When Babs Streisand has a crush on you in high school, you know you’re hot stuff—even if the FBI and KGB are out for you.
Endgame, by Frank Brady, presents a lifelong look at perhaps the greatest American chess champion of all time. If you’re like Zita, a Hungarian admirer thirty years his junior, who also rebuffed several marriage proposals from him, you’ll be attracted to Bobby for his honesty, and because, as she put it, “I like geniuses or crazy people.”
Fischer, who died in 2008 in Iceland at age 64, certainly qualified as the first. There’s some room for dispute on the latter, Brady seems to say. But as all at once anti-Soviet, anti-American, and anti-Semitic (=Nazi)—and anti anyone not willing to assent to his every wish—Fischer could come across as a bit loony indeed.
Brady has the credentials to tell Bobby’s story, having known him since “he was a child and I was a teen.” Certainly as fascinating as a chess player can be, Fischer is worthy of your one look into that world. We follow the rising chess genius from his earliest years moving from place to place with his mother, Regina, and his older sister, Joan. No father. Regina, a Jew who had studied medicine in the Soviet Union, finally settled her family in a small apartment in Brooklyn.
One day when Bobby was 7, Joan bought a small plastic chess set for $1—and that started it all.
Brady (author also of Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy ) does a good job of showing us Bobby’s rise in detail until about age 20 (he had already become world-famous at 13 after winning the “Game of the Century” against international master Donald Byrne)—but perhaps here Brady presents a rehash of his earlier work? But there is a speedy jaunt to the greatest match of them all—Fischer vs. Boris Spassky for the world championship in Iceland in 1972. (How can I emphasize how BIG Bobby was?)
This sparked a great chess explosion in the United States, which, by the way, sent this author to the local YMCA for chess lessons on Friday nights.
After this proverbial pinnacle at age 29, Bobby plays no public games, and does not accept any of the highly remunerative opportunities offered him, for 20 years (a period that Brady again details well). Fischer was to play Anatoly Karpov for the world championship in 1975, but Bobby, with his usual excessive, and unmet, demands, finally backed out and forfeited. After living mostly in relative poverty—still studying chess but also other subjects, such as religion, the international Jewish conspiracy, and the Soviet conspiracy to thwart him and keep the championship in Russia—Fischer finally agrees to a rematch with Spassky in Yugoslavia in 1992.
Bobby finally makes some money by taking the $3.5 million winner’s prize. By executive order, however, U.S. citizens had been prohibited from traveling to Yugoslavia for commercial purposes. Bobby went, played—and lived abroad the rest of his life.
Brady perhaps doesn’t know where to stop in giving us an unnecessary epilogue, wherein he details the exhumation of Fischer for DNA/paternity testing (he wasn’t the father). Rather, he might have ended the whole thing with the words of Spassky: “My brother is dead.”
F. Scott lives in Massachusetts. He needs to work on his Sicilian defense, one of Bobby’s favorites.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Crown. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.