FBI Went Searching For Bobby Fischer
By Joe Filippazzo November 12th, 2008
MATCH MAKER: Fidel Castro (with some help) beat Bobby Fischer during the chess prodigy’s 1966 visit to Havana. The trip became the subject of an FBI probe.
The FBI investigated American chess champion Bobby Fischer in the 1960s after the Cold War icon created a controversy at a tournament in Cuba, where he famously played against Fidel Castro, according to newly disclosed documents.
The FBI dossier, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, shows the bureau’s Mexico City office began probing the one-time chess prodigy after a tumultuous headline-grabbing trip to Havana.
Fischer was a Cold War hero who would ultimately best the Soviets at a game they had dominated, at a time when beating Communists stirred national passions.
Before ascending to take the world crown in an historic 1972 match against Russia’s Boris Spassky, the Brooklyn-reared Fischer traveled the globe to play in chess tournaments.
Trip to Cuba
In 1966, Fischer flew to Havana, leading the U.S. delegation at the 17th Chess Olympiad, a top international competition. It was an era when Washington tightly controlled travel to Communist nations – U.S. officials, in fact, had rejected Fischer’s bid to compete there in a tournament a year earlier.
Once in Cuba, Fischer sparked an international stir when he refused to play against the Soviets because the match would be on a Saturday, conflicting with his religious practices. The Soviets were outraged and protested.
The controversy drew worldwide press coverage, and chess officials intervened. Fischer got his way and the match was rescheduled.
The FBI interviewed several sources it considered reliable about the incident. One unnamed source asserted the American chess team “had attempted to embarrass the Cuban Government in order to prevent any future world championship from being held in Cuba.”
Among the opponents Fischer faced in the rescheduled matches: Spassky. Fischer took an early lead but then made a crucial mistake and ended with a draw. The American team went on to take second place to the Russians largely due to Fischer’s extraordinary performance.
At another point during his stay in Cuba, Fischer played against Castro. Both sides got advice from chess masters, and Castro won.
The friendly competition, including a congratulatory handshake at the end of the event, was captured in news photographs. The documents released by the FBI do not discuss the Fischer-Castro meeting. It’s unclear whether the match is addressed in the passages withheld by the bureau.
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