Wednesday, February 16, 2011

ENDGAME --Commentary

This book is 400 pages. Written by Frank Brady it covers chess legend Bobby Fischer. It's cheap. Hardbound for $25.99. I have a few in stock.

It's not easy to review here because there are so many interesting points in it that to reveal one and not others makes it a personal selection rather than an important review. It's well written, making comparisons with others, literature, and such, but it left me "wanting" when I was done. Gangly kid who had the best opportunities for a fantastic life, but he couldn't let go of his prejudices, not even one of them. Did those prejudices drive him? help him? Not the ones in the end.

Fischer, basically, was a loner. Insecure, feverishly interested in chess growing up, and he wanted a woman in his life to carry on his genes of greatness. He slept late, and disdained people who had befriended him for years including Jack Collins and many others--wrote them off with no regrets. Seldom did he accede, he was a full blown narcissist. And he hated losing--not that any of us like to lose, but with BF it scared him (most of the time).

Some of these things you might already know, but most do not know WHY he did these things. Most will not know that at his first tournament outside of the Manhattan Chess Club he didn't want to play for fear of being crushed. And, he didn't do that well when he finally changed his mind.

Several things are woven throughout this book, one of them was his attack on "Jews." The reason I quote this is because eventually it was figured out that if Fischer didn't like you, you were a Jew! The other is his independence and dependence on his Mother. She took care of him, feeding him lest he forget to eat (and his appetite as he grew up was astonishingly huge), saved money for him, put him on buses and trains. She visited him in Reykjavik wearing a blonde wig. When he was so down and out he couldn't rub two pennies together his Mom would pay for expenses from her Social Security check. She was a saver and extremely interested in his welfare. Fischer seldom thought ahead about much. Ate out every day, never fixing anything to eat for himself.

He made strange allies and seldom did they last long. He was infuriated with a movie documentary using Saemi Palsson, his Icelandic bodyguard, because the emphasis should have been on him, Bobby Fischer. He was intemperate with the cops and resisted arrest in Japan like a wildman. Several psychologists have not judged him to be psychotic but his emotionalism, treatment of others, and disdain for anyone who dared cross him were not infrequent. He spat on the US government (who gave him ample warnings) and then feared U.S. retribution.

He did NOT have filings removed from his teeth for the placement of a miniature radio for signals to Russian assassins or to be used as an antenna for the transmission of information. He laughed about that.

When he became great friends in Hungary with Andor Lilienthal it looked like Fischer might settle down. But when Lilienthal made some moves to help Fischer (financially and otherwise) by signing Bobby's name to a document, Fischer went nuts, and Lilienthal, though Jewish already, was forever banned as a "Jew" by Fischer no matter how much hospitality he had been shown.

Of course there are hundreds of incidents and personalities throughout such as the Polgars, Boris Spassky, Bill Lombardy (who was treated horribly when I saw him in Reykjavik), and others. One person Fischer did not cow was Fidel Castro... the telegrams are included. Fischer's demands were tinged with "common sense" but always always intractable in the end. His unwillingness to compromise pleased his most ardent fans but also alienated others who would like to have seen him go farther. The problem Fischer's fans had, as I see it, was that he didn't want any fans even though he would proclaim, "I am Bobby Fischer." Boris Spassky wanted Fischer to win for the good of chess and so he wouldn't quit, so it's hard to say how strong Fischer was in his 1992 match. There was even a short term talk about Spassky being in a third match with Fischer.

The book is full of goons, glory, bodyguards, trips to the library, sneaky larking lot photography, etc. You can dip in anywhere and find something interesting to read. I'd call it a 2 a.m. book--you know you are supposed to go to sleep but you have to read one more page.

In the end, Fischer went quickly, leaving no will, and not even happy with the atmosphere of Iceland where the RJF committee jumped through hundreds of hoops to help Fischer get on with his life after being stranded in Japan.

He loved to walk (I had seen him do this when I was in Denver in 1971). Contrary to "popular" opinion, Fischer did keep a chess set around and he still analyzed the "old chess." His guidance system was himself, and that was not a very good system. He read voraciously and picked out things which his memory could spew out, both good and bad.

Lots of bibliography, lots of stories you never heard or read before. But when I was done with my reading, I was kind of depressed.

Sure, only God can judge his actions because only he knows everything about the Man and the Whys, but he would have made, for most of us, the worst kind of friend. Taking, taking, and taking. His acts of kindness that we hear about? There didn't seem to be that many... but hey, maybe we only need one to save our soul, if it is genuine.

A slightly fuller and better edited review occurs in issue #123 of The Chess Reports, the magazine for anyone interested in chess, books, and DVDs. Send for a FREE sample copy. Need your full name and email address.

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