Endgame is acclaimed biographer Frank Brady’s decades-in-the-making tracing of the meteoric ascent—and confounding descent—of enigmatic genius Bobby Fischer. Only Brady, who met Fischer when the prodigy was only 10 and shared with him some of his most dramatic triumphs, could have written this book, which has much to say about the nature of American celebrity and the distorting effects of fame. Drawing from Fischer family archives, recently released FBI files, and Bobby’s own emails, this account is unique in that it limns Fischer’s entire life—an odyssey that took the Brooklyn-raised chess champion from an impoverished childhood to the covers of Time, Life and Newsweek to recognition as “the most famous man in the world” to notorious recluse.
At first all one noticed was how gifted Fischer was. Possessing a 181 I.Q. and remarkable powers of concentration, Bobby memorized hundreds of chess books in several languages, and he was only 13 when he became the youngest chess master in U.S. history. But his strange behavior started early. In 1972, at the historic Cold War showdown in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he faced Soviet champion Boris Spassky, Fischer made headlines with hundreds of petty demands that nearly ended the competition.
It was merely a prelude to what was to come.
Arriving back in the United States to a hero’s welcome, Bobby was mobbed wherever he went—a figure as exotic and improbable as any American pop culture had yet produced. No player of a mere “board game” had ever ascended to such heights. Commercial sponsorship offers poured in, ultimately topping $10 million—but Bobby demurred. Instead, he began tithing his limited money to an apocalyptic religion and devouring anti-Semitic literature.
After years of poverty and a stint living on Los Angeles’ Skid Row, Bobby remerged in 1992 to play Spassky in a multi-million dollar rematch—but the experience only deepened a paranoia that had formed years earlier when he came to believe that the Soviets wanted him dead for taking away “their” title. When the dust settled, Bobby was a wanted man—transformed into an international fugitive because of his decision to play in Montenegro despite U.S. sanctions. Fearing for his life, traveling with bodyguards, and wearing a long leather coat to ward off knife attacks, Bobby lived the life of a celebrity fugitive – one drawn increasingly to the bizarre. Mafiosi, Nazis, odd attempts to breed an heir who could perpetuate his chess-genius DNA—all are woven into his late-life tapestry.
And yet, as Brady shows, the most notable irony of Bobby Fischer’s strange descent – which had reached full plummet by 2005 when he turned down yet another multi-million dollar payday—is that despite his incomprehensible behavior, there were many who remained fiercely loyal to him. Why that was so is at least partly the subject of this book—one that at last answers the question: “Who was Bobby Fischer?”
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2011: There may be no one more qualified than Frank Brady to write the definitive biography of Bobby Fischer. Brady's Profile of a Prodigy (originally published in 1969) chronicled the chess icon's early years, a selection of 90 games, and (in later editions) his 1972 World Championship match with Boris Spassky. With Endgame, published two years after Fischer's death, Brady's on-and-off proximity to Fischer lends new depth to the latter's full and twisted life story. Though Fischer's pinnacle artistry on the chessboard may often be discussed in the same breath with his eventual paranoia and outspoken anti-Semitism, the particular turns and travels of his post-World Championship years (half his life) lend his story most of its vexing oddity: the niggling insistence on seemingly arbitrary conditions for his matches, the years on the lam after flagrantly disregarding U.S. economic sanctions, his incarceration in Japan, his eventual citizenship and quiet demise in Iceland. All told, Fischer's life was like none other, and told through the lens of Brady's personal familiarity and access to new source material, results in an utterly engaging read. --Jason Kirk
Guest Reviewer: Dick Cavett
Even if you don’t give a damn about chess, or Bobby Fischer, you’ll find yourself engrossed by Frank Brady‘s book about Fischer, which reads like a novel.
The facts of Bobby’s life (I knew him from several memorable appearances on “The Dick Cavett Show” on both sides of the Big Tournament) are presented in page-turner fashion. Poor Bobby was blessed and cursed by his genius, and his story has the arc of a Greek tragedy---with a grim touch of mad King Lear at the end.
The brain power and concentrated days and nights Bobby spent studying the game left much of him undeveloped, unable to join conversations on other subjects. Later in his life, unhappy with his limited knowledge of things beyond the chess board, he compensated with massive study---applying that same hard-butt dedication to other fields: politics, classics, religion, philosophy and more. He found a hide-away nook in a Reykjavic bookstore---barred from his homeland, Iceland had welcomed him back---where he read in marathon sessions. (After he was recognized, he never went back to his cozy cul de sac.)
In Brady’s telling the high drama of the Spassky match quickens the pulse; the contest that made America a chess-crazed land was seen by more people than the Superbowl. People skipped school and played sick in vast numbers, glued to watching Shelby Lyman explain what was happening. The fanaticism was worldwide. The match was seen as a Cold War event, with the time out of mind chess-ruling Russian bear vanquished.
Arguably the best known man on the planet at his triumphant peak, Bobby is later seen in this account riding buses in Los Angeles, able to pay his rent in a dump of an apartment only because his mother sent him her social-security checks. The details of all this are stranger than fiction, as is nearly everything in the life of this much-rewarded, much-tortured genius.
I liked him immensely, knowing only the tall, broad-shouldered, athletically strong and handsome six-foot-something articulate and yes, witty, youth that Bobby was before the evil times set in, with deranged anti-Semitic outbursts and other mental strangeness preceding his too early end at age 64.
I can’t ever forget the moment on the show when in amiable conversation I asked him what, in chess, corresponded to the thrill in another sort of event; like, say, hitting a homer in baseball. He said it was the moment when you “break the other guy’s ego.” There was a shocked murmur from the audience and the quote went around the world.
Frank Brady’s Endgame is one of those books that makes you want your dinner guests to go the hell home so you can get back to it.About the Author:
FRANK BRADY is internationally recognized as the person most knowledgeable about the life and career of Bobby Fischer. Brady is the author of numerous critically acclaimed biographies, including Citizen Welles; Onassis: An Extravagant Life; and Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy (the first edition of which appeared in the mid-1960’s and focuses on the young Bobby). Until recently, Brady was the Chairman of the Communications Department at St. John’s University, and he remains a full professor there. He is also the President of the Marshall Chess Club and was the founding editor of Chess Life.
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