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.

Topics: Bobby Fischer

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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nightowlforty nightowlforty 7/26/2017 12:09
One other thing worthy of pointing out to the critics of Bobby Fischer who have demonized him:

Raging critic: "...Just because Bobbie Fischer, an adult, chose to follow a specific belief that is not a mainstream, or an established religion, doesn't automatically prove that he was following a “cult”."

Adult? Consensual decision?

1) Yes, it was IN FACT a "Cult" and current administration admits it, but cult watch organizations feel WCG is not doing enough as they have failed to address "the manipulation and control, which is many ways was more insidious" which broke Bobby's sanity and the sanity of MANY other victims. In the Ambassador Report interview (1977) Bobby himself mentions SUICIDES he knew of, that occurred under Armstrong's Apostleship of Terror.

2) Was Bobby Fischer "Mentally Responsible" for the Cult Indoctrination? Bobby joined the cult in 1962 putting him at 19 years of age. Neuroscientists now believe that the brain has only reached halfway point in complete development at that stage. Armstrong mentally and psychologically terrorized and "shaped" Bobby for almost 15 years after he joined the cult in 1962. Bobby Fischer was vulnerable. Bobby was a cult victim.

"...At What Age Is The Brain Fully Developed?
It is widely debated as to which age the brain is considered “fully mature” or developed. In the past, many experts believed that the brain may have been done developing in the mid to late teens. Then along came some evidence to suggest that development may last until at least age 20. These days, a consensus of neuroscientists agree that brain development likely persists until at least the mid-20s – possibly until the 30s.
The fact that our brains aren't developed until the mid 20s means that “legal adults” (those age 18+) are allowed to make adult decisions, without fully mature brains. Someone who is 18 may make riskier decisions than someone in their mid-20s in part due to lack of experience, but primarily due to an underdeveloped brain. All behaviors and experiences you endure until the age of 25 have potential to impact your developing brain.
At what age is the brain fully developed?
Although brain development is subject to significant individual variation, most experts suggest that the brain is fully developed by age 25. For some people, brain development may be complete prior to age 25, while for others it may end after age 25. The mid-20s or “25” is just an average age given as checkpoint for when the brain has likely become mature.
It may seem logical that those aged 18 to 25 are completely mature, the brain still is maturing – specifically the area known as the “prefrontal cortex.” Changes occurring between ages 18 and 25 are essentially a continued process of brain development that started during puberty. When you're 18, you're roughly halfway through the entire stage of development. The prefrontal cortex doesn't have nearly the functional capacity at age 18 as it does at 25."
-Source, Mental Health Daily
nightowlforty nightowlforty 7/23/2017 12:46
The original cult, by Herbert W. Armstrong splintered after his death in 1986. A man by the name of Joseph Tkach took over leadership and reformed the doctrines to more acceptable moderate "Christian". This radical change in the doctrines lead to the cult splintering and now, the cult(s) operate under splinter organizations. They still spread and teach children and young adults the "Nazis will arise in Europe and invade the U.S. and Britain" terror doctrines, threatened with extermination camps to solicit tithes, (Bobby was merely 19 when he joined the cult. Any psychologist worth their salt knows the brain is not even fully developed until mid 20's or so. He was vulnerable to the cult's manipulation and control.)

