JUST FIVE years ago, the world's attention was turned to Reykjavik, Iceland, where Bobby Fischer of the United States and Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union were matching their wits over a marble and mahogany chess table.
Fishcher, then 29, won the world championship, breaking a 26-year Russian monopoly of the title; it was the first time since 1946 that a non-Russian had even reached the world championship finals. Fischer earned a record purse of $250,000 and became a cult figure.
After spending most of his life working for the crown, Fischer didn't wear it well. He hasn't played chess in public since the Spassky games. In 1975, Fischer lost his title by default, refusing to defend it after a dispute over match rules. Rumors of new games , new opponents and new locales have surfaced periodically since then but were never realized. He emerged briefly into public view recently when he lost a $5-million lawsuit against Brad Darrach, who had written a book about his behavior before and during the match with Spassky.
The latest report of a prospective opponent comes from Holland, where former Soviet grandmaster Victor Korchnoi has told the press that he hopes to play a match with Fischer next February. Korchoi has just won his way to the finals of the world championship challengers' competition, and is a likely prospect to play champion Anotoly Karpov for the title next year. A match with Fischer could be an iteresting warmup for this contest.
According to a Dutch newspaper, West German financier Wilfred Hilgert has agreed to pay Fischer $3 million for the match. "I've been in contact with Fischer and in early September I'll go to America to meet him and fix further details," Korchnoi told the press.
Very few people have contact with Fischer today. He lives a secluded life in South Pasadena, Calif., where he moved shortly after the Spassky match. He chose the Pasadena area not only because of the weather but because of its proximity to Ambassador College and the headquarters of the Worldwide Church of God. Fischer, according to some reports, had given large donations to the church.
"I've had no communications with Fischer lately," said Edmund M. Edmundson, an official of the U.S. Chess Federation. "As far as I know he lives in a small house in South Pasadena and he must live frugally because he does nothing for a living. He must depend on royalties and some left over money from the Spassky match."
When he began to play in chess tournaments, the Brooklyn-born Fischer was still a small boy and would sometimes cry after lossing a game. But as he fought his way to the U.S. championship and into the top ranks of international chess, he became known as stubborn, temperamental and myopic. At the time of the showdown with Spassky, Fischer was described by a U.S. grandmaster, Larry Evans, as "the most individualistic, intransigent, uncommunicative, uncooperative, solitary, self-contained and independent chess master of all time, the loneliest chess champion in the world. He is also the strongest player in the world. In fact, the strongest player who ever lived."
Even though he hasn't let the world see much of Bobby Fischer recently, he did have an enormous impact on the popularity of chess. "There are noww two dozen strong young players who wouldn't be as active if Fischer hadn't inspired them," said Edmundson, who added remorsefully, "The legacy he left is enormous."
Once Bobby Fischer said, "Chess is life," but he also said, "I don't mix well." He seems to have opted for the latter.