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

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

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by Frank Brady

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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 theSee more details below


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?”

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
Endgame is a rapt, intimate book, greatly helped by its author's long acquaintance with Fischer…and his deep grounding in the world of chess. Mr. Brady was the founding editor of Chess Life, the official magazine of the United States Chess Federation, but his book is entirely accessible to readers who have never heard of that publication. Nor does Endgame require any prior knowledge of chess luminaries, chess strategies (no charts here) or chess tournament etiquette.
—The New York Times
Michael Dirda
…Frank Brady's superlative Endgame is a biography more than worthy of its charismatic subject. The first half might be likened to an imperial triumph, as the young Fischer progresses toward the world championship of chess; the second half, equally enthralling, depicts what is the human equivalent of a slow-motion train wreck…Frank Brady's triumph…is to make both halves of this unique life equally fascinating…The second half…however, is one of the saddest of stories, even as this is one of the year's best biographies.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly Audio
This biography of the rise and fall of chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer makes for addictive listening, thanks in large part to Ray Porter's outstanding