Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bobby Fischer

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 and anti-Semitism.

Early years

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.
Bobby Fischer and John Collins

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 187[7] 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,[8], 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[12] 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.[13] Fischer defeated the young Filipino Master Rudolfo Tan Cardoso by 6-2 in a match in New York.[14] He next won the New Jersey Open Championship.[15] 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

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.[16] 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.

The road to the world championship (1969-1972)
The 1969 U.S. 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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21] 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).

1972 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 past quarter-century.

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.

Fischer-Karpov 1975
Fischer was scheduled to defend his title against challenger Anatoly Karpov in 1975. Fischer had played no tournament games since winning the title, and he laid down numerous (a total of 64) conditions for the match. While most of them were purely game-oriented in nature, some were as bizarre as a requirement for everyone entering the room where the game is conducted to take off head covering. Many commentators supposed that Fischer's objective in making the demands was to avoid conducting the match, the outcome of which Fischer was not certain. Fischer made the following three principal demands:

1. The match should continue until ten wins, without counting the draws.
2. There is no limit to the total number of games played.
3. In case of a 9:9 score, champion (Fischer) retains his title.

Fischer claimed the usual system (twenty-four games with the first player to get 12.5 points winning, or the champion retaining his title in the event of a 12-12 tie) encouraged the player in the lead to draw games, which he regarded as bad for chess. Fischer instead wanted a match of an unlimited number of games. However, a match based on the first two conditions could take several months (In 1927 the Capablanca-Alekhine match to achieve the condition of winning only six games continued for 34 games). Many argued that this would be an exercise in stamina rather than skill. The FIDE commission headed by FIDE president Max Euwe and consisting of both, US and USSR, representatives, ruled that the match should continue until six wins. However, Fischer replied that he would resign his crown and not participate in the match. Instead of accepting Fischer's forfeit, the commission agreed to allow the match to continue until nine wins, leaving only one of the 64 conditions set by Fischer unsatisfied. FIDE postulated that the player achieving nine victories first would win the match, eliminating any advantage for the reigning champion (Fischer). Most observers considered Fischer's demand of his win in case of 9:9 draw to be unfair. It meant that Fischer only needed to win nine games to retain the championship, while Karpov had to win by a 10-8 score. Because FIDE would not agree to that demand, Fischer resigned in a cable to FIDE president Max Euwe on June 27, 1974:

"As I made clear in my telegram to the FIDE delegates, the match conditions I proposed were non-negotiable. Mr. Cramer informs me that the rules of the winner being the first player to win ten games, draws not counting, unlimited number of games and if nine wins to nine match is drawn with champion regaining title and prize fund split equally were rejected by the FIDE delegates. By so doing FIDE has decided against my participating in the 1975 world chess championship. I therefore resign my FIDE world chess champion title. Sincerely, Bobby Fischer."

Former U.S. Champion Arnold Denker, who was in contact with Fischer during the Karpov match negotiations, claimed that Fischer wanted a long match to be able to play himself into shape after a three-year layoff. [28] Karpov became World Champion by default in April 1975. In his 1991 autobiography, Karpov expressed profound regret that the match did not take place, and claimed that the lost opportunity to challenge Fischer held back his own chess development. Karpov met with Fischer several times after 1975, in friendly but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to arrange a match. [29] Garry Kasparov has argued that Karpov would have had a good chance to defeat Fischer in 1975.

Fischer disappeared and did not play competitive chess for nearly twenty years. To this day, he claims that he is still the World Champion because he never lost a title match.

Contributions to chess theory

Fischer was renowned for his opening preparation, and made numerous contributions to chess opening theory. He was considered the greatest practitioner of the White side of the Ruy Lopez; a line of the Exchange Variation (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0-0) is sometimes called the "Fischer variation" after he successfully resurrected it at the 1966 Havana Olympiad.

He was also a recognized expert in the Black side of the Najdorf Sicilian, as well as being one of the greatest theoreticians of the King's Indian Defense. He also demonstrated several important improvements in the Grunfeld Defence. In the Nimzo-Indian Defence, the line beginning with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 b6 5.Ne2 Ba6 is named for him.

Fischer established the viability of the so-called "Poisoned Pawn" variation of the Najdorf Sicilian (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qb6!?). Although this bold queen sortie, snatching a pawn at the expense of development, had been considered dubious, Fischer succeeded in proving its soundness, a claim supported by contemporary theory. Fischer won many games with this line; his only loss was in the 11th game of his 1972 match with Spassky.

On the White side of the Sicilian, Fischer made advancements to the theory of the line beginning 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 (or e6) 6. Bc4, which is now called the Fischer-Sozin Attack.

In 1960, prompted by a painful loss to Spassky,[1] Fischer wrote an article entitled "A Bust to the King's Gambit" for the first issue of Larry Evans' American Chess Quarterly, in which he recommended 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d6. This variation has since become known as the Fischer Defense to the King's Gambit. After Fischer's article was published, the King's Gambit was seen even less frequently in master-level games, although Fischer took up the White side of it in three games (preferring 3.Bc4 to 3.Nf3), winning them all.

Other contributions to chess

Fischer clock

In 1988, Fischer filed for U.S. Patent 4,884,255 for a new type of digital chess clock. Fischer's clock gave each player a fixed period of time at the start of the game and then added a small increment after each completed move. The Fischer clock soon became standard in most major chess tournaments. The patent expired in November 2001 because of overdue maintenance fees.

Fischer Random Chess

On June 19, 1996, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Fischer announced and advocated a variant of chess called Fischer Random Chess, also known as Chess960, that is intended to allow players to contest games based on their understanding of chess rather than their ability to memorize opening variations. Chess960 has gone on to be moderately popular.

* Audio clip of Bobby Fischer describing the unsavory side of chess in its current form at the highest levels.

Other talents

Fischer is an expert at solving the Fifteen puzzle, and has been timed multiple times in under 25 seconds. Fischer demonstrated this on November 8, 1972 on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Fischer was also an expert at playing pinball machines[