Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall

America's most embarrassing political exile until Edward Snowden.

Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness

Crown Publishing, 2011, 416 pages

From Frank Brady, who wrote one of the best-selling books on Bobby Fischer of all time and who was himself a friend of Fischer’s, comes an impressively researched biography that for the first time completely captures the remarkable arc of Bobby Fischer’s life. When Bobby Fischer passed away in January 2008, he left behind a confounding legacy. Everyone knew the basics of his life—he began as a brilliant youngster, then became the pride of American chess, then took a sharp turn, struggling with paranoia and mental illness. But nobody truly understood him.

What motivated Fischer from such a young age, and what was the source of his remarkable intellect? How could a man so ambivalent about money and fame be so driven to succeed? What drew this man of Jewish descent to fulminate against Jews, and how was it that a mind so famously disciplined could unravel so completely? From Fischer’s meteoric rise, to an utterly dominant prime unequaled by any American chess player, to his eventual descent into madness, the book draws upon hundreds of newly discovered documents and recordings and numerous firsthand interviews conducted with those who knew Fischer best. It paints, for the very first time, a complete picture of one of America’s most enigmatic icons. This is the definitive account of a fascinating man and an extraordinary life, one that at last reconciles Fischer’s deeply contradictory legacy and answers the question, who was Bobby Fischer?

Bobby Fischer's 1972 match against Soviet grandmaster Boris Spassky was a comedy of Cold War politics. Fischer stayed in his hotel room and forfeited games until the tournament officials acquiesced to his arbitrary and capricious demands. The Soviets accused Fischer of using "chemical or electronic interference" against Spassky. Straight-facedly investigating these claims, officials actually X-rayed the chairs the two players sat in and took apart light fixtures. This is one of the farcical scenes described in this book, and a reminder of just how insane international politics can be. While Fischer was raving about the Russians and claiming they were all dirty rotten cheaters, the Russian grandmasters in fact were collaborating against him. Fischer's later conviction that the Mossad and the KGB were after him was almost certainly nonsense, but the Soviets really did have an entire department devoted to analyzing Fischer's chess games and training their own grandmasters to beat him.

Much as Hikaru no Go did for go, the Fischer-Spassky match created a surge of chess enthusiasts worldwide.

Fischer received personal phone calls from Henry Kissinger and invitations to the White House by President Nixon. After he won the world championship, he was offered a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

Two decades later, he was a reclusive crank raving about Jews and living in poverty.

Endgame, written by Frank Brady, who was close to the young Bobby Fischer and wrote an earlier book, Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy, tries to paint a sympathetic picture, but it's hard to feel sympathy for the raving old coot who turns on his lifelong friends, hands out copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and following 9/11, broadcasts a series of raving denunciations of America and the Jews.

Fischer was already living in exile at this time, as he had been since 1992, when he played a rematch against Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia, under UN sanctions. Following his 9/11 outbursts, he got his U.S. passport revoked, leading to his 2006 arrest in Japan.

Like Edward Snowden, Bobby Fischer had friends despite being regarded as a villain by much of the world. The Icelandic Parliament not only offered him sanctuary, but citizenship. Fischer was able to fly to Iceland, where friends and the chess community went out of their way to set him up in comfort. And typical of his last few decades, Fischer ended up showing extreme hostility, ingratitude, and outrageous rudeness to everyone who'd helped him.

This was an interesting biography of a unique, tormented, and not very likeable genius. Bobby Fischer could have spent a life of ease, but instead his self-sabotaging behavior and embrace of crank religious and political theories made him an outcast and a rather pitiful figure in the end. The author spends a little time discussing Fischer's mental health; never formally diagnosed, Fischer was clearly not delusional or psychopathic, but there is evidence he may have suffered from paranoia and/or schizophrenia.

Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)

Bobby Fischer Against the World

This HBO documentary isn't based on Endgame, but it covers much of the same material. Much more abbreviated, it makes little attempt to understand Fischer, as Brady does, but it also doesn't cover Fischer's outrageous treatment of his friends and hateful anti-Semitic spewing in as much detail as Brady did.

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