teaching him. He also introduced
Bobby to future grandmaster, William Lombardy, who on September 1955 began
coaching Bobby in private.
In the summer of 1955, Bobby Fischer joined the Manhattan Chess Club, the second oldest chess club in the US then and yet the strongest chess club in the country.
In June 1956, he joined the Hawthorne Chess Club, based in the home of master John "Jack" W. Collins. It was believed that he was Bobby's mentor, playing thousands of blitz games with him and other strong players in the club. He was considered a friend as Bobby was a frequent visitor of his home.
Future grandmaster, Arnold Denker became a lifelong friend of Bobby, who enjoyed treats like watching games of hockey at Madison Square Garden played by the New York Rangers. Bobby didn’t forget this.
Chess became more important than schoolwork for Bobby Fischer. He had been in and out of six schools by the time he was in fourth year of high school. Regina got Bobby a scholarship in 1952 for his chess talent and exceptionally high IQ. Bobby attended Erasmus hall high school, the same school with future celebrities Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond. Its student council awarded Bobby a gold medal for his achievements in chess. Bobby stopped his schooling in the same year, at the age of 16, totally losing the interest in school. Even though Bobby had ended his formal education, he subsequently taught himself several foreign languages so he could read foreign chess periodicals.
His mother moved out of their apartment to pursue medical training. This is believed to have caused Bobby Fischer to resent over his mother for being mostly absent as a mother, a communist activist and an admirer of the Soviet Union, and that this had led to his hatred of the Soviet Union.
In March 1956, the chess club of Orange, New Jersey, took Bobby at age 13 to Cuba. He played with twelve (12) players via simultaneous games, in which he won ten (10) games and drawing two (2) at the Havana's Capablanca Chess Club. In this tournament, each club played several matches with other clubs. Bobby Fischer being on board 2 obtained the highest points for the club together with their board no. 1, Whitaker.
In July 1956, he won the US Junior Championship at Philadelphia to become the youngest ever US Junior Champion at the age of 13.
Bobby Fischer played in the third Lessing J. Rosenwald Trophy tournament in New York.
It was limited to only twelve (12) participants who were considered the best in
the country at the time. Though Bobby's rating was not at par with the other men
then, he received the invitation by special consideration. Performance in the
game led only to a 4.5 wins out of eleven. However, he received a "brilliancy"
prize award for his “immortal" game playing against international master Donald
Byrne. It was a notable game in which the 13-year old Bobby sacrificed his queen
to give way for an unstoppable attack. This was dubbed as "The Game of the
Century" which was analysed and admired by many chess aficionados.
It was year 1957 when Bobby Fischer achieved a master status with a rating of 2231, making him the country's youngest chess master ever. In July, Bobby retained his US Junior title at San Francisco with a score of 8.5/9. In August, he won the US Open Championship held in Cleveland, scoring 10/12. Bobby became the youngest ever US Champion at the age of 14. This was followed by another win at New Jersey Open Championship, scoring 6.5/7. Our very own master Rodolfo Tan Cardoso had played with Bobby in a match sponsored by Pepsi-Cola in New York but was defeated to a score of 6-2. Cardoso is believed to be the only Filipino who ever beat Bobby Fischer.
Bobby played in the 1957-1958 US Championship organised by the USCF. Among the participants were the 6-time US Champion, Samuel Reshevsky, defending US Champion, Arthur Bisguier and William Lombardy who had just won the World Junior Championship. Surprise to many, young Bobby won the tournament with 8 wins and 5 draws, scorecard 10.5/13, with a one-point margin. This victory earned him the International Master with rating of 2626 making him the second-best chess player behind Reshevsky who had a rating then of 2713. Furthermore, this success qualified him to participate in the 1958 Portoroz Interzonal, the next step towards challenging the World Champion.
Bobby Fischer managed to visit Moscow through the efforts of his mother, Regina upon joining a game show in which the producers awarded 2 round-trip tickets to Moscow. He was accompanied by his sister, Joan. When in Moscow, Bobby straightly demanded to visit the Moscow Central Chess Club where he played blitz chess with young Soviet Masters, Evgeni Vasiukov and Alexander Nikitin, beating them and everyone there who crossed his path including grandmaster Vladimir Alatortsev.
