About 40 miles southeast of Reykjavík near the village of Selfoss, Iceland, lie the remains of Robert James Fischer, better known to the world as Bobby Fischer. The simple gravesite is found next to the Lutheran Church in Laugardælir along an unmarked road.
Fischer burst onto the chess scene at the tender age of 14, capturing the U.S. Championships, and the following year he became the youngest world grandmaster. Brash, stubborn, and difficult even during the best of times, Fischer’s legacy reached rockstar status 15 years later when he faced off against Russian Boris Spassky at the 1972 World Chess Championships in Reykjavik.
Billed as “Match of the Century” and played at the height of cold war tensions, the combatants created an electric atmosphere rivaling that of any heavyweight title fight. The styles of the two men couldn’t have been more different; Spasky, stoic and disciplined, played an emotionless, methodical game. His eccentric, vocal rival, however, eschewed protocol and traditional strategy with the flair and nerve of a riverboat gambler.
The world tuned in with unprecedented fascination, wondering if the young American could dethrone his mighty foe and end Russian dominance over the sport. Finally, on September 3, 1972, after 21 games filled with heightened tension, drama and psychological warfare, Fischer soundly defeated his Soviet opponent to become the first American-born world champ. Chess would never be the same.
Fischer returned home to a hero’s welcome, appearing on popular talk shows as well as the cover of Sports Illustrated. But fame and fortune would soon take an ugly turn as he became increasingly erratic and volatile, making unreasonable demands and indefensible anti-Semitic and racist comments.
Facing criminal charges in the U.S. for tax evasion and playing in sanctioned countries, including a rematch with Spassky in the former Yugoslavia (Fischer won), he eventually found refuge in Iceland. Fischer died in the country on January 17, 2008, and was buried in a small, secret, and possibly illegal ceremony that even the churchyard minister was unaware of.