LIVING CHURCH OF GOD (Roderick C. Meredith)
THE CHURCH OF GOD-PKG (Ronald Weinland)
HOUSE OF YAHWEH (Yisrayl Hawkins)
CHURCH OF GOD, FAITHFUL FLOCK (Alton Billingsley, a.k.a., Don Billingsley)
- Exit Support Network, "Offshoots & Splinter Groups of Worldwide Church of God"
nightowlforty nightowlforty 7/22/2017 11:30
About a month ago my brain began connecting dots, Bobby Fischer... was in Worldwide Church of God(???!) and I googled, and learned he was for 15 years. I was floored. I had seen him on youtube around 2008 raving mad about "jews" ... and the dots started really connecting at that moment (2017)... I had judged him in 2008, like "Wow. He was a chess champion and he's sank so far... where I use to be." I didn't know he had the same background as myself. I broke down and wept. I missed my chance to meet another church brother who had not only exited Armstrong like me, but had entered into the far right like I had. I have a thousand questions I would've asked Bobby. That poor man. People didn't understand what that Doomsday cult did to us. We were TERRIFIED ... out of our minds, fears of extermination camps and always, always made to feel as if we weren't going to be worthy to escape to the place of safety.. which lead to digging deeper in the wallet. Similar to the Rapture. Bobby gave so much money to Armstrong. Bobby was clearly terrified. He wasn't antisemitic. Why give Armstrong all his money to escape antisemitic killers, if he was one? Why not just stay home, keep his money, and crack codes for the Gestapo or something if he were all the horrible things the media has accused him of? Armstrong's religion hinged on Israeli identity... zero tolerance for antisemitism.
Bobby was probably just like the rest of us, insecure and terrified, and began reading the enemy literature to figure out how he's going to die... but couldn't see through nazi propaganda and became deceived by it (like I did) and I've heard reports of others. Armstrong's religion was strict rigid legalism... and nobody could live up to all of it. Bobby discussed that in the Ambassador Report (1977):
“I have to discuss some of the things Herbert has done to me-how he screwed up my mind-just to let people know that this is for real, because if anybody tried to live by the letter of the law… it was me. I truly tried to be obedient. The more I tried, the more crazy I became. The pressure he puts on you! You can't do this, you can't do that, you can't tell your friends this, you can't see unconverted people, you can't eat this, you can't eat that, on the sabbath you have to rest, you have to listen to the radio program every day, you have to study the correspondence course… and then you're supposed to pray…”

Yeah... that's the WWCG as it use to be. It was huge on manipulation and control. Mind-breaking. I've put the documentation, (the story about Armstrong's history and founding the cult is vile, he built the religion on Ku Klux Klan ideology and estranged family claimed he read "Mein Kampf" to learn how to control the cult. Armstrong was evil incarnate.

I put the whole Armstrong/Bobby Fischer story here: vindication-of-bobby-fischer (dot) co for anyone who wants to understand.
nightowlforty nightowlforty 7/22/2017 11:13
reddawg07 wrote: "What happened to the money he won in the 1972 championship (is it true that most of it was drained by the church he joined)."

That monstrosity was not a "church". It was a diabolical Doomsday cult. I have spent my life in misery since my parents dragged me into it in 1973. Armstrong gave regular doses of his depraved Hitler obsessions and threats of "Nazis" on the rise in a United Europe and prophesied to the adherents with such terror they opened their wallets deeply. Poor Bobby shelled out at least 100 grand hoping to escape to "the place of safety". Only recently I learned he was a fellow cult member. I know how the cult affected me. It destroyed my life and my sanity. In 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, Armstrong had claimed it would be a sign of the End Time. I was horrified of the prospect of Nazis and extermination camps arriving so, I wanted to be one up on my prophesied killers and sought out their publications. I had no idea what I was dealing with. I was deceived by their propaganda. In 1994 I married one of the fanatics in Germany, which soon turned nightmare and he murdered innocent people. He tried to put a hit on my life and sent an explosive. I ended up in psychiatric counseling in 1995. Armstrong cult is what put that ball rolling in motion. Had I never been involved in that sick doomsday cult none of it would have happened.

Bobby was in it for sure like a lot of other people, started reading nazi literature or like my brother, he was so terrified that he taught himself German and boning up on books like "Rise and Fall of the 3rd Reich". We were terrified. There were MANY cult victims in that boat. Bobby Fischer was not alone. Because of the way the media has slandered and vilified Bobby, other cult victims will be less likely to come forward or seek professional counseling and help. They will be afraid of being stigmatized, hurtful labels, like those hurled at Bobby Fischer. Bobby was a cult victim. I don't believe that many people could have survived what Bobby Fischer survived... he was in high-control, indoctrination-intense Armstrong cult, then became entangled with the nazi cult, and aside of that Armstrong shanking him (he confessed in 1977 Armstrong had destroyed his sanity) but to see his way out of a second round of indoctrination... its not going to happen without professional counseling. Thanks to Armstrong, Bobby was taught not to trust doctors, especially the psychiatric kind. Terrible deprivations of basic human rights occurred in that cult. People on the outside can not understand the Hell Bobby went through and when he began showing signs of deterioration from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he was persecuted horribly by the U.S. Government. No human should ever have endured what he did. It was barbaric.

People argue, "It wasn't a cult!" It was a cult.

