DOHA, Qatar (AP) – Bobby Fischer is still living the quiet life in Iceland, the home he adopted after being held in Japanese custody for nearly a year. He still refuses to play chess, at least the version that everybody else plays. And he’s still a wanted man, as far as the U.S. government is concerned.

Beyond that, there are many things the world may never know about the reclusive chess icon – and Miyoko Watai, Fischer’s longtime companion, says she isn’t going to break the silence.

“I prefer not to talk about private things,” said Watai, who is in Qatar to manage Japan’s chess team at the Asian Games.

Watai got swept up in the Fischer saga after he was detained – “kidnapped” is the word she and Fischer use – by Japanese authorities at Tokyo’s Narita airport in July 2004. He ended up staying in a Japanese immigration detention center for nine months fighting extradition to the United States before fleeing with Watai to Iceland.

While he was in Japanese custody, Fischer and Watai, who is also head of the Japan chess association, got engaged. At a news conference before leaving Japan, she denied allegations the engagement was a ploy to confound Japanese immigration officials, saying Fischer was her king and she wanted to be his queen.

So did they ever tie the knot?

“I’d rather not say,” Watai said Thursday in a rare interview with The Associated Press. “I live in Japan now. But I go back and forth.”

She does not hesitate, however, to say how bitter she remains over the way Fischer was treated.

“It’s very sad,” she said. “He can’t travel anywhere. He’s still on their list. He can’t go back.”

The Chicago-born, Brooklyn, N.Y.-bred Fischer is wanted in the United States for playing a 1992 rematch against Cold War rival Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia in defiance of international sanctions.

The American chess champion at 14 and a grand master at 15, Fischer became an icon when he dethroned the Soviet Union’s Spassky in 1972 in a series of games in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, to claim America’s first world chess championship in more than a century.

But his reputation as a genius of chess soon was eclipsed for many by his idiosyncrasies.

A few years after the Spassky match, he forfeited the title to another Soviet, Anatoly Karpov, when he refused to defend it. He then fell into obscurity before resurfacing to play the exhibition rematch against Spassky on the resort island of Sveti Stefan. Fischer won, but the game was played in violation of U.S. sanctions imposed to punish then-President Slobodan Milosevic.

He faces severe punishment in the United States – if convicted, he could face 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

“He’s never returned,” Watai said. “Even Spassky has been allowed to visit.”

Chess is another home to which Fischer may never return.

Watai said Fischer stopped playing chess long ago, giving it up for a version of his own known as Fischer Random, or chess 960.

“The pieces in the back row are shuffled at random,” she explained.

The idea behind the changes is that they reduce the usefulness of memorizing old strategies and make each game more unique, forcing players to think faster on their feet.

“Grandmasters play it sometimes,” Watai said. “But it has been slow in catching on because too many people make their living writing books about how to play the game the way it is.”

Watai, herself an established expert in the game, said she agrees with Fischer that the chess world is in need of a shake-up.

“People now have memorized all the variations for the first 20 or 30 moves,” she said. “It has become boring, rote. It has lost the dream.”

Even so, she is hoping to lead the Japanese team – two high school boys and a 65-year-old grandmother – to a top-10 finish at the Asian Games, where the traditional style of chess is being included as a medal-producing sport for the first time.

And though Bobby Fischer isn’t with her here, Watai may have an advantage.

“The first games will be played in Fischer mode,” she noted, referring to rules on how long each player is allotted to move.


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