Chess Incarnate Bobby Fischer on the Spectrum

So much has been written in the wake of Bobby Fischer’s death. It’s all covered, the chess brilliance as well as the strangeness of his life. Mr. Fischer was the essence of chess in human form. When someone operates at the genius level, particularly as a child, we are naturally in awe. We want to know more about them and unknowingly apply pressure to push them into the sunlight, so we can observe and marvel. He captured the imagination of millions and struck fear into the hearts (and minds) of any would be opponent. But he did not want to be on display. Of course the great game would ultimately reclaim its source material in an inescapable checkmate, a predestined gambit; 64 squares, 64 years.

Photo Credit: Steve A. Furman

In reading about his life and quirks it seems quite probable to me that Bobby Fischer was on the Asperger’s spectrum.

Asperger’s Syndrome is the dominance of specialized thinking and an obsession to do one task, one way, one step at a time. This specialized thinking is detail oriented, logical and original. But the person often has challenges developing skills such as conventional socialization and communication. Definition: Brian R. King

If you have browsed my writings in the past, you know I have an adult son with Asperger’s. He is in many ways a genius as well. A passionate student of history and geography with a nearly photographic memory and a mind crammed with facts, and full of quirks.

It is clear that Mr. Fischer lived a tortured existence; paranoid and demanding, in nearly every facet of his daily life. Fully consumed with chess and only chess, he dropped out of school because it robbed him of his time to play. His fixation on the kind of chairs he sat in during tournaments, his insistence that he could hear the TV cameras whirring behind glass, down to a small, locked suitcase that contained special diet and nutrient items. All of these things point to someone who is part of the spectrum community.

Growing up I remember the focus placed on his match with Boris Spassky in 1972. That event, but mostly Bobby Fischer, got me and so many others interested in chess. The match defined a moment in history between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Russians have always dominated chess, Bobby Fischer was the western world’s first hope of cracking that monopoly, and he did.

Photo Credit: The New York Times

As more is discovered and awareness is raised about Asperger’s, the people who have this condition will be able to integrate more comfortably into society at large. Perhaps Mr. Fischer’s life would have been better understood if neuro-typicals knew more about these still largely secret ways human neurology operates.

Photo Credit: The New York Times

He’s gone now, reclaimed by the universe. I hope his stunning performances on the chess stage will be how he is remembered.


  • Play chess and teach your kids how to play
  • Watch the film Searching for Bobby Fischer
  • Learn more about Asperger’s Syndrome