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

June 11, 2023 People's Tonight 223 views

Phil Gibbons

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.


• Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 de

RadioHe 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.

• Photo: Raymond Bravo Pratts / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

ParanoiaHis 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.

• Photo: Verhoeff, Bert / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

ChessHe 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.

Yugoslavia1Video: YouTube

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.

• He Evaded US Imprisonment By Becoming A Citizen Of Iceland

Eventually, Fischer’s international warrant would catch up with him. Following the 9/11 attacks and the increase in global scrutiny of international travel documents, the US canceled Fischer’s passport after he traveled to Japan. When he attempted to leave, he was detained by Japanese officials at the request of the US government. It would take the Icelandic parliament granting citizenship to Fischer to extricate the former chess champion from a Japanese prison where he remained in legal limbo for over nine months.

Despite the hostility that Fischer generated with his virulent and hateful comments following 9/11, in Iceland, he was still considered a national hero who put the country on the map. Fischer accepted Iceland’s offer of citizenship, left Japan in a private jet, and defiantly landed in Rekyavik in May of 2005. He died in Iceland of kidney failure in 2008, aged 64.

• He Had His Fillings Removed To Prevent His Mouth Being Used As A Radio Transmitter

One of the craziest and most widespread stories about Bobby Fischer is that he had his fillings removed to prevent the Soviets from using them to transmit manipulative radio signals. One of his biographers admitted that while Fischer did have them removed, it was for (what Fisher deemed) traditional periodontal reasons. However, other acquaintances had a different perspective. Ron Gross, a former chessmaster and friend had this to say about a conversation he had with Bobby while traveling through Mexico:

“He looked terrible… clothes all baggy, wearing old beat-up shoes… Then I noticed that he was favoring his mouth, and he told me that he’d had some work done on his teeth; he’d had a dentist take all the fillings out of his mouth… I said ‘Bobby, that’s going to ruin your teeth. Did you have him put plastic in the holes?’ And he said, ‘I didn’t have anything put in. I don’t want anything artificial in my head.’ He’d read about a guy wounded in World War II who had a metal plate in his head that was always picking up vibrations, maybe even radio transmissions. He said the same thing could happen from metal in your teeth.”

• Following His Death, Fischer Became Involved In A Paternity Suit

When Bobby Fischer died in 2008, a legal fight ensued over his estate that entangled a former live-in girlfriend and her daughter. Marilyn Young claimed that her daughter, Jinky, was fathered by Bobby Fischer during the chess great’s residence in the Philippines. If this was true and because Fischer left no will, then, by Icelandic law, the nine year old was entitled to all of Fischer’s estate, which was believed to be valued at seven figures. To complicate matters further, a Japanese woman and longtime companion to Fischer, Miyoko Watai, claimed that she and Fischer were actually married in 2004, entitling her to the estate. Two nephews also sued, claiming that the marriage wasn’t legal, and they, as closest relatives, were the rightful heirs.

Eventually, an Icelandic court allowed the exhumation of Bobby Fischer, which determined that Jinky was not his biological daughter. They then declared Fischer’s marriage to Watai as legal and dismissed the nephews’ legal claim.

• Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

SchoolHe Was A High School Dropout

Despite a genius IQ and and his incredible chess talent, Bobby Fischer was a terrible student who routinely got Ds and was not at all socially adept. Fischer was a loner with few friends at school and was essentially isolated. It is not surprising then that, in 1960, he decided to drop out of Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, NY. He never attended any other academic institutions; although, his status as a fifteen-year-old chess grandmaster made formal schooling superfluous.

• After Becoming World Champion, Fischer Became A Recluse

Following his victory in 1972, Bobby Fischer was stripped of the title after he refused to accede to chess officials’ rules for an upcoming defense against challenger Anatoly Karpov, who was eventually awarded the title by forfeit. Fisher then disappeared, refusing interviews or official inquiries of any kind and passing on the millions of dollars of endorsements that were offered when he became champion. He became more and more publicly erratic, even getting mistakenly arrested as a Pasadena, CA bank robber, possibly because of his unkempt appearance. He was also arrested for vagrancy. As a result, he wrote a 14-page pamphlet titled I Was Tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse in 1982. It would be 10 years before his sudden public appearance in Yugoslavia, and during this lost decade, virtually nothing of note was reported about him or his life.

• He Brought PBS Its Highest Ratings Ever

Despite the excitement over Bobby Fischer’s 1972 attempt to become the first American to win the world chess championship in almost a century, the major networks treated it as a mere news story, devoting a few minutes a day to the daily information emanating from Reykjavik, Iceland. WNET, the PBS station in New York, hastily assembled a program that monitored and analyzed each game on a move-by-move basis. The show, hosted by a completely inexperienced television commentator named Shelby Lyman, became a nationwide hit and ultimately earned the biggest ratings success in PBS history.

Bobby Fischer Also Ranks#21 of 23 onThe Most Drastic Falls From Grace Throughout History

• Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

HomelessnessHe Was Born Into Homelessness

When Bobby Fischer was born in Chicago in 1943, his mother, Regina was technically homeless. Having recently arrived from Moscow and with an intensely intellectual drive, Regina traveled back-and-forth and all around the country in pursuit of education and livelihood. Eventually, Regina, along with Bobby and his sister, settled in Brooklyn, NY in 1949.

By 1956, Fischer had become the youngest American Junior Champion at age 13. He won the US Championship when he was still 14 and became the youngest chess Grandmaster ever at age 15.

• Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

IQHe Had Basically The Highest IQ Possible

Bobby Fischer took an IQ test while a student at Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn. He is supposed to have scored between 180 and 187. This is near the highest levels attainable. Undoubtedly, Bobby Fischer possessed an extremely gifted level of intelligence.

• Fischer Became Involved With A Christian Sect In The 1960s

Although Bobby Fischer was born Jewish, he renounced Judaism from an early age. Starting in the early ’60s, he became a devotee of a religious sect known as the “Worldwide Church of God,” one of the many Fundamentalist Christian televangelist programs emanating from Southern California. This particular group featured the preaching of Herbert W. and Garner Ted Armstrong and was riddled with biblical prophecy and, not surprisingly, apocalyptic predictions for the future. Fischer became such a convert that he gave $61,000 of his 1972 prize money to the church. But after many of Herbert’s dire predictions never came to pass and Garner Ted was repeatedly caught in sexual transgressions that were against the Church’s teachings, Fischer became disillusioned and stopped contributing money.

• Photo: Paramount Pictures

FischerHe Was Enraged By The Film Searching For Bobby Fischer

Predictably, Bobby Fischer was angered by the 1992 film Searching For Bobby Fischer, a fictional story about a young chess prodigy. Fischer characterized the film as “a monumental swindle,” because he received no compensation from its makers. Fischer also felt that by including his name, the filmmakers were using his identity to publicize a movie and perpetrating an invasion of privacy. Also predictably, Bobby Fischer never saw the film.