Acclaimed biographer Frank Brady traces the meteoric ascent—and confounding descent—of enigmatic chess genius Bobby Fischer.
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 memorizedhundreds of chess books in several languages, and he was only 13 when he became the youngest chess master in U.S. history.
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, 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.
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?”
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.
Read an Excerpt
Loneliness to Passion
I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Bobby Fischer’s screams were muffled by the black hood tied tightly around his head. He felt as if he were suffocating, near death. He shook his head furiously to loosen the covering.
Two Japanese security guards were holding him down on the floor of the brightly lit cell, one sitting on his back and pinning his arms to his sides, the other holding his legs—Lilliputians atop the fallen Gulliver. Bobby’s lungs were being compressed, and he couldn’t get enough air. His right arm felt as if it had been broken from the scuffle that had happened moments before; he was bleeding from the mouth.
So this is how I’ll die, he thought. Will anyone ever know the truth about how I was murdered?
He pondered in the darkness, incredulous that a supposedly revoked passport had turned him into a prisoner. The scenario had evolved rapidly. It was July 13, 2004. After spending three months in Japan, he was about to embark for the Philippines. He’d arrived at Tokyo’s Narita Airport about two hours before his flight. At the ticket counter, an immigration officer had routinely checked his passport, entering the number: Z7792702. A discreet bell sounded and a red light began to flash slowly. “Please take a seat, Mr. Fischer, until we can check this out.”
Bobby was concerned but not yet frightened. He’d been traveling for twelve years between Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Germany, the Philippines, Japan, Austria, and other countries, clearing customs and crossing borders without incident. Extra pages had to be added to his passport because there was no room left to stamp the dates of his entries and exits, but this task had already been completed at the American embassy in Bern, Switzerland, in November 2003.
His worry was that the U.S. government might finally have caught up with him. He’d violated State Department economic sanctions against Yugoslavia by playing a $5 million chess match against Boris Spassky in Sveti Stefan, Montenegro, in 1992, and an arrest warrant had been issued at that time. If he went back to the United States, he’d have to stand trial, and the penalty, if he was convicted, would be anywhere from ten years in prison to $250,000 in fines, or both. A friend had called the State Department in the late 1990s and asked if Bobby could return home. “Of course he can,” said the spokesperson, “but as soon as he lands at JFK, we’ll nail him.” As a man without a country, Bobby eventually chose to settle in Hungary, and he had never heard another word from the American government. With twelve years having passed, he figured that as long as he stayed away from the United States, he’d be safe.
He sat where he was told, but fear began to take hold. Eventually, an immigration official asked Bobby to accompany him downstairs. “But I’ll miss my flight.” “We know that” was the peremptory reply. Escorted by security guards down a long, dark, and narrow hallway, Bobby demanded to know what was going on. “We just want to talk to you,” the official said. “Talk about what?” Bobby demanded. “We just talk” was the answer. Bobby stopped and refused to move. A translator was called in to make sure there was no confusion. Bobby spoke to him in English and Spanish. More security guards arrived, until approximately fifteen men surrounded the former chess champion in a grim, silent circle.
Finally, another official appeared and showed Bobby an arrest warrant, stating that he was traveling on an invalid passport and that he was under arrest. Bobby insisted that his passport was perfectly legal and had two and a half years to go before it expired. “You may call a representative of the U.S. embassy to assist you,” he was told. Bobby shook his head. “The U.S. embassy is the problem, not the solution,” he muttered. His fear was that a State Department representative might show up at the airport with a court order and try to have him extradited back to the United States to stand trial. He wanted to call one of his Japanese chess friends for help, but Immigration denied him access to a phone.
Bobby turned and started to walk away. He was blocked by a guard. Another guard tried to handcuff him, and he started twisting and turning to thwart the process. Several of the guards began hitting him with batons and pummeling him with their fists. He fought back, kicking and screaming, and he managed to bite one of the guards on the arm. Eventually, he went down. A half dozen guards hoisted him into the air and began carrying him by his arms and legs. Bobby continued squirming to get loose as the guards struggled to take him to an unknown destination. He kicked frantically, almost yanking his hands free. It was then that they put the black hood over his head.
Since Bobby knew that his passport was valid, what was going on? His comments about Jews and the crimes of the United States had stirred things up, but as an American citizen wasn’t he protected by the First Amendment? Anyway, how could his opinions have anything to do with his passport? Maybe it was the taxes. Ever since his unsuccessful 1976 suit against Life magazine and one of its writers for violation of a contract, he’d been so disgusted with the jurisprudence system that he refused to pay any taxes.
Gasping for air, Bobby tried to enter a Zen state to clear his mind. He stopped resisting and his body became relaxed. The guards noticed the change. They released his arms and legs, stood up, ceremoniously removed the hood, then left the cell. They’d taken his shoes, his belt, his wallet, and—much to his dismay—the buffalo-leather passport case that he’d bought in Vienna years back. But he was alive . . . at least for the moment.
When he looked up, he saw a nondescript man with a video camera quietly filming him through the bars. After a few minutes the man vanished. Bobby spit out a piece of a tooth that had been chipped, either from one of the punches or when he was thrown to the floor. He put the remnants in his pocket.
Lying on the cold cement floor, he felt his arm throb with pain. What was the next move and who would make it? He drifted off to sleep.
Endgame 3.8 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
No other chess match or game has captured the world’s attention more than the 1972 World Championship match between challenger Bobby Fischer of the United States and champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. After winning this match, Fischer became a huge celebrity and this extra attention also showed the world the other side of the man. His life both before and after this event is covered in this biography written by Frank Brady.
It illustrates a young man who was raised along with his sister by a single mother who was chasing dreams of her own. He would spend a lot of his free time at chess clubs or in the library learning as much of the game as he could and using a small chess set to simulate the games. Fischer’s ability to memorize and analyze thousands of games and game situations is well documented and helped him on the way to the championship.
What is also well documented and described is Fischer’s personality, which shows some bizarre characteristics as well. He would often make outrageous demands for business deals or for conditions before he would participate in matches. Most of the time, these demands were eventually met, but it showed his lack of negotiating skills, taking the “my way or the highway” approach.
It is also well-known that Fischer would engage in behavior or outbursts that were paranoid, anti-Semitic, or otherwise far from ordinary. These eventually caught up to Fischer and led him to isolationism, eventually landing him in Iceland where he settled after a nomadic life that had to end because he wore out his welcome in most nations. It is also important to note that he was facing tax evasion charges in the United States. His family was also regularly investigated by the FBI because of their connections with Russia – his mother for her studies and Fischer for his interest because chess was highly regarded there.
All of these are combined together to make a very intriguing and entertaining biography of a brilliant but troubled man. There is chess talk in the book as well, but not too far in depth. Therefore, a non-chess buff will enjoy this book as well as an enthusiastic player or fan.
Did I skim?
Did I learn something new?
Yes. Most of what I learned that was new was about his relationships with his mother and sister, as those were reported in the media as strained. While unusual, the book portrayed these relationships as loving, not estranged as was often reported. The regret that Fischer shows when he cannot attend his mother’s funeral or face arrest in the United States is a good example of this.
Pace of the book:
Very good. It doesn’t drag too slowly and the sections on Fischer’s important chess matches make you feel you are there in the chair next to him.
Outstanding research is evident in this book as many minute details of Fischer’s famous rants and demands from tournament officials are shared. The author was able to glean many minute and obscure details that made this very rich and vivid for the reader.
I would have liked to see more in-depth writing about the actual chess games in some of the matches. An example is during the second match with Spassky, many games toward the end ended in a draw as Fischer wrapped up the match early. Yes, these games may not have been key in deciding the outcome, but more than a simple sentence saying they ended in a draw would have been better.
Do I recommend?
Yes. Even if the reader is not interested in chess, Fischer’s biography is a very interesting tale and any reader who likes good biographies will enjoy this book.
More than 1 year ago
This is the best book I read about Bobby Fischer and I am so glad that the truth finally came out about him. So many wrong things were written about him. It is absolut a fantastic book and I couldn't put it down reading it. You will be not disappointed if you are a Bobby Fischer fan. I like him now even more and I am sad that he is gone.
More than 1 year ago
I grew up playing chess and following Bobby Fischer from his early days as a chess player. I had waited for a book that I felt would present him in an honest but understanding way. "End Game" does that. I am so glad that I read it.
