14 Weird Facts About The Remarkably Strange Life of Chess Champion Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer epitomized the notion that there is a very thin line between genius and insanity. Because Fischer refused interviews and famously cut off contact with acquaintances who talked about him publicly, many Bobby Fischer stories and Bobby Fischer facts did not emerge until after his death. Some may never have surfaced at all. But even from a very early age, Bobby Fischer's life was fraught with chaos, anger, and instability. Fischer is perceived as possibly the the greatest chess player who ever lived yet his bizarre personality and racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-American outbursts later in life destroyed any semblance of a positive legacy. Ultimately, untreated mental illness also shortened the career of Fischer while he was in his prime. Despite all of his achievements, that Bobby Fischer is still perceived as a tragic example of unrealized potential truly underlines his status as one of history's most unusual human beings.

  • He Once Called A Radio Station To Say The US Deserved The 9/11 Attacks
    Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 de

    He Once Called A Radio Station To Say The US Deserved The 9/11 Attacks

    Within hours of the 9/11 attacks, Bobby Fischer, a native New Yorker, called a small Filipino radio station and in a live interview made the following statements:

    "This is all wonderful news. It is time to finish off the US once and for all.

    I was happy and could not believe what was happening. All the crimes the US has committed in the world. This just shows, what goes around comes around, even to the US.

    I applaud the act. The US and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians for years. Now it is coming back at the US."

    Fischer added that Israel and "Jews" had brought on the World Trade Center attacks. He called this particular radio station because he was living in Baguio City, Philippines and had met the station manager through a mutual acquaintance, Filipino chess grandmaster Eugene Torre. Even for Bobby Fischer's apologists, who had dismissed previous similar outbursts, these comments were a new low that brought Fischer a virtual international persona non grata status.

  • His Extreme Paranoia May Have Been Fueled By FBI Surveillance Of His Mother
    Photo: Raymond Bravo Pratts / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    His Extreme Paranoia May Have Been Fueled By FBI Surveillance Of His Mother

    By just about everyone's estimation, Bobby Fischer was definitely quirky and possibly deeply mentally disturbed from a young age. Fischer is frequently described as a delusional paranoiac because he ranted about the US government and its evils and conspiracies. However, it's possible Fischer wasn't so paranoid after all.

    It turns out that Bobby Fischer and his mother were under FBI surveillance for many years, dating back as far as 1942. This was prompted by an informant, who contacted the FBI after reading letters that outlined Regina Fischer's leftist political beliefs. Although Bobby's mother was born in Switzerland, she was of Russian and German origin, and the FBI suspected that she and her circle of academic friends were communist sympathizers. It was the FBI that determined that Bobby's biological father was Paul Nemenyi and not Hans-Gerhardt-Fisher, Regina's husband until 1945. After Regina's death, journalists accessed her FBI file, which showed that Bobby was under FBI surveillance and that the FBI considered him a potential recruit of the KGB, a practically laughable supposition as Fischer was an avowed anti-communist who despised the Soviet system.

  • He Won The 1972 World Chess Championship After Giving Away The First Two Games
    Photo: Verhoeff, Bert / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

    He Won The 1972 World Chess Championship After Giving Away The First Two Games

    In 1972, in Reykjavik, Iceland, Bobby Fischer met World Chess Champion Boris Spassky in an eagerly awaited championship match that made Fischer an international celebrity. While international chess had been dominated by the Soviet Union for three decades and was seen by the regime as an example of communist intellectual superiority, Fischer was outspoken in his criticism of Soviet players who he accused of deliberately drawing matches with each other. After officials refused his demands that they forbid all cameras and hold the match out of spectator sight, Fischer stunned the chess world by recklessly losing his first game and forfeiting his second one.

    With the Championship itself hanging in the balance, Fischer was preparing to board a flight back to the US when he received communications from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, among others, imploring him to continue. Spassky actually agreed to play Game 3 in a tiny backroom, and the match continued. Fischer won five and drew three of the next eight games and went on to a resounding 12.5 to 8.5 victory. He became the 13th world champion and the first American to win since 1886, but even that champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, was a naturalized Austrian. Fischer appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and turned down numerous lucrative endorsements. In 1975, Fischer refused to defend his title, and it was awarded to Russian Anatoli Karpov. Fischer would not play competitive chess again until 1992.

  • He Violated US Sanctions In Yugoslavia, Then Literally Spat On A US Government Threat
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    He Violated US Sanctions In Yugoslavia, Then Literally Spat On A US Government Threat

    In 1992, 20 years after his defeat of Boris Spassky, Bobby Fischer was able to get a shadowy Yugoslavian business man and crony of Slobodan Milosevic to put up a $5 million purse to sponsor a Spassky-Fischer rematch in what was left of Yugoslavia. Because Fischer claimed that he had refused to defend his title and it was confiscated improperly, and because he claimed that all subsequent championship matches between Russian players were fixed in advance, he declared himself the true champion.

    Fischer easily defeated Spassky, who was no longer a top player, earned over $3 million of the purse, and incurred the wrath of the US government. He was subsequently indicted, and a warrant was issued for his arrest in the US. Yugoslavia was heavily sanctioned by the United States and the United Nations as a result of genocidal violence related to the breakup of the country. Bobby Fischer publicly spat on the the US Treasury letter warning him of the consequences of participating in the match.