Earlier this month a revealing new book on controversial former World Champion Bobby Fischer was released in Iceland – “Back with Bobby Fischer” by Gardar Sverrisson.
Sverrisson was Fischer’s best friend during the US legend’s final three years in exile in Iceland prior to his death in January 2008.
Contrary to Fischer’s public utterances about the death of classical chess, Fischer kept an eagle eye on the chess scene of the time, maintaining that even in his 60s he could beat contemporary stars such as Anand and Kramnik.
Sverrisson reveals that Fischer’s disdain for the government of the US crystallised during the early 1990s during the Yugoslav wars. Fischer had spent many of his formative years competing in Yugoslavia and the US policy of sanctions and later bombing caused Fischer to have a visceral distaste for his country of origin, culminating in his “What goes around, comes around” comments after the September 11 attacks.
Above: Fischer explaining Morphy’s most famous game on Yugoslav television
That the US responded by seeking to extradite Fischer from Japan is well known; less known is the book’s revelation that the US placed the Iceland foreign minister under enormous pressure to hand over Fischer even after he had been made an honorary Icelandic citizen.
The recent film Pawn Sacrifice was notable for its omission of Fischer’s Icelandic friends, most notably his bodyguard Saemi Palsson. However Sverrisson credits another Icelander, little known player Freysteinn Thorbergsson, as being the one who ultimately convinced Fischer, down 0-2 after forfeiting a game, not to walk away from his world title challenge with Boris Spassky in 1972.
Sverrisson lays to rest any doubt that the much-discussed book My 61 Memorable Games, released shortly before Fischer died, was a hoax, albeit a clever one.
Apparently Fischer and Sverrisson had discussed reissuing Fischer’s classic book My 60 Memorable Games but the American was dead-set against any changes, let alone adding an extra game.
Sverrisson also sheds light on Fischer’s decision to eschew hospital treatment for the ailments which ultimately killed him, explaining that Fischer – in a past life a follower of the Worldwide Church of God – had been reading deeply about both the Rajneesh and Catholic faiths and adopted a more relaxed attitude to death.
That Fischer had still ‘got it’ became clear in 2006 when television station RUV was broadcasting an exhibition rapid match between two of Iceland’s better players.
After White’s 37th move, 37.Nf5!, the diagrammed position was reached and Black, in time trouble, blundered with 37…Kg8, allowing 38.Qxg7 checkmate!
The television station then received a call from Fischer, watching the programme, pointing out that Black had a beautiful win in the diagram via 37…Rxg2+! 38.Kh1! (38.Kxg2 allows mate after 38…Rg4++) and now the stunning 38…Rh4!!.
Sure enough, Fischer was right – Black wins after 39.Nxh4 Rxf2+ 40.Nf3 Rxf1+ 41.Kh2 Rxf3 and White has no perpetual check. Legend!