More than 1 year ago
Best book evar so touching and dramatic that 8year old bobby fisher has the courage to compete in some of the worlds besrlt chess players
More than 1 year ago
Previous knowledge of chess or its masters isn't necessary to an appreciation of Bobby Fischer's story or this latest work by Frank Brady. The book is an engrossing read - well researched and full of drama. It's the story of a child prodigy, his obsessive love for the game, his foray into chess at the time that the Russians and Eastern Europeans dominated chess, and his impressive
Endgame opens with Fischer's arrest in Japan for traveling on an expired passport. His fear, confusion, and the strangeness of the scene alerts to the drama that unfolds. This glimpse into Fischer's decline is juxtaposed against Fischer's childhood and his love of chess.
Fischer and his elder sister were raised by their mother on a very tight budget. Brady met Fischer in these early years and is well acquainted with the generous New Yorkers that served as teachers and mentors and extended family to young Bobby Fischer. Brady captures what Fischer was like - brilliant, easily bored, and deeply fascinated by chess. His sister bought a chess set when he was six years old. His sister and mother weren't as interested in the game, he beat them, and played against himself often and constantly. As his obsessive love for chess overtook his other interests, his mother grew worried enough to try to get him to seek therapy or reduce his obsession. While she worried about the intensity of his obsession with chess, his mother introduced him to chess masters, teachers, and groups. Fischer's skill and grasp of the game stood out early on. I particularly enjoyed reading about Fischer's early years - the people that took an interest in him, introduced him to other talented players, discussed the nuances of the game, brought him to tournaments, welcomed him into their exclusive clubs. Brady shares small details that give a clear picture of Bobby Fischer both at an early age and as his career quickly blossoms.
As we read about each of Fischer's matches and how each of them impacted his skill and career, we learn about sports competitions during the Cold War. Chess was dominated by the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, their champions were cared for, trained supported and received significant backing from their governments. Fischer was bitter - perhaps rightfully so - about the extent to which the Russian players were supported and worked together. His brilliance, youth, abrasiveness, and confrontational attitude stood out in these competitions. In his later years, Fischer became known for his membership in fringe religious groups, anti-semitic tirades, and reclusive behavior.
Our fascination with Bobby Fischer is reflected in movies such as Searching for Bobby Fischer and a new HBO documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World. Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness is a fascinating and well researched account of Bobby Fischer's life.
ISBN-10: 9780307463906 - Hardcover
Publisher: Crown (February 1, 2011), 416 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
TooBusyReading on LibraryThing
More than 1 year ago
My father taught me to play chess, although I never was very good despite his best efforts. Around this same time, decades ago, I heard of Bobby Fischer, the American chess genius, who was almost a U. S. hero. Years later, I read of some of the controversy surrounding him but didn't pay much attention, only knew that he had fallen off his throne. This new biography about him seemed interesting, worth a try.The author knew Bobby Fischer for years, from the time Bobby was still a child. Still, this is not his memoir, it is a biography of Bobby. He makes minimal mention of himself in the book. Actually, I would have liked to have read a little more of his firsthand experiences.Bobby started playing chess at six, when his sister, Joan, bought for him a little plastic chess set to keep him occupied when she babysat him. Even as a child, he was different, didn't have many young friends, moved to new residences too much, marched to a different drummer.And in the end, he was virulently anti-Semitic, a neo-Nazi who alienated most of his friends, someone who was happy to see the tragedy of 9/11. He even turned on the country that would accept him when no one else would. All his life he craved both attention and privacy, was incredibly self-absorbed, and made outrageous demands that he thought were reasonable and due. ¿He won the Monte Carlo International and ungallantly refused to pose for a photograph with His Royal Highness Prince Rainier, the tournament's sponsor, and at a public ceremony when Princess Grace awarded him his cash prize, he rudely tore open the envelope and counted the money first before he thanked her....¿Although this book could have been boring, especially for someone not a chess fan, it was not. There were descriptions of lots of chess matches, perhaps a few more than I would have liked, but they were used to show Bobby's and the other participants' behavior. I am amazed that so many people befriended him for so long, especially his Jewish friends after he became anti-Semitic. There were some holes in the story, some events where all the facts are not available, but the author presents a thorough and engaging portrait of a very strange man. It is well worth the reading.I was given an uncorrected proof of this book by the publisher. The quote may not reflect the published edition.
cwlongshot on LibraryThing
More than 1 year ago
A fascinating book on the life of chess champion Bobby Fischer. He turns from hero to antihero after the championship, and this book gives the most convincing reasons why, if there are any. I only rate this 4.5 stars because the real question of why Fischer only played one public match after 1972 remains a mystery.
lemuel on LibraryThing
More than 1 year ago
A well-written biography of a chess genius and an extreme flake. The book starts with Bobby as a child, who was driven to play chess as soon as he learned the game from his older sister. He started being real difficult when the world championship came along, and just got worse after that. The book tells of his triumphs and plusses, along with his minuses, the worst being his extreme hatred of Jews. The book reads well, doesn't go into the technical aspects of chess at all. I remember Fischer winning the world championship when I was a kid, and it was interesting and sad to read how he turned out.
