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Fischer Hospitalized in Reykjavik

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Several Spanish-language newspapers online are quoting the Argentine paper Pagina/12 saying Bobby Fischer has been hospitalized in Iceland. I can't find the original piece -- the Pagina/12 website doesn't have it -- and the quoted material is annoyingly vague and cryptic. The main line is that "Bobby Fischer has been hospitalized in Reykjavik for serious physical problems and strong signs of paranoia." This leads most of the derived reports to the headline "Bobby Fischer hospitalized for paranoia." Only some of them mention he's been in the Landspitali, the hospital of the University of Reykjavik, for "over a month" (another says "several weeks"). There are various quotes from people who don't seem to know Fischer or the case, including neighbors. E.g. "It's more than paranoia, but his disease isn't serious. His life isn't in danger, but they are continuing to perform tests on him to figure out what he's suffering from." Another adds, "he's afraid of everything."

Ah, after, umm, Fischering around for a minute, there's a long Fischer item in the major Argentine daily La Nacion, no doubt what the other papers are quoting. They just got the name of the paper wrong and then copied the mistake over and over. Typical. The piece in La Nacion is datelined Reykjavik and ran November 19. It's a very shoddy piece that misattributes quotes repeatedly and steals much from an August El Pais article (see below). This year has seen more attempts to reach Fischer due to his chessy 64th birthday last March.

The article makes the problem clear. Fischer cuts off anyone who speaks about him publicly, so no one who actually knows him will speak to the press about his condition. That's why the reporter relies on hearsay and what isn't being said. GM Helgi Olafsson said he won't speak about Fischer publicly and Fischer's partner, Miyoko Watai of Japan, won't take calls at all. The hospital would only confirm that Fischer is there. Even his neighbors won't give their names. Locals say he often exhibits "paranoid behavior" when seen in public. Fischer's ever-shrinking circle of confidants has been documented over the past year or two since he arrived in Iceland after his detention in Japan. Leontxo Garcia had the best update in El Pais last August and ChessBase had an item last year that included audio.

Leontxo mentioned that Fischer's friends were worried about his health because he has largely ceased to go out walking and has been putting on a lot of weight. I wonder if hospitalization for physical problems could lead to treatment for his mental problems, which have gone untreated for so long. Such things often go untreated if the person is still self-sufficient, not a danger to others, and has no family or friends nearby who will take responsibility.


Fischer poses no danger to anybody. He is mentally ill and his rants are just that, allucinations from a sick mind. Hard to understand why people still pay attention to the words of a paranoid. He has left us many beautiful chess games though. I wish him well.

Let's hope he can recover enough to regain some of his previous level of functioning- there is a correlation between DUP (duration of untreated psychosis) and long-term outcome n psychotic illnesses such as this.

It's bizarre, arguably to two greatest players the U.S. ever had (Morphy and Fischer), both of whom, took the entire chess world by storm and then quite frankly went coo coo. Certainly not a ringing endorsement for a young person to seriously consider as a "career" in this country. Then again, players of that magnitude only come by way of the U.S. every 100 years or so.

Mental disorders occur in the general population from which chessplayers are drawn. For each top chess player who develops mental illness there are many who remain very sane.I think GM Krogius and Pfleger addressed the possible links between chess and mental illness in some detail. I would still encourage my nieces and nephews to play chess.

I fully agree with HardyBerger. I personally know a number of very strong chess players (including many GMs and IMs) who are perfectly sane. Alas, the vast majority of the chess players that I know are of the sane type! Regretably the few who are coo coo seem to atract a lot of atention, which reinforces the misconceptions about the game. Some people claim that the number of world chess champions who suffered from mental illness supports the thesis that chess is conducive of mental disorders. This is of course non sense since the sample size is just too small to draw such a conclusion.

Just to correct some misinformation, Fischer has been in hospital for at least a month for a serious physical medical complaint, not for paranoia. The nature of the complaint has been well-known among the Icelandic chess community for weeks but they have, perfectly reasonably, preferred to keep it private.

