Read the Reuters Report below:
Chess genius Bobby Fischer dies in Iceland
Fri Jan 18, 2008 8:53am EST
By Kristin Arna Bragadottir
REYKJAVIK (Reuters) – Bobby Fischer, America’s first and only world chess champion, who beat the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky in a blaze of Cold War publicity in Reykjavik in 1972, has died in Iceland at the age of 64.
A spokesman for Fischer, who was feted as a national hero for beating Spassky but fell foul of U.S. authorities in his later years, confirmed that the eccentric chess genius had died but offered no further details.
Rumors that Fischer, once dubbed the “Mozart of Chess”, had been ill had circulated in recent weeks on chess-related Web sites. Iceland national radio reported he had died after a serious, but unspecified, illness.
Fischer, a child prodigy who once said he liked to watch his opponents squirm and who had become an Icelandic citizen, could have faced jail in the United States for violating sanctions on former Yugoslavia by playing a chess match there with Spassky.
Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov hailed Fischer as “the pioneer and the father of professional chess”.
Kasparov said he had followed the 1972 clash of the U.S. and Soviet titans closely. “Fischer’s chess was so fresh and so new and we all grew up under the strongest impression of Fischer’s victories,” he told Sky News television.
“From an ideological stance it was the fight of an individual against a totalitarian system. He had a lot of supporters even in the Soviet Union. No one viewed him as an American fighting Soviets, it was more a great man fighting the mighty machine,” Kasparov said.
Spassky, who now lives in Paris, was less eloquent on the subject of his old adversary. Asked by Reuters for his reaction, he replied: “It’s bad luck for you. Bobby Fischer is dead,” then hung up without further comment.
The brilliant and unpredictable American abandoned his world title without moving a pawn by failing to defend his crown in Manila in 1975. World chess authorities reluctantly awarded it to challenger Anatoly Karpov of the Soviet Union, who was to hold it for the next decade.
Fischer withdrew into himself, not playing in public and living on little more than the magic of his name, although millions of enthusiasts regarded him as the king of chess.
He made headlines when he came out of seclusion to play Spassky in Yugoslavia in 1992, at a time when the country was the target of sanctions during Belgrade’s war with breakaway republics.
He vanished after the match, for which he won $3 million, and resurfaced after the September 11, 2001, attacks on America. In an interview with a Philippine radio station, Fischer praised the strikes and said he wanted to see America “wiped out”.
Fischer, who also stirred controversy with anti-Semitic remarks, was granted Icelandic citizenship in March 2005 after eight months in detention in Japan fighting a U.S. deportation order.
Fischer always had a high opinion of himself. Asked who was the greatest player in the world, he once replied:
“It’s nice to be modest, but it would be stupid if I did not tell the truth. It is Fischer.”
It was not an idle claim. Arguably the greatest natural chess genius the world has seen, he was called “the Mozart of chess” when he began winning at the age of six.
“SEE ‘EM SQUIRM”
Fischer gained a reputation for being cocky. He told interviewers his favorite moment was when opponents began to feel they would lose. “I like to see ‘em squirm,” he said.
He was U.S. junior champion at 13 and U.S. Open champion at 14, retaining the title whenever he chose to defend it.
He became an international grandmaster at 15, gaining the rating at his first international tournament in Yugoslavia. He once defeated 21 grandmasters in succession — no U.S. player had beaten more than seven in a row.
As Fischer’s fame grew, his temperament became more unpredictable. He walked out of tournaments because of what he considered to be bad lighting or bad air conditioning. He refused to play matches on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
In the mid-1960s, he opted out of two world championship qualifying series because he thought the tournament system favored the Russians. In 1967, when officials would not meet his demands for better conditions, Fischer angrily withdrew from international competition “for a period of introspection”.
He took his massive collection of chess books and moved to California, where he later said he had “plotted my revenge if I ever came back”.
When the rules were changed in 1972 to include an eight-player eliminator to find the challenger to world champion Spassky, Fischer had the chance to prove he was as good as he always said he was. He became a national hero; Americans who had never played chess followed the Fischer saga.
But by the 1990s, he was said to be living under assumed names in cheap hotels in Pasadena on the outskirts of Los Angeles, surviving on occasional royalties from his books.
Former friends painted a picture of a solitary man spending much of his day in rooms littered with chess books, oranges and jars of vitamins, playing chess by himself and reading magazines on chess to keep in touch.
One commentator said there was one constant through his life’s exceptional peaks and troughs — his “running battle with the rest of the human race”.
(Additional reporting from Paris bureau; Editing by Peter Millership)
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