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Chess Master Bobby Fischer Dead at 64
An eight-time U.S. chess champion, Bobby Fischer made his mark in the 1970s
as one of the most skilled and controversial masters of the game. With his
famous 1972 victory over Russian Boris Spassky and his youthful good looks
and energy, he helped win over a new generation of chess enthusiasts.
The definitive child prodigy, the Mozart of chess, an eccentric, reclusive
figure - Bobby Fischer has been labeled all of these and more throughout an
acclaimed and controversial life behind a chessboard and before the eyes of
an adoring public. In an era when the most highly publicized chess matches
pit human against computer, Fischer represents the image of an earlier time
that stressed the mental and emotional athletics of the game.
An eight-time United States chess champion, and the holder of several "world's
youngest winner" titles, Fischer was a well-known name in chess circles long
before his most famous match: the 1972 tournament that pitted him against
Boris Spassky of Russia. That tournament, played out before millions via
television coverage, became a less a contest between two gifted players and
more a metaphor for Cold War politics. As Fred Waitzkin described it in his
book Searching for Bobby Fischer, "Each man bore responsibility for his
country's national honor. Spassky would be Russia's greatest hero if he won,
and would fall into disgrace … if he didn't. Fischer wanted to annihilate
the Russians, whom he had hated since he had decided as a teenager that they
cheated in international tournaments. If he won he would instantly become a
legend; if he lost he would be dismissed by many as a crackpot."
A New Kind of Idol
As history relates, Fischer won that tournament, and in doing so garnered
much more than prize money. With his youthful good looks and unpredictable
manner, Fischer helped turn a new generation of young people into chess
enthusiasts. " Chess clubs proliferated during the early seventies, inspired
by Bobby's success and charisma," reported Waitzkin. "Mothers pulled their
sons out of Little League and ferried them to chess lessons. Talented young
players with dreams of Fischer, television immortality and big chess money
spurned college and conventional career choices to turn professional."
Bobby himself, however, was never comfortable with his fame. Born in Chicago
in 1943 and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Fischer grew up in a single-parent
family, his physicist father having left the family and the country after a
1945 divorce. The boy showed early promise in his chosen field when at age
six he learned the rules of chess; by age eight Fischer was competing
informally at the Brooklyn Chess Club. Eventually the youngster caught the
eye of chess master John Collins, who became his key instructor, though as
Collins noted in his book My Seven Chess Prodigies, no one person could
claim credit for Fischer's talent: "Geniuses like Beethoven, Leonardo da
Vinci, Shakespeare and Fischer come out of the head of [the mythic Greek god]
Zeus, seem to be genetically programmed, know before instructed." As for
formal educational instruction, that ended when Fischer was a teenager; he
dropped out of school to concentrate on his game.
Fischer rose through the junior ranks quickly, and at age 13 won the United
States Junior Championship, the youngest player to date to have taken the
title. From there it was on to the United States Open Championship, where he
competed against adults. Fischer took that title, too, at age 14.
International play beckoned, and by age 17 Fischer became a challenger for
the world title - and the youngest player ever to receive the title of
international grand master.
But there was another side to Fischer's success. The young man, for all his
brilliance, was considered something of a loose cannon, less than
cooperative, and publicly scornful and egocentric. He would cancel out of
matches unexpectedly, act demanding on tours, and maintain grudges that
would last years. Fischer once accused Russian chess professionals of
conspiring against him in international tournaments and at one point in the
1960s withdrew for five years from international competition.
The Big Match
By 1970 the master player returned to form, building up tournament credits
in order to take on the reigning world champion, Fischer's longtime nemesis,
Boris Spassky. In 1972 the arrangements were in place, and the chess world
buzzed with the prospect of this historic challenge. Reykjavik, Iceland, was
the chosen site, but as the event drew near, Fischer continued to
demonstrate the eccentric behavior that "had the whole world wondering
whether he would show up," as Waitzkin put it. "For several days, friends
reserved space for him on flights to Reykjavik and pleaded with him to go.
