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Bobby Fischer the Maniac?

It is a common misconception that Bobby Fischer, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest chess players of all time, was a maniac. Unfortunately, the man once known as a hero of America for ending Soviet domination of the World Chess Championship descended into hate-filled rants and reclusiveness immediately after his victory over Boris Spassky in 1972. When Bobby completed his destruction of the Soviet chess machine, he promised that his next goal was to relax and play a lot more chess. However, as most people know, he famously disappeared and was not publicly seen or heard from until roughly 1992 when he emerged to challenge Spassky to a rematch in Yugoslavia. The United States embargo against Milosevic in Yugoslavia resulted in Bobby Fischer becoming an international fugitive once he received a $5 million payoff for beating Spassky again.

Most contemporary images of Bobby Fischer involve his intense anti-semantic rants and hatred of the United States. According to his claims, he believed that the United States was a puppet nation and that it was out to destroy the world, just like the former Soviet Union. Immediately following September 11, 2001, Bobby phoned in to a radio talk show from isolation in Japan and declared his joy over the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon. These painful images of a hateful Bobby Fischer have caused many inside and outside of the chess world to label him as psychotic. Is it possible that Bobby Fischer was acting irrationally in his tirades against the Soviet Union and the United States?

Ultimately, there appears to be little evidence to support any assertions that Bobby Fischer was psychotic. There is a common misconception in contemporary society that a person could only make intense negative or hateful comments if their judgment has been compromised and that there is some underlying psychosis causing them to act irrationally. We see this a lot in the media whenever a mass killing or other unfortunate crime strikes in the United States. Often psychologists and other experts are brought in to help find an answer to the tragedy. However, in the case of Bobby Fischer, none of his statements were incredibly irrational per se. Instead, his comments belittled and marginalized a group of people (the Jews) and were wholly incompatible with such a diverse and multicultural society, but they were not irrational in the sense that Bobby Fischer could find a legitimate basis for his beliefs. If Bobby was suffering from some form of psychosis, it is quite possible that it would have manifested in his chess games. However, his chess games still provide scholars, enthusiasts, and players of all ages with a treasure trove of material to review. In fact, one of the most popular collections of chess games is called Bobby Fischer: My 60 Memorable Games.

Fischer is often compared with another reclusive chess player, Paul Morphy, who experienced a significant mental breakdown following years of intense international gameplay. While Fischer’s experiences do mirror Morphy’s in some respects, there is still much to his life that does not. Fischer continued his intense analysis of games throughout the 1980s as he traveled to various international locations and spent time with famous chess players like the Polgar sisters. If Bobby Fischer was a madman, it was chess that kept his mind together. When he set down at the board, there was a grace and beauty to the way he moved the pieces that is unparalleled even to this day. Chess was a protective element of his life that defended his identity, and calmed his soul. Unfortunately, the humanity and final memories of Bobby Fischer were banished to the frozen ground of a small Lutheran church not far from where he took down the Soviet chess machine.