Still paranoid after all these years: Fischer as a wary young champion in 1972 and as a recluse on a media rampage in 1992. Bobby Fischer's Endgame

INSIDE THE CRAZY, SECRETIVE REALM OF THE CHESS KING WHO WANTS TO KEEP THE WORLD IN CHECK

At the periphery of the Yugoslavian war zone, off the coast of Montenegro, on the tiny island of Sveti Stefan, in a Carrara-marble terrazzo-cum-three-star-hotel restaurant, Bobby Fischer sits like an idiot king with his back to both the setting sun and Boris Spassky, dining alone two tables over. Spassky, wearing tennis whites, savors the last of his mineral water as he takes in the pinks and oranges over the Adriatic, impassive but for an occasional suave pass of a hand through his thick silver hair. Fischer, sporting a new handmade aquamarine suit, beige shirt, and a pair of strangely designed clunky black shoes, has every eye in the restaurant but Spassky's on him. Flanked by three bodyguards and a pair Of waiters, an elbow on the table and his cheek propped on his fist, he shovels in a second bowl of melon and ice cream, washing it down with full glasses of Krstac. He's gained a good sixty pounds since his last public appearance, and his formerly gaunt and beautiful face, now covered with a scraggly red-brown beard, has filled out so much as to be almost unrecognizable. Only the eyes are the same: hazel, wide open, relentlessly shifting, loaded with confusion and suspicion.

Throughout his four-course dinner, he's been talking in animated flurries to Eugenio Torre, the serene Filipino grandmaster serving as his second (all-night study partner and researcher) for his "world-championship match" against Spassky -- the weird comeback that Bobby, who forfeited that title in 1975, has dictated to commence twenty years to the day of his famous victory in Reykjavik in 1972. A hot wind blowing off the hills across the bay is taking most of his words, but the accent is unmistakably Brooklyn, the Brooklyn of Ebbets Field, Barbara Streisand, and transistor radios: "... There's a lot of people without homes now. It's, uh, y'know, like illegal. Like squattuhs. They should be arrested or somethin'. ..." "...In America, prisons cost money. In China, they make 'em work. And if they don't work they beat 'em. Hah. Hah-hah-hah..."

With a thick stench of Havana cigar, a rustle of silk, and the click of alligator leather over marble, Jezdimir Vasiljevic makes his way across the terrazzo, trailed by four bodyguards. "Svakako! Svakako!" he's telling one of them -- "No shit! No shit!" A small man with a farmer's physique, muttonchop sideburns, and a woolly haircut that looks like the "after" photo in a Moscow barbershop, circa 1962, he wears a brown, double-breasted gangster suit that's an inch too long at the shoulder, wrist, and heel, and carries a rectangular case of expensive brown leather, a mystery accessory that never leaves his side. Referred to in the Serbian tabloid Borba as "the paradigm of the new businessman in Serbia-Montenegro" and in the Croatian tabloid Novi Viesnik as a black-marketeering, arms-dealing mafioso, he's called Mr. Big on Sveti Stefan, after his bank/holding company, Yugoskandic B.I.G.: Bisnis-InformacijeGlainur. It's clear that any infonnacije about this man's bisnis should be double-checked. "I am a mysterious man," he loves to tell you. "I cannot talk now." -- Like Fischer, he has a twenty-year hole in his resume -- when he was "abroad" -- giving rise to mon oncle d'Amerique rumors ranging from smuggling Albanian mercury to fencing South African diamonds in Sweden and-most often cited-extensive arms dealing with Israel.

As for glamur, he has pulled off the Serbian publicist's equivalent of raising Lazarus in bringing Fischer here to play this $5 million "Revenge Match of the Century," but he doesn't seem very happy just now. Telexes from the U. S. departments of Treasury and State-threatening huge fines and prison sentences if Fischer breaks the embargo by playing the match-are reportedly coming daily, putting Fischer and Vasi1jevic on edge: Half a mile up the mainland, a pair of high-back swivel chairs and a huge oak chess table emblazoned with the match logo sit like corpses at the entrance to the playing site in the Hotel Maestral, the first casualties of Fischer's demands for perfection. (By the start of the match, he will have vetoed eleven more tables and two other pairs of chairs.) Hammering and high-pitched drilling are heard throughout the night from the seventy-five-yard-long playing hall, as workmen construct the floor-to- ceiling concrete barricade that will separate Fischer and Spassky from the audience, leaving only a ten-foot aperture in the center through which the players can be seen. It's also rumored that a clause in Fischer's seventeen-page contract stipulates, that no noise from the war shall interfere with his concentration during a game.