While in Russia, Bobby requested to play against the reigning World
Champion, Mikhail Botvinnik. Unfortunately, he was told that this was not
possible. When he discovered that he will not have the chance to play any
formal games, he felt upset and said that he was tired of them which angered
the Soviets who considered Bobby as their honored guests.
As a result, the Yugoslavian chess officials offered to bring him and Joan to Belgrade and became the early guests to the incoming Interzonal. He played short training matches with local masters Dragoljub Janošević and Milan Matulović. Bobby drew with the former and defeated the latter. The top six (6) of the Interzonal would qualify for the "Candidates Tournament". This was the final contest which determined who would be the challenger for the world championship match against the reigning world champion. Bobby was not among the favorites mainly due to his age and being his first time to experience international tournament. Despite the odds, he managed to have a strong finish and ended up at 5th-6th place, which qualified him to the Candidates Tournament. Bobby became the youngest player in the Candidates Tournament and the youngest grandmaster ever at the age of 15.
After the Interzonal, Bobby Fischer played in various tournaments both at home and overseas. He won the 1958-1959 US Championship, tied third at Mar del Plata, tied at 4th - 6th in Santiago, finished 3rd behind the champion Mikhail Tal and Yugoslavian grandmaster Svetozar Gligoric at Zurich International.
At the age of 16, in 1959 Candidates Tournament, Bobby ended 5th out of 8 (best from the Soviet Union) which was won by Mikhail Tal. In this year, Bobby released his first book of collected games: Bobby Fischer's Games of Chess, which was published by Simon & Schuster.
In his own soil towards the end of 1959, Bobby was noticed to be not properly attired, wearing only sweaters and corduroys even on the most grand national and international events. With this, he was once banned from playing at the Manhattan Chess Club but fortunately with the help of Denker, this was overruled. Encouraged by Pal Benko to dress smartly, Bobby began buying from different parts of the world and ended up with 17 hand-tailored and made-to-order suits. He once told a journalist that his shoes and shirts were handmade.
Bobby Fischer played in four Men's Chess Olympiads, below shows his individual and the team results.
|OLYMPIAD||INDIVIDUAL RESULT||U.S. TEAM RESULT|
|Leipzig 1960||13/18 (Bronze)||Silver|
|Varna 1962||11/17 (Eight)||Fourth|
|Havana 1966||15/17 (Silver)||Silver|
|Siegen 1970||10/13 (Silver)||Fourth|
Bobby Fischer dominated the US tournaments in eight (8) occasions from 1957 to 1967, winning all of them. He missed the 1961-1962 as he prepared for the 1962 Interzonal and there was no 1964-65 game. Results of the game are shown below.
|1957-58||10 ½ / 13||First||14|
|1958-59||8 ½ / 11||First||15|
|1965||8 ½ / 11||First||22|
|1966-67||9 ½ / 11||First||23|
Bobby had sat out of the 1969 US Championship due to disagreements over tournaments prize and formats. The top three finishers would advance to the Interzonal. Benko and Lombardy who were among the top finishers had gestured of letting Bobby to play in the Zonal. When Bobby was informed that Benko would give way for him in exchange for a large sum of money, he replied that Benko would not give up his seat for money alone, being this was a matter of honor.
In March and April 1970, the world's best players competed in Belgrade,
Yugoslavia titled USSR vs. THE REST OF THE WORLD. The tournament was dubbed
as the "Match of the Century". Even though Bobby had the higher elo rating,
he allowed Bent Larssen of Denmark to play in board 1 in light of his good
performance in the recent tournaments. USSR won by a one-point margin，
20.5-19.5. However, Bobby was the highest scorer in his team, playing on
the second board.
