Chess Champ Kasparov Remembers Bobby Fischer

Related NPR Stories

Bobby Fischer, the reclusive chess genius, has died of kidney failure at a hospital in Iceland. He was 64. Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov talks with Melissa Block about Fischer's influence on the chess world. While in recent years Fischer seemed to have slipped into madness, his impact on the game is still unquestioned.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

He was the youngest U.S. chess champion at age 14, a grandmaster at 15. Bobby Fischer has died in Iceland. He was 64. In 1972, Fischer faced off against Russian world champion Boris Spassky in a match that became a symbol of the Cold War, a showdown between two superpowers - dubbed: The Match of the Century. Fischer won that match, becoming the first U.S.-born world champion. There hasn't been another since. After the match in Reykjavik, he talked about his victory in his typically brash style.

Mr. BOBBY FISCHER (World Chess Champion): The Russians are the ones that started all this and they are the ones who have been using chess as a propaganda weapon and using every, you know, trick to keep the title and all that. Now, it finally turned against them, you know? And probably, they wish they never even started to play chess.

BLOCK: Soon after that match, Bobby Fischer became a recluse and didn't play competitive chess for nearly 20 years. Then, in 1992, he challenged Boris Spassky again in a match in Yugoslavia, defying international sanctions. Fischer was filmed spitting on the order banning the match.

Mr. FISCHER: So this is my reply to their order not to defend my title here. That's my answer.

BLOCK: The U.S. issued a warrant for his arrest. Fischer moved around the world and finally settled in Iceland, where he died. Over the years, Bobby Fischer would occasionally emerge from seclusion to issue venomous rants against Jews and the United States. One of these anti-Semitic tirades came on September 11th, 2001 - a few hours after the attacks - when he called a radio station in the Philippines.

Mr. FISCHER: I applaud the act. Huh. The U.S. and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians, slaughtering them for years, robbing them and slaughtering them. Nobody even gave a (censored by network). Now, it's coming back to the U.S. (Censored by network) the U.S. I want to see the U.S. wiped out.

BLOCK: A spokesman for Fischer says he died after a serious but unspecified illness. We're going to talk about Bobby Fischer's influence on the chess world with Russian Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, who joins us from Moscow. And Mr. Kasparov, you are what, about 9 years old during that 1972 Fischer-Spassky match?

Mr. GARRY KASPAROV (Former Chess Grandmaster): Yes, I was 9 years old. I was the rising young star in my native town, Baku, in the Soviet Union. And we're all following Fischer who offered us a new source of inspiration.

BLOCK: New source of inspiration. Why is that?

Mr. KASPAROV: Fischer's chess was very refreshing. And we sensed - we were not great experts yet to understand it fully and appreciate it, but we sensed it was a new style, a new strategy, a new tactic, something that will form in a new type of the game of chess.

BLOCK: And what would that new type of game be?

Mr. KASPAROV: Again, it was very difficult to be specific at that time. It's, it was more of feelings of the 9-year-old boy in Baku and hundreds of sons and fathers who followed Fischer. But we sensed that Fischer played a different chess. He pioneered many new ideas in the openings and also in the middle game. And his style was a combination of chess enthusiasm, full concentration, and also, elements of the psychological warfare. He dedicated himself to the game of chess to be part of the game of chess and to be on the winning side.

BLOCK: That psychological warfare, you talked about, he was known for his demands, his eccentricity, his walking out of matches, coming late, making demands about lighting and cameras. He said he'd like to make his opponents squirm.

Mr. KASPAROV: Absolutely. And - but it, it was part of a chess personality. He was a great individual. And yet, for his chess fans in the Soviet Union, it is not clear - as for his chess fans in America - that the match was an element of the Cold War because we didn't care very much about the ideological differences. But Fischer was seen as an individual who was taking on a very mighty, all powerful sort of chess mission.

BLOCK: Bobby Fischer's name, of course, is also going to be linked to someone who descended into extreme paranoia and vitriol. How damaging is that side of Bobby Fischer to his reputation and his legacy?

Mr. KASPAROV: It is damaging for the game of chess because for many people, it was another sign that the game chess could be potentially detrimental for mental health. But I don't think that today it's going to damage his reputation as one of the greatest chess players. Obviously, up to 1972, when he was just 29, he left my field of expertise. And since I'm not an expert in psychiatry, I, I can offer very little explanation of his sort of actions. It was very sad period of his life. And I think the only good news about the last years of Bobby Fischer was it eventually ended up in Iceland, the country where he is a national hero, the man who've always remembered as the greatest chess player and nothing else.

BLOCK: Well, Garry Kasparov, thanks for talking with us today.

Mr. KASPAROV: Okay. Thanks, Melissa.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Chess Champion Bobby Fischer Dies in Iceland

U.S. chess master Bobby Fischer died Thursday at his home in Iceland.

Fischer, 64, became a Cold War icon in 1972 when he outmaneuvered the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky to become world chess champion.

Born Robert James Fischer in Chicago, Fisher was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. He became a U.S. chess champion at 14 and a grand master at 15. He beat Spassky in a series of games in Reykjavik, Iceland, to claim America's first world chess championship in more than a century.

The event had great symbolic importance, pitting the young American against a product of the grim and soulless Soviet Union.

It also was marked by Fischer's odd behavior — possibly calculated psychological warfare against Spassky — that ranged from arriving two days late to complaining about the lighting, TV cameras, the spectators, even the shine on the table.

2004 Arrest

Former Russian chess champion Garry Kasparov said Fischer's conquest of the chess world in the 1960s was "a revolutionary breakthrough" for the game.

But Fischer's reputation as a chess genius soon was eclipsed by his idiosyncrasies. He lost his world title in 1975 after refusing to defend it against Anatoly Karpov. He dropped out of competitive chess and largely out of view.

Fischer lived in secret outside the United States but emerged in 1992 to confront Spassky again, in a highly publicized match in Yugoslavia. He beat Spassky 10-5 to win $3.35 million.

The U.S. government said Fischer's playing the match violated U.N. sanctions against Yugoslavia, imposed for Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic's role in fomenting war in the Balkans.

He was arrested in Japan in July 2004 and threatened with extradition to the United States to face charges for violating the sanctions. He spent nine months in custody before the dispute was resolved when Iceland — a chess-mad nation and site of his greatest triumph — granted him citizenship.

Although his mother was Jewish, Fischer became increasingly anti-Semitic and anti-American. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Fisher said the U.S. should be "wiped out."

Fischer died in a hospital in Reykjavik, his spokesman, Gardar Sverrisson, said. There was no immediate word on the cause of death.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.