Bobby Fischer's Next Move

September 01, 1992

Since winning the world chess championship 20 years ago this week, brilliant but temperamental Bobby Fischer has shown as much genius for weird behavior as for moving knights and rooks. He became a recluse, living under fake names in seedy Los Angeles hotels, and joined a fundamentalist Christian sect awaiting a nuclear Armageddon. Other reports render a portrait of an embittered, paranoid megalomaniac who would sooner thumb his nose at the world than show his face.

How appropriate, then, for the 49-year-old American chess master, who did much to glamorize and popularize the game, to emerge in Montenegro for his first competitive chess in two decades, all the while breaking United Nations sanctions against Yugoslavia for its role in the Balkan war and drawing United States Treasury threats of up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for violating the sanctions.

Starting tomorrow -- if Mr. Fischer doesn't back out, which is a strong possibility until the first piece is moved -- he will play an open-ended, 10-victory tournament against Boris Spassky, the former chess champ of the former Soviet Union whom Mr. Fischer defeated in a tempestuous 21-game contest 20 years ago in Iceland. The winner will earn $3.35 million, the loser $1.65 million. The money will be split and the tournament declared a tie if both players tally nine victories. Win, lose or draw, Mr. Fischer can cover the U.S. fines and have plenty left to pay for rooms at seedy hotels around the globe. But what about prison?

Now that the question "Where's Bobby?" has been answered, chess observers are asking, "Why now, Bobby?" As is typical with Mr. Fischer, speculation is as hard as the information gets. The theories vary: He is miffed and has something to prove after recently getting bumped to second in the world rankings, behind Gary Kasparov, despite not playing in public since 1972. He was lured to Yugoslavia, a country he likes, by chess-playing friends there. He needs the money.

There are even whispers that his romance with an 18-year-old female Hungarian chess player has melted the heart of the maturing chess Wunderkind and convinced him to go public again -- after his own fashion, of course.

Your move, Mr. Fischer.

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