"It's bizarre, arguably to two greatest players the U.S. ever had (Morphy and Fischer), both of whom, took the entire chess world by storm and then quite frankly went coo coo. Certainly not a ringing endorsement for a young person to seriously consider as a "career" in this country. Then again, players of that magnitude only come by way of the U.S. every 100 years or so."

Actually, you invert the causality: Chess doesn't make people Cuckoo. Rather, it attracts some people who are mentally ill, and who then monomaniacally pursue involvement in the game. Since chess has a very specific skillset needed for success, it is possible to achieve great success without being hindered by even serious mental illness. Without chess as an outlet, such people would probably be living on the streets.
In contrast, politics may be a career which is injurious to one's mental health

Anyway, it's about time that Fischer has been hospitalized. Certainly, Fischer's mental illness is so severe that it justifies his hospitalization for that reason alone. It would be a shame--a tragedy, really--if the Doctors did not take advantage of the opportunity to put him on the most powerful of medications.

Anyway, let's face it: the only reasons that he would be in hospital for a month were if his conditions were in fact life threatening, or he was being treated for his mental illness.

"Chess doesn't drive people mad, it keeps mad people sane"
- GM W Hartston

>"His life isn't in danger, but they are continuing to perform tests on him to figure out what he's suffering from." >

Sounds reasonable (?!) as nobody has ever died because of a mental illness.
Perhaps they are trying now to find his mind by employing brain-scan fMRI and RX technologies.

I suspect Ovidiu is being somewhat sarcastic when he says nobody has ever died of a mental illness. He's quite right, if he is. While death directly linked to acute chemical imbalances in the brain are rare(?) (e.g. going into a comatose state), deaths from suicides and inability to physically take care of yourself in some mental illness are relatively common. For example, due to paranoia some may refuse to seek medical treatment for injuries or sicknesses, and coupled with unhealthy eating habits (common), this can lead to death as well. In some severe untreated mental illness some people take to their beds and refuse to eat or drink. And we also have the occassional person thinking they can fly or stop speeding trains with their bare hands.

not true, people have died from mental illness....my cousin Eddie jumped in front of a train....

The characterization of Morphy as insane may well be exaggerated. In the mid-nineteenth century, very little was known about the various types of mental illness. The term insane, as used at the time, covered a range of conditions. Some authors have noted that after a few paranoid episodes in the late 1860s, Morphy’s mental condition improved, and there was some return to normality.

In modern terms, Morphy would probably be diagnosed as depressive. Clearly, he was in deep depression over the failure of his legal career. His true ambitions lay in law and philosophy, and he was understandably depressed over his inability to gain recognition in either field. A further problem was that in the late nineteenth century, large law firms were a rarity. Most attorneys were self-employed entrepreneurs. Morphy repeatedly opened law offices, but could find no clients. His self-esteem was closely tied to having a profession, and professional failure must have been deeply galling.

The worst part about Fischer's fame, is that even Kasparov seems to live in his shadow to the point that now he is doing his own crazy ranting about politics. Give Garry 6 months and he'll find a reason to have his own exile similar to Bobby's. Its all sad that they never focus on chess, but on making sure everyone is looking at them.

Whether one labels Fischer a vicious hate-monger or a tragic victim of mental illness, there is no question that his life post-1972 has had a catastrophic impact on the public perception of chess - within the United States most of all.

The September cover story of Chess Life delved deep into whether his rise and fall has left a net positive impact or a net negative impact on chess today, in terms of its public posture on reputation. See http://main.uschess.org/content/view/7787/328/

As for the broader question of chess and mental health, this was an important leitmotif of this year's most widely read non-technical book about chess: Paul Hoffman's autobiographical King's Gambit.

Its first chapter is titled "The Insanity Defense," and narrates a long string of incidents of famous chess players who allegedly went insane or committed suicide.

