As an avid chess enthusiast, I have to take a moment to reflect on Robert “Bobby” Fischer, who died on January 17, 2008.
There is no one in chess whose mystique is greater than that of Bobby Fischer. No doubt, Fischer was a chess genius, and one of the greatest players of the 20th century. As a player, he excelled at achieving clear and objective positions. When he had an advantage, he used his superior knowledge of tactics and combinations to convert it into a win. He had a deep understanding of openings, and he was an endgame master. His greatest asset was his competitiveness, always fighting for a win with both colors. All that said: he did not have the flair of a Tal, who had a standing policy of sacrificing a piece when in trouble. He didn’t bring a scientific eye to the board like Botvinnik. And he wasn’t a diplomat that Euwe was. Even his most famous game against Donald Byrne, shows that when Fischer goes in for a sacrifice—even that of a queen—he is clearly compensated (a rook, bishop pair, and a devastating windmill position, for a queen).
The mystery surrounding Fischer is irreducible to his play. No: the mystique of Bobby Fischer goes beyond the board. It has as much to do with his play as it does with the fact that he hailed from the United States—its only champion—a nation not fond of intellectual sport, the Cold War, and his sudden disappearance(s). In the popular imagination, the film Searching for Bobby Fischer, contributes a great deal.
As a man, it has been well chronicled that Fischer was not well. His theatrics in matches (complaining about lights, Russian Doctors trying to hypnotize him, and so on) were as much a product of gamesmanship as his unstable psyche. And by now it is well known that Fischer was a fierce anti-Semite.
No one worked harder at chess than Fischer. His nemesis Borris Spassky (and “nemesis” is not quite the right word, since Spassky was always sympathetic to Fischer), once said: “Robert is capable of playing at any time of day or night. He can often be seen playing blitz… after a tiring evening adjournment session. The USA Champion plays blitz with pleasure and with passion.” And: “I saw how wholeheartedly Fischer loves chess. One even gains the impression that without chess he is lonely.” Former champion Tigran Petrosian: “What is staggering in Fischer is his chess appetite, if one can express it so. He always plays with the greatest of pleasure.” In psychoanalytic terms, one could say that he sublimated his libido in the game of chess. And without chess, Fischer quickly collapsed. Garry Kasparov says this:
He became a legend in his own lifetime. But his last, main battle—against chess itself—he lost. You must love something beyond the bounds of your profession, and apart from chess, Fischer had nothing. The chequered board and the wooden pieces conquered him completely! After becoming world champion, Fischer could not play any more. This was the danger: he achieved perfection, and everything after this was already less than perfection.
I offer the following interpretation of Fischer’s life. Fischer was a psychotic. According to Freud, this means he developed a narcissistic fixation thus preventing a full transition to object-love. Thus, Fischer could never direct his libido to others and objects—or, to put it in Kasparov’s terms, Fischer never developed the capacity to love something outside his profession. Without an attachment to objects, any increase of libido will flow back—that is, narcissistically—onto the ego, aggrandizing it, which results in a psychotic episode. In his stunning study of the psychotic Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, Freud writes: “The delusional formation, which we take to be the pathological product, is in reality an attempt at recovery, a process of reconstruction.” Projects, such as Schreber’s memoir, are attempts at a cure because they serve as an outlet for narcissistic libido. I submit the claim that Fischer, before the age of 13, already suffered or was suffering from a psychotic breakdown. At that time, the game of chess rose in importance for him, and he used it to take on his accumulating narcissistic libido. He successfully used chess in this capacity for the majority of his young adulthood. This accounts for the compulsiveness Spassky and Petrosian observed. When he became champion, he was faced two problems: one, he had no immediate way to maintain active chess play, and two, the new challenger Anatoly Karpov threatened to take away his championship. The two challenges share something in common: both have the possibility of making chess refuse Fischer’s libido. Without anything else to take on his libido, it flowed backwards once again, manifesting in paranoid delusions. The final blow to Fischer occurred when he played a return match against Spassky in Yugoslavia, which expatriated him. The US government took away all of his chess memorabilia and, more importantly, the game of chess itself. What about his anti-Semitism? In conclusion, I offer the suggestion (perhaps, controversial) that his anti-Semitism was not the delusion itself. Rather, it was an attempt at a second cure in the absence of chess. To free his libido, Fischer began reconstructing an elaborate worldview in which Jews were his main enemy, behind both the US and Soviet governments—a narrative that was helped by the Cold War and the US’s actions against him. It is a narrative that grew as Fischer aged, finally resulting in the pitiful man who died in Iceland. The narrative is terrible for us, but it must have also been immensely terrifying for Fischer, as his paranoia attests. But it at least pinned his anxieties generated by the ubiquity of his own libido onto a figure.
My claim that Fischer was a clinical psychotic is not meant to garner sympathy for the man. It is indeed asking too much to forgive Fischer his anti-Semitism. Ambivalence will suffice.
 All foregoing quotes are taken from Kasparov’s Garry Kasparov on Fischer: My Great Predecessors, Part IV.