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Former Chess Champion Bobby Fischer Dies at 64

Chess player Bobby Fischer, whose 1972 world championship win was viewed as a U.S. victory in the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union, has died in Reykjavik, Iceland at the age of 64. The cause of death is not immediately known. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this retrospective from Moscow, where another chess champion followed Fischer's career.

Bobby Fischer won the U.S. junior chess championship at the age of 13, and the U.S. Open Championship a year later. At 15, he became the youngest international chess grandmaster ever. His world championship victory at 29 is still viewed by many as a victorious battle in the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Fischer had even received encouragement from Henry Kissinger, who was U.S. Secretary of State at the time of the 1972 championship match against the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Fischer's victory interrupted more than two decades of Soviet chess dominance. But Fischer refused to defend his crown, which allowed a new generation of Soviet champions to reclaim the world title, including Garry Kasparov. Kasparov was nine years old when Fischer left the game. He told VOA that Fischer's contribution to the game of chess was "revolutionary."

"He single-handedly took on the mighty Soviet chess school and he beat all the best players in the world with the most convincing victories ever seen in the history of chess," he recalled.

Kasparov says Bobby Fischer's contribution to the game went beyond the 64 squares of the chessboard, because he was a fierce fighter for better conditions at matches. This prompted Boris Spassky to call his rival the "chairman of the chess players' trade union." Fischer among other things, succeeded in getting more prize money for chess champions.

He won $3 million when he returned to the game in 1992 for a rematch against Spassky in Belgrade. However, the venue violated a U.S. embargo against that country, imposed during Serbia's war against former Yugoslav republics.

Facing imprisonment in the United States, Fischer vanished until the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, when he called a radio station in the Philippines with anti-American remarks that praised the terrorist strikes against his birth country. He later spent more than eight months in custody in Japan fighting an American extradition request. Ultimately, he was granted asylum and citizenship by Iceland.

For much of the time after his world championship, Fischer was unkempt, poorly dressed and a resident of cheap hotels. He was also became a vocal anti-Semite, despite the fact that his mother was Jewish.

Garry Kasparov says Fischer's eccentric nature had taken over.

"Those last years of Fischer were something that didn't help the image of the game of chess at all," he noted. "To the contrary, it supported the views of those whose views were that chess was detrimental to mental health."

Kasparov says it is fitting that Bobby Fischer will be buried in Iceland, because Reykjavik, the capital of the island nation, is the scene of his greatest glory.