Robert James Fischer, most commonly known in the chess arena as Bobby Fischer, is perhaps the best chess player of all time. He’s defeated giant names in the chess world and became the youngest player to ever receive the grandmaster title at age 15.
Shortly after, the chess champion carved his name in chess history by becoming the first and only American to ever win the world championship in 1972, defeating the then-reigning champ, Boris Spassky.
However, at the height of his career, Fischer decided to retire and quit competitive chess altogether. After this controversial decision, the American chess genius suddenly relocated overseas until the end of his life.
So, what happened to Bobby Fischer, and how did he die? We’ll discuss the American chess champ’s early life, career, controversies, and final years below.
Bobby Fischer: Early Life, Chess Career, and Retirement
Bobby Fischer is arguably the most famous chess player of all time. So let’s take a quick look at the chess prodigy’s early life and chess career, including the events that led to his retirement and death.
Robert James Fischer is a Chicagoan. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 9, 1943.
Fischer’s parents were Regina Wender Fischer and Hans-Gerhardt Fischer. Regina was a teacher and registered nurse, while Gerald was a German biophysicist.
Unfortunately, Bobby’s parents divorced when he was two years old. This event led him, with his mother and older sister, to move to Brooklyn, New York, in 1948.
His sister, Joan Fischer, was the one to introduce the young Bobby to chess. When he was six, Joan bought him his first chess set and taught him how to play.
From here, Bobby’s fascination with the strategic game grew. He received chess lessons from the Brooklyn Chess Club by 8, and by 12, he was already playing with America’s formidable chess masters gathering in Manhattan and Marshall chess clubs.
Given his extraordinary skill, Fischer won the U.S. Open Chess Championship when he was only 14—a title he proceeded to win seven more times.
A year after his first championship title, Fischer became the youngest chess Grandmaster of his time. After earning the Grandmaster rank, Fischer played and defeated several prominent names in chess, including Bent Larsen and Bogdan Sliwa.
The young chess genius steadily rose in rank. And in 1972, Fischer finally faced the then-reigning champion, Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union, at the height of the Cold War.
The historical match happened in Reykjavik, Iceland. But as you already know, the “Match of the Century” ended with Fischer being the victor, with a record of 12.5 to 8.5 for Fischer.
Fishcer’s apparent descent started after becoming the world champion. Immediately after winning the title, Bobby Fischer shocked the world by retiring from the competitive scene.
He was only 29.
There’s been much speculation about why the American champion decided to retire. And one popular view is that Fischer suffered from mental health decline, causing him to quit.
Others also point to Fischer’s dissatisfaction with the FIDE championship format. He proposed rule revisions to the organization, but they mostly rejected his proposals.
In the following years after the 1972 match, Fischer refused to participate in any competition or tournament. It later escalated to Fischer denouncing and refusing to defend the title against Anatoly Karpov in 1975.
Anatoly Karpov then replaced Bobby Fischer as the world champion by default.
Bobby Fischer’s Final Years
Bobby Fischer entirely vanished from the public eye after losing his title. For almost 20 years, Fischer lived in obscurity, traveling from country to country.
However, in 1992, 20 years after the Match of the Century, Fischer surprised the world by coming out of his decades-long seclusion.
In a privately organized event in Yugoslavia, the then 49 years old Bobby Fischer would rematch his arch-nemesis, Boris Spassky.
The heated clash of two former world champions gained much attention from the chess community. And although unofficial, the match was billed as a World Chess Championship.
Fischer won the rematch handily, ending 10 to 5 for the American chess icon.
Unfortunately, the circumstances of the match resulted in issues for Fischer. During this time, Yugoslavia was under UN sports sanctions, and the former champion’s participation conflicted with the US government.
Because of this violation, the American government ultimately sought the arrest of Bobby Fischer. The warrant forced Fischer to live outside the U.S. for the rest of his life.
Fischer’s rematch with Spassky became his last major chess competition.
Bobby Fischer’s Arrest
In 2004, Japanese immigration officers arrested Fischer for attempting to leave the country with an expired passport. The Japanese authorities then held him in custody for several months.
