Frank Brady, Endgame
From chess prodigy to fallen man, the life and times of Bobby Fischer
When chess master Bobby Fischer died in Iceland in 2008, at age 64, he was as well known for his anti-Semitic and anti-American rhetoric as his revolutionary career behind the board. Fischer’s complicated life, from prodigy and Cold War hero to paranoiac and jailed radical, is recounted by Frank Brady, a longtime friend and early biographer (Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy, 1965) with a balanced and occasionally speculative view.
Bobby Fischer watched his first public chess match at age 11. Two years later, he was ranked 25th in the U.S., and at 14, he was officially a master. The charismatic young champion brought mainstream attention to the game and changed the public’s perception of a chess player. Far from tweedy and professorial, the avid swimmer and tennis player carried himself like an athlete. In 1972, Fischer challenged Russian Boris Spassky for the world title — he was the first non-Soviet to do so in three decades. He nearly quit the match over several demands, from prize money to complaints about the lighting in the playing hall. It took a call from Henry Kissinger to coax him back to the table.
After his historic win, Fischer became world famous, reluctantly. He eventually stopped playing in public and absorbed conservative Christian values and anti-Jewish literature with the same fervor as he had the game. In 1975, he refused to defend his world title against Anatoly Karpov when the World Chess Federation would not meet his request for new playing guidelines. Karpov was declared champion, but without the play to back it up (and Fischer still declared himself the champion).
Frank Brady delves into Fischer’s post-championship years with enthusiasm and empathy. Fischer refused press, fearing exploitation, and demanded exorbitant fees (money was at the center of most disagreements). He drifted penniless around Los Angeles before agreeing to a 1992 re-match with Spassky in war-torn Yugoslavia, though accepting millions in prize money defied U.S. sanctions and essentially made him a fugitive in the States. Fischer continued to travel in Europe, often with security, until the end of his life. Whether or not you’re a chess fan, Endgame is a page-turning read that illuminates the highs and lows in the life of a fallen man.