Fischer is standing with his palms open in great drama as Vasiljevic approaches his table, and they leave the restaurant immediately in a phalanx of bodyguards, Vasiljevic swinging his briefcase, Fischer toting a leather pocket chess set and two books. "I got so much to do tonight," he says as he heads up the stairs toward his villa on the other side of the island. His walk is unnatural -- left arm and left leg together -- and driven-looking. Some nights, a small motorcade rushes him and Spassky across the causeway to play tennis on an old, dimly lit clay court surrounded by blue spruce and cypress. They say that Fischer is phenomenally competitive and that his agonized screams are heard echoing down the hillside when he loses difficult points.

Spassky gets up to leave a few minutes later and I try to make conversation. "Of course, you want to talk to Bobby," he says, his Bela Lugosi baritone swelling and falling with immense irony and self-doubt. "But this is impossible. He does not like the media."

"Why do you think Bobby has decided to play this match here?" I ask. "And why now, in the middle of a war, after twenty years of refusing. Do you think he's still a great player?"

"These, of course, are the crucial questions," Spassky says portentously. "I can say only-Bobby wants to create the very special atmosphere of Reykjavik. He was the great hero of the West then."

The crucial questions of why here and why now feel increasingly moot with each war-weary photographer, wire stringer, and television crew that checks into the various Sveti Stefan hotels the day before the match's opening ceremonies.

Dejan Anastasijevic, a UPI stringer from Belgrade, tells me about the farmer he met in Sarajevo who sold his combine and bought a Russian T-55 tank from the Federal Yugoslav Army, which he drives into the hills after work each evening so he can fire on Muslims. "The day I met him it was a cease-fire, but it didn't matter. This tank is my private property,' he said. 'No one can tell me how to use it. Communism is over. I'm living in the West now.' While he was talking, I finally understood that Hannah Arendt phrase, the narcissism of small differences. That's exactly what this war is."

For twenty years of intractable, Perry demands, Fischer personified this narcissism exactly. A strange boy with an IQ of 181, he grew up in small rooms, studying chess with the radio on, refusing to wear anything but corduroy pants and striped sport shirts, developing strange ideas about people -- particularly those he loved to call "Commies" and "world Jewry." He shares a small difference -- half-Jewishness -- with two Commie world champions, Spassky and the current champion, Garry Kasparov (born Garik Weinstein), whom Fischer has accused of "pre-arranging" the games of his matches with Anatoly Karpov. Fischer's father, a German-born physicist (who may have worked for the Wehrmacht in the early stages of the war), and his phenomenally strong-willed, Swiss-born Jewish mother, Regina, separated bitterly after news of the Holocaust in 1945, when Bobby was two. The father is said to have moved to South America. Regina, Bobby, and his older sister, Joan, lived in various parts of the Southwest before settling in a fourth-floor walk-up in Brooklyn, when he was six. The following year, Joan bought him a cheap chess set at the candy store on the first floor of the apartment building. He became freakishly single-minded. "All I want to do is play chess," he announced. "Ever."

"Bobby was simply a boy with no relations outside chess," says Viktor Korchnoi, the former challenger for the world championship that Fischer vacated in 1975 to Anatoly Karpov. He met Fischer for the first time in 1960, in Buenos Aires. "Bobby is not crazy like they say. And believe me, I know crazy. He simply failed to keep up normal relations," adds Korchnoi, who recently finished a game -- via a psychic -- with the 1920's Hungarian grandmaster, Geza Maroczy. "Normal relations, for a boy that age, is school."

