Some foreigners, especially Americans, find it hard to understand why Icelanders offered former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer a home after he had been arrested in Japan on an American arrest warrant. I have been asked: “Wasn’t he a half-crazy, confused man who ranted about the evil American government and a Jewish conspiracy?” The answer is ‘yes,’ but that means that there was all the more reason to help him.
There is no doubt that Bobby Fischer was always a very difficult man and sometimes his eccentric behavior bordered on insanity. Many things indicate that he crossed that border in the years after he became World Champion in the “match of the century” in 1972. After Fischer had insulted everyone who wanted to help him—to the point where he was sitting alone in a Japanese jail—there was no doubt that he needed a shelter.
Helgi Ólafsson is one of the Icelandic grandmasters who became fascinated by chess during the 1972 match. He was a teenager at the time and fondly recalls some of the exciting games from the match. Fischer was, and still is, in spite of everything, an idol for a good many chess players. Hence the disappointment when he forfeited his title by refusing to defend it in 1975 against Anatoly Karpov.
The book Bobby Fischer Comes Home briefly tells the story of Fischer’s life but concentrates on what happened after he came to Iceland in 2005. We hear about Fischer’s outrageous views on many things, especially the Jews (he was Jewish himself), and how he was absolutely paranoid, thinking he was being followed and under surveillance.
Helgi Ólafsson was one of the few Icelandic people who were close to Fischer during his years in Iceland. He recounts the story of bringing Viswanathan Anand (the current World Chess Champion), to meet Fischer. Bobby was very suspicious when Anand brought his wife and only calmed down when Helgi said, ”They are always together,” a claim that was surely false!
Fischer was clearly still following chess events with interest, and the book tells of an instance when he discovered a brilliant move in a blitz championship that had been on TV in Iceland (yes, we are truly wild about chess ). Unfortunately, he fell out with one after another of his friends, including Helgi Ólafsson. They never spoke during Fischer’s last year alive. He died after refusing medical care for his ailments.
Fischer was a lonely man in Iceland. Even though he was strange, he was not bothered when he wandered aimlessly in the streets of Reykjavík at night. Most people recognized the big bearded figure in his baseball cap, but they left him alone. In the end he was buried in a small cemetery outside Reykjavík, in an isolated place in southern Iceland. He found home and he was home alone.