After the above match, the unofficial world championship of lightning chess, a 5-minute game, was arranged and held at Herceg, Novi. Among the favorites were Tal, Petrosian, Korchnoi, Bronstein and Smyslov. However, Bobby defeated them all by a large margin. According to Lombardy whom Bobby has played many blitz games since his young age, the 4.5 points difference with the next score holder (Tal, 14.5) came as a pleasant surprise.
Bobby Fischer outclassed grandmasters Gligoric, Hort, Petrosian, Smyslov and Korchnoi with a two-point margin at the Rovinj/Zagreb. Between July and August, Bobby defeated all the grandmasters at Buenos Aires by a 3-point margin. After the 19th Chess Olympiad in Siegen where he earned an individual silver medal award and suffering his only loss to then World Champion Boris Spassky, Bobby played an exhibition match with Ulf Anderssen for the Swedish newspaper Expressen and defeated the Swedish grandmaster.
In November-December 1970, Bobby won the Interzonal in Palma del Mallorca with a significant margin with the other top scorers Larsen, Efim Geller, and Robert Hübner.
In 1971, Candidates Tournament was set and Bobby's opponent in the quarterfinals was Mark Taimanov, a Soviet grandmaster and concert pianist. The match was scheduled in May 1971 and venue was at the beautiful campus of the University of Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Bobby was the favorite in the match but not without a struggle. Taimanov with Mikhail Botvinnik on his side was confident that he could beat the younger opponent. Bobby defeated Taimanov with a score of 6-0, which was very unusual in the grandmasters’ game.
After Taimanov, Bobby Fischer was set to play against the Danish grandmaster, Bent Larsen. Chess grandmasters predicted a close fight and Bobby would not be able to repeat what he had done to Taimanov. A score of 6-0 dominated by Bobby in this match with Larsen. This was again recorded in the history of chess grandmaster games.
Prior to his final match against former world champion, Tigran Petrosian, Bobby played a lightning chess event at the Manhattan Chess Club brilliantly scoring 21.5/22.
Petrosian was very confident in the match and when asked by reporters if the game will continue to full twelve games, he replied that he might win it earlier. Petrosian played strong moves in the 1st game but faltered and Bobby won the game, continuing his 20 winning streaks in the Interzonal and Candidates Tournaments. The second game was finally taken away from Bobby, ending his winning streak. But Petrosian success was short lived as the next three games ended in a draw. The next four games were all snapped by Bobby ending the match with a score 6.5 - 2.5.
After the above successes, Bobby's elo rating climbed up to 2785 based on the FIDE rating list that was published on July 1972. At that time, this was the highest rating a player in the history of chess had achieved, 125 points higher than the reigning world champion, Boris Spassky. As a result he was put on the cover of the Life Magazine. He was set to challenge Boris Spassky for the World Championship match.
The match was set at Reykjavik, Iceland. At first, Bobby Fischer wanted it to happen at Yugoslavia while Boris Spassky at Reykjavik. For a time, it was thought of the disagreement over the match venue could have been resolved by splitting the games at both locations but this had failed. Bobby finally agreed to play in Iceland when the prize money was raised.
Bobby made sure that he would be physically fit before and during the match. He played tennis and even made an arrangement for use of his hotel's swimming pool at certain hours exclusively by him.
Bobby lost the first game of the match. The second was again a lost but
by forfeit upon refusing to play due to his complain concerning the playing
conditions. He requested that the game be moved at the back room away from
cameras and lightings which destructed his concentration on the game. Spassky
could have won the world championship match by default should he not conceded
over Bobby's request. However, the tide has changed and Bobby started
winning even when the game was moved back to where originally it was.
The Russians had made allegations that CIA was behind the loss of Spassky. They have investigated everything they could find on the table but failed to substantiate. Bobby won seven of the next 19 games, losing only one and drawing eleven, to win the match 12.5 - 8.5 and become the 11th World Chess Champion.
The game was dubbed as the "Match of the Century". It has received worldwide media coverage especially in the United States where Bobby's won became a household story. Chess had became popular, membership in the US Chess Federation had doubled in 1972 and peaked in 1974. These years, according to American Chess aficionados, were called the "Fischer Boom". Offers from different companies to endorse their products had multiplied but none of them was found attractive for Bobby and he turned them down.
