Bobby Fischer's final years

by Frederic Friedel
11/3/2015 – There is a new and extraordinary book about one of the most charismatic and controversial personalities in chess. It describes the last years of Fischer's life, spent in Iceland, and is written by the only real friend Bobby had during ths time. Instead of rehash it contains genuine insights into the personality of the eleventh World Champion. It is in Icelandic, but will appear in English in 2016.

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Gardar Sverrison: Bobby Fischer's final years

Foreword by Frederic Friedel

A few years before he died, in January of 2008, Bobby Fischer was planning a return to chess – a “Fischer-Random” match against World Champion Viswanathan Anand. In this matter he decided he wanted to consult me, a co-founder of ChessBase and editor of the company's news page. But before he could do that he needed to send someone to Hamburg, to “check me out”. That would be Gardar Sverrison, his best and actually the only friend he had left in Iceland.

Before Gardar could arrive I received a memorable phone call: "Is that Mr Free-DELL? This is Bobby Fischer." I was quite stunned: "After twenty years of trying to reach you, suddenly you call?" I said. "Twenty years?" he replied, "no, more like twenty-five. Didn't you send a hand-written letter to me in Pasadena?" I had indeed done this, and written to him periodically every few years after that. He never responded – but now I had clear proof that it was Bobby on the other end of the line. I spent over an hour talking to him on the phone.

Shorly after that Gardar arrived and spent a number of days in my house. He was a very cultivated, academic person, genuinely interested in us all, and not just because Bobby had sent him. He has a great sense of humour and so many stories to tell. He became a permanent family friend.

During that week and for a long time afterwards I had numerous telephone conversations with Bobby, each lasting one or two hours. He became very candid (especially after he had received a positive report from Gardar) and revealed a lot about his views on life to me. I remember one conversation vividly: we were discussing Bobby’s friends in Iceland, people who had looked after him during the 1972 match, and had helped him to find refuge in Iceland after his harrowing incarceration in a Japanese prison. It turned out that Bobby had broken with all of them – except one: Gardar Sverrisson. “He is the only one you should trust, Frederic. He is the only one you should speak to.” And any mention of Gardar and his family would be accompanied by affectionate words – a rarity during this phase of the former World Champion’s life.

Since his death countless articles, a number of books and in fact feature movies have appeared, all of which I have read or watched. They all draw from the clichés that have been out there for decades, at most with a few snippets of new information added. Many were painful for me to read, since I knew a lot of contradicting thoughts, actions and motivation from my conversations with Bobby. I promised him that I would keep those conversations private and have stuck to this undertaking, but it has been very frustrating for me to do so in light of the many false representations I have encountered in the media. I am very glad to see that Gardar Sverrisson has decided to break his silence and describe the Fischer he (and to some extent I) knew so well.

Gardar Sverrison’s book was written in Icelandic, but has already been (excellently) translated into English. He sent me the translation in PDF and I have read it with great pleasure. It accurately reflects everything I learned from the dozen or so telephone conversations with Bobby – and of course contains very much more, since Fischer lived in close proximity to the Sverrisson family in the final years of his life.

About the book:
Bobby Fischer’s Final Years

The author of this book, Gardar Sverrisson, was Bobby Fischer’s closest friend in the last years of his life. Their friendship began while Bobby was incarcerated in Japan in 2004 and grew increasingly close until his death after a difficult illness in 2008.

In the book, Gardar discusses Bobby for the first time and offers a unique perspective on this controversial genius, a solitary man who avoided sharing his joys and sorrows with other people. Gardar’s writing not only provides a vivid portrait of what Bobby was really like, but also delves into the intellectual and emotional motivations that lay behind his words and deeds. The result is a detailed description of a man who has long been a mystery to the world.

Having helped Bobby to receive asylum in Iceland, Gardar finds himself becoming Bobby’s most intimate confidant in almost every aspect of the eleventh World Champion’s life. Gardar’s family apartment soon becomes Bobby’s second home, and Bobby turns to Gardar and his family with most matters. He travels with them in the countryside on numerous occasions. We experience Bobby’s joy over his newfound freedom in Iceland. With his friend he reminisces about memorable moments from his unusual life, from his bittersweet Brooklyn childhood to his exile from the United States. Their countless everyday interactions span a range of experiences, amusing and awkward, joyous and sorrowful.

The book presents a wider-ranging and more complex picture of Bobby than has previously been recorded. We meet a curious and passionate man with a range of interests and an unusual perspective on life. Apart from his opinions on current affairs, culture and history, art and religion, we are exposed to his rare but carefully considered perspective on life and death – convictions that no human power could shake. In the book we encounter Bobby Fischer as a sincere and generous friend, temperamental and witty, contemplative and shy. We meet Bobby the bookworm, the nature lover, the rebel and the mother’s boy. Last but not least, we encounter the great chess genius, become acquainted with his dramatic memories of his own career and his colorful reflections on other masters past and present.

In the latter half of the book, the narrative is increasingly dominated by the grave illness that overwhelmed Fischer in the final year of his life. Since he passed away, many hypotheses and assertions have been floated about this period, the time when he isolated himself almost completely from other people. Now his closest friend finally lifts the veil of secrecy and reveals what really happened and how Bobby responded to his agonizing fate. The book ends with a dramatic account of the circumstances that arose when Bobby passed away and the difficulties Gardar faced as he tried to organize his friend’s funeral in accordance with his wishes.

You can order the book "Yfir farinn veg með Bobby Fischer" by Gardar Sverrison here.
Price: 5,999 ISK (= €42 or US $47). The book is is due to appear in English in the next year.
The publisher is not yet fixed. Interested parties should contact the Icelandic publisher Skrudda.

About the Author

Gardar Sverrisson (Icelandic: Garðar Sverrisson) was born in Reykjavík in 1959. He worked as a journalist from an early age, and his writings include two biographies, a novel and several short stories. One of his books has been published in Germany under the title Wohnt hier ein Isländer?

Gardar has been active in public life, serving as the general manager of a parliamentary group of socialdemocrats, a member of the board of the Icelandic Human Rights Centre and for many years as the president of the national coalition of people with disabilities in Iceland. He holds degrees in political science and economics from the University of Iceland and an MFA in creative writing and literature from the University of Arizona.

In 2004, Gardar was part of a group that pressed for Bobby Fischer to be released from detention in Japan and granted asylum in Iceland.

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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