Bernard Zuckerman, a New York chess theoretician and one of Fischer's friends, also last saw him at the '78 championships. In fact, he went to dinner with Fischer at a restaurant in Chinatown in L.A.—Fischer and Zuckerman are avid eaters of Chinese food—and they brought along young Larry Christiansen, who was meeting Fischer for the first time.
"We talked about chess," Christiansen says. "He didn't have much respect for Karpov's play.... He launched into a tirade against the Jews, the world conspiracy. He seemed like a nice guy, then he launched into that tirade. I felt kind of sorry for him. I could see Zuckerman in the back seat, masking laughter."
For most of those who knew him well, though, Fischer's flights into such fantasies were no laughing matter. Perhaps his oldest friends in the world are Jack Collins and his sister, Ethel. Jack was Fischer's principal chess teacher, and Fischer spent hours at the Collinses' Brooklyn home, playing endless games of chess with Jack and eating food prepared by Ethel.
"He began to visit us when he was just 13," says Jack. "We played thousands and thousands of speed games. You can't predict what a boy that age will be. The next thing I knew, he went up like a Roman candle. It's hard to believe he's not the Bobby Fischer we knew. I still think of him as the little prodigy who lived with us years ago. We had a lot of fun together. They're one thing as boys; they're another as men."
The question of whether he would ever come back remains open in his teacher's mind.
"Chess players don't get better as they get older, they get worse," Collins says. "Their careers roughly parallel those of big league pitchers. It's hard to know why. Maybe it's nerves. Maybe it's the will to win. But Bobby always admired players who competed into old age, such as Wilhelm Steinitz, a world champion who played till he died. Bobby always told me he'd do that. He loved chess. That's the strange part, that he should drop it. Everyone asks me why. I don't know."
Fischer has not been in touch with the Collinses for five years. They don't know how to reach him. He used to call once a month. Now there is nothing.
"His view of the world is completely incompatible with mine," Collins says. "He wants to talk about that all the time. What do you do with a person who insists the Holocaust didn't happen?"
His oldest friends are not the only ones who have become alienated from him. Harry Sneider, once Fischer's personal fitness trainer and confidant, had been almost like a brother to him for seven years. In the late '70s Sneider sensed he had to back off.
As Sneider drifted away from Fischer, Bobby found a set of surrogate parents in Mokarow and her husband, Arthur, then members of the Worldwide Church. Sneider had sensed early in Fischer a desire for a world utterly apart from chess. "He would really like to be just left alone," Sneider says. "He's trying to live a normal life, with regular hours. He is saying, 'I want my own space.' " When Sneider encouraged him to play chess, Fischer would say, "That's none of your business. Just be my friend."