“I WOULD LIKE TO SELL YOU THE WORLD’S BEST
NOW THAT I HAVE YOUR INTEREST, TURN THE PAGE.”
This was the letter received by Bobby Fischer in the early 1990’s from an
unknown fan. Her name was Zita Raycsani, a 17-year old Hungarian Chess
player. According to Brady, Fischer’s biographer, upon receiving the
letter Bobby called her straight from his house in California. Raycsani
soon visited Bobby in the United States and upon her arrival, she was
faced with an ex-world champion, physically worn Bobby who was living
in a messy room paid for by his mother’s security cheques.
It was believed that Raycsani did not only convinced Bobby to get back on the board. She was also instrumental in setting up the $5-million rematch with Boris Spassky which was held in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1992. As per Bobby's instruction, the match was dubbed as the "World Chess Championship". Bobby did not recognised the reigning World Champion Garry Kasparov as he believed that he was still the World Chess Champion and had the opinion that all the FIDE sanctioned matches after him was pre-arranged. This rematch was twenty years after the two had played which at that time not only competing for individual greatness but also for the glory of their respective countries, being considered as the superpowers with “Cold War” in between.
Exactly he did in 1972, Bobby Fischer started slow but his Chess brilliance was again felt by Spassky who in the end, suffered again a loss in this match. Fischer had 10 wins, 5 losses and 15 draws who took away the $3.35-million prize.
The US had warned Bobby that playing in Yugoslavia would violate President H. W. Bush Executive Order 12810 imposing United Nations economic sanctions over Yugoslavia. This was made clear to Bobby that his match in Belgrade was a violation of that law, that he will face serious consequences should he continued engaging himself to such activity. The ever-defiant Bobby had a press conference on September 1, 1972, in front of the international press. He showed his unwillingness to follow the order which had led the US authorities to issue warrant of arrest against Bobby right after the match.
Bobby Fischer also played a training match against Svetozar Gligoric prior to his rematch against Spassky. He scored six wins, one loss and three draws.
Hans Kmoch, Chess International Master, quoted the following on Bobby,
age 13, playing against Donald Byrne, an International Master at that time,
in which Bobby sacrificed his queen to unleash an unstoppable attack.
Kmoch called it ' The Game of the Century'.
"The following game, a stunning masterpiece of combination play performed by a boy of 13 against a formidable opponent, matches the finest on record in the history of chess prodigies".
"'The Game of the Century' has been talked about, analyzed, and admired for more than fifty years, and it will probably be a part of the canon of chess for many years to come".
"In reflecting on his game a while after it occurred, Bobby was refreshingly modest: 'I just made the moves I thought were best. I was just lucky.'"
Chess author V. I. Linder writes about the impression Fischer gave grandmaster
Vladimir Alatortsev when he played blitz against the Soviet masters during
Bobby Fischer's first visit in Moscow.
"Back in 1958, in the Central Chess Club, Vladimir Alatortsev saw a tall, angular 15-year-old youth, who in blitz games, crushed almost everyone who crossed his path... Alatortsev was no exception, losing all three games. He was astonished by the play of the young American Robert Fischer, his fantastic self-confidence, amazing chess erudition and simply brilliant play! On arriving home, Vladimir said in admiration to his wife: 'This is the future world champion!'"
Soviet grandmaster Yuri Averbakh noticed, on the Candidates Tournament at the Interzonal,
"In the struggle at the board this youth, almost still a child, showed himself to be a full-fledged fighter, demonstrating amazing composure, precise calculation and devilish resourcefulness. I was especially struck not even by his extensive opening knowledge, but his striving everywhere to seek new paths. In Fischer's play an enormous talent was noticeable, and in addition one sensed an enormous amount of work on the study of chess."
Soviet grandmaster Bronstein said of Fischer's time in Portorož:
"It was interesting for me to observe Fischer, but for a long time I couldn't understand why this 15-year-old boy played chess so well. By then everyone knew we had a genius on our hands".
