Bobby Fischer was arguably the greatest chess player who ever lived. American champion at fourteen and the world's youngest grandmaster at fifteen, he finally became world champion in 1972 when he destroyed the Russian grandmaster Boris Spassky in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik.
Fischer was not only a genius whose IQ was said to be far above Einstein's, he was a lonely, demented and very troubled soul who became more and more a recluse. Born an American Jew, he became virulently anti-American and anti-Semitic and after first being hailed as a hero, he became a pariah in his homeland. The U.S. government finally revoked his passport and he became even more vitriolic in his hatred of the U.S., even gloating in the 9/11 attacks. But though he had very few friends, the Icelandic government treated him royally, granting him full citizenship, despite vigorous protests from the State Department. Fischer's famous chess war with Spassky had put Reykjavik on the map and had brought in millions of tourist dollars-and still does. A soon to be made Hollywood film of the contest will bring even more money to the city. The Icelandic authorities would dearly like to have buried Fischer in some special grave that would have become a tourist attraction. But when he died, the reclusive chess genius played one last move: he arranged to have his body interred secretly in a grave at a ceremony which only his closest friends attended and that even the officiating minister knew nothing about until the time of burial. His nearest relatives-the ex-husband and children of his dead sister, Joan-knew nothing about it. Nor did a woman who claimed to have lived with him for a time and to have borne his daughter in 2001.
These relatives are now lining up to claim a piece of the $1.5m that remain of Fischer's fortune. Under Icelandic law they may all have a claim, for Fischer died intestate, but he may have checkmated them as well, for unknown to any of them he married a Japanese chess grandmaster in 2003. So the scene is set for a battle for his fortune, with most of the claimants having no particular regard for him or his soul.
I mention his soul. Bobby Fischer was a complicated genius who was probably insane. In his demented isolation he seemed at times to be looking for some spiritual reality. For example, according to press reports, in California he joined "an oddball fundamentalist sect." One thing is clear: whatever it was that Bobby Fischer was looking for, he never found it. His fame and greatness drove him even further into himself. He had few friends, few people he could trust and few who had any real care for his wellbeing.
As I reread his story, I was saddened. He has gone and soon his name will be largely forgotten, except among chess aficionados. But where is he? He died at the age of 64. In his world, he made it big time. He was number one and had no equals. But what use was it all to him in life? And what use is it to him now?