Plane after plane, loaded with passengers, waited on the runway while
Fischer took walks and naps or ate sandwiches."
Even after he made a last-minute arrival in Iceland, Fischer maintained an
aggressive presence. He "offended Icelanders by calling their country
inadequate because of its lack of movie theatres and bowling alleys," wrote
Waitzkin. "He wanted television coverage, but when a television deal was
arranged … he refused to play in front of the cameras, claiming that they
were too distracting. He forfeited a game and threatened to leave unless
Spassky agreed to play in a small room with no audience and no cameras. He
argued about the choice of chess table, about his hotel room about the noise
in the auditorium, about the proximity of the audience to the players and
about the lighting." And still, Fischer won the tournament with great style.
The chessman's life since that historic match was marked by a period of self-imposed
obscurity that lasted nearly 20 years. He lost the world title after
refusing to accept the challenge of Anatoly Karpov in 1975. Reports of a
disheveled, reclusive Fischer living in the worst sections of Los Angeles
brought out the detective in journalists. Those reporters who could get
close to Fischer's friends heard tales of a man who wanted only to be left
alone. In 1981 he was picked up by the police for resembling a fugitive bank
robber; after spending a night incarcerated, Fischer (using the pseudonym
Robert D. James) wrote a pamphlet titled I Was Tortured in the Pasadena
Jailhouse. According to Sports Illustrated writer William Nack, the chapter
headings included "Brutally Handcuffed, False Arrest, Insulted, Choked,
Stark Naked, No Phone Call, Horror Cell, Isolation & Torture." As Waitzkin
related, the pamphlet became a bestseller in chess clubs, although it
doesn't once mention the game.
Controversial Views, Surprising News
In other areas of his life, Fischer demonstrated equally strong, if offbeat,
convictions. For example, though his mother was Jewish, Fischer maintained
decidedly anti-Semitic views, even extolling Nazism. Likewise, the chess
champion believed that "everything was controlled by 'the hidden hand, the
satanical secret world government,"' as Nack quoted a Fischer associate. He
distrusted doctors, was sure the Russian government was out to kill him, and
even, according to a Maclean's article, had his dental fillings replaced "because
he feared that Soviet agents might be able to transmit damaging rays into
his brain through the metal in his teeth."
In light of all the controversy surrounding Fischer, it was a surprising
announcement in 1992 that had agreed to take on Spassky in another highly
publicized challenge. At stake was $5 million in prize money. But perhaps
more notable than the players themselves was the tournament site: the town
of Sveti Stefan, in a region of the Yugoslav republic adjacent to the
warring former republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. At that time, U.S. President
George Bush had imposed economic sanctions on Yugoslavia - sanctions that
Fischer defied by taking on a commercial venture. At a press conference,
Fischer spat on a letter from the U.S. Treasury Department, saying "this is
my answer" to threats of fines and imprisonment if he played in Sveti Stefan.
The 30-game match ended in 15 draws, but Fischer had shown he still had some
championship play in him. When the U.S. government handed down an indictment
of Fischer in December of 1992, he chose to stay in eastern Europe. In the
mid-1990s Fischer, the author of several chess books and inventor of a chess
timing clock, was reportedly living in Budapest, Hungary, and had a
girlfriend in the person of a 19-year-old Hungarian chess star, Zita
In his Searching for Bobby Fischer, Waitzkin wonders about the prospect of
his own chess-prodigy son growing up to be as unpredictable as Fischer and
speculates on Fischer's youth, when his one and only interest was in his
game: "In the early fifties, a child chess prodigy was perceived as odd
rather than gifted. It would have been easier for [Fischer] if his genius
had been for an admired endeavor like mathematics or playing the piano; in
devoting his life to chess from the age of eight, he typecast himself as a
weirdo and outcast. He must have felt tremendous pressure from his mother,
from his teachers, who said he was wasting his life on a game, and from his
schoolmates, who were learning about girls, Shakespeare and football. All
this must have driven him further and deeper, and made him greater."
Collins, John, My Seven Chess Prodigies, 1974.