Tod_Christianson on LibraryThing
More than 1 year ago
It is important to mention that this is a Biography and not a Chess book. There are no diagrams or games to replay, it is all about the man. However there is no way to separate this man from Chess, the game defined him and then he redefined the game. I especially enjoyed the discussion of Bobby's early years and the manner in which the author was able to put Fischer's life in the context of a teen growing up in Brooklyn. The grim details of Fischer's later years are related factually and fairly. The tragedy speaks for itself.If you did not experience the World Championship of 1972 it is hard to convey to what an amazing extent the match captured the imagination of the world. I was a paperboy at the time, and I recall the excitement of getting my delivery of papers and then having to forestall their delivery while I examined the moves for that day's game, often printed on the front page of the paper. I cut them all out and saved them. In the beginning I was not cheering for Fischer, I wanted him to get a taste of humility, but in the end he won everyone over through his sheer technical brilliance. If he could have seen a way to continue playing, his battles with Karpov and Kasparov would have been epic. Instead he became tragically paranoid and died much too soon.
jewelknits on LibraryThing
More than 1 year ago
I usually do a quick synopsis, because most descriptions only give you a vague overview of the book. In this case, the description is very good at telling you what this book is really about, so I will skip that part of the review.Before reading this, I only knew that Bobby Fischer was a chess prodigy who grew very eccentric and almost paranoid towards the end of his life. I haven't played much chess since I was in the chess club in junior high school (don't even think of asking me how long ago THAT was!) :) I was interested in reading more about the actual person, so I read this book.The writer, Frank Brady, knew Bobby Fischer personally, so I expected to gain some personal insight from him regarding his own interactions with Bobby. But that was not to be; the author explains in his author notes that he wanted to leave his own impressions out of the book, and, except for one instance, he doesn't recount any of his personal experiences with Bobby.We read of Fischer's family: His mother Regina and his sister , both extremely intelligent. Contrary to popular opinion, it appears that Regina was NOT a bad mother, but the family WAS exceedingly poor and she worried that his life lacked balance. She continually introduced new activities to Bobby, and he DID have interests outside of chess.We read the history of how Bobby became involved in chess; his joining of various chess clubs, sponsorship by individuals, and the mentors that he later (and rather heartlessly, in my opinion) dismissed as "not having taught him anything."The author portrays Fischer in his notes as contradictory: "secretive, yet candid; generous, yet parsimonious....", but in all honesty, I came away from this reading with a rather strong dislike of Fischer. The son of a Jewess, he was a raving anti-Semite. He snubbed people who helped him rise, and was extremely ungrateful to many, if not all, of the people who aided him in his bid to escape extradition and prosecution in the United States. He was a cruel genius.This title was a bit dry for my personal taste as well. Part of it may be that I never really felt much of a connection with Mr. Fischer, but part of it was definitely that there really wasn't much emotion imbued in these pages. It was a clear recounting of facts, and while I came away knowing more than I knew before, I didn't feel as though I really knew the person I was reading about. I would have liked more insight into his motivations and into what caused him to really be so faithless to the people in his life, and I didn't really get that.If you are a chess aficionado you will likely enjoy reading some of the recounts of his famed matches. This book does dispel some popular myths about Bobby Fischer, and also provides some information regarding Fischer's 20 years of isolation and seclusion. In the end, however, I came away with more questions than answers. Although researched and written meticulously well, I would have liked to feel some sort of emotional connection to ANYone in this biography, but other than feeling really sorry for a couple of people who put their necks out for Fischer and were treated exceedingly badly by him, there was no emotional connection at all.QUOTESThe Russians claimed that his retreat from the world stage was because of his "pathological" fear of the "hand of Moscow." But back in Brooklyn, Bobby said he just no longer wanted to be involved with those "commie cheaters," as he called them.What no one knew was that the FBI was investigating Bobby, and had been for years. Their interest in him may have been triggered by their belief that his mother was a Communist, in part because she'd spent six years in Moscow attending medical school; they'd been investigating Regina since Bobby was a child.
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