Chess champ Bobby Fischer dies at 64

Former chess champion Bobby Fischer has died of kidney failure following a long illness, his spokesperson said Friday. He was 64.

Former chess champion Bobby Fischer has died of kidney failure following a long illness, his spokesperson said Friday. He was 64.

Bobby Fischer is seen boarding a flight to Iceland in 2005 after being released from a Tokyo detention centre.

Fischer, a brilliant chess player who rocketed to grandmaster status at 15, was hailed as a Cold War hero when he defeated Russian Boris Spassky in 1972 to become the first American to be crowned official world chess champion.

Chess icons paid tribute Friday to Fischer's accomplishments.

"As a very young boy … I followed, with millions of others, in Fischer's footsteps," former world chess champion Garry Kasparov said. "We looked at his games. I think his contributions can be hardly matched by anyone in the history of chess." 

World Chess Federation president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov described him as "an intellectual giant I would rank next to Newton and Einstein."

Analysts, meanwhile, praised his innovative and independent style.

"He did everything on his own," Malcolm Pein, the Daily Telegraph's chess editor, told CBC News.

Pein contrasted Fischer, who was primarily self-taught, with contemporary chess champions who work with multiple trainers and coaches from an early age.

Fischer remained world champion until 1975, then disappeared for two decades until he resurfaced for a 1992 rematch against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia.

The United States alleged the exhibition match violated international sanctions imposed on the former Yugoslavia. 

Fischer was detained in Japan in 2004 while trying to fly to the Philippines.

He moved to Iceland in 2005 after being freed from a Japanese detention centre and later received Icelandic citizenship.

Fischer surveys the board in 1971, the year before he became world chess champion.

The prodigy's name was introduced to a new generation in an acclaimed 1993 movie called Searching for Bobby Fischer, about a seven-year-old boy whose father grooms him for stardom on the competitive chess circuit. The title refers to the search for the "next" Bobby Fischer.

Fischer has long held controversial opinions on a variety of subjects that led to questions about his mental stability.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against his home country, he told radio interviewers in the Philippines that the United States should be "wiped out."

He has also described Jews as "thieving, lying bastards," though his own mother was Jewish.

He also frequently criticized the contemporary chess circuit, arguing that matches were rigged.

Those paying tribute on Friday acknowledged Fischer's controversial statements but said his enduring legacy will be his accomplishments during his short career.

"He was a flawed genius," Pein said, "but today we will remember him for his achievements on the board."

With files from the Associated Press