I think that is highly exaggerated. I can claim credit for being, I think, the only reviewer to debunk that book's claims. (See http://main.uschess.org/content/view/7893/329/) In contrast, all the mainstream reviews I saw were glowing - even Soltis' review in the NY Post.

In case of the world champions, for instance (alluded to by a commenter earlier in this thread) - where are all the champs who are even rumored to have gone crazy?

Morphy and Fischer, sure. Steinitz, yeah, maybe at the end of a long and difficult life devoted to chess.

That leaves 12 or 13 other World Champions. To wit:

Lasker - model of sanity, success, productivity, conventionality.
Kramnik - ditto.
Anand (if he counts?) - ditto.
Karpov - ditto.
Kasparov - ditto (love him or hate him, he's obviously not crazy, and I think even his biggest detractors on this thread see his political ambitions as at worst silly and egotistical - in other words, even you guys never ventured to call him suicidal or insane.)
Euwe - ditto.
Botvinnik - ditto.
Smyslov - ditto.
Tal - ditto.
Petrosian - ditto.
Spassky - ditto.
Capablanca - pretty much the same.
Alekhine - died tragically, prematurely and perhaps mysteriously - but certainly not crazy or intentionally self-destructive; I'd view him as more a victim of WW II and its horrid and tragic politics.

Bottom line: Among chess's most successful practitioners, at least, there are two (arguably three) well-known examples of insanity...plus 12 or more models of probity and normal, mostly happy lives (Alekhine the exception, but his demons were world-historical not internal/psychological).

Yeah, 2 or 3 kooks out of 15 WCCs is still a high percentage. But if you look at writers who trumpet the chess-insanity connection, they seem unsatisfied to rest it on just Morphy/Fischer/Steinitz - they seem to imply (falsely) that more, if not most, chess champs were crazy.

Geez guys don't become so defensive. I was only stipulating that it was coincidental that America's two greatest chessplayers pretty much followed the same scenario. Do I think that all chessplayers are crazy?...well hell yes, but not to that degree. Would I recommend that young people learn to play chess, of course. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Touchy touchy people lighten up; it is a game that WE all love, but it's not above reproach from time to time. Hilliary Clinton doesn't even qualify for that, unless of course your a New York liberal.

Kasparov may not be "crazy," but he has a number of characteristics that show up in DSM IV. If he were not the world's greatest chess player, he'd just be a very unpleasant guy to be around, constantly trying to prove himself right about everything. The same goes for a very disproportionate number of chessplayers I know - all left brain, no emotional intelligence.

On a related note, I recommend Paul Hoffman's _King's Gambit_ - very well-written look at the chess world, with lots of juicy anecdotes. I feel very nervous before games - it was somehow encouraging to learn that one GM is so nervous he often has to throw up! (Yes, I realize that is not craziness.)

> Do I think that all chessplayers are crazy?...well hell yes, but not to that degree. Would I recommend that young people learn to play chess, of course. >

Good luck with that.
They play for hours, and days sometimes, other games. Especially "shooting 3D computer games" on very fast comps (CounterStrike, Quake, Fear etc.)
Immersed in the virtual reality they talk about new strategies in their favourite games to better run, jump, hide and fire RPGs and assault rifles, make team with others in "clans", and what not. They don't seem crazy, they are.

Chess at least has a sort of strategic depth, and no flashes and screams.

1) Lasker - model of sanity, success, productivity, conventionality.

yeah, his true wish in life was to get rich somehow, anyhow, he once tried to breed pigeons for that, unsuccesfully, he later found that his starting pair were both males.