School for Bobby was a blur. A science teacher at Erasmus Hall High School wrote "not satisfactory' on a test he got a 65 on. "Tough," wrote Bobby, who believed his teachers were "all mental cases." At fourteen, already U.S. champion and a year shy of becoming the youngest grandmaster in history, Bobby filled his notebooks with drawings of grotesque heads and mindless radio babble: "Hey, everybody, gather I round, C'mon, let's dig their Rockin' Sounds, we got the rugs on the floor. ... Come on now, I wanna swim with you." He dropped out at sixteen. "The stuff they teach in school," he said, "I can't use." The radio was his source of truth: "I was with Bobby in Yugoslavia in 1968," says the prolific British chess writer Bob Wade, one of the few people Fischer ever trusted (Bobby once hired him to research an opponent's games -- something he normally did on his own). "His only real interest was listening to the news on the radio." Even now, in Sveti Stefan, he carries a green sports radio almost everywhere.

He developed a passion for Yugoslavia in 1958, when he came to play his first international tournament, an elimination qualifier to determine the next challenger for the world championship. The Yugoslavs, who are chess crazy, unconditionally took in the Corduroy Killer, as he was known in New York, and Bobby played brilliantly, earning a return to Yugoslavia the following year for the final qualifying tournament. Mikhail Tal, the Magician from Riga, who won the tournament and became the next world champion, defeated Fischer decisively, however, enraging him. Tal, a relentless joker, walked past Fischer on the bridge outside the playing hall, flapping his hands and saying the word cuckoo in a high-pitched voice. "Bobby," a journalist here named Miluivka Lazarevic tells me, "ran back to his room in tears, developed a cold, and went to bed. Bent Larsen [the Danish grandmaster who served as Fischer's second in the tournament] had to read him Tarzan and Mickey Mouse stories until he got better."

When Fischer returned here in 1961, he got even with Tal in a beautiful game in which he sacrificed his queen. Now eighteen years old, he had a new look. After lengthy barnstorming in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile (during which, a South American grandmaster tells me, Fischer saw his father for the only time), he had given up his corduroys for suits: seventeen, all handmade, in Argentina, England, Trinidad, New York, California, and East and West Germany. "If you got seventeen suits," he'd told a reporter a week before coming to Yugoslavia, "you can rotate them. They wear a long time. That's where the poor man gets it coming and going. His suits wear out fast." Has time run out on his wily genius?

Fischer's second adjustment is said to have come a year later, over the radio, when he joined the Worldwide Church of God after hearing a sermon by Garner Ted Armstrong. It advocated a mixture of Jewish Sabbath and dietary ritual and apocalyptic Christianity, the Second Coming, the end of the world, regenerative baptism (from which Fischer apparently abstained), and, of course, tithing. He did this in a big way $93,315.35, according to a 1976 interview. He followed the church in the late 1960's to its headquarters in Pasadena and has remained there, despite his eventual break. That came, depending on whom you ask, after the failure of the world to end in 1972, of Jesus to appear in 1976, or, more credibly, over his disillusionment with the alleged fiduciary and moral profligacy of church leaders.

The break was bitter: There was a flurry of leafleting by Fischer outside the church's Ambassador College in 1976, a late-night incident of assault on an ex-church woman he felt had violated his confidence (he later settled with her out of court), and a $3.2 million lawsuit. It left him essentially homeless (he had lived, after his victorious return from Reykjavik, in the basements of the luxury homes of various ministers) and penniless. After 1975, when he resigned his title (because only forty-three of his forty-four demands for a title-defense match had been met), the rare accounts of his situation all mention cheap rooms in Pasadena and L. A., months of his crashing on former friends, and days spent riding the orange city-bus between L. A. and Pasadena, analyzing chess games on his pocket set. At the end of Fischer's one public statement since Reykjavik, a four- teen-page, Gogolesque pamphlet titled I Was Tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse! (he had it printed in 1981 after a case of mistaken identity led to his two-day incarceration), he wrote: "When I left home that Tuesday I had nine dollars in case and well over another dollar in change ... either a five-dollar bill and four ones plus well over a dollar in change or nine ones plus well over a dollar in change (I'm 99 percent sure it was the former)."

