Bobby Fischer, Cold War Chess Hero: His Rise And Eccentric Fall

By | June 27, 2019

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Left: Bobby Fischer in an undated photo. Right: Fischer poses for a portrait in the photographer's home in 1971 in New York City, New York. Credits: IMDB; David Attie/Getty Images

There’s no sports story quite like the rise and fall of Bobby Fischer. This eccentric chess genius went from a national champion to having the weight of the United States on his shoulders, facing off against the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. He spent decades honing his craft in order to defeat Russian master Boris Spassky and that country's well-oiled chess dynasty in 1972. His World Championship win ended the 30-year reign of the USSR in the world of chess, but life wasn’t a bed of roses for Fischer afterward.

Following his win in ’72 Fischer became a recluse and dropped out of official play. When he popped up on the chess scene again in 1992 it was as a contestant and a fugitive. Fischer was strange, but in 1972 he was America’s Cold War hope. 

Bobby Fischer Was Introduced To Chess As A Child

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Born in Chicago, Illinois on March 9, 1943, to a single mother, Bobby Fischer was almost destined to be a genius. His mother was a whip-smart woman who worked as a nurse, and while the identity of his father is disputed, both of the men he’s believed to be related to are legitimate geniusesIt was initially believed that his father was Nobel Prize winner Hermann Joseph Muller, although it’s been surmised that his father was actually Paul Nemenyi, a Hungarian mathematician and physicist.

Neither of the men who were considered to be his father was around when he was born, leaving his mother to fend for herself. She was homeless at the time of Fischer’s birth and had to travel from job to job to support Fischer and his sister. 

To keep her children busy, Fischer’s mother introduced them to chess. Soon, his sister tired of the game but Fischer continued to play against himself. His mother worried that he was spending too much time alone and sought out like-minded people for the boy to play with.