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Bobby Fischer's Odd Life Gets Stranger in Death

5 years ago
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Thanks to an order from Iceland's Supreme Court ordered on Wednesday, the body of Bobby Fischer, former chess champion, will be exhumed and tested to see if he's the father of a 9-year-old Filipino girl. And so Fischer's odd life continues to get stranger in death.

Fischer died in 2008 after years of obscurity following his exit from the chess world, which he captivated as a young man, winning the 1972 world championship against the USSR's Boris Spassky. Then he became a recluse, playing no competitive chess (except a controversial re-match against Spassky in 1992 in Yugoslavia, which was then under United Nations embargo) and migrating around the world -- including to the Philippines. (Iceland offered him asylum.)

For a full account of Fischer's unraveling -- he became an extreme paranoiac and anti-Semite -- it's worth checking out Rene Chun's excellent, sad 2002 profile in the Atlantic, which mentions his "loathsome" outburst on September 11, 2001. Since he left no last will and testament, there's been wrangling over his $2 million estate, which is why his body is being exhumed.

And yet for all his faults, Fischer continues to hold a special place in American chess circles. A protege who still lays claim to many American chess records, his victory over Spassky, at the height of the Cold War, made him an instant, if uncomfortable, celebrity.

As a German grandmaster wrote: "Fischer, who had taken the highest crown almost singlehandedly from the mighty, almost invincible Soviet chess empire, shook the whole world, not only the chess world, to its core. He started a chess boom not only in the United States and in the Western hemisphere, but worldwide. Teaching chess or playing chess as a career had truly become a respectable profession. After Bobby, the game was simply not the same."

Since Fischer, there's never been an American world champion.
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