In 1970, Former World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik was not, however, impressed by Fischer's results on winning eight consecutive first prizes stating:
"Fischer has been declared a genius. I do not agree with this... In order to rightly be declared a genius in chess, you have to defeat equal opponents by a big margin. As yet he has not done this".
After this, Bobby Fischer defeated Taimanov (6-0), Larsen (6-0) and Petrosian (6.5- 2.5) with huge margins. Bobby became the challenger for the World Championship against Spassky.
Taimanov said after his defeat in which Bobby had used the idea he came across from a monograph by a Soviet Master Alexander Nikitin.
"It is staggering that I, an expert on the Sicilian, should have missed this theoretically significant idea by my compatriot, while Fischer had uncovered it in a book in a foreign language!"
Schonberg described the sights during Bobby's match with Taimanov.
"Taimanov came to Vancouver with two seconds, both grandmasters. Fischer was alone. He thought that the sight of Taimanov and his seconds was the funniest thing he had ever seen. There Taimanov and his seconds would sit, six hands flying, pocket sets waving in the air, while variations were being spouted all over the place. And there sat Taimanov with a confused look on his face. Just before resuming play [in the fifth game] the seconds were giving Taimanov some last-minute advice. When poor Taimanov entered the playing room and sat down to confront Fischer, his head was so full of conflicting continuations that he became rattled, left a Rook en prise and immediately resigned."
Botvinnik remarks on a television audience over Bobby's next match with Larsen.
"It is hard to say how their match will end, but it is clear that such an easy victory as in Vancouver [against Taimanov] will not be given to Fischer. I think Larsen has unpleasant surprises in store for [Fischer], all the more since having dealt with Taimanov thus, Fischer will want to do just the same to Larsen and this is impossible."
Bobby Fischer defeated Larsen to a score, 6-0.
On Bobby's next game with Petrosian, when the latter was asked by reporters whether the match would last the full twelve games,
“It might be possible that I win it earlier,' Petrosian replied", and then stated: "Fischer's [nineteen consecutive] wins do not impress me. He is a great chess player but no genius."
An article from the Sports Illustrated Magazine, after Bobby's match with Petrosian.
"Fischer's recent record raises the distinct possibility that he has made a breakthrough in modern chess theory. His response to Petrosian's elaborately plotted 11th move in the first game is an example: Russian experts had worked on the variation for weeks, yet when it was thrown at Fischer suddenly, he faced its consequences alone and won by applying simple, classic principles."
When some experts insisted that Petrosian was off form during the match, Bobby replied by saying,
"People have been playing against me below strength for fifteen years"
Botvinnik remarks after the three matches by Bobby,
"It is hard to talk about Fischer's matches. Since the time that he has been playing them, miracles have begun".
"When Petrosian played like Petrosian, Fischer played like a very strong grandmaster, but when Petrosian began making mistakes, Fischer was transformed into a genius."
On Bobby Fischer defeating Spassky in the 1972 World Championship match,
Kasparov remarked, "Fischer fits ideologically into the context of the Cold War era: a lone American genius challenges the Soviet chess machine and defeats it".
Dutch grandmaster Jan Timman calls Fischer's victory as,
"The story of a lonely hero who overcomes an entire empire".
Bobby's sister, Joan, remarked,
"Bobby did all this in a country almost totally without a chess culture. It was as if an Eskimo had cleared a tennis court in the snow and gone on to win the world championship".
On Bobby's forfeiture of his title,
Bronstein felt that Fischer "had the right to play the match with Karpov on his own conditions".
"Was Fischer right in demanding that the world title be protected by a two point handicap – that the challenger would be considered the winner with a 10-8 score and that the champion would retain his title in the event of a 9-9 draw? Yes, this was quite natural: the champion deserves this, not to mention the fact that further play to the first win in the event of an even score would be nothing short of a lottery - the winner in that case could not claim to have won a convincing victory."
In his 1992 match against Spassky, Fischer said to New York Times reporter Roger Cohen that he, Fischer, was not the one who refused to play Karpov, rather that it was Karpov "who refused to play against me [Fischer]".
