For those unfamiliar with this seemingly innocuous name, Mr. Fischer is widely considered to have been one of the most dominating chess players of all time.  His career highlight arguably came about in 1972 in a much-hyped game with Boris Spassky, the Russian Grandmaster of that time.  The game was held in neutral Iceland and was eventually won by Fischer.  Much ado was made over the victory in the US, particularly because chess had become a Cold War theater.  The Russians obsessed over the game and used it as a means of demonstrating to the world their intellectual superiority.  Beating them at their own game filled Americans with pride.  They loved Bobby Fischer.  He was handsome, all-American, and very, very good at chess.  He essentially made the game interesting and “cool” to a generation of Americans at that time.  While Bobby was undoubtedly the greatest chess player of his day there are a few things that you should know about him, such as how he got to be so good, and what led to his eventual downfall:

1. He Learned to be the Best at Chess By Obsessing Over It

By nearly all accounts, Fischer concerned himself with little else in the world except for chess, to the point that his life as a normal human ceased to exist.  He was first introduced to the game as a child in Brooklyn, the parks an d chess clubs of which are the stereotypical birthplace of all chess giants.  Bobby, after learning the game at age 6, rapidly climbed the skill ladder to the point of becoming a master of the game by age 9.  He was certainly a talented prodigy but much of that ability came just as much from hard work as it did from talent.  Almost all hours of the day were spent playing and thinking about chess.  It became his obsession and his life.  He dropped out of high school at the earliest allowable moment (at age 16) because he said that he “wasn’t learning anything there”.  It was said that he would take out a pocket chess set during dinner, even if he was eating with other people.  Fischer truly epitomized the ideal of someone who is married to their passion.  It’s a rare thing to be the absolute best at something.  It takes the unusual combination of ability and commitment.  Some would say it’s just not worth it.  For Bobby Fischer, it wasn’t even a question.  He loved chess, he was good at it, now he wanted to be the best.

2. His Success Led to Arrogance

It’s easy to criticize, but when you are truly unmatched in whatever it is you do, it becomes difficult to see things in a humble way.  Bobby became notorious during tournaments because of his bizarre and excessive demands.  Tournament organizers had to scramble to make sure that everything was perfect for him to play.  He would complain about the lights being too dim, or the chairs not being the correct height, or the pieces not being the right weight.  Before competing, he would present an ultimatum of stipulations that rivaled a kidnapper’s list of demands.  He would never compromise and even walked out of two big tournaments after his complaints about cameras went unheeded.  The famed 1972 match with Boris Spassky almost didn’t happen because of these issues.  Fischer wanted more money and the organizers weren’t able to pull through.  In the last moment, a wealthy British chess-enthusiast fronted the money, eager to see Fischer play.  Cantankerous would be the only way to describe him in tournament but when he played, he won.

3.He Applied His Intellect To Nothing Else

Fischer was a chess player, through and through.  Nothing else in the world truly concerned him.  Just as he learned the game in an obsessive way, he practiced his chess career with a single-minded devotion to his one and only passion.  It is odd to think what stimulates certain people.  For Fishcer, chess was the only driver in his life.  It’s obvious that his intelligence was dominating and one can only wonder what that intellect may have achieved outside of the realm of chess.  Not to imply that chess isn’t a worthy pursuit on its own (as Fischer adamantly believed) but Fischer’s potential for mental greatness seems to have had staggering potential for many other ventures.  He was concerned with none it though.  His mind committed itself only to figuring out a more efficient way to defeat players in the “game of kings”.

When asked if he played for the money or the love of the game, Bobby was quick to respond that he played because he loved chess.  He also said that if he were out for “personal gain” he’d be in the stock market (  One can only imagine how good an analyst he may have been. This seemed an odd response, however, when one considers how hard he fought for the maximum appearance fee at tournaments and he was known to complain about the lack of money in chess.  It seems that he was determined to make a point of earning money solely by playing chess.  He didn’t want to be bothered in engaging with society in any other way.  People to him were more of a problem than organizing knights, rooks, and queens.

He seemed unconcerned with learning how to invest his winnings.  It appeared that such knowledge seemed to him to be wasted energy that should be directed at chess.  As a result, he never truly “cashed-in” on his success.  After his 1972 game he was offered sponsorship deals, promotions and mountains of cash.  He ignored all of it, perhaps thinking that it was a distraction to his game play.  It was as if he was frustrated that he couldn’t make a better living JUST playing chess.  The rest of life was what really seemed like a game to him.

4. His Appearances Didn’t Match His Skill Set (Don’t judge a book…)

The stereotype of a chess player is that a nerdy, skinny stick of a man.  Or perhaps a frazzled-looking bearded Russian.  Fischer threw that image out of the heads of many Americans, who were as uninterested in chess as Fischer was fascinated by it – that is until Fischer started to play.  He made chess the “in” thing, literally inspiring multiple generations of Americans to take up this game of philosophers and kings.  Part of making chess an interest to America was the simple fact that he won, a lot.  Americans love a winner.  But he also looked good doing it.  He was tall, statuesque and athletic-looking.  In his younger years his smile could light up a room and his wavy blonde hair made all the girls swoon.  Not only was he brilliant, but he made being brilliant seem like a really neat thing, especially for adolescents.  It’s not a bad thing to be able to say that you single-handedly inspired millions of Americans to improve their mental capacity through an embrace of the game of chess. (,r:7,s:0,i:95)

5. His Brilliance Collapsed Onto Itself

Bobby had always been a little off.  Interviews with him ( clearly show that he was poor at interacting with others, awkward in conversation and distracted in normal social settings.  He was simply just always thinking about chess.  While such steadfast dedication is necessary to become a champion, it can also lead to a skewed view of the world.  In his later years, Bobby really fell off the deep end.  He virtually vanished after his famous 1972 Cold War pinnacle moment only to emerge 20 years later for a rematch with Spassky, which he again won.  The man who presented himself to the world in 1992, however, was a shell of the young, exuberant fellow who had played so well in Iceland two decades before.  The world had not been easy to him.  Some say that it was difficult for Bobby to continue living after he had attained absolute supremacy.  There was simply no one else as good as him and therefore his reason for being seemed to evaporate.  His obsession with the game really seemed to wear on him mentally.  It’s amazing sometimes just how brilliance can lead individuals to delusion, paranoia, and arrogance, all of which afflicted Bobby.  He ended his life as an expatriate in Iceland.  The country he helped put on the map gave him a home at the end of his life.  At that time, however, he truly wasn’t the same man he had been.  He died a paranoid, raving, anti-Semite.  The image of Bobby near the end of his life was indeed a sad one.  He should be remembered not for what he died as, but for what made him great.

-Bobby certainly had what it took to be the best.  And yet, the questions remain over whether he truly lived to his fullest potential.  It is perhaps the worst sin to waste human potential.  Bobby did a great many things in his life but one can only wonder if more was possible, especially in his later years.  The genius that had so much to offer seemed to crush the man who wielded it so well at that famous, unforgettable game in 1972.

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