2) Kramnik - ditto.

he says he is first and foremost " an expert in in the art of living"

---Anand (if he counts?) -


3) Karpov - ditto.

he is normal indeed

4) Kasparov -

he still missing much of history, some 1000 years of it

5) Euwe -

normal guy, colorless

6) Botvinnik

normal, just as Karpov, very well tuned to the social and political reality

7) Smyslov

"Later it dawned on me that God had been fighting Satan in the casino and they had made a draw the first time. But, eventually, God won and sentenced Huebner to defeat. As far as I know there were good reasons: Huebner’s behaviour was incorrect during the match. "

"I don’t betray secrets that link up the real world with the spiritual. It is better not to know mystical phenomena or enter the divine world the wrong way. It is very difficult to fight against satanic forces. When I break the divine laws, I lose more than others because I am initiated. Unlike the others I know what I do. ....The meaning of life is to let your soul soak in as much of the Holy Ghost as possible. God does not need the unprepared. He takes either those who are ready, or those who are without hope. God grants the others an opportunity to improve their karma." (Smyslov, 2003)

8) Tal

nice, when he was not drank


You did know that the "well hell yes" was tongue-in-cheek, right?

Jan Jacobs,

What is the percentage of the general population who suffers from mental illness? We have to compare that figure with a sample of the chess population. Even if the percentage is higher in the chess sample, assuming the proper statistical tests are used, the direction of causation would be problematic. I would speculate that chess is not the cause of mental disorder. Instead, chess offers an environment that embraces everyone, including the ones who live on the edge of society (the artists, outsiders, transgressives, bohemians, geeks, coo coos etc).

When I joined a chess club in my early teens there was this guy at the club who suffered from a mental disorder. He took his medication and went to the club daily to play. It was commom knowledge that he had a mental disorder but everybody played blitz and chatted with him. He was playing at about 1600 level and his tacit function (!)at the club was to beat the newcomers (like me) in blitz, untill they became to strong for him and were able to play the stronger guys (and girls, we had a strong WIM in the club). So he was pretty much a regular guy at the club apart from his mental disorder. If it was not for that chess club where could he socialize? This is an important aspect of chess life that is not told on these stories about chess and mental disorder. Looking back in time I am proud of what that chess club did in the life of that gentleman. I am sure his family appreciated it too.

I wonder if you could post your review of Hoffman's book here. Your link to uschess.org requires registration.

Shenk's The Immortal Game also has a chapter on mental illness and chess with the usual rethoric.

Sorry guys, but Anand is the reigning World Champion.

And it's the third time he is World Champion.

So, he counts.

Of the world champions I would say Anand and Euwe seemed to be the most "normal". Anand is particularly interesting as he does not conform to the stereotypes at all. (Prannoy Roy said this and Anand replied "That means you don't know me.")

For those who can read Italian, here is the link to an article written by a sports journalist (not a chess player) who recently went to Reykjavik to find out more: http://www.gazzetta.it/Sport_Vari/Altri_Sport/Scacchi/Primo_Piano/2007/11_Novembre/24/fischer.shtml
Apparently he is in fact in hospital for physical problems (kidney trouble), but his mental illness seems to be playing a part as well, since he refuses to follow the proper cure. Sad but in no way unexpected.

Notes on the sanity of world champions:

Karpov is sane, but it should be noted that he almost had a nervous breakdown in the first (marathon) match with Kasparov. I think there may be something like 'too much chess'. And don't forget the episodes in the Korchnoi and Kasparov matches with the Russian psychic (Zukar? something with a Z) giving people the 'evil eye'.

Kasparov's childish behavior after the Deep Blue defeat, his bullying of other players during matches, his rampant egotism is something you see in many chessplayers, in varying scales of intensity. Seems pretty stable and very intelligent away from the board. Like a lot of players, he may just channel the negative out of him at the board.

Alekhine was dispossessed Russian aristocracy, with no other life than chess but alcohol. Maybe not crazy, but hardly a role model either.

Spassky has actually espoused some pretty strange views himself in the past, including telling Nigel Short (as his second during the match with Gazza) (this is from Josh Waitzkin's father's book))that Kasparov played 'Jew Chess' (which may or may not be true, depends on the definition, I guess). BTW, during a previous match, Short thought that Jan Timman's African wife was putting some voodoo on him.