Grandmaster Andrew Soltis upon Bobby winning the 1992 rematch with Spassky,
"The match games were of a fairly high quality, particularly when compared with Kasparov's championship matches of 1993, 1995 and 2000, for example. Yet the games also reminded many fans of how out of place Fischer was in 1992. He was still playing the openings of a previous generation. He was, moreover, the only strong player in the world who didn't trust computers and wasn't surrounded by seconds and supplicants."
Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan, on1992 Fischer- Spassky rematch. He met Bobby on several occassions during the rematch and analysed together Bobby's games with Spassky later wrote,
"After September 23, 1992, I threw most of what I'd ever read about Bobby out of my head. Sheer garbage. Bobby Fischer is the most misunderstood, misquoted celebrity walking on the face of the earth". He further wrote that Fischer was not camera shy, smiled and laughed easily, was "a fine wit" and "wholly enjoyable conversationalist".
Here is an excerpt from Bobby Fischer's letter to the world chess body in 1974 giving his side of the story.
The first player to win ten games, draws not counting, with unlimited number of games wins the match. If the score is nine wins to nine wins, draws not counting, the champion retains title and the match is declared drawn with the money split equally. Versus the old system of the best of 24 games wins the match (12½ points) and if 12-12 the match is drawn with the champion retaining the title and prize fund is split equally. Draws do count in this system.
The unlimited match favors the better player. This is the most important
point -- because in the limited game system the match outcome can turn on
a very low number of wins, giving the weaker player a chance to "luck out."
Also, in the limited game system the player who takes a game or two lead has
an advantage out of all proportion. This creates an added element of chance.
The player who wins the match should be the player who plays best over the
long run -- not the player who jumps off to an early lead. The player that
is behind must give his opponent "draw odds" every game until he catches up
(if he is the champion) or takes the lead if he is the challenger. Giving
"draw odds" to a Grandmaster is a great handicap and the player who must do
so must eventually (because time is "running out") take serious risks,
possibly causing further defeats and getting "deeper in the hole" from
which there will probably be no escape. On the other hand, should the player
who falls behind manage to "pull out of it" and take the lead or tie the
score, his opponent may be put at the same unfair disadvantage. How do you
explain Smyslov's 1957 victory over Botvinnik in seemingly convincing style
with his disastrous defeat in the following year? Could it be just the
situation explained -- because in the 1958 match Smyslov lost the first
three games! And he never caught up.
As explained, losing a game is a very serious event in the limited game match and this explains the string of draws in the Karpov-Korchnoi match, the Petrosian-Korchnoi match in 1971, and the Petrosian-Huebner match in 1971. The percentage of draws in this type match is increasing -- sometimes dramatically. In the 24-game title match, you must realize, it was always to the advantage of one of the two players to play for a draw! Is it therefore any wonder there are many draws? Spectators hate draws -- spectators bring in the money -- no money. In the unlimited system there will be draws but there must also be many wins (at least ten in total); draws benefit neither player -- it is reasonable to expect a lower percentage of draws in the unlimited match, and overall this has proven to be the case.
Comparing the first player to win ten games system with the limited 24-game system. Question: Which system gives the champion a greater statistical advantage? Answer: The old 24-game system gives the champion a greater advantage....It was grossly unfair to the challenger.
"The match could drag on forever." Theoretically true -- practically untrue. For example, a chess game itself could theoretically drag on forever; every 50 moves or so one player moves a pawn or exchanges something -- the game could drag on for thousands of moves!....But practically this is ridiculous -- in the same way an endless match is ridiculous -- and if one player has "had enough" he can always resign the match. There is precedent for this in the Capablanca-Lasker match . But if the match takes a long time, so what? It takes place only once in three years and the point is to determine who is the best player. But past experience has shown that the unlimited match does not drag on endlessly.
A player should not be allowed to "back into" retaining or winning the title by drawing the last game, the way he could in the old odious limited 24-game system. In the unlimited system, the champion must keep or take the title like a man by winning the last game.