Chess Champ Bobby Fischer Dead at 64

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/18212247/18212260" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

Bobby Fischer, the reclusive American chess master who became a Cold War icon when he dethroned the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky as world champion in 1972, has died. He was 64. Fischer died in a Reykjavik, Iceland hospital. There was no immediate word on the cause of death.

David Edmonds, co-author of the book, Bobby Fischer Goes to War, speaks with Steve Inskeep

Chess Champion Bobby Fischer Dies in Iceland

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/18212968/18212260" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">

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

Books Featured In This Story

Bobby Fischer Goes to War

The True Story of How the Soviets Lost the Most Extraordinary Chess Match of All Time

by David Edmonds and John Eidinow

Hardcover, 342 pages | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

Title
Bobby Fischer Goes to War
Subtitle
The True Story of How the Soviets Lost the Most Extraordinary Chess Match of All Time
Author
David Edmonds and John Eidinow

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

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.