Fifty years ago this week, Bobby Fischer was crowned world chess champion. He arrived more than an hour late for his own ceremony.
It seemed to sum up the enigma that was Fischer, the bad boy of American chess who both inspired and enraged chess fans everywhere. The first American world champion in a century, he defeated Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union in a legendary Cold War match in Iceland.
I was a student at the time, working in Europe for the summer, and lucky enough to attend four games of the historic match.
Fischer came home to a hero’s welcome, making appearances on the Johnny Carson show and on the covers of Sports Illustrated and Life magazines. His inventive play and success at the board inspired a whole new generation of people to take up the game.
But Fischer had a reputation for being difficult and petulant. When he was handed his gold medal at the world championship ceremony, he inspected the prize and said: “It doesn’t have a name on it.”
Fischer slowly descended into seclusion and paranoia, refusing to defend his title or make public appearances. He played just one more serious match in his life.
Bobby Fischer died in 2008 at the age of 64, having lived one year for every square on the chessboard.
Bobby Fischer v. Ruben Shocron, Mar del Plata, 1959
Bobby as White has just won a piece, but his Rook is pinned and looks lost. What does he do?
White plays 40.Bd7! Black can’t take the Bishop because after Rxg6+ his Queen is lost. Other moves let White retain the extra piece. Black resigned.