Fischer later married Miyoko Watai, president of the Japanese Chess Association, and asked for asylum. However, the Japanese government declined and ordered him out of the country.
The following year, Fischer applied for Icelandic citizenship for humanitarian purposes. Fortunately, the Iceland government granted his request and received the former champion.
How Did Bobby Fischer Die?
Bobby Fischer died because of kidney failure on January 17, 2008, at age 64. He died in Reykjavik, Iceland, the same country he competed with Boris Spassky for the world championship title in 1972.
Gardar Sverrison, spokesperson and close friend to Fischer, was the one who confirmed the chess prodigy’s death. According to Sverrison, Fischer’s health had been consistently declining for years before succumbing to renal failure.
He died at the National University Hospital of Iceland.
Before Bobby Fischer’s Death
Prior to his death, Bobby Fischer lived a reclusive life in Iceland. He resided near Sverrison’s house, where he befriended the latter’s son.
Fischer also grew close to Sverrison’s wife, Kristin, who’s a registered nurse. Kristin became the former chess champ’s nurse at the peak of his terminal illness.
According to reports, Bobby Fischer’s health started to decline quickly in 2007. However, he insisted on keeping his condition under wraps and refused to seek professional help.
Instead, Fischer spent most of his time with Sverrison’s family.
Because of his refusal to see a doctor, Fischer’s health deteriorated considerably. And when they discovered his failing kidneys, it was already at an acute stage.
Despite the news, Fischer steadfastly refused any medical interventions. He began self-medicating, consuming large amounts of carrots and fruit juices.
Fischer’s condition improved for a few months before collapsing from severe pain in December 2007. And after much persuasion, he agreed to be taken to the hospital.
A few weeks later, Gardar Sverrinson received a call from the hospital confirming Bobby Fischer’s death. And at the request of his departed friend, Sverrinson kept the former chess champion’s death as quiet as possible.
Bobby Fischer Controversies
There have been many controversies that surrounded the chess star. But Fischer became increasingly erratic following the years of his success as a world champion.
His disagreement with FIDE and refusal to defend his title was just the beginning of Fischer’s spiral down the pedestal.
He turned down huge deals for him to play chess. Among the offers he rejected was the $1.4 million bid from Hilton Corporation to defend his title.
Fischer also refused the proposals to play from the late Philippine dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, and the Shah of Iran, which offered enormous sums of money.
Following his U.S. warrant, Fischer adopted an anti-semitic and anti-American perspective. He would appear on radio shows and criticize the American government and the Jews.
His seemingly irrational behavior resulted in the loss of many American fans and friends. However, his extreme comments about the 9/11 attack pulled the last straw.
On a radio show in the Philippines in 2001, Fischer expressed his pleasure about the terrorist attack. He referred to the bombing as “wonderful news” and wished for the “arrest of all Jews.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)
Are you still curious about the chess genius’s life? Here are some frequently asked questions about Bobby Fischer you’ll find interesting.
Why Did Bobby Fischer Disappear?
Bobby Fischer disappeared from the chess competition scene for several reasons. But his conflict with FIDE, mental health, and dispute with the government contributed to his decision to leave the limelight.
What Was Bobby Fischer Accused Of?
Because he participated in the 1992 rematch with Spassky, Fischer violated the sports sanction placed in Yugoslavia. The UN charged the former champion with a criminal violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
Who Defeated Bobby Fischer?
Throughout his several U.S. championships, Bobby Fischer only lost three games. Fischer lost to Edmar Mednis and Samuel Reshevsky in 1962 and Robert Byrne in 1965.
As Harold C. Schonberg reported in the Fischer-Spassky match: Fischer “single-handedly” introduced chess to the world to be as competitive as any other sport. His contribution to the chess arena, particularly in the US, resonates until today.
Fischer’s descent from American hero status to becoming an outcast is a tragic story. Still, there’s no arguing that the tormented genius helped shape the new generation of chess players.
With that, his legacy definitely lives on to this day.