Maclean's, September 14, 1992, p. 42.
Sports Illustrated, July 29, 1985, pp. 72-84.
Waitzkin, Fred, "The World of Chess, Observed by the Father of a Child
Prodigy," in Searching for Bobby Fischer, Random House, 1988.
Robert James "Bobby" Fischer (born March 9, 1943) is a United States-born
chess Grandmaster who in 1972 became the only US-born chessplayer to become
the official World Chess Champion. In 1975 he refused to defend the title
when FIDE, the international chess federation, refused to accept his
conditions for a title defense. He is a regular candidate in discussions of
who is the greatest chess player of all time.
Fischer now lives in Iceland, and has also become known for his anti-Americanism
Robert James Fischer was born at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago,
Illinois. His mother, Regina Wender, was a naturalized American citizen of
German Jewish descent, born in Switzerland but raised in St. Louis,
Missouri, and later a teacher, a registered nurse and a physician.
Fischer's father was listed on the birth certificate as 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. However, a 2002 article by Peter Nicholas and Clea
Benson of The Philadelphia Inquirer suggests that Paul Nemenyi, a Jewish
Hungarian physicist, may have been Fischer's biological father. Nicholas and
Benson quote an FBI report that states that Regina Fischer returned to the
United States in 1939 while Hans-Gerhardt Fischer never entered the United
States. Hans-Gerhardt and Regina Fischer divorced in 1945 when Bobby was
two years old, and he grew up with his mother and older sister, Joan. In
1948, the family moved to Mobile, Arizona, where Regina taught in an
elementary school. The following year they moved to Brooklyn, New York,
where Regina worked as an elementary school teacher and nurse.
In May 1949, the six-year-old Fischer learned how to play chess from
instructions found in a chess set that his sister had bought at a candy
store below their Brooklyn apartment. He saw his first chess book a month
later. For over a year he played chess on his own. At age seven, he joined
the Brooklyn Chess Club and was taught by its president, Carmine Nigro. He
later joined the Manhattan Chess Club. Other important early influences were
provided by Master and chess journalist Hermann Helms and Grandmaster Arnold
Denker. Denker served as a mentor to young Bobby, and often took him to
watch professional hockey games at Madison Square Garden, to cheer the New
York Rangers; Denker wrote that Bobby enjoyed those treats and never forgot
them; the two became lifelong friends (The Bobby Fischer I Knew And Other
Stories, by Arnold Denker and Larry Parr, Hypermodern Press 1995, p. 107).
When Fischer was thirteen, his mother asked John W. Collins to be his chess
tutor. Collins had coached several top players, including future
grandmasters Robert Byrne and William Lombardy. Fischer spent much time at
Collins' house, and some have described Collins as a father figure for
Fischer. The Hawthorne Chess Club was the name for the group which Collins
coached. Fischer also was involved with the Log Cabin Chess Club.
Bobby Fischer attended Erasmus Hall High School together with Barbra
Streisand, though he later dropped out in 1959 when he turned 16. Many
teachers remembered him as difficult. When his chess feats mounted, the
student council of Erasmus Hall awarded him a gold medal for his chess
achievements (source: Profile of a Prodigy, by Frank Brady (1965)).
According to school records, he had an IQ of 184 and an incredibly
retentive memory.
Young champion (1956-57)
Fischer's first real triumph was winning the United States Junior Chess
Championship in July 1956; he scored 8.5/10 at Philadelphia to become the
youngest-ever junior champion,, a record which still stands today. In the
1956 U.S. Open Chess Championship at Oklahoma City, Fischer scored 8.5/12 to
tie for 4-8th places, with Arthur Bisguier winning. Then he played in the
first Canadian Open Chess Championship at Montreal 1956, scoring 7/10 to tie
for 8-12th places, as Larry Evans won. Fischer's famous game from the
3rd Rosenwald Trophy tournament at New York 1956, against Donald Byrne, who
later became an International Master, was called "The Game of the Century"
by Hans Kmoch. At the age of 12, he was awarded the U.S. title of National
Master, then the youngest ever.
In 1957, Fischer first successfully defended his U.S. Junior title, scoring
8.5/9 at San Francisco. Then he won the U.S. Open Chess Championship at
Cleveland on tie-breaking points over Arthur Bisguier, scoring 10/12; he
remains the youngest-ever U.S. Open champion. Fischer defeated the young
Filipino Master Rudolfo Tan Cardoso by 6-2 in a match in New York. He
next won the New Jersey Open Championship. From these triumphs, Fischer
was given entry into the invitational U.S. Chess Championship at New York.
Many thought he was too weak, and predicted that he would finish last.
Instead, he won, with 10.5/13, becoming in January 1958, at age 14, the
youngest U.S. champion ever (this record still stands in 2007). He earned
the title of International Master with this victory, becoming the youngest
player ever to achieve this level (a record since broken).
First World title attempts (1958-59)
Fischer's victory qualified him to participate in the 1958 Portorož
Interzonal, the next step toward challenging the World Champion. At 15, he
was the youngest-ever Interzonal player. The top six finishers in the
Interzonal would qualify for the Candidates Tournament, but few thought the
youngster had much chance of this. Again he surprised the pundits, tying for
5-6th places, with 12/20, after a strong finish. This made Fischer the
youngest person ever to qualify for the Candidates, a record which stood
until 2005 (it was broken under a different setup by Magnus Carlsen),
and also earned him the title of Grandmaster, making him at that time the
youngest grandmaster in history.
Before the Candidates' tournament, he competed in 1959 in strong
International tournaments at Mar del Plata, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; and
Zurich, Switzerland. In all three events, he scored well, showing that he
was of true grandmaster strength.
At the age of 16, Fischer finished a creditable equal fifth out of eight at
the Candidates Tournament held in Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1959.
He scored 12.5/28 but was outclassed by tournament winner Mikhail Tal, who
won all four of their individual games.
Unsuccessful World Championship contender (1960-62)
In 1960, Fischer tied for first with the young Soviet star Boris Spassky at
the strong Mar del Plata tournament in Argentina, with the two well ahead of
the rest of the field, scoring 13.5/15 (The Games of Robert J. Fischer,
edited by Robert Wade and Kevin O'Connell, Batsford 1972, p.183). Fischer
lost only to Spassky, and this was the start of their relationship, which
began on a friendly basis and stayed that way, in spite of Fischer's
troubles on the board against Spassky. Fischer struggled in the subsequent
Buenos Aires tournament, finishing with 8.5/19. The tournament was won by
Soviet Viktor Korchnoi and Samuel Reshevsky, the many-time U.S. Champion and
one of the world's strongest players, each scoring 13/19 (The Games of
Robert J. Fischer, edited by Robert Wade and Kevin O'Connell, Batsford 1972,
p.189). This was the only real failure of Fischer's competitive career.
In 1961, Fischer started a 16-game match with Reshevsky. The match was split
between New York and Los Angeles. Despite Fischer's meteoric rise, the
veteran Reshevsky (born in 1911, 32 years older than Fischer) was considered
the favorite, since not only did he have much more match experience, but he
had never lost a set match in his life. After 11 games and a tie score (2
wins apiece with 7 draws), the match ended due to a dispute between Fischer
and match organizer and sponsor Jacqueline Piatigorsky. The hard-fought
struggle, with many games being adjourned, had delayed the original match
schedule, causing some logistical challenges for site bookings. Mrs.
Piatigorsky's husband Gregor Piatigorsky, a world-class concert cellist, was
giving a concert later in the afternoon of the scheduled 12th game. Mrs.
Piatigorsky, who wanted to attend the concert, as well as the chess game,
rescheduled the 12th game to start at 11 a.m., apparently without getting
Fischer's approval. Fischer, who liked to sleep late, objected, and
eventually abandoned the match after being unable to come to an agreement
with the organizer. Reshevsky received the winner's share of the prizes (Profile
of a Prodigy, by Frank Brady (1965)). Fischer later made up with Mrs.
