CHESS: WHERE IS BOBBY FISCHER?

MANILA, January 2, 2004  (STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - There’s a book that’s just been released in the market and it puts together 24 of the best feature articles published in Sport Magazine from 1948 to 1973. It’s called "The Best of Sport–Classic Writing from the Golden Era of Sports" with Bob Ryan as guest editor.

The stories recount the exploits of such stars as Jackie Robinson, Babe Zaharias, Joe DiMaggio, Elgin Baylor, Bear Bryant, Sugar Ray Robinson, Johnny Weissmuller, Bantam Ben Hogan, Bill Russell, Arnold Palmer, Mickey Mantle, Muhammad Ali and the reclusive chess wizard Bobby Fischer, among others.

Dick Shaap penned the article on Fischer. It was titled "Bobby Fischer Can Lick Ali Any Day–in Ego" and published in the February 1973 issue of Sport.

The book ends each story with an epilogue that brings the reader up to date. So in the Fischer story, there’s an account of what has since happened to the chess star.

Fischer, of course, is close to the heart of Filipino sports fans. He has visited here often and in 1992, took in Asia’s first grandmaster Eugene Torre as his second in the "Revenge Match of the 20th Century" against Boris Spassky in war-torn Montenegro.

Last June, Fischer was interviewed for 43 minutes on a Baguio radio station. It was his 19th interview on the station in four years and he’d granted only two other interviews in Iceland and Hungary since 1999. That proved Fischer’s affinity to the Philippines where he once played the country’s first international master Rudy Tan Cardoso.

Fischer, 60, has been described as inscrutable and eccentric. He beat Spassky for the world chess championship in 1972, marking the end of the Russian stranglehold on the title after 24 years. But he was stripped of recognition by FIDE (Federation Internationale des Echecs) in 1975 after refusing to play challenger Anatoly Karpov under his terms.

Fischer then disappeared from the public scene. He reportedly joined a cult-like group called the Worldwide Church of God and in 1981, was held by police on suspicion of robbery, dressed like a hobo and unshaven in Pasadena. To conceal his identity, Fischer assumed a new name Robert James and fell in love with a teenaged chess prodigy Zia Rajcsanyi.

It was Rajcsanyi who persuaded Fischer to emerge from isolation to play Spassky in 1992. As the match was set in Montenegro, Fischer was warned by the US government not to proceed because of economic sanctions against Yugoslavia. He was threatened with a $250,000 fine, 10 years in prison or both. The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a warrant for Fischer’s arrest if he returned to the US after playing the match. Fischer spat on the document confirming the US threat and went on to beat Spassky, collected $3.65 Million and disappeared again.

Fischer reappeared in Buenos Aires in 1996 to announce his own variation on chess called Fischer Random Chess. A breakup with Rajcsanyi later sent Fischer back into seclusion and depression.

Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, Fischer was interviewed on a radio station in Baguio and applauded Osama bin Laden’s terrorism. "Death to the US," he declared.

Despite his political beliefs and strong anti-Semitic sentiments, there is no question Fischer became a legend in his own time. He posted 415 wins, 248 draws and 85 losses in chess tournaments from 1955 to 1992. Fischer was unbeaten from 1962 to 1972, except in two tournaments in 1965 and 1966. Although his whereabouts are unknown, there are unconfirmed sightings in Japan, Brazil, Hungary, England and the Philippines.

Fischer was born to Regina Wender in Chicago. Regina’s husband Hans-Gerhardt Fischer, a physician, was not his father. Although not listed in his birth certificate, Fischer’s biological father was Paul Nemenyi, a Hungarian scientist. Regina, daughter of a Polish dressmaker, spoke six languages and met Nemenyi when her husband was in Chile. Regina and Nemenyi were suspected of sharing communist sympathies.

After Regina’s husband returned, they eventually divorced. She took care of Fischer as a single parent. In 1949, Fischer moved to Brooklyn with his mother and older sister–he was only six and started to learn chess. When he was 13, Fischer hooked up with coach John Collins. In 1956, he won the US Junior Championship. Two years later, Fischer was US champion and at the age of 15, became the youngest-ever grandmaster.

Fischer’s mother died in 1997 at the age of 84. His father Nemenyi died of heart attack in Washington in 1952 at the age of 56.

A high school dropout, Fischer never cared for money. In 1977, he was offered a $250,000 purse to play at Caesar’s Palace and $3 Million to play a tournament here. Fischer refused both offers.

"The Best in Sport" has unwittingly rekindled fond and not-too-fond memories of one of the world’s most gifted chess players ever.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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