I’m not much of a fan of Bobby Fischer (for obvious reasons), but I thought the fact that he is getting a visa from Iceland offered a chance to share a story I remembered reading in the Iceland edition of Lonely Planet. It is about the island of Grimsey, a small island North of Iceland with only about a hundred inhabitants. It is the only part of Iceland which falls within the Arctic Circle.

Grimsey is known as the home of some of the most avid chess players in Iceland. Historically, many a poor performance at this sacred pastime resulted in the blunderer flinging himself into the sea. On Grimsey, a failure in chess was a failure in life. Enthusiasm for the game seems to have dampened in the past couple of generations, but everyone on the island knows the story of its rather unconventional American benefactor, Daniel Willard Fiske.

During the late 1870s, Fiske, a millionaire journalist and chess champion, set himself up as the island’s protector after hearing about its passion for the game. He sent badly needed firewood (as well as chess supplies!), financed the island’s tiny library and bequeathed part of his estate to it without ever making a visit

For the complete Fiske story, which is quite amusing, read Lawrence Millman’s account of a visit to the island in his book Last Places- A Journey in the North. In the library at the community centre, you can still see a portrait of Fiske and some of his donations. His birthday is celebrated on 11 November.

Although this blog reports that chess is no longer as popular on Grimsey as it once was:

While chess is no longer necessarily the sport of choice there, the name Willard is apparently still common among the islanders.

Considering that chess games rarely result in a draw, I suppose it is a good thing the island’s inhabitants stopped playing chess, or there population would have dwindled down to 50!

UPDATE: To see what a racist nut case Fischer is, visit his web site.

{chess, , , , }