Piatigorsky by accepting an invitation to the 2nd Piatigorsky Cup, Santa
Monica 1966, which she helped to sponsor.
Fischer was second behind former World Champion Tal at Bled 1961, a super-strong
tournament. He defeated Tal head-to-head for the first time, scored 3.5/4
against the Soviet contingent, and finished as the only unbeaten player,
with 13.5/19 (The Games of Robert J. Fischer, by Robert Wade and Kevin
O'Connell, Batsford 1972, p.199).
In the next World Championship cycle, Fischer won the 1962 Stockholm
Interzonal by 2.5 points, scoring 17.5/22, making him one of the favorites
for the Candidates tournament in Curaçao, which began soon afterwards.
However, he had a disappointing tournament, finishing fourth out of eight
with a 14-13 score. The result nonetheless established Fischer, at 19, as
the strongest non-Soviet player in the world. Tal fell very ill during the
tournament, and had to withdraw before completion. Fischer, a friend of
Tal's, was the only player who visited him in the hospital (Profile of a
Prodigy, by Frank Brady (1965)).
Following his failure in the 1962 Candidates (at which five of the eight
players were from the Soviet Union), Fischer asserted that three of the
Soviet players had an agreement to draw their games in order to concentrate
on playing against him, and also that a fourth, Victor Korchnoi, had been
forced to throw games to ensure a Soviet player won. It is generally thought
that the former accusation is correct, but not the latter. (This is
discussed further at the World Chess Championship 1963 article).
U.S. Championships results
Fischer played in eight United States Chess Championships, each held in New
York City, winning every one. His scores were: 1957-58: 10.5/13; 1958-59:
8.5/11; 1959-60: 9/11; 1960-61: 9/11; 1962-63: 8/11; 1963-64: 11/11;
1965-66: 8.5/11; 1966-67: 9.5/11. The total is 74/90, for 82.2 per cent,
with only three losses.
In 1962, Fischer said that he had "personal problems" and began to listen to
various radio ministers in a search for answers. This is how he first came
to listen to The World Tomorrow radio program with Herbert W. Armstrong and
his son Garner Ted Armstrong; the Armstrongs' denomination, The Worldwide
Church of God, predicted an imminent apocalypse. In late 1963, Fischer began
tithing to the church. According to Fischer, he lived a bifurcated life,
with a rational chess component and an enthusiastic religious component.
Fischer decided not to participate in the Amsterdam Interzonal in 1964, thus
taking himself out of the 1966 World Championship cycle. He held to this
decision even when FIDE changed the format of the eight-player Candidates
Tournament from a round-robin to a series of knockout matches, which
eliminated the possibility of collusion. Fischer instead embarked on a
cross-country tour lasting several months, where he played simultaneous
exhibitions and gave lectures; the tour was very well attended and
publicized. Fischer also turned down an invitation to play in the 1963
Piatigorsky Cup tournament in Los Angeles, which had a world-class field.
Instead, he preferred to play at the same time in the much weaker Western
Open in Bay City, Michigan, which he won, with 7.5/8. Fischer also won the
1963 New York State Championship at Poughkeepsie, another minor event, in
late summer, with a perfect 7/7 (Bobby Fischer, Profile of a Prodigy, by
Frank Brady (1965)).
Fischer wanted to play in the Capablanca Memorial Tournament, Havana 1965,
but Americans were not allowed to travel to Cuba at that time. Fischer had
travelled to Cuba to play as a youth, before Fidel Castro assumed power in
1959. Fischer was able to play by telegraph, staying in New York and playing
from the Frank Marshall Chess Club. His games lasted longer because of the
transmission delays and receipt of moves logistics. But Fischer tied for
2nd-4th places, with 15/21, behind former World Champion Vasily Smyslov, and
defeated Smyslov in their game. Chess became a news item in the United
States with this unusual achievement (The Games of Robert J. Fischer, edited
by Robert Wade and Kevin O'Connell, Batsford 1972, pages 160 and 209).
