Tuesday, May 17, 2011

#27: Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall by Frank Brady

First off, let me say RIP to Harmon Killebrew. It is rare that you never hear a bad thing said about a sports hero, but Killebrew was a genuinely good hearted and decent man. Plus, he was one hell of a hitter. The one connecting element to his obits over the day is not his baseball career, but his generosity. It is not often we see the like of him.

The same could not be said of the subject of today's biography, Bobby Fischer. Fischer was a "chess prodigy", who won the US Chess Championship 8 times, the first when he was 14. He also recorded the only perfect score in the US Championship tournament in 1961. In other words, he was a certified fucking chess genius. He defeated Boris Spassky in 1972 in Iceland for the World Title, then refused to play and lost the title in 1975. The man won 22 international tournaments in 15 years; between 1957 and 1961 he did not lose a game in US Championship tournaments.

Brady's text is engrossing, well written and a good read from, start to finish. One does not need to know much chess to get through the book, as Fischer's games are not treated in detail. What emerges from the pages is a man who is convinced of his own greatness and more or less proves it on the world stage. He was a singular player; imaginative, brilliant, driven. His studies of the game from the age of 7 or 8 on are amazing. Brady does not spare the social effects on a young man who would rather spend his time reading chess books in elementary school than talk to girls. The only passion that came close during this time was baseball, specifically the Brooklyn Dodgers.

One gets the feeling in Brady's text that Fischer began to feel the pressure to be not only Bobby Fischer, but "Bobby Fischer, Chess Champion and Slayer of the Russian Dragon." He certainly saw that in himself, and Brady does not shy away from the more difficult portions of Fischer's personality. In the 1970s, as his life spun out of control, Fischer became more and more enamored of anti-Semitic, Neo-Nazi ideologies. This is the only drawback from Brady's text. Brady, as someone who knew Fischer, seems hesitant to call Fischer for what he was in the 1970s: an insufferable egotist, 24 karat asshole and all-around dick. The routine apologies offered by Brady read as poor excuses for boorish behavior on the part of someone who began to realize that even though he was the youngest grand master in the world, he could have been more.

One character I wish I knew more about was Fischer's great opponent, Boris Spassky. The two maintained cordial relations, and Spassky called Fischer a brother after Fischer's death. This is certainly one of those instances when only one genius could understand another, and I believed every word. Fischer was undeniably brilliant, and Brady does an excellent job at showing readers who may be unfamiliar with that brightness what "genius" in a chess context means. The book falls down when Fischer is not playing chess; Fischer comes off as a quarrelsome jerk-off, who coasts by on the genius that makes him unique. People get tired of that, and the second part of the book reads like a long list of burned bridges.

All in all, this is a wonderful study in the pressure of being "The Best." One gets the feeling that the pressure of being better at something than anyone else would be too much. It may have been for Fischer. This book is recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment