Bobby Fischer, the reclusive, troubled, and often unpleasant chess genius from Brooklyn who single-handedly crushed the myth of Soviet invincibility, died of kidney failure in Iceland on January 17 at the age of 64.
Robert James Fischer was born out of wedlock to a prominent Hungarian atomic physicist, Pal Nemenyi, who was involved with the Manhattan Project, and a Jewish-American woman whose communist sympathies took her to the Soviet Union on the eve of World War II. Nemenyi died soon thereafter, in 1952; “Bobby” never got to know him. The security implications of the affair were nevertheless obvious. A suspicion of links with the Soviet secret service surrounded the mother, and eventually the boy, for years to come.
An evident Wunderkind from the age of six, Fischer devoted his entire childhood and youth to chess. By 11, in his own words, he “just got good.” Bored by school and human company, he gave up on both in 1958, when, at 15, he became the youngest grandmaster in history.
Fischer had an IQ of over 180 and an astonishing memory that enabled him to recall every move of all his championship games. On his way to the top, he turned opponents into victims, “destroying wills and usurping psyches.” His lack of social skills and extravagant demands on tournament organizers were on par with his talent. His famous tantrums caused...