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

Endgame by Frank Brady
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Aug 10, 2011

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bookshelves: biography, books-read-in-2011
Read on August 10, 2011

3 1/4 Stars

I don't play chess; I don't even know how. Before reading this book, I knew even less about Bobby Fischer - except that he was some sort of chess phenom that then became a Garbo-esque recluse. And this little bit I only knew because of that movie from the 90's Searching for Bobby Fischer - which isn't even really about him but about another young chess phenom trying to find balance between the obsessive game of chess and having a normal kid's life. But I knew enough about Fischer to be intrigued by this biography - sitting right their in the director's choice display of my public library - Bobby Fischer with his creepy, hypnotizing eyes (the old man crazy eyes version is on the back of the book) - help me, help me - I've been hypnotized. I was sucked in, I'd figure I'd bite - so I checked out the book.

Here's is what I learned about Bobby Fischer: Bobby Fischer was a dick. He was an amazing chess player with devastating genius, but he had the social skills and graciousness of rotting, maggoty meat. There was some sort of mental illness/ schizophrenia/ developmental autism spectrum disorder/ personality disorder whatever going on with this man. The biographer, Frank Brady, described it as some sort of tourettes that would come over Fischer and cause him to just puke out all of these selfish recriminations and rants against the Jews, the Russians/ Soviets, the United States etc. Not that all of his paranoid delusions were completely unfounded - at least with regard to the Russians. It was later found out that the Russian players, during at least one world championship, were in collusion with each other to try and bring Fischer down. Even taking into account the intense competition and pressure and press scrutiny that Fischer was under, it can not be denied that Fischer took no responsibility for himself of for his own actions. The only relationship with others that he seemed to be able to tolerate was one where he was the king and his friends were his royal subjects. But his genius and his mad, mad chess skills dazzled people so he was never at a loss for financial backers, sponsors, or acolytes. Even with all of his religious questing, things like humility and graciousness still alluded Fischer. Thank god Fischer always had his mother, backers and tournament winnings to support him because I can not imagine him ever having to have an everyday, ordinary job - like at McDonald's or something:

Fischer: what do you want?
customer: Can I please have...
Fischer: No - how dare you - I need a million dollars up front.

And while empirically and emphatically, Bobby Fischer was a dick, there was still a part of me that couldn't help feeling sorry for him. His relentless and myriad religious quests, his search for a wife/ female companion, his cranky inability to get out of his own way with regards to financial negotiations - even to the detriment of his own well being - this was a man who was unable to do anything other than offend and demean - despite his best intentions.

But the real question is - did Fischer's genius at chess help or hinder him? Did his obsessive pursuit of chess give him something to funnel his craziness into - meaning without his chess would he have become a crazy, homeless guy talking to himself on the street? Or did his genius and success in the world of chess allow his psychological symptoms to be tolerated and coddled to the detriment of proper treatment? Or are genius and craziness so intertwined that you can't possibly have this kind of greatness and success without riding the crazy train?

As Fischer's biographer, Brady does a fairly decent job of, objectively, laying out the events of Fischer's life. I liked that he presented just the facts without too much personal insinuation or hypothesizing, but I would have liked a little more illumination of what exactly their (his and Fischer's) relationship was. And a little more explanation of Brady's cry fest at the restaurant in the "presence of Fischer's genius" would have been nice. Was Brady crying out of love, or jealousy, or awe, or what? That was a point in the narrative that I actually would have appreciated a little more insinuation from the author.

In the first couple of chapters, before Brady dives into Fischer's chess career, the exploration of Fischer's early years and upbringing is a little flat and listless. I think Brady completely underestimates the intelligence of his readers in this chapter with over-explanation of things like "blitzkrieg" and "blitz" - I don't speak German and I'm not a genius chess player or anything, but even I know that "blitz" means lightning. Brady, I got it - lightning fast play - stop explaining. Where Brady really excelled as an author were in the chapters about Fischer's famous chess matches and standoffs. Like I said, I don't really know anything about chess, but Brady was able to explain the game in an interesting enough way that I was thoroughly engaged and could understand what was going on.

Competent and sometimes engaging writing about a fascinating if not very likable man. Wouldn't it be nice if genius could always be cloaked in humility and graciousness? Just really not the case with Bobby Fischer.
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message 1: by sundownsensei (new)

sundownsensei You funny lady

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