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Chess legend Bobby Fischer dead at 64
by Gudmundur HermannssonFri Jan 18, 12:38 PM ET
Chess legend Bobby Fischer, the troubled high school dropout whose fabled 1972 victory over Soviet world champion Boris Spassky made him a Cold War hero, has died at the age of 64 at his home in Iceland.
"I can confirm that he died yesterday in his home due to an illness," close friend Gardar Sverrisson told AFP. Fischer was reportedly hospitalised for a period last year.
Einar Einarsson, the chairman of a support group which had lobbied for Fischer to be granted Icelandic citizenship, said the cause of death was kidney failure.
"He was not a man who wanted to seek medical attention. He didn't believe in Western medicine," Einarsson told AFP.
US-born Fischer, who made world headlines when he defeated Spassky in their Cold War showdown in Reykjavik, took Icelandic citizenship in 2005 to avoid being deported to the United States.
He was wanted for breaking international sanctions by playing a chess match in Yugoslavia in 1992.
"Fischer could be called a pioneer of professional chess, some would say even the founder of professional chess," former world champion Garry Kasparov told journalists in Moscow Friday, lamenting that he had never met his childhood hero.
Considered by some as the greatest chess player of all time, Fischer's particular genius was a troubled one that saw his life run steadily downhill since his moment of glory at age 29.
He was said to have an IQ higher than Albert Einstein's and once thought his gift would win him undying fortune. He would make extravagant demands over matches in a way more commonly seen in boxing.
But while the theatrics made him a celebrity -- and are credited with helping him unnerve his opponents -- he also succeeded in alienating himself from all but a small band of friends and chess enthusiasts.
Despite having a Jewish mother, Fischer was an outspoken anti-Semite, using broadcasts at far-flung radio stations to accuse Jews of everything from his legal woes to an alleged conspiracy to kill off elephants.
His anti-US rhetoric became equally inflammatory over the years.
"I think it's ... a great loss for chess that Fischer never tried to re-enter the world of chess and that the last 30 years of his life were marked by very odd, somehow politically unacceptable statements rather than a chess contribution," Kasparov said.
In the 1972 "match of the century" in Iceland, Fischer, throwing regular tantrums over the position of cameras and the audience, relied on his own wit to end 24 years of Soviet chess supremacy by dethroning Spassky, who had by his side an army of Russian master strategists.
While watching that match, Kasparov said he had been most impressed by Fischer's "dedication" to the game of chess and his ability to sacrifice all his energy to win.
"He combined great quality of his moves with elements of psychological warfare and it proved to be an absolutely irresistible force," he added.
Serbian chess master Svetozar Gligoric, a long-time friend of Fischer's, agreed: "He fiercely defended his positions and was prepared to make any sacrifice," he told AFP.
Fischer, whose chess education had consisted of locking himself in a room for days on end facing off against himself, refused to play again after his triumph and was stripped of his title in 1975.
His paranoia was reinforced in 1981 when his scruffy appearance made him a mistaken suspect in a California bank robbery. In another of his interviews on Filipino radio, Fischer accused the media of trying to "poison the public against me."
"They constantly use the words eccentric, eccentric, eccentric, weird," Fischer said. "I am boring. I am boring!"
He returned to chess in 1992 with a rematch against Spassky in Yugoslavia, then in the throes of the Balkan wars. At a press conference he spat on a US government notice warning him he was breaking sanctions and proceeded to defeat Spassky once again, winning more than three million dollars on which he boasted he would never pay tax.
He was back in the media spotlight on September 11, 2001 when he rang up a Filipino radio station to hail the "wonderful news" of the terrorist attacks on the United States and launch a profanity-laden anti-Jewish tirade.
On July 13, 2004, Fischer was taken into custody at Tokyo's Narita airport for travelling on a passport which Washington said had been revoked.
With Japan deliberating for months on whether to send him to the United States, Iceland came to his rescue, granting him citizenship in tribute to his role in making the small island -- and the game of chess -- famous in 1972.
"He was quite happy to be in Iceland, but perhaps he felt a little bit trapped ... since he could not travel. The US government was always after him," Einarsson said Friday.
Fischer's girlfriend, the head of the Japan Chess Association Miyoko Watai, visited him frequently in Iceland, Einarsson said, adding that she was expected to arrive back in the Nordic country this weekend.
Spassky continued to support Fischer despite the controversy. In an open letter, he wrote he was ready to share a jail cell with him if Fischer was extradited to the United States.
"Just let us play chess," said the twice-defeated Spassky.
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