Current administration of what was the original Worldwide Church of God, admits Armstrongism was indeed widely defined as a “cult” with serious errors.
Unorthodox doctrines
“…As Herbert Armstrong criticized traditional Christianity, he also attracted criticism. Many people considered him to be the leader of a heretical cult. Today, the leaders of this denomination reject Armstrongʼs doctrinal errors. We acknowledge that our errors were deep and serious…”


"What happened with Bobby Fisher is indeed tragic, but those of us who have come under the sway of cults understand all too well how this can happen.
I am glad to hear you wrote of your experiences and hope that you will be able to help, educate and inform other people about WWCG and cults in general. I do know that WWCG has changed their stance on many issues and are at least doctrinally willing to admit they were in error. However, I truly hope that they can acknowledge the manipulation and control, which is many ways was more insidious, and not just the error in doctrine."
Jarman Jarman 9/25/2016 11:20
"The book is is due to appear in English in the next year."

Is it going to be published shortly or is it now to be expected sometimes in 2017?
AgustinBombus AgustinBombus 11/11/2015 02:05
BelowZero BelowZero 11/7/2015 12:36
In his later years Bobby started to take an interest in my life. I would often hear him commenting on my behavior, usually not in a complimentary manner.
I believe that in death he will turn his attention to humankind as a whole. He has not yet revealed himself to all. But when, one day, the rising moon displays the angry face of Bobby Fischer, we will feel his full wrath bear down on us.
Kingpawnkid Kingpawnkid 11/5/2015 04:19
Nowadays Fischer's is making money but received nothing in life nor death. As he claimed "what are the chances of him having trademark a book titled Tiger Woods Teaches Golf?"
Shurlock_V Shurlock_V 11/5/2015 03:53
No thanks.

Far too much has already been penned on this misanthrope.

Lost of other interesting people that not only contributed to culture and enriched lives but were decent and friendly while doing so.

Fischerphiles are a weird and hard to like bunch of mopes.

chessdrummer chessdrummer 11/4/2015 04:51
Bravo!! I wasn't a fan of "Pawn Sacrifice" and have written as much in my review. Too many armchair psychiatrists in chess. It was a very narrow characterization of Fischer and in my view, did damage to the image of chess. Hopefully the will be the a balanced characterization of Fischer. Should be interesting.
NJD NJD 11/4/2015 02:51
A paranoid schizophrenic. Too bad, I wouldn't wish that brain defect on my worst enemy. RIP Bobby...
reddawg07 reddawg07 11/4/2015 01:51
I just hope Gardar doesn't sugar coat his story, because Friedel's article leaves me with the impression that the other articles and books on Fischer doesn't give him justice and Gardar alone can provide that with his new book. Talking about putting somebody in a hot spot. I hope that Gardar dialogues with Fischer involves asking the hard questions. Like his outburst against the jews. Defying the US government. What happened to the money he won in the 1972 championship (is it true that most of it was drained by the church he joined).
Jarman Jarman 11/4/2015 11:32
This sounds like an interesting book. I've also read "Bobby Fischer Comes Home" by Helgi Olafsson which goes along the same lines of recounting Fischer's last years in Iceland.

But I always wonder what to make of these tell-all memoirs from Fischer's most loyal friends and what he would have to say on the matter. He used to refuse offers on the basis that nobody should take advantage of him and he even got suspicious of Olafsson's questions as he thought he was going to write a book about him. For instance, it doesn't seem likely that we'll be getting any information from his wife Miyoko Watai anytime soon as she's been very tight-lipped since he died.
RoughKnight RoughKnight 11/4/2015 06:53
From Kasparov to the Polgars, from Gardner to Fischer, you've known some of the most interesting people in recent history. When can we expect your book Frederic?
thlai80 thlai80 11/4/2015 02:27
Fischer would have contributed immensely to the progress of chess if he had played on. It's sad to know that he spent like 40 years since becoming world champion out of chess. Anyone who had bumped into him during this period and discussed chess with him would have improved their chess understanding leaps and bounds.
bbrodinsky bbrodinsky 11/4/2015 12:24
I am a great fan of Fischer's chess. I own many books of his games. I come from Brooklyn. But I will not buy a non-chess book that excuses, ignores, or glosses over his anti-semitism, his joy over 9/11, and in general, his mental illness. I will wait to see reviews of this book, and carefully decide then whether I am buying a good book, or rejecting rationalizations.
Truffaut Truffaut 11/3/2015 09:20
I'm looking forward to reading the book, it sounds like it will be interesting and informative.