Fischer finished second at the 1966 Santa Monica supertournament, just
behind world finalist Boris Spassky, scoring 11/18. The next year, he won
over strong fields at Monte Carlo 1967 (7/9) and Skopje 1967 (13.5/17) (http://www.chessmetrics.com,
the Bobby Fischer player file).
In the next cycle, at the 1967 Sousse Interzonal, Fischer scored a
phenomenal 8.5 points in the first 10 games. His observance of the Worldwide
Church of God's sabbath was honored by the organizers, but deprived Fischer
of several rest days, which led to a scheduling dispute. Fischer forfeited
two games in protest and later withdrew, eliminating himself from the 1969
World Championship cycle.
At home, Fischer won all eight U.S. Championships that he competed in,
beginning with the 1957-1958 championship and ending with the 1966-1967
championship. This string includes his 11-0 win in the 1963-1964
championship, the only perfect score in the history of the tournament, and
one of only a handful of perfect scores in high-level chess tournaments ever.
Fischer was forced to attend school, and had to miss the 1958 Olympiad. But
he represented the U.S.A. on top board with great distinction at four
Olympiads: (Leipzig 1960, Varna 1962, Havana 1966, and Siegen 1970). At
Leipzig, he scored 13/18 for the silver medal, and the U.S.A. also won the
team silver. At Varna, he scored 11/17 and the U.S.A. finished fourth. At
Havana, he scored an incredible 15/17 for the individual silver, and the
Americans again won team silver. Then at Siegen he again won silver with
10/13, and the U.S.A. finished fourth. His overall total was +40, =18, −7,
for 49/65 or 75.4 per cent. Fischer turned down further invitations to play
in 1964, 1968, and 1972, after which he retired for 20 years.
Fischer won the tournaments at Netanya 1968 (11.5/13) and Vinkovci 1968
(11/13) by large margins (http://www.chessmetrics.com, the Bobby Fischer
player file). But he then stopped playing for the next 18 months, except for
an amazing win in a New York Metropolitan League team match over Anthony
The road to the world championship (1969-1972)
Championship was also a zonal qualifier, with the top three finishers
advancing to the Interzonal. Fischer, however, had sat out the U.S.
Championship because of disagreements about the tournament's format and
prize fund. To enable Fischer to compete for the title, Grandmaster Pal
Benko gave up his Interzonal place, for which the United States Chess
Federation (USCF) paid him a modest $2,000; the other zonal participants
waived their right to replace Benko. This unusual arrangement was the work
of Ed Edmondson, then the USCF's Executive Director.
Before the Interzonal, though, in March and April 1970, the world's best
players competed in the USSR vs. Rest of the World match in Belgrade,
Yugoslavia. Fischer agreed to allow Bent Larsen of Denmark to play first
board for the Rest of the World team in light of Larsen's recent outstanding
tournament results, even though Fischer had the higher Elo rating. The
USSR team won the match by a hair (20.5-19.5), but on second board, Fischer
beat Tigran Petrosian, whom Boris Spassky had dethroned as world champion
the previous year, 3-1, winning the first two games and drawing the last two.
Following the Match of the Century, the unofficial World Championship of
Lightning Chess (5-minute games) was held at Herceg Novi. Fischer
annihilated the super-class field with 19/22, 4.5 points ahead of Tal. Later
in 1970, Fischer won tournaments at Rovinj/Zagreb with 13/17, and Buenos
Aires, where he crushed the field of mostly Grandmasters with 15/17. Clearly,
he had taken his game to a new level.
The Interzonal was held in Palma de Mallorca in November and December 1970.
Fischer won it with a remarkable 18.5-4.5 score, 3.5 points ahead of Larsen,
Efim Geller, and Robert Hübner, who tied for second at 15-8. Fischer
finished the tournament with seven consecutive wins (one by default).
