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July 16, 2004
Finding Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer, who wowed the world as a teenage Grand Master of chess and who beat Boris Spassky in one of the lamer Cold War cultural confrontations, has been arrested in Japan and will soon return to the US to face charges:

Former world chess champion Bobby Fischer, wanted since 1992 for playing a tournament in Yugoslavia despite U.N. sanctions, has been detained in Japan, clearing the way for his extradition to the United States. ...

Fischer became a Cold War hero in 1972 when he defeated Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union to become the first American world chess champion. But the chess prodigy, long know for his eccentric ways, stunned the chess world by refusing to play again, and had slipped mysteriously in and out of public view in the years since.

"Mysteriously" is certainly one way of putting it. In 1972, when Fischer beat Spassky in 1972, I was nine years old and already a chess fanatic. My father had taught me to play when I was very young, and when Fischer's star rose, I followed his every move. I read the newspaper accounts of the Spassky match and replayed all of the games from the notation. My parents even bought me Fischer's book on chess, and I read it over and over again.

By the time I got to high school, I had mostly stopped playing the game (who knew chess wasn't cool? I was shocked!), and so apparently had Fischer. Fischer went off into the wilderness and lost his mind, or at least he seemed to. When he returned, he met Spassky in Yugoslavia in defiance of US economic sanctions and beat the Russian again, netting over $3 million for his trouble. He necessarily went into hiding again, only resurfacing briefly after 9/11 to heap praise on the attackers, saying (as the AP reports here) that America should be "wiped out" and despite his Jewish mother, declaring all Jews to be "thieving, lying bastards."

I suppose Mother's Day wasn't one of the Fischer family's annual high points.

Now that he's been recaptured and will be returning to the US, Fischer will remind us of the odd vagaries of fringe political celebrity -- hailed in his youth as a Cold Warrior and reviled in his old age as a terrorist sympathizer. What a long. strange trip it's been for a strange and delusional man.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 16, 2004 6:06 AM

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