Robert James ‘Bobby’ Fischer (* 9. March 1943 in Chicago; † 17. January 2008 in Reykjavik, Island) is still considered one of the best chess players in the world and was the chess world champion from 1972 to 1975. At just 16 years of age, he participated in a candidates' tournament to determine who would go on and face the world champion. He won the title in 1972 in Reykjavik, at almost 30 years of age, in a match against Boris Spassky, which has been called the match of the century by some.
Initially, the highly gifted chess player (IQ 184) withdrew from the tournament circle in 1968 already, but the US foreign minister Henry Kissinger personally asked him to face Russian Spassky. With his title, Bobby managed to bring in a great victory for the United States – more than welcome in the age of the so-called 'Cold War'. He was destined to remain the only chess world champion coming out of the USA to this day.
Afterwards, Bobby Fisher completely withdrew from tournament chess. When he refused to face another Russian challenger; Anatoli Karpow in 1975, he was stripped of his title by the world chess federation (FIDE). In 1992, he took part in a one-off public chess-related appearances as part of a privately organized competition with Spassky, in Yugoslavia during the war - by which he violated the US-American embargo and risked a fine of 250,000 US-Dollar and a jail-term of 10 years. He won the chess game by a mile and never returned to the USA ever again.
However, as good as his moves on the chessboard turned out to be, his moves in real life were stricken with tragedy. The US-American of Jewish decent turned quite a few heads on many occasions with anti-Semitic and anti-American statements. In 2001, this led to his exclusion from the US-Chess federation. In 2004, the US-government declared his passport invalid and attempted to have him deported from Japan. His partner Miyoko Watai, who had been the general secretary of the Japanese chess federation, initiated an international campaign with the goal of setting him free. In spring 2005, he was awarded an Icelandic citizenship after eight months in jail and settled in Iceland with his now-wife Miyoko. He led a very reclusive life and still felt haunted by his past.
Eventually, Bobby died of kidney failure. His grave is located – rather unspectacularly – on a private cemetery on an Icelandic estate. The gravestone must be looked at twice to check that it really is the resting place of a chess genius, an unloved man, a refugee, an enemy of all sorts of systems.
The stone almost appears to be the final stroke of a life that still seems to linger in the air, like an unequal equation and will continue to inspire and occupy the mind of society.
Maybe the photos taken by Harry Benson during the 1972 competition can help us understand the genius' images. This is not the first time the photographs have been published as a book. The photographer met Bobby on a preliminary tournament in Argentina and accompanied him during his preparation leading up to New York as well as during the weeks of the match – right up to the moment of victory. A remarkable achievement, since Bobby had already gained the reputation of a notorious loner.
Born in Scotland, Harry Benson himself said that Fisher was “the most complicated and most fascinating person I have ever photographed.” Harry is the most-published photographer of LIFE Magazine and was made a "Commander of the Order of the British Empire" (CBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He had over 40 solo-exhibitions all over the world, published 14 books and lives happy with his wife Gigi in NY and Florida.
‘Bobby Fischer by Harry Benson’ the book coincides with the HBO documentary ‘Bobby Fischer Against the World’, with text and images by Harry.
Bobby Fischer by Harry Benson
Hardcover, Size: 10.25 x 12.25 inches, Pages: 144
100 full-colour and black-and-white photographs