Fischer continued his domination in the 1971 Candidates matches, defeating
his opponents with a lopsided series of results unparalleled in chess
history. First, he crushed Mark Taimanov of the USSR at Vancouver by 6-0. A
couple of months later, he repeated the shutout against Larsen at Denver,
again by 6-0 (+6−0=0). The latter result was particularly shocking: just
a year before, Larsen had played first board for the Rest of the World team
ahead of Fischer, and had handed Fischer his only loss at the Interzonal.
Only former World Champion Petrosian, Fischer's final opponent in the
Candidates matches, was able to offer resistance in their match played at
Buenos Aires. Petrosian unleashed a strong theoretical novelty in the first
game and had Fischer on the ropes, but Fischer defended with his customary
aplomb and even won the game. This gave Fischer a remarkable streak of 20
consecutive wins, the second longest winning streak in chess history after
Steinitz's 25-game streak from 1873 to 1882. Petrosian won decisively in
the second game, finally snapping Fischer's winning streak. After three
consecutive draws, however, Fischer swept the next four games to win the
match 6.5-2.5 (+5=3−1). The final match victory allowed Fischer to challenge
World Champion Boris Spassky, whom he had never beaten before (+0=2−3).
World Championship Match
Fischer's career-long stubbornness about match and tournament conditions was
again seen in the run-up to his match with Spassky. Of the possible sites,
Fischer preferred Yugoslavia, while Spassky wanted Iceland. For a time it
appeared that the dispute would be resolved by splitting the match between
the two locations, but that arrangement fell through. After that issue was
resolved, Fischer refused to play unless the prize fund, which he considered
inadequate, was doubled. London financier Jim Slater responded by donating
an additional $US 125,000, which brought the prize fund to an unprecedented
$250,000. Fischer finally agreed to play.
The match took place in Reykjavík, Iceland, from July through September
1972. Fischer lost the first two games in strange fashion: the first when he
played a risky pawn-grab in a dead-drawn endgame, the second by forfeit when
he refused to play the game in a dispute over playing conditions. Fischer
would likely have forfeited the entire match, but Spassky, not wanting to
win by default, yielded to Fischer's demands to move the next game to a back
room, away from the cameras whose presence had upset Fischer. The rest of
the match proceeded without serious incident. Fischer won seven of the next
19 games, losing only one and drawing eleven, to win the match 12.5-8.5 and
become the 11th World Chess Champion.
World-class match play (i.e., a series of games between the same two
opponents) often involves one or both players preparing one or two openings
very deeply, and playing them often during the match. Preparation for such a
match also usually involves analysis of those opening lines known to be
played by the upcoming opponent. Fischer surprised Spassky by never
repeating an opening line throughout the match, and often playing opening
lines that he had never played before in his chess career. During the last
half of the match, Spassky abandoned his prepared lines and attempted to
outplay Fischer in lines that (hopefully) neither of them had prepared, but
this also proved fruitless for the defending champion. 
Fischer's win was a momentous victory for the United States during the time
of the Cold War: the iconoclastic American almost single-handedly defeating
the mighty Soviet chess establishment that had dominated world chess for the
Fischer was also the (then) highest-rated player in history according to the
Elo rating system. He had a rating of 2780 after beating Spassky, which was
actually a slight decline from the record 2785 rating he had achieved after
routing Taimanov, Larsen, and Petrosian the previous year.
The match was coined "The Match of the Century", and received front-page
media coverage in the United States and around the world. With his victory,
Fischer became an instant celebrity. He received numerous product
endorsement offers (all of which he declined) and appeared on the covers of
Life and Sports Illustrated. With American Olympic swimming champion Mark
Spitz, he also appeared on a Bob Hope TV special. Membership in the
United States Chess Federation doubled in 1972 and peaked in 1974; in
American chess, these years are commonly referred to as the "Fischer Boom."
Fischer gave the Worldwide Church of God $61,200 of his world championship
prize money. However, 1972 was a disastrous year for the church, as
prophecies by Herbert W. Armstrong were unfulfilled, and the church was
rocked by revelations of a series of sex scandals involving Garner Ted
Armstrong. Fischer, who felt betrayed and swindled by the Worldwide
Church of God, left the church and publicly denounced it.
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