Perhaps a good sign of 'normality' would be the various player's success away from the board. Lasker and Euwe were both Math professor, and Botvinnik was an engineer, I believe. They were the most stable. Anand doesn't have another job, but he's a cool guy. Smyslov was a religious fanatic, which I always think of as strange.

"Smyslov was a religious fanatic" ?? where did you read this? perhaps this was when he was older.
Anand is a BA in Commerce which he did as a "back up" incase the whole chess thing didn't work out.

Note I didn't say any of the champions were nice people or role models (other than Lasker)....just that they were clinically normal - which you all should be educated enough to know, is NOT a synonym for never having espoused an unconventional idea.

I guess you could easily add Euwe and Anand as genuine role models alongside Lasker, probably Kramnik too...and also Karpov and Botvinnik (if you're okay with Halliburton execs and others today who benefit from and publicly support the Bush regime - since Karpov and Botvinnik similarly benefited from, and publicly defended or denied, crimes of the Soviet regime during their times).

As far as Spassky's well-known and very public anti-Semitism - as recently as two years ago he signed a mass petition against Jews in Russia that led to the temporary imprisonment of Moscow's Chief Rabbi - or Smyslov's religious fervor (the quoted excerpt above was from an essay of his that I read and actually found quite enlightening, despite being agnostic myself), or Kasparov's bouts of megalomania and nastiness - they are personal faults that bear no relevance to my main point, that these champions were undeniably sane and not suicidal. Of course they had/have their faults - even Lasker undoubtedly had some personal failings of one kind or another, as do we all.

Someone asked about my review of Hoffman's King's Gambit. Here's a relevant excerpt:

"....His opening chapter, “The Insanity Defense,” is devoted solely to that subject. The author displays a stunning lack of perspective there. Acclaimed poets routinely commit suicide; musicians often die young, tormented, drug-addicted; professional and collegiate athletes engage in self-destructive behavior so frequently and so publicly that I hardly need cite examples. Yet Hoffman is hardly alone in citing individual chess players’ misfortunes to imply that chess either engenders or attracts abnormality — without a scintilla of meaningful evidence. Anecdotes without statistics on outcomes of comparable endeavors don’t count as evidence, even in journalism, where the standard of evidence is relatively low....

"At times, King’s Gambit leans toward similarly one-sided diagnoses of chess as both dangerously competitive and shot through with deception. (Does the extent of deception in organized chess even come close to what we read daily in the headlines about baseball, cycling, or track?)"

"dangerously competitive and shot through with deception."

Sounds like a big part of human nature to me.

Jon Jacobs,

I never knew about Spassky's anti-Semitic views. Isn't that odd, considering that he himself is Jewish? Fischer being a Jew and ranting about them is just part of his mental illness, but Spassky seems completely sane and is well-known for being a nice guy. What's the cause of his anti-semitism and can you give me some sources where he's expressed such a view, please?

Spassky has denied being (now or ever) Jewish. Last I saw of that was on one of these Dirt threads; I didn't research it further, but saw no reason to disbelieve him. (I think I also recall Kramnik being called Jewish and publicly saying he isn't; but no anti-Semitism on Kramnik's part that I'm aware of.)

Spassky has been quite open about his views, in fact he was widely quoted not long ago calling himself an "honorable anti-Semite." (How people even in the U.S. can then persist in calling him a "gentleman" is beyond me. Just imagine if he'd described himself as "honorably" anti-Muslim, or anti-black. Sure he's a gentleman AT THE BOARD - WELL, SO IS FISCHER! In such matters, behavior and attitude away from the board is far more important.)

Try Google or any other search engine, I'm sure you'll find plenty of mainstream press quotes from Spassky on Jews.

As for Fischer, the latest research, as I recall, shows that both his biological parents were Jewish (not just his mother, as previously believed). But I'm pretty sure Fischer was not raised as a Jew, so he might not have learned of it until much later in life. I also know little about the roots of his anti-Semitism - though I do recall reading that he espressed anti-Semitic views quite a long way back, perhaps even as a teenager - i.e., at a time when he was still quite able to function in society.

