Fischer signature a fraud?

12/29/2003 – It looked like a great find: "This is a 1972 edition of Bobby Fischer's book" wrote a seller on Ebay. "Fischer has signed it with a sketch and the message 'Checkmate'." The book went for $676.00 on December 23rd. But was it genuine? Experts and friends of Fischer think not.

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"Over the next few weeks I am going to be presenting to auction some of my collection of autographs," writes the Ebay seller. "I am proud to boast ownership of a varied and charming assortment of autographs many of which have been in my possession for over 25 years. They have all been stored carefully and protectively and each is in excellent condition. To do these great items justice I've attractivley framed and matted each, turning them into welcome additions to any wall."

The pictures show the well-known book and the autograph on the inside. John Henderson, who writes for The Scotsman, immediately thought this might be a fraud: "It's an obvious forgery," he wrote. "Apart from the fact that Fischer had 'issues' with that particular edition (he only regarded the Simon & Schuster version as the only one true copy of his book), the signature looks wrong, and the little vase underneath is definitely not a Fischer thing. The 'F' is wrong as well as the 'bb'."

Henderson was speaking from instinct, but a friend of Fischer, GM Lubos Kavalek, was in a better position to judge the authenticity of the signature. In his Washington Post column he writes: "The seller claimed that [the book] was signed by Fischer. In addition, the signature was accompanied by a drawing of a chessboard with a little piece on it and the word "Checkmate" written next to it. I compared both signatures and, amazingly, seven letters of his name did not match. I checked other original Fischer autographs and it became clear that I was comparing an apple with oranges. Moreover, Fischer loathed the algebraic edition and did not authorize it. I saw Fischer date his signatures but never draw sketches. "World chess champion" would be the only words I would expect him to write. Most likely both the seller and the buyer did not know what they were dealing with."

John Henderson has sent us a sample of Fischer's handwriting and signature – this is the genuine thing. Judge for yourself if this note and the autograph in the book are by the same person. In our correspondence Kavalek draws attention to the fact that Bobby "wrote small b's that looked like the number 66, and his F looks like a crescent."

We also have another sample: In July Susan Grumer came to the book signing of Garry Kasparov in New York and brought along a programme from the 1972 Skopje Olympiad, where she was a player. On it were the signatures of every World Champion from Euwe to Karpov (Kasparov added his to it). Susan writes us: "I don’t intend to ever sell mine, but, I do know it’s genuine – and the other isn’t."

Luckily the seller is offering all buyers time to authenticate their purchases. "They are genuine hand-signed signatures," he writes, "and any bidder who wishes to confirm this with independant authentication can take advantage of a 21 day return period which begins from the end of the auction. This is long enough to have an item authenticated and I will not offer refunds after this period. If you bid on this auction you are explicitly accepting this. I do not offer a COA because they are not worth the paper they are printed on. I offer a dated, itemised receipt with my trading terms printed on it."

The best way to find out is for Fischer himself to confirm or reject the signature. Bobby, if you are reading this, click on the "News feedback" link on the left and drop us a line. Go on, be a nice guy and do it!

Frederic Friedel


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