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- This article is about Bobby Fischer's biography. For his chess career see: Bobby Fischer (chess career)
Robert James "Bobby" Fischer (born March 9, 1943) is a former world chess champion from New York City, currently residing in Iceland. He was the only American to win the FIDE world chess championship. He is also well known for his eccentricity, unconventional behavior, and accusedly anti-Semitic comments— this, despite his having a Jewish heritage and upbringing.
Fischer was born in Chicago to Regina Wender, a naturalized American citizen of Polish Jewish ancestry who was born in Switzerland, raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and later became a teacher, registered nurse and physician. His father was reportedly Wender's first husband, Hans-Gerhardt Fischer , a German biophysicist; the couple married in 1933 in Moscow, U.S.S.R., where Wender was studying medicine at the First Moscow Medical Institute.
Though Fischer is listed as the father on Bobby Fischer's birth certificate, a 2002 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer stated that Fischer's biological father was Paul Felix Nemenyi (d. 1952), a Hungarian Jewish physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project on the development of the atomic bomb. Though this assertion has never been proven, several facts indicate the statement's veracity. Nemenyi's son, Peter Nemenyi, stated that Paul was Fischer's father, a relationship he would only have known through family revelations. The elder Nemenyi paid child support for Bobby Fischer during his infancy and early childhood. Letters to Peter Nemenyi from Regina Wender strongly indicate that Paul was the chess champion's father. Later, F.B.I. research determined that although Fischer's mother had returned to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1939, her first husband never entered the country after that date, making it improbable that Bobby Fischer, born in 1943, was Hans-Gerhardt Fischer's child.
The Fischers divorced when he was two years old, and Fischer grew up with his mother and older sister, Joan. At the age of six, when the family had moved to a largely Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, Fischer taught himself the game of chess from the instruction booklet of a chess set. He practiced with his sister, but within weeks he proved far too strong a player for her. Fischer joined the Brooklyn Chess Club , at age 7, and was taught by the club's president, Carmine Nigro.
When Fischer was 13, his mother asked John W. Collins to be his chess teacher. Collins had taught several top players, including Robert Byrne and William Lombardy. Fischer spent much time at Collins' house, and some have described Collins as a father figure for Fischer. He attended but dropped out of Erasmus Hall High School, where many teachers remembered him as difficult.
Fischer's ascent to the top of the chess world was a dramatic one. He won the U.S. Junior Championship at the age of 13 and then bettered this achievement by winning the U.S. Championship proper at the age of 14. In 1958 the 15 year old Fischer became the youngest ever grandmaster (although this record has since been surpassed).
In 1972 he challenged Boris Spassky for the world championship in what was billed as the Match of the Century in Reykjavík, Iceland. Despite losing the first game and defaulting the second Fischer soon asserted his dominance and convincingly won the match. His victory created a worldwide sensation and significantly increased interest in chess. (For a detailed account of his chess career, see Bobby Fischer (chess career).)
After Fischer won the "Match of the Century" he disappeared, and did not publicly play chess for nearly twenty years. In 1975, when he failed to defend his title, Anatoly Karpov became world champion by default. Fischer emerged from isolation to challenge Spassky to a "Revenge Match of the 20th Century " in 1992 after 20 years of non-competition. This match took place in Budva, FR Yugoslavia, in spite of a severe UN embargo which included sanctions on sports events. He insisted that organizers bill the match as "The World Chess Championship," although at this time Garry Kasparov was the recognized FIDE champion. The purse for this match was reported to be $5 million.
In a pre-match press conference, filled with histrionics, Fischer spat on a document from the U.S. State Department forbidding Fischer to play in the Balkan state because of economic sanctions in place at the time. In response, Fischer was indicted and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Fischer won the match and collected the $3.3 million prize. Then he disappeared again. Then in 1999 he gave a call-in interview to a Hungarian radio station that started off with him answering questions of listeners, but quickly degenerated into an incoherent rant in which Fischer described himself as the victim of an international Jewish conspiracy.
The Budapest station eventually cut him off, but a similar episode occurred after the September 11, 2001 terrorism attacks. Here, Fischer gave a broadcast interview to Bombo Radyo, a small public-radio station based in Baguio City in the Philippines. "This is all wonderful news," Fischer said. "I applaud the act. The U.S. and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians, just slaughtering them for years. Robbing them and slaughtering them. Nobody gave a shit. Now it's coming back to the U.S. Fuck the U.S. I want to see the U.S. wiped out."
Similar broadcasts were made through a station in Iceland. The sudden re-emergence was apparently triggered when some of Fischer's belongings, which had been stored in a Pasadena, California storage unit, were sold by the landlord in response to nonpayment of rent. Fischer was reported to be living in Budapest, and most recently Japan.
Detention in 2004 and 2005
On July 13 2004, Fischer was detained at Narita International Airport in Narita, Japan near Tokyo for allegedly using a revoked U.S. passport while trying to board a Japan Airlines flight to Ninoy Aquino International Airport near Manila, Philippines. Fischer used a genuine passport that the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland issued to him in 1997, but which was revoked in 2003. It has been reported that Fischer traveled frequently between Tokyo and Manila using his U.S. passport.
He has been wanted by the United States government since 1992 when his match with Spassky in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia violated the presidential executive order #12810 of George H. W. Bush based on UN sanctions against engaging in economic activities in Yugoslavia. Japan and the United States have a mutually binding extradition treaty.
Bobby Fischer renounced his U.S. citizenship, according to the AFP.
On August 16, 2004, it was reported that Fischer would be marrying Miyoko Watai, the President of the Japanese Chess Association , with whom he has been living since 2000. There has been speculation that the move occurred in order to aid Fischer's chances of being allowed to stay in Japan. He also appealed to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell to help him renounce his citizenship.
On August 24, Japan's Justice Minister rejected Fischer's appeal that he be allowed to remain in the country and ordered him deported. As of September 8, however, a Japanese court had granted him an injunction against the deportation order .
In early January 2005, Fischer wrote a letter to the government of Iceland asking for Icelandic citizenship after earlier having requested asylum.
On March 7, 2005, Fischer was granted an Icelandic alien's passport, but the U.S. government filed charges of tax evasion against him in an effort to prevent him from traveling to Iceland.  On March 18, Bjarni Benediktsson of Iceland's parliament announced that the parliamentary committee considering Fischer's case had recommended that Fischer be granted Icelandic citizenship.  On March 21, the parliament agreed unanimously and without discussion to grant citizenship to Fischer. On March 24, Fischer arrived in Iceland. It is noted that Iceland also has an extradition treaty with the United States; however, according to Icelandic law, Icelandic citizens may not be extradited from Iceland.
March 2005 spot interview
On March 23, 2005, Bobby Fischer and his spokesperson-associate appeared briefly on the BBC World Service, via a telephone link to the Tokyo airport from where he departed for Iceland. His associate stated that Fischer would never play chess again and Fischer began by denouncing President Bush as a criminal. He then stated that he would appeal his case to the U.S. Supreme Court but that he would not return to the United States while the current administration is in power. He denounced Japan as a puppet of the United States. His associate added that Fischer now considered his home to be in Iceland. With that his associate shouted "Bon voyage!" to Bobby Fischer as he left to board the aircraft for his new home.
On March 24, at around 11pm, Bobby Fischer landed safely in Reykjavík, the capital, avoiding Iceland's main international airport at Keflavík, which is near a U.S. naval air station. Many people were there to welcome this new Icelander.
Personality and beliefs
One of the most famous articles dealing with Fischer's personality is a 1962 piece written by Ralph Ginzburg for Harper's Magazine, "Portrait of a Genius as a Young Chess Master". Although conducted when he was just eighteen, the paucity of interviews with Fischer in later years has meant this one is still widely quoted and alluded to. In it, Fischer is reported as making disparaging comments about women chess players ("They're all weak, all women. They're stupid compared to men.") and Jewish players ("There are too many Jews in chess. They seem to have taken away the class of the game. They don't seem to dress so nicely, you know."). He also talks about his estrangement from his mother (who, as Fischer said in the interview, was herself Jewish, something he later denied) and his chess ambitions (including a desire to build and live in a house shaped like a rook).
Unfortunately, most writers seem to have overlooked one basic fact, which is the reason why Fischer did not give interviews after this article in 1962. According to Fischer he had "personal problems" and in that year he turned to the Worldwide Church of God for answers. For the next ten years, Fischer became more closely identified with that church, which had predicted the end of the United States by destruction in World War III starting in 1972. The church predicted the attacker would be a German-dominated United States of Europe, inspired by the Pope of Rome, who would become the Antichrist. This was the foundation of Fischer's belief system as he entered the "Match of the Century" in 1972. When the world did not end, Fischer was disillusioned with the church.
As well as the above-mentioned innovations, since his retirement from chess, Fischer has made a number of statements and publications that—despite having zero chess content—have been widely reported and discussed. Among the earliest was Fischer's pamphlet (published under the name Robert D. James) I Was Tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse!. This details Fischer's experiences following his arrest in 1981 after being mistaken for a wanted bank robber. It alleges (at some length) that he was treated "brutally" at the hands of the police. He was eventually charged with damaging prison property (specifically, one mattress).
Fischer has had some deeply controversial political views, including unapologetic anti-Semitism.
In 1984, Fischer wrote to the editors of the Encyclopedia Judaica asking for his name to be removed from the publication because he is not Jewish . However, by Jewish Law standards he would be considered Jewish since his mother was Jewish. In recent years he has given interviews with Pablo Mercado and Grandmaster Eugenio Torre on the Philippine radio station Radio Bombo in which he has confirmed his fanatical anti-Semitism—among other things, he has spoken of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, and has denied the Holocaust happened. He also used the interviews to complain about products such as the computer program Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess using his name without permission. (The program was based on Fischer's book of the same name.)
In another Philippine broadcast, he applauded the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. In 2003, Fischer's United States Chess Federation membership was revoked following his criticism of US foreign policy and anti-Zionist comments.
Papers came to light in 2002 revealing that the FBI suspected Fischer's mother had worked with the Soviets and had spied on the United States for the Soviet Union since the 1940s. Apparently they also suspected that Fischer himself may have been approached by the Soviets. This is in addition to rather more expected KGB material detailing the combined efforts of the Soviet chess sports organization against him.
Fischer cites the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer as an example of a "Jewish conspiracy" to make money off him and sully his reputation at the same time. The film is based on the book by the same name about real-life child chess prodigy Joshua Waitzkin written by his father, Fred Waitzkin, and deals with Fischer as both an American ideal of a chess champion and an example of the kind of ruthless and petty competitor that the child in the film (actor Max Pomeranc) refuses to emulate.
Religious beliefs about 1975
In 1962 Bobby Fischer claimed that he had "personal problems" that coincided with his beginning to listen to various radio ministers in an attempt to find answers. This is how Bobby Fischer first came to listen to The World Tomorrow radio program with Herbert W. Armstrong and his son Garner Ted Armstrong. In an interview with Len Zola, Fischer claimed that "God has finally shown me the one, I guess. This guy really has power. Authority. He doesn't talk like the other guys. He really knows his stuff!"
Fischer then stated that his life had split into two pieces. On the one side was his chess career, on the other side was his religious life and he began to apply his religious beliefs to his chess career.
Fischer became an avid reader of The Plain Truth magazine published by Ambassador College for the Worldwide Church of God, who also sponsored the radio programs to which Fischer was listening. He recalled that in late 1963 he was at a chess tournament when he made a decision to stop sending in odd amounts of money to the church and to start tithing instead. He says that "It was a really big decision."
According to Fischer, he began to have conflicts between the two halves of his life: the part devoted to chess and the part devoted to religion. He claims in his interview with Len Zola that "'...if anybody tried to live by the letter of the law... it was me. I truly tried to be obedient. The more I tried, the more crazy I became. ... I can remember times coming home from a chess club at four in the morning ... half asleep ... half dead and forcing myself to pray an hour ... I was half out of my head—stoned almost."
The Worldwide Church of God referred to itself as "God's Work" and to members as persons called of God to help warn the world, not to save the world or to get more converts. It saw itself as a very exclusive membership which met in rented halls from which the general public were kept away. The foundation of the warning was contained in the 1956 booklet by Herbert W. Armstrong called 1975 in Prophecy!
This publication was advertised on The World Tomorrow radio program that Bobby Fischer began listening to in 1962. It outlined horrific prophecies, which were graphically illustrated by Basil Wolverton concerning World War III, when the United States and Great Britain were to be destroyed by a United States of Europe. According to this booklet, Bobby Fischer would not have been able to have played his famous 1972 Match of the Century, because Bobby Fischer would have already fled with the rest of the Worldwide Church of God to Petra, Jordan, because he was one of "God's People".
In the same interview with Len Zola, Bill Hughes asked Bobby Fischer about the money that he won in 1972 and what he had done with it. Fischer said that he had given the Worldwide Church of God $61,200 out of the $200,000 that he made that year. However, 1972 was also the key year in the climax of prophecies both broadcast and written by Herbert W. Armstrong and those prophecies had failed to come true. Meanwhile Garner Ted Armstrong was exposed as having engaged in a series of sex scandals and he was subsequently removed as the main speaker on The World Tomorrow program.
All of these events had a tremendous impact on Fischer, who felt betrayed and swindled by a church that kept the seventh day Sabbath, did not keep Easter or Christmas, but celebrated many of the days that are holy to Jews, while claiming that the Anglo-Saxon peoples constituted the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. (However, unlike other groups who believed variations on this same theory, the Worldwide Church of God held that Jews were brothers within the same family of Israel.) It was a feeling of betrayal that formed the basis for the new Bobby Fischer, who emerged to shock the world with his own and original outbursts against the Jewish people, while claiming to know of all kinds of other conspiracies that were being conducted against his best interests.
In popular culture
Fischer became a popular icon after his win against Spassky, and that match was fictionalized in the British musical Chess, whose American protagonist was loosely but recognizably modeled after Fischer. More recently, his name appeared in the title of the film Searching for Bobby Fischer about a young chess phenom.
- My 60 Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer (Simon and Schuster, New York,1969, and Faber and Faber, London, 1969). A new edition, published by Batsford, London in 1995 and edited by John Nunn, introduced some mistakes. Fischer did not authorize the text changes.
- Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess by Bobby Fischer, Donn Mosenfelder, Stuart Margulies (Bantam Books, May 1972, ISBN 0553263153)
- Bobby Fischer, Profile of a Prodigy by Frank Brady, McKay 1973
- Bobby Fischer Rediscovered by Andy Soltis, Batsford 2003. ISBN 0713488468
- Bobby Fischer Goes to War by David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Faber and Faber 2004. ISBN 0571214118
- Bobby Fischer's personal website
- Site with news from Fischer's supporters about Fischer's captivity in Japan. Frequently updated as of March 2005.
- Video fragments from documentary on Bobby Fischer
- The Fischer Story
- Fischer news
- Fischer at age 13 plays the Game of the Century
- Bobby Fischer: Demise of a chess legend, the BBC on Fischer's personality and downfall
- Bobby Fischer Interview - Fischer's accusations about Jewish world conspiracies, January 14, 1999
- Files reveal how FBI hounded chess king, Story in the Phildelphia Inquirer
- Bobby's father might have actually been the Hungarian-Jewish fluid dynamicist Paul Nemenyi
- Article about Fischer's Radio Bomba interview, by Dutch chess writer Tim Krabbé
- Website dedicated to freeing Bobby Fisher
- Bobby's complicated relation with women
- 1975 in Prophecy! Online version of 1956 booklet written by Herbert W. Armstrong and illustrated by Basil Wolverton. Fischer began listening to Armstrong in 1962. This booklet was the key to the future as Bobby Fischer believed that it would be. Had it come to pass in the way the booklet decribed 1972, then Bobby Fischer would not have been in the USA during late 1972 to play the 'Match of the Century'. He would have been in hiding, probably at Petra, Jordan, with the rest of the Worldwide Church of God members. As it was, Fischer believed that the timetable had been delayed because he gave a substantial part of his winnings from the 'Match of the Century' to Herbert W. Armstrong.
- Bobby Fischer Speaks Out! Fischer interviewed on his association with Herbert W. Armstrong
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