For the record there is no evidence that Fischers father was Jewish - the documentary evidence is that his father was not Jewish. There is speculation that his father was Jewish based on financial support provided by a Jewish freind of fischer's mother. In the absence of DNA tests there is no evidence other than the birth certificate. Sigh - there is however an unfortunate tendency sometimes to go overboard in claiming chess champions as Jewish even when the person concerned has never practiced or regarded themselves as jewish or has only 1 parent as Jewish or sometimes when they neither practice nor have any parents who are Jewish!! Kasparov is one example - he is not Jewish he has never practiced nor esposed the beliefs and his mother is an armenian christian. His father (Weinstein) was of Jewish origin but his father was not a practising Jew. He changed his name for political reasons - it was better to have a Russian than Jewish family name. Such was life under the old USSR. Incidentally all this stuff about Fischer being mentally ill is probably rubbish. He is just a bitter old eccentric with extremely prejudiced views - there is a lot of them about. Its best not to confuse disagreeing with someones views (however unpleasant they may be) with diagnosing them as mentally ill which is just a debating point. He hates all Jews (except a few of his old mates) and americans and thinks just about everybody is out to exploit him and his name and that he has been systematically exploited and cheated all his life especially by Jews and americans. Of course thats all nonsense - unfortunately there are plenty of eccentric old gits who pretty much feel that way about life.

"For the record there is no evidence that Fischers father was Jewish"

Depends how you define "evidence", I guess. I don't know whether or not anyone has conducted a DNA test, but the theory that Fischer's biological father was Paul Nemenyi, a Hungarian-Jewish physicist, is pretty common by now. A Philadelphia Inquirer article seems to be the seminal reference. Available here, for example:


"it was better to have a Russian than Jewish family name. Such was life under the old USSR."

This statement is undoubtedly true. Does not exactly apply to Kasparov, though, since his current family name is Armenian.

There may be no biological evidence that Fischer's real father was Paul Nemenyi rather than the birth certificate's Gerhardt Fischer - but are we arguing a court case here? Did DNA tests even exist in 1940 or whenever?

The import of the letters to and from Mrs. Fischer in the FBI files released several years ago is quite clear: Nemenyi, a Hungarian Jewish mathematician, was the biological father. And this information was unveiled and publicized by mainstream journalists going about their job - not by anyone having some vested interest in "claiming" Bobby as a Jew (which Andy suggests above).

Andy, I think Fischer's behavior over the years goes way beyond just being a bitter old eccentric with extremely prejudiced views. He's consistently exhibited clear signs of mental illness since his early teens. Fine and other psychologists or psychiatrists in chess circles who observed him during those early years all thought he had serious psychological problems. The 50 years since have only confirmed it. I've been convinced for years that he's a textbook example of someone suffering from paranoia (the clinical definition, not the Hollywood one). Recently, in a discussion at the Chessville forum, it was suggested that he also exhibited many of the signs of Asperger's Syndrome, a disorder from the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.

I thought "Kasparov" was itself a Russification of the Armenian name "Kasparian"....

All this talk of insanity vs. normal reminds me of the question, "What is normal?" : )

Most of us are nuts in some fashion or another. We just don't all have our lives under a microscope, so most of our insanities go unnoticed...

My only deduction on this mental illness phenom is avid chess players, usually don't have a social life, they tends to over analyze things, which makes them paranoid of everything, they assume everyone has their own agenda and like to look pass what is present and too much into what might or may not be, pretty much like a chess game, it's this trait that may make them a great player, but also make them socially inept. In the end in fischer's case, he even blame his mother to his jewish heritage, and have a disdain for anything american, because of this paranoia, pretty sad, and he was such a good looking young lad too.

This is the a great problem when you are a celebrity, a public personality. Everyone wants to know what is going on with your life... That can be a little stressful when it comes to your health and intimate stuff.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on November 23, 2007 5:18 PM.

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