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By most all accounts a brilliant mind, Fischer was perhaps the most visionary chess player since José Raul Capablanca, a Cuban who held the world title for six years in the 1920s. Fischer’s innovative, daring play — at age 13, he defeated senior master (and former U.S. Open champion) Donald Byrne in what is sometimes called “The Game of the Century” — made him a hero figure to millions in the United States and throughout the world. In 1957, Fischer became the youngest winner of the U.S. chess championship — he was just 14 — before going on to beat Spassky for the world title in 1972.

But Fischer forfeited that title just three years later, refusing to defend his crown under rules proposed by the World Chess Federation, and he played virtually no competitive chess in ensuing decades, retreating, instead, into isolation and seeming paranoia. Because of a series of rankly anti-Semitic public utterances and his praise, on radio, for the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, at his death, Fischer was seen by much of the world as spoiled, arrogant and mean-spirited.

In recent years, however, researchers have come to understand that Bobby Fischer was psychologically troubled from early childhood. Careful examination of his life and family shows that he likely suffered with mental illness that may never have been properly diagnosed or treated.

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