Other than royalty checks for his 1969 collection, My 60 Memorable Games -- probably the greatest chess book ever written -- he seems to have depended on the curiosity of strangers. Through back channels, one could place a phone call to Fischer for $2,500; $5,000 was the fee for a meeting. One also had to pay him $1,000 to open the letter requesting the meeting, and that letter had to be addressed: MR. ROBERT JAMES FISCHER, WORLD CHESS CHAMPION. Yasser Seirawan, the highest-ranked American grandmaster since Fischer's abdication, knows of at least twenty fanatics who plunked their money down, including a rabid chess player and fellow religious recluse named Bob Dylan, whose tour manager is said to have bought him the meeting as a birthday present.

Most of the other known meetings involved multimillion-dollar offers from various fascists and despots to play chess in their countries. "Dictatorships," the English grandmaster Raymond Keene tells me, "have an enormous weakness for chess, and especially for Bobby." Ferdinand Marcos offered $3 million, the Shah of Iran $2 Million, and Qatar, South Africa, Chile, and Argentina are said to have put up similar amounts. Last year, a Francoist millionaire from the south of Spain sent a chess-playing representative with a $4 million offer. The man spent a few nights walking around Pasadena with Fischer before he was told, "Nah. The figure's too low."

"Bobby," says Bob Wade, "never cared about money, though. His only desire was to prove that his choices were correct: He wanted chess to be important, because he was a chess player, and he wanted to be important. Bobby knew money was important, but he didn't have a clue why, outside of clothes and status. The only way he could accomplish what he wanted was to fight for a lot of money. Once he got it, he gave it away. He did not know how to spend it. And once he'd become champion, after, essentially, sacrificing his life for it, he didn't know how to spend his time."

Time does seem to be the key to Fischer's return. In 1990 he registered a patent in New York for the Bobby Fischer Anti-Time Pressure Chess Clock. Unlike standard chess clocks, this one awards what Fischer calls bonus minutes every time a move is made. "It is a gross overstatement," says Korchnoi, "but in chess, it can be said I play against my opponent over the board and against myself on the clock." With the Fischer clock, the faster you move, the more time you gain. Only a man who lost twenty years of his life could have conceived it. Since registering his patent, Fischer has spent much of his time abroad, staying with families outside Brussels, Manila, and, for more than a year, in the Bavarian countryside outside Bamberg. Each of the three families had a young child Fischer developed great affection for. It's said he spent hours teaching each one how to play chess.

James Kubat, press director of the match, speaks of "a fairy-tale motive": a series of "it's never too late" letters sent to Fischer, who's about to turn fifty, by a Hungarian chess master, Zita Rajcsanyi, his girlfriend, occasionally referred to as his fiancee. I spent an afternoon playing chess with Zita -- an incredibly patient, mothering nineteen-year-old who wears thick glasses, a ponytail, long, wrinkled skirts, T-shirts, and Converse high-tops she laces all the way up her calf-and find it easy to believe Kubat's fairy tale. Not only does she let me win every game, she makes Fischer seem like an open book. "He's completely natural. He plays no roles," she says. "He's like a child. Very, very simple."

"We've waited twenty years," says Nebosa Dukelk, the moderator of the match's opening press conference. "It's good we wait some more."

Flanked by Fischer, Spassky, Vasiljevic, and a Serbian engineer who has perfected the model of the Fischer clock that will be used in the match, Dukelic has a huge, helpless smile as Fischer, in a #663300 business suit, off-green shirt, and floral-print tie, keeps some 175 members of the media sweating for fifteen minutes under the arc lights while he leafs through the questions he has insisted be put to him in writing. Swiveling in his chair and raking a finger through his beard with bizarre lese-majeste, he smiles, grimaces, and raises an eyebrow: "Hah-hah. That's a good question," or, "Who typed these up anyway? There's a real lot of typos." He never looks at us.

"Perhaps there is a question for Mr. Spassky?" says Dukelic.

"Nah, I'm first," says Bobby.

