Chess by Larry Evans: What Bobby Fischer lost
June 15, 2008

Bobby Fischer wrested the title of World Chess Champion from Boris Spassky in 1972 at age 29, but his refusal to defend it against Anatoly Karpov in 1975 was disastrous. Most fans expected him to win and wondered if he was crazy for spurning millions to play Karpov in a match.

Everyone was disappointed. His colleagues were bitter because he did nothing to promote chess during his self-imposed exile in the California sun.

A mathematician claimed that his demands against Karpov — 10 wins but he keeps the title on a 9-9 tie — gave his challenger a better break. A French playwright called our hero “a persecuted poet defending human dignity.” And a psychiatrist pontificated: “A paramount theme is his refusal to compromise his principles.” Diehards blamed it all on a Commie plot, even claiming he was afraid the Soviets would have him killed if he beat Karpov.

This claptrap only encouraged Fischer to dig his own grave. I tried to persuade him to set a shining example by not seeking any advantage, yet reasoning with him was futile. “You didn’t think the champ should have any edge when you were the challenger,” I argued. “The Russkies always made the rules and got away with it. Let’s give ’em a dose of their own medicine,” he replied.

I don’t think he ever quite forgave me for trying to get him to do the right thing. Why he didn’t play again for 20 years, until his rematch with Spassky in 1992, is a mystery.

Fischer blamed it all on a Jewish conspiracy. In his later years, he claimed in a radio rant that Jews were telling me what to write about him. I told friends that paranoia is the state with the prettiest name.

In the book Bobby Fischer Goes to War (2004), which may become a film, David Edmonds and John Eidenow note: “In 1972 Fischer stated he would not shrink from defending his title; on the contrary, he would regularly take on challengers. Few expected him to be knocked off his throne for a decade or more.

Former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos offered $5 million to host a title match with Karpov in Manila, but Fischer wouldn’t budge unless FIDE agreed to all of his demands. Karpov probably was eager to play in 1975 but was pressured by the Kremlin to make no concessions.

Source: Sun Sentinel

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