Bobby Fischer: 10 years later
It's 10 years and counting since Bobby Fischer won the world chess championship from Boris Spassky - and incredible as it seems, he hasn't played a single tournament or match game in all that time.Skip to next paragraph
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What he's been doing during a decade of seclusion is a mystery to all but his closest associates. He lives in the Los Angeles area, but keeps to himself and avoids all contact with the news media. Rumors crop up occasionally that he has been seen here or there. He reportedly still studies chess and plays occasional fast games with his friends. But the consensus is that he probably never again will sit down at the board for another serious session.
''For the longest time I thought and hoped he'd come back,'' said US Senior co-champion and many-time New England titleholder John Curdo of Massachusetts, a close observer of the national and international scenes.
''A chess fanatic like Fischer must have kept up with the game,'' Curdo noted. ''He had taken layoffs before, though of course nothing like this. And I guess I just didn't want to think he might not come back at all.
''But it's been so long that my hope has really dimmed at this point,'' he conceded as the 10th anniversary of the famous title match in Reykjavik, Iceland , passed with no optimistic signs.
It's certainly a strange twist the whole saga has taken compared to expectations 10 years ago. Then it was Spassky who appeared likely to go into eclipse, while the future never had seemed brighter for the first American ever to win the official world title.
Fischer was greeted like a conquering hero upon his return to New York, and throughout the fall of 1972 he appeared on magazine covers, national TV shows, etc. Surely his victory marked the dawn of a new era of public interest in the game in this country - a chance to give chess the stature it has long enjoyed in the Soviet Union and other Eastern European nations. There would be lessons on television, more chess in the schools, etc. Everybody would soon be playing. And of course the new champion would be the visible symbol making it all happen - playing in tournaments, giving lectures and exhibitions, and eventually defending his title in another highly publicized match in 1975 at the end of the prescribed three-year cycle for determining his challenger.
But very little of this ever happened. Fischer made a few appearances, then disappeared from view. Meanwhile Spassky recovered quickly from his loss and has remained among the world's top players.
Fischer's behavior is just the latest chapter in a bizarre saga that has fascinated the public since he burst upon the scene in 1957 by winning the US championship at 14. His amazing success at such a young age coupled with his ''enfant terrible'' reputation quickly made him a world-famous figure.
The brash kid from Brooklyn won five US titles in a row while still in his teens, and at 16 reached the Candidates' Tournament to select the world championship challenger. He did well in that event and a similar one three years later, but not well enough to win either time. Then came a decade of arguments with tournament directors, charges of Soviet cheating, and walkouts in the middle of events, climaxed by a truly unbelievable scene in 1969 when he was dominating a tournament leading toward a probable title shot only to quit over a dispute about playing conditions.
He put his famous temperament on hold long enough to earn the 1972 challenger's role and win the world title, only to revert right away to a lifestyle even more strange and reclusive than before - this time apparently for good.
''By now, even if he did try to come back, there's the question of whether he could do it,'' points out Curdo. ''I don't think there's any question that he could regain a position among the world's top players, but you have to wonder if he could go all the way again.
''He's 39 now. He always stayed in shape, but a lot would depend on whether he has continued to do so. Also how much he's really studied chess in these 10 years.''
As recently as a few years ago there were persistent rumors that Fischer might be lured out of retirement for a lucrative match with current champion Anatoly Karpov, who has held the title since winning it by default when Fischer declined to defend in 1975. Figures as high as $5 million were tossed around, but nothing ever came of it.
Ironically, Karpov would very much like to play Bobby according to the information that filters through to the US chess community.