. Tuesday, January 22, 2008
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There were two sides to Bobby Fischer and it shouldn't come as a surprise that nobody is really quite sure which side to focus on after the chess legend died in Iceland on Thursday.

On one side, you have the child prodigy who took the chess world by storm. He began winning championships at the age of 13 and to this day is the only American to ever win the World Chess Championship. He made chess more than just a game a bunch of old people sat around and played.

On the other side, there was the mysterious, reclusive man who disappeared from the game and the public eye at the height of his success and became an angry, hate-filled person as the years progressed.

As a chess player, it can't be stated enough what he meant to the game. He was arguably the best ever. He was the one who my friend's father, who taught us how to play chess as kids, always told us stories about.

Fischer's crowning moment was winning the World Chess Championship from russian player Boris Spassky in Iceland in 1972.

Those of us under the age of 40 will probably never understand quite what this victory meant to the American people at the time. Maybe your parents or grandparents can tell you. It was at the height of the Cold War and you had Fischer becoming the first American World Champion, defeating a russian to win the championship that had been dominated by the Soviet Union for almost its entire existence.

And of course, that is where everything fell apart. His eccentric behavior began to take over his life in 1975 when he was scheduled to defend his championship against Anatoly Karpov. Fischer made a list of 64 demands in terms of tournament conditions that had to be met for him to play the game. When they were not met, he opted to forfeit the title to Karpov.

From there, Fischer went into hiding, not making so much as one public appearance until he reemerged in 1992 to play a re-match with Spassky in Yugoslavia, which was illegal due to a United Nations Embargo that put sanctions on sporting events.

He won the match and then went back into hiding. He was on the run from authorities as he began on a downward spiral that never seemed to end. Born of Jewish descent, he began going on radio shows, bashing all Jews and calling for the slaughtering of the entire race, claiming that he was not in fact Jewish.

Worse yet, still bitter about not being allowed back into America after his 1992 match, he went on a radio station in Europe after the attacks of September 11 and applauded the terrorists, calling for the destruction of the United States.

It's hard to believe a man who had at one point meant so much to America, had been reduced to a self-hating supporter of terrorism.

And as such, it's not hard to believe that the same man died alone in the country of Iceland to very little sympathy or fanfare.