"Yes, it's right, the world champion goes first," Dukelic immediately apologizes. "Perhaps I can help you eliminate some repetitive questions?"

"I wanna choose 'em. That's my agreement," Fischer says, looking over at Vasiljevic. "Awright. We'll start with some typically impudent questions from The New York Times." He says new so that it sounds like Jew Lest anyone miss the point, he identifies the man as "a Mr. Roger Cohen." Sitting next to me, Josef Lapid, an elderly Yugoslavian who emigrated to Israel in 1948 (he's the editorial writer for the Tel Aviv daily Ma'areev), starts murmuring: "He can't get away with this. He must answer for this." On Cohen's fourth question: "If you beat Spassky, will you go on to challenge Kasparov for the world championship?" Bobby brings the house down by swiveling i8o degrees and pointing to a sign that reads THE WORLD CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP. "Can he read what it says behind here?"

The laughter turns to dumbstruck applause when Fischer, looking remarkably like Lenny Bruce reading transcripts of his obscenity trials, answers a question about defying sanctions: "Just one second," he says, rifling through his briefcase until he finds the Treasury Department's August 21, 1992, Order to Provide Information and Cease and Desist Activities. "So!" he bellows. "This is my reply to their order not to defend my tide here." He hurls a gob of spit on the order, thick enough to leave a smudge when it's Xeroxed and circulated to the media a week later. Revenge of the chess nerd: Fischer at age sixteen.

And on he goes: twenty years of private vituperation squeezed into his sessions here. He accuses Kasparov, Korchnoi, and Karpov -- "really the lowest dogs around" -- of prearranging the seven world-championship matches they have contested since 1977; world Jewry of blacklisting him for twenty years; the Moscow publisher Physical Culture and Sport (which published a Russian edition of My 60 Memorable Games) of owing him royalties of "let's say $100,000, just to open discussions"; and the U. S. Government and Time, Inc. of conspiring to defraud him of "tens, maybe hundreds of millions" -- this dating to his mid-1970s $3.2 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against Time, Inc., over an exclusive Fischer sold them for Reykjavik. The suit was thrown out of court when Fischer, representing himself after firing his lawyers, refused to answer questions such as his name and age, on grounds that it was private information. To understand "why I was singled out for such treatment," he says: "Well, you have to understand a lot about the world scene and who controls America ... what kind of religion they have."

When he begins to analyze communism as "basically a mask for bolshevism, which is basically a mask for Judaism," Josef Lapid is on his feet and hollering: "No. We can't leave this anti-Semitic outburst unanswered." He has a puzzling expression -- a mixture of righteous indignation and bemused amazement at Bobby's chutzpah. Fischer looks at the audience -- for the first time -- and begins to swivel in his chair, a small but extremely satisfied smile playing itself out on his face. "Yuch, he's just crazy," Lapid tells himself and sits back down.

Seven hours later, forty-five minutes before the $1 million "opening spectacle" on Sveti Stefan, he still has that knowing smile as he marches ceremonially across the causeway to the music of a Montenegrin twenty-five-piece brass band, shoulder to shoulder with the promoter Vasiljevic; his girlfriend, Zita; and Spassky and his wife, Marina. Falling in line with the procession, five feet behind him, I pick up his marching beat, a self-conscious lope that from moment to moment looks like a stutter step at a New Orleans funeral, or a goose step. Lapid, the Israeli journalist, steps into the procession twenty paces later with a fragile eighty-two-year-old man named Sadik Danon, the chief rabbi of Yugoslavia. "Bobby was the greatest," Danon tells me, unconsciously picking up the goose step as he looks at the back of Fischer's head. "But he's crazy."

"Are you going to file a protest against his remarks?" I ask.

"No," he says. "I don't want to hurt Bobby. He's just crazy."

Vasiljevic leads the procession to a cafe two hundred yards from the causeway. With a flourish of both hands he invites Fischer, Spassky, Zita, and Marina to sit down, and as two dozen bodyguards form a half-circle around the table, he instructs a waiter to bring big bottles of mineral water. It's an incredibly hot, still evening.

"I wanted the, uh, you know, individual bottles," Fischer says when the waiter comes out with a tray. 'The small kind."

A minute later, when the waiter brings out five small bottles, Fischer's talking about bug repellent. "It's natural, your stuff?" he keeps asking Marina. "Is it natural?" He has a large mosquito bite on his forehead and a crazed look in his eye. "I bet it's chemicals, right? I've got a machine that kills them with a beep. You know, they fly in. Bzzzzz. Then, beep, pow! Bye-bye bug. Hah."

"Mine you put on your skin," Marina tells him.

"Right, the roll-on," Fischer says with great distaste. "See, that's chemical." Sweat is beading up on his forehead, and Spassky offers him a tissue from a packet, which he accepts with a feeble chess joke as he wipes his whole face: "Usually, I avoid exchanges in the opening. Hah-hah." Spassky offers another two tissues, then the whole packet. Fischer repeats his joke about chess openings as he examines the packet thoroughly. "Ah. Yeah," he finally says approvingly. "German."

Vasiljevic comes to the table with two tall, dark, and heavily bearded men, Milo Djukanovic and Momir Bulatovic, the prime minister and the president of Montenegro. Fischer looks distrustful as they are introduced -- they look like the Smith Brothers, and he clearly doesn't believe Montenegro has a president -- and offers the tips of his fingers by way of a handshake. The crown prince fares no better a minute later. Fischer wants to talk about "the fixed games of those criminals."

"I'm not a specialist on the prearranged business," Spassky says. "But I do believe Kasparov and Karpov agreed beforehand to a draw, the nineteenth game in Lyon, 1990. This time, I agree, was a fix."

"What you're saying now, Boris," says Fischer, "is just a pinprick. I'm going to demonstrate it all in a book. Proof positive." He has to stop to explain what pinprick means to Spassky. "See, the nineteenth game in Lyon is where it gets really ingenious. They made that one look obvious, so you'd say, 'If'" -- he raises an index finger, and a terrible, manic glint comes into his eye - "'Maybe. just that one.' And you'd forget about all that other injustice."

"It's like the Mafia," says Spassky.

"Nah, Boris, the Mafia's got honor."

Vasiljevic comes over to explain the procession back to the opening spectacle, or as he says it, spectock-ck. "We will march back to the bridge, where we drink the schnapps, then, through my town, past the dancers and the circus people, to the spectock-ck!"

"Through your town?" Fischer asks.

"Yes," says Vasiljevic. 'The town on my island."

"Your island." Fischer looks hypnotized. The idea of being able to isolate yourself, on an island, in a castle, whatever, has long appealed to him. Thirty years ago, at the age of nineteen, he told a reporter: "I've got strong ideas about my house. I'm going to hire the best architect and have him build it in the shape of a rook.... Class. Spiral staircases, parapets, everything. I want to live the rest of my life in a house built exactly like a rook."

The match itself, finally, is something of an anticlimax. The crucial question of Fischer's greatness is left unanswered: His play, which through his sixteen-year career showed a steadily developing logic of its own ("It began to feel," the international master Walter Shipman once told me, "as though you were playing against chess itself"), now has no signature. The first game is absolutely brilliant: "Every move perfect," says Yasser Seirawan. "Terrifying." More to the point, however, is that its perfection and terror are pure Kasparov and Karpov. It has Kasparov's trademark pyrotechnic attacks on both sides of the board at once (on bookend pawn pushes -- his nineteenth and fortieth moves -- you can practically feel Kasparov's hand moving the pieces) and Karpov's patented suffocation technique, where the life of the opponent's pieces is slowly squeezed out. It reads like a successful but very didactic attempt to show that even though he's spent twenty years in the wilderness, chess hasn't yet passed him by. Once more, with feeling: Fischer and Spassky, together again.

His wretched performances in the next five games have the same feeling. Where failing, inexplicably, to win an easy endgame in game two (in the audience, Zita shows me the win on a pocket chess set), losing wretchedly in games four and five (in which he actually seems to fear the complications on the board), or nearly losing in game six (at one point in that endgame, he seems to have dozed off), it's not that Fischer has lost it -- or, as Kasparov rather hopefully opined on Finnish television, "The legend of the best player of chess has been destroyed." He's simply playing like one of those well read, overfed, and insufferably solipsistic lunch-counter philosophers he sounds like in some of his rants.

On doctor's orders, however, after the sixth game, he reduces his daily caloric intake from five thousand to a maximum of twenty-five hundred, and his form improves steadily. By his final win in Sveti Stefan, a brilliant attacking game that puts him firmly ahead with five wins to Spassky's two before they move to Belgrade for the second half of the match, he looks a bit like the Fischer of old -- precise and playing with what can only be called appetite: for complications on the board and for Spassky's ego.

But it just doesn't seem to matter. There's no tension, except for a few comical demands: to have the first three rows of seats removed, and to have a sign placed behind the board reading WORLD CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP -- three times -- so that no photos can be taken without that vital information. He has a blue curtain placed over the ten-foot aperture; the curtain rises with him and Spassky already seated. They're chatting away happily, as though at the beginning of some domestic comedy, and you quickly realize this is no chess match. And when Fischer shrugs his shoulders after his first defeat, saying, "That's what chess is all about. One day you give your opponent a lesson, the next day he gives you one," you get the feeling this isn't Fischer either: The old Bobby. would have been foaming.

At the airport, heading back to Belgrade, I watch Vasiljevic and four bodyguards enter a police captain's office and check their 9-mm pistols. Vasiljevic reluctantly snaps open his rectangular case and surrenders the Hechler & Koch machine gun inside. He sees me and waves his hand imperiously, saying, "Go 'way."

At, the gate, however, he comes over and sits with me. "Now you know my business secret," he says. "I am no longer mysterious? The Jerusalem Post says I am of mysterious origins."

"Did you sell weapons to Israel?"

"No," he says with a big smile. "Stupid, stupid. I sold medicine to Israel. Printing paper. I saw you at the cafe, before the spectock-ck.

If Bobby knows you are press, he runs twenty-five meters. And if he knows you are Jewish, he runs fifty meters."

"Tell me about yourself."

"No, nothing. I am mysterious. I have two sons, named David and Levy. I invited Sadik Danon to the spectock-ck. Why don't you ask how I know you are Jewish?"

"Was your sons' mother Jewish?"

"Don't ask. I tell Bobby, 'My two sons are Jewish. You can tell me about your chess table. You can tell me about your chess pieces. You can tell me about the light in the chess hall. But my guests, my family, you stay away.' He respects. How can he no? It's my town."

"Do you think he's crazy?"

"No. Not crazy. Irrational judgment. Trauma of the childhood."

"His mother?"

"No, the father. If you mention the father, he will not speak the whole night. Mother, he calls every day. And the sister. I like you," he suddenly says. "I could give you exclusive with Bobby. But it doesn't matter. I talk with him twelve hours, all night, no stopping, -- he says, shrugging his shoulders as he gets up to board plane. "It's one word, maybe two. Trauma of the childhood. Bad instruction. Poor Bobby."

Poor Bobby. The last time I saw him, he was perched awkwardly on a four-foot stone wall in a tiny piazza in Sveti Stefan surrounded by dancers who shook their Montenegrin booties in his face and by a giant contortionist who undulated, twisted, and literally bent over backward for him. The spectacle had been for benefit, and yet it seemed to strike him as just so much noise and distraction. For a moment, at least, his entourage had abandoned him. As he eyed the performers with an uneasiness approaching paranoia, he fondled a tiny leather pocket chess set. After decades in exile, years of demands, sacrifice, and silence, he'd finally gotten the rematch he'd long claimed was his due. But he still seemed restless, dissatisfied. A dancer sashayed within ten feet him, intruding on his bubble of isolation, and Fischer recoiled. He jumped up, announced to no one in particular, "Gotta get so stuff done," and bolted from the piazza, the bodyguards closing ranks around him, a middle-aged man with a miniature chess set heading back to his villa to be alone again.

by Ivan Solotaroff
Esquire - December 1992


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