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Original Issue

Grandmaster Trash

Chess champ Bobby Fischer emerges from a Japanese prison, spewing hate

For many years, along with J.D. Salinger, Bobby Fischer had been America's most celebrated recluse, so elusive in his peregrinations that wags in the chess community joked that the former champion was the game's Bigfoot, occasionally stopping to have his picture taken as he roamed the outback. It was no wonder, then, that the scene that unfolded last week at the airport in Reykjavik, Iceland--the country that had granted him citizenship--resonated so strongly with that dwindling army of crazies still drawn to the flame of his legend. There was Fischer, 62, after serving 8 1/2 months in a Japanese prison for trying to leave the country without a valid passport, looking quite like old Sasquatch himself--unkempt hair blowing wildly in the Nordic winds and a gray beard covering his angular face.

Fischer's entrance was the only moment of comic relief in what has become the increasingly insane and ugly drama of the man's life. In the summer of 1972 Fischer, an intense young man from Brooklyn, emerged as an American hero of the cold war when, in Iceland, he soundly crushed world chess champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union, playing with a strength and grace unmatched in the game's history. But Fischer never defended his title; instead he lived around the world in paranoid seclusion, claiming the Russians were out to kill him and forever ranting against Jews (though his mother was Jewish).

In 1992 Fischer came out of hiding to play Spassky in Yugoslavia, literally spitting on a U.S. order not to participate in the match because it violated U.N. sanctions. The U.S. issued a warrant for his arrest, but Fischer never returned to America, and the warrant went unserved.

His anti-Semitic tirades continue unabated. He calls the "Jew-controlled" United States "an illegitimate country" and said 9/11 was "wonderful news." After his arrest in Japan he accused President Bush and Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi of plotting against him and said they "should be hanged." As the U.S. worked to extradite Fischer, Iceland's parliament, in gratitude for his bringing honor to the country in 1972, whisked him to their capital by way of Denmark and Sweden. He arrived with his fiancée, Miyoko Watai, head of Japan's chess federation.

So Iceland, in effect, granted him asylum. Of course, asylum is right where he belongs. The Icelanders took him in what one chess enthusiast there called "a humanitarian gesture." That is fair enough. Now he is theirs to keep. And suffer. --William Nack




Fischer (above and on SI in '72) looked haggard arriving in Reykjavik (top).



[See caption above]