Ten Fun Facts You May Not Know about the Triumphs and Tragedies of Bobby Fischer

In the days before the event, he had the whole world wondering if he would show up. Plane after plane waited on the runway while he napped or took walks and ate sandwiches. Henry Kissinger called and asked him to go for his country's honor.

Soon after arriving, he offended the Icelanders by calling their country inadequate because they had no bowling alleys. He complained about the TV cameras, about the lighting, about the table and chairs, and the contrast of the squares on the board. His hotel room, he said, had too nice a view.

None of this had anything to do with chess, of course,...or maybe it did. If he won, he'd be the first American world champion in history. If he lost, he'd just be another patzer from Brooklyn. On the 40th move of the 21st game, he countered Spassky's bishop to king-6 with a pawn to rook-4, and it was all over.

He came home an American hero. He bragged to the world he'd beat the Russians. He delivered. He could now command the same money as heavyweight prizefighters. He was invited to dinner by statesmen and kings. Then Bobby Fischer made the most original, unexpected move of all.

He disappeared.

These introductory words to the 1993 film Searching for Bobby Fischer are simply a glimpse into the life of the eccentric yet brilliant man who won the World Chess Championship half a century ago. To remember the golden anniversary of Bobby Fischer’s famous victory, here are ten fun facts you may not know about the first and only American born world chess champion in history.

1. Dubbed the Match of the Century, the World Chess Championship in 1972 was an epic clash between defending champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union and challenger Bobby Fischer.

2. Fischer originally wanted the match to take place in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Instead, the match was held in Reykjavik, Iceland, which was Spassky’s first choice. Fischer only agreed to the location after the prize fund went up to $250,000.

3. The Soviet/USA battle at the peak of the cold war made the match a media sensation. The chess match received front page headlines and received prime time coverage on American TV stations.

4. The 21-game battle started on July 11, 1972, and concluded on September 1 when Spassky resigned from the previous day’s final game without resuming play.

5. Born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 9, 1943, Fischer learned how to play chess with his sister using the instructions from the box. By the age of 7 when his family moved to Brooklyn, he was deeply interested in the game and often played himself. When he was 8, he began receiving lessons from the president of the Brooklyn Chess Club.

6. Fischer won a record eight U.S. championships, winning his first at the age of 14. In those matches, he only lost a total of 3 games, and he remains the only U.S. champion to achieve a perfect score in the history of the tournament.

7. Fischer earned the title of Chess Grandmaster, the highest title a chess player can attain apart from World Champion. Once achieved, the title is held for life. To date, approximately 2,000 people have earned this ranking since 1950.

8. Following his victory in 1972, Fischer declined numerous endorsement offers valued in the millions. He also did not play a competitive game for nearly 20 years. He emerged for a rematch with Spassky in 1992 and won. However, his participation in the event, which took place in Yugoslavia, was a violation of an executive U.S. order that banned engagement in economic activities in the country due to war crimes during the Yugoslav Wars. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and Fischer began a fugitive life living in Hungary, the Philippines, and Japan.

9. To avoid deportation to the United States, Fischer convinced the government of Iceland to grant him full Icelandic citizenship. He lived a reclusive life on the island where he won his most famous match. He died from kidney failure in 2008 at the age of 64.

10. The 1993 film Searching for Bobby Fischer is based on a book with the same name that tells the true story of prodigy chess player Joshua Waitzkin. Waitzkin won two U.S. Junior Chess championships in his youth, but has not played competitively since 1999 citing that the need to win became more important than enjoyment of the game.

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