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Capturing Bobby Fischer

The story goes like this: Bobby Fischer, perhaps the greatest chess player of all time, attempts to board a plane in Japan a few weeks ago with an invalid passport. He’s on his way to the Philippines, where his estranged girlfriend and child live. He’s also a fixture on popular radio there; his show is a combination of old blues tunes and virulent anti-Semitic, anti-American rants.


Well, the story really goes like this: Bobby Fischer is crazy. Always has been, too. He’s got what many consider to be the smartest mind for chess ever. Yet, outside of his famous realm, things fall to pieces. By age 15, Bobby Fischer is a chess grand master. He annihilates opponents like no chess player has ever done, rapidly putting himself into a position to challenge for the World Chess Championship, which he does in 1972.

Then, things get wacky. Fischer thinks about backing out of his match, which is against Boris Spassky of the USSR, for all kinds of reasons. He thinks the Soviets will shoot his plane down and so on. But Henry Kissinger calls him. Tells him to go, win it for his country, strike a blow during that Cold War. Now he’s on the cover of Time and the match is as hyped as a chess match will ever be. He loses the first two games, wins the third and never looks back. Bobby Fischer is the best chess player in the world. He’s only 29.

Now there are more details, and, if you’re interested, you should check out Rene Chun’s piece from The Atlantic Monthly, “Bobby Fischer’s Pathetic Endgame.” Basically he returns home to a hero’s welcome, gets a key to New York City and represents the latest triumph in the American propaganda war. Offers are on the table for riches beyond his wildest dreams (which, to this point, have included a mansion built in the shape of a rook). But he turns them down and disappears.

In 1975 he forfeits a World Championship match and loses his title. He joins the Worldwide Church of God, an “apocalyptic cult” that sucks away a ton of his money. In 1981 he’s arrested and jailed for two days in California after being mistaken for a suspect in a murder investigation. He assumes the name Robert D. James and writes a pamphlet detailing his experience.

Eleven years later, it gets even weirder. Fischer comes out of retirement to play Spassky again in Yugoslavia, which is under a whole bunch of U.N. and U.S. sanctions, meaning he can’t collect the much-needed revenue from the match without facing prosecution back home. At a press conference before the match, he snaps, spits on a warning letter from the Treasury Department, says he hasn’t paid taxes since the 70s, and then he decries the international Jewish conspiracy.

Well, he wins and never comes back to face the charges. He moves to Budapest, then the Philippines, Japan, who knows. Then Sept. 11 happens. And I quote:

“This is all wonderful news. I applaud the act. The U.S. and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians, just slaughtering them for years. Robbing them and slaughtering them… Now it’s coming back to the U.S... I want to see the U.S. wiped out.”

He hopes to see all synagogues closed and Jews executed by the thousands in the street (this, of course, after he has said the Holocaust didn’t happen). He claims that everyone has stolen from him in one way or another (especially if they’re “Jews, secret Jews, or CIA rats who work for the Jews”). And, just for good measure, he’s said that Dubya is “borderline retarded.”

It’ll be compelling to see what happens next. In the past week, Fischer has attempted to both renounce his U.S. citizenship and marry the acting head of the Japanese Chess Association. We’re still going after him, though, to prove a point and make an example out of him once and for all. But should we be focusing so much time and energy in prosecuting him?

I say no. We should realize that in doing so we’re only giving legitimacy to the challenge of his message. Let’s not have him drag us into what I’d say would be an un-winnable game.


Aaron Kirschenfeld is a Trinity sophomore.


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