Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness
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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?”
passport, valid until 2007. It was now safe for him to return to Budapest. Of course, there was one country Bobby still couldn’t travel to, since if he did it would mean almost certain arrest: the United States. This presented an emotional dilemma in July of 1997. Regina had died and Bobby wanted to attend her funeral. Some chess players in the state of Washington conjectured that he surreptitiously entered the United States wearing a disguise, first flying to Vancouver, Canada, and then
numerals: 0–1 (indicating the loss for Byrne, the win for Fischer). Eventually, upon Lawson’s death, the score sheet was purchased by a collector, sold again, and for the last number of years it has rested with yet another collector. In today’s market, the estimated auction price for the original score sheet is $100,000. Bobby’s remuneration from the American Chess Foundation for his sparkling brilliancy? Fifty dollars. It was his fourteenth birthday, a typically windswept March afternoon,
seconds, recognizing that he’d been duped. “You’ve tricked me,” he blurted out, and stalked out of the apartment, never to go back. Fine later remarked that whenever the two saw each other after that, at a chess club or a tournament, Bobby would give him an angry look “as though I had done him some immeasurable harm by trying to get a little closer to him.” Although there may be some substance to Fine’s implication that Bobby’s hostility was all about the psychoanalyst’s attempt to “get closer,”
Fischer. It was a chance to play against a growing legend. Bobby walked to his board and silently sneered at the chess timer. It looked like two alarm clocks side by side and had a plunger on its flanks for each player. Bobby disliked the timer because it took up too much room on the table—plus, you had to push the plunger forward to stop your clock and start your opponent’s. That took too much time, especially when a player faced time pressure and every second counted. In contrast, the new BHB
and indulgent to crimes, unwilling to bear the contradictions of a free social system but patient unto martyrdom under the violence of a bold despotism.” As Bobby read The Protocols, he thought he saw authenticity in the book’s pages, and their implicit message resonated with him. Soon he began sending copies of the book to friends. To one he wrote: “I carefully studied the Protocols. I think anyone who casually dismisses them as a forgery, hoax, etc., is either kidding themselves, is ignorant