Fischer a sacrificial pawn?

7/25/2004 – Bobby Fischer is still in detention at Narita Airport in Tokyo, traumatised but stubborn, "behaving like a Samurai". At the same time news outlets all over the world are covering the story, with Fischer's brother-in-law Russell Targ assailing the Bush administration for playing election year politics with the former chess champion's freedom. There's a lot to be read...

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Sources close to Fischer tell us that he is still being detained at Narita Airport in Tokyo. A first hearing took place on July 23, the next is on Tuesday, July 27. Fischer refuses to sign any papers, making it difficult for his associates to apply for a provisional release. He maintains that he has not done anything wrong and has in fact been kidnapped. "He is stubborn," says a Japanese friend, "he has his own noble way of life, like a Samurai."

The U.S. government and the Japanese immigration authorities have confiscated Fischer's passport, and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo actually destroyed it. When asked U.S. State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said on July 20: "It would be normal practice, when somebody was under indictment, for us to invalidate the passport; I can't remember if we do it for that passport or have to issue a one-time use passport for somebody to return to justice." The whole process was especially traumatic for Fischer, who "considered his passport as valuable as his life".

In the coming week Fischer's associates from the Japan Chess Federation will hold a press interview at Tokyo Foreign Correspondent Club. They have expressed their gratitude for the support Fischer has received from individuals and on web site all over the world.

Recent news on Fischer's detention

CNN: Paula Zahn Now, with Larry Evans and Don Schultz

CNN correspondent Bruce Morton (in a video clip): "He was a nice- looking boy and a blazing chess prodigy. U.S. junior champ at 13, national champ at 14, world champ at 29, beating Russian Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1972. Then dropped out when he wouldn't defend his title and lived in flophouses. Surfaced for another match with Spassky in Yugoslavia in 1992, 20 years after the first one, defying academic restrictions that the first President Bush imposed on Yugoslavia because of the war in Bosnia. He won, never went back to the U.S. He was, for a short while, a shining star, but he has wandered for years now in the darkness, the twisted labyrinths of his own mind."

Don Schulz, author of Fischer, Kasparov and the others: "He toppled the communist chess system single-handedly, and he's uncompromising. If they bring him back, I predict it will go on for some time, and there will be lots of problems and they'll wish they never brought him back. I think the best thing the government can do is to let this just quietly go away and hope he goes to a third country."

GM Larry Evans, one-time second of Fischer: "I would like to see the third country that takes him be Iran. He would be very comfortable there, probably." [The passage on Fischer is towards the end of the transcript].

AP: Fischer brother-in-law blasts chess champ's detention

Fischer's brother-in-law Russell Targ is assailing the Bush administration for playing election year politics with the former chess champion's freedom. "What Bobby's accused of is playing chess 12 years ago in Yugoslavia," Targ told the San Jose Mercury News. "It looks like it's a distraction from the war and the economy. Let's arrest Bobby Fischer. That will take people's minds off their troubles." Targ, a former Stanford laser physicist whose late wife was Fischer's sister, said Fischer's plight is an attempt by the Bush administration to distract attention from the war in Iraq. "Prosecuting Bobby right now is ridiculous," Targ said. "He's a political prisoner now."

Radio Netherlands: Fischer a sacrificial pawn?

Radio interview with Frederic Friedel of ChessBase: "There is speculation that Tokyo could use Fischer as part of a trade-off deal with the Americans. Friedel: "In chess this is known as a pawn sacrifice, you sacrifice a pawn and you get some sort of a big gain somewhere else. And Japan is on bad terms with the US because of Charles Jenkins, who defected to North Korea and has embarrassingly turned up in Tokyo. They don't want to give him to the United States for trial for something that happened 40 years ago. He's married to a Japanese woman, so they want to keep him there. And the US is very upset about that; they're probably also upset about the mood in Japan to pull out of Iraq. So, possibly Fischer is going to be sacrificed – pawn sacrificed. Give them the chess champion, let them deal with him, and that will demonstrate our co-operation."

Morning Sentinal: Check! Your move

You can bet Tom Delay and Dennis Hastert aren't going to let this go. In these testy times, you can bet this administration isn't going to let this hot item pass. Can't you just see the Rose Garden speech now as if it were really happening? "My felluh Amuricans ... we have not found the weapons of mass destruction. We have not found Osama bin Laden. But you can all sleep sounder tonight knowing this. We have found Bobby Fischer, whom I have added to my list as the fourth in my 'Axis of Evil.' Mr. Fischer, international chess fugitive, is in custody and being sent, as we speak, to Guantanamo Naval Base, where he will be treated under the accords of the Geneva Convention. Mission accomplished."

Ask yourself this in the same scenario. Will John Ashcroft find evidence that Bobby Fischer met with al-Qaida and Iraqi contacts somewhere in Europe? Will there be an Iranian connection? Was Bobby somehow implicated with Ken Lay? Did he once date Martha Stewart?

The Salon story on Bobby Fischer

The story is only available to "Premium" subscribers, but you can get a free day pass by viewing a few commercials. It is hassle-free and very brief. When you get to the five-page story you can click "Print" go get all five sections together on one page. Use "Save as" to store the article on your hard drive. The article by Rene Chun is entitled "Bobby Fischer's strangest endgame" and is a riveting read. Here are a few excerpts:

To understand how a Cold War hero and a man once celebrated as an American icon ended up in a jail cell half-way around the world, one must trace Fischer's harrowing character arc. Fischer was raised in four-story walk-up apartment in a middle-class Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. His mother Regina, recently divorced but without alimony payments or child support, worked as a practical nurse, and double and weekend shifts resulted in her being absent much of the time. Even so, finances were a constant strain. Young Bobby wore shoes patched with scraps of leather. When his sister, Joan, graduated from nursing school, she didn't attend graduation ceremonies because the cap and gown rental was deemed a luxury the family budget couldn't absorb.

As a child, Bobby was intelligent but performed poorly in grade school. Regina bought Bobby puzzles to occupy his time spent alone in the apartment with Joan. When he was 6, Joan brought home a $1 plastic chess set. The following year, he joined the Brooklyn Chess Club and soon began competing in local tournaments. In 1956 at New York's Rosenwald Memorial Tournament he played against Donald Byrne, one of the top U.S. chess players at the time. The game was of such complexity and originality that it was immediately hailed in "Chess Review" magazine as the "Game of the Century." Former Russian world champion Mikhail Tal was so humbled by Bobby's extraordinary prowess he praised him as "the greatest genius to descend from the chess heavens." He was only 13.

It wouldn't be until 1972 that Fischer would finally reach the pinnacle of chess. By beating Spassky in the historic "Match of the Century" in Reykjavik, he became the first American to be officially crowned the World Chess Champion, breaking what amounted to a 105-year losing streak for the United States. After this titanic battle of wits, he was asked by an interviewer how long he could continue to dominate chess, Fischer replied matter-of-factly, "I figure I can keep the title for 30 years."

As predictions go, this was wildly off the mark. Fischer was about to enter the dormant phase of his career, referred to morosely by chess historians as the "wilderness years." He moved to Los Angeles, joined an apocalyptic religious cult (to which he tithed much of his prize money from Reykjavik), and dropped out of competitive chess entirely. Two decades later, he was broke and virtually homeless. Making matters worse, his mental health had deteriorated. He suffered from acute paranoia, convinced there was a Jewish conspiracy to destroy him. His treasured Russian chess journals were neglected in favor of such anti-Semitic screeds as "Mein Kampf "and "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

Then, as abruptly as he had vanished from the chess scene, Fischer miraculously reappeared in 1992, ready to play his old rival, Boris Spassky, again. The $5 million chess match, promoted by a Serbian arms dealer [actually Jezdimir Vasiljevic was the owner of the piramidal-structure bank "Yugoscandic", who earned money by promising extremely high interest rates for money given to his bank. When he earned enough, he ran away from the country], was to take place in war-torn Yugoslavia, which at the time was under U.N. sanctions and a U.S. embargo. To discourage Fischer from playing a high-profile sporting event in a country rife with ethnic cleansing, the Department of the Treasury sent a cease-and-desist letter, warning that if he played in Yugoslavia, the penalty would be a $250,000 fine, 10 years in prison, or both.

Undaunted, Fischer held a press conference and, with the cameras rolling, pulled the warning letter from his briefcase and proceeded to spit on it. He then rattled off a series of astonishing proclamations: He hadn't paid his taxes since 1976 (and wasn't about to start now); he was going to write a book that would prove that Russian grandmasters ("some of the lowest dogs around") had "destroyed chess" through "immoral, unethical, prearranged games"; he really wasn't an anti-Semite, because he was pro-Arab, and Arabs are Semites too. His assertion that Soviet communism was "basically a mask for Bolshevism, which is a mask for Judaism" elicited the most quizzical expressions.


CNN news pulled out original footage of the 1992 press conference in Yugoslavia in which Fischer spat on the order from the U.S. Treasury Department warning him that he would be violating U.N sanctions if he played his match against Boris Spassky. Our frame shows Fischer in mid-spit.

After his match against Spassky Fischer collected a steamer trunk full of tax-free cash and has been living abroad ever since as a free man, primarily in Budapest, Hungary; Baguio City, Philippines; and Tokyo, with stints in Germany and Yugoslavia. That all changed when he was stopped in Tokyo while trying to board a Japan Airlines flight for the Philippines.

As we said: visit Salon.com, watch the 30-second ad display, then print out the article for a fascinating description of the troubled career of a chess genius. You may also want to read an older (December 2002) article by Rene Chun entitled "Bobby Fischer's Pathetic Endgame: Paranoia, hubris, and hatred – the unraveling of the greatest chess player ever".

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