Chess is known as a game of strategy. It is one of the oldest board games in the world (via Chess.com). It requires critical and abstract thinking, and tactical decision-making to perfect. As one of the most difficult games to play, many people find it takes years to master the complexity and subtlety. But there is no shortage of chess masters around the world. Enter Bobby Fischer, the Brooklyn native who would end up becoming the first American to win the title of World Chess Champion.
When he was just 14 years old, Fischer was crowned as the youngest person to win the U.S. Chess Championship (via Chess Games) in 1957. He stunned the world when he became an international champ in 1972 beating the then-Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky, says History. The Soviets had dominated the game of chess and the title since 1948, until Fischer came along. He held the title for three years, until 1975. That year he chose not to meet organizational guidelines ahead of the tournament. Fischer was apparently boycotting the event and wanted the organization to change the formatting of the point system, reports Chess. In response to his refusal to play, game officials eventually awarded his would-be opponent Anatoly Karpov with the champ title, according to The New York Times.
Unfortunately, Fischer’s reputation and life afterwards would see a dramatic change.
Fischer went from beloved chess player to US enemy
Fischer went into hiding and would not appear in the public eye playing chess again until the early ’90s. And despite being of Jewish background himself, he lost a lot of public esteem with his anti-semitic views (via Haaretz).
Even though he didn’t defend his title years earlier, Fischer reappeared in a rematch with Spassky in 1992. What seemed like a simple rematch between two old opponents turned out to be a major diplomatic controversy that changed the outcome of his life.
Set to take place in the former Yugoslavia (which was under U.S. economic sanctions at the time, forbidding Americans from conducting business there), Fischer was urged not to participate in the rematch. He did anyway and won a $5 million dollar prize. But because he violated the sanctions, he was indicted and a warrant for his arrest was issued a few months later, reported the Times. The decision left him in a scramble for a new home outside of the U.S. as he tried to avoid getting deported and jailed. He spent years coasting his way until he was arrested in Japan in 2004 for using an expired passport to travel. Fischer stayed in custody there until Iceland granted him citizenship in 2005 (via ESPN). But his relief wouldn’t last long. In 2007 he was diagnosed with kidney disease, and he died of renal failure in 2008. He was 64 years old.
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