Bobby Fischer, American grandmaster

“Too many times, people don’t try their best. They don’t have the keen spirit; the winning spirit. And once you make it you’ve got to guard your reputation – every day go in like an unknown to prove yourself. That’s why I don’t clown around. I don’t believe in wasting time. My goal is to win the World Chess Championship; to beat the Russians. I take this very seriously.” Bobby Fischer

Born Robert James Fischer, Bobby Fischer became a grandmaster at only 15, making him a child chess prodigy. His first major win was against 26-year old chess master Donald Bryne. After making a sacrifice play, Fischer (who was 13 at the time) eventually won the match, now referred to as “The Game of the Century.” Fischer became so obsessed with chess, he eventually dropped out of school at 16 (as early as legally possible) to pursue a career as a chess player. He went on to break the Soviet Union’s 24-year streak at the 1972 World Chess Championship, one of the most famous chess games in history. Many consider Fischer to be the greatest chess player of all time, noting his improvisational and innovative moves.

That’s the problem. He’s a brilliant lunatic and you can’t tell which way he’ll jump — like his game he’s impossible to analyse — you can’t dissect him, predict him — which of course means he’s not a lunatic at all. (Anatoly in “Where I Want To Be”)

Fischer’s determination, talent, and intelligence (and paranoia) are the inspiration for the musical’s Freddie Trumper. Although Fischer demonstrated incredibly eccentric behavior during the 1972 game, he had in fact accused the Soviet players of collusion 9 years earlier, during the 1963 championships. Fischer’s seemingly unstable mental state only grew worse after he won the 1972 Championship, though he was never formally diagnosed with any mental illness. In 1975, Fischer had been scheduled to defend the title against Russian grandmaster Anatoly Karpov but forfeited the match and title after making several lofty demands, which the FIDE rejected. He disappeared from the limelight for nearly 20 years, going in and out of obscurity, until finally returning to the chess world in 1992 in a rematch against Spassky. Although Fischer won the match, his utter defiance of a US government Executive Order (which banned participation in international commercial activities) not only pushed him back into obscurity but also marked him an American expatriate. As a result, Fischer lived in both the Philippines and Japan before settling in Iceland, where he lived until his death from kidney failure in 2008. His legacy, as well as his contributions (including the Fischer game clock and the Fischerandom Chess variant), have continued to make a lasting impact on the game and culture of chess.

Fischer on the cover of Sports Illustrated, demonstrating his celebrity status as well as the country’s (and the media’s) fascination with the game of chess.

“When you play Bobby, it is not a question of whether you win or lose. It is a question of whether you survive.” Boris Spassky

Check out the 2006 BBC documentary Anything to Win below, which depicts the 1972 championship match from the perspective of major chess followers.

Works Consulted

Gligoric, Svetozar. Fischer vs. Spassky: The Chess Match of the Century. Simon and Schuster, 1972.

Edmonds, David, and John Eidinow. Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How the Soviets Lost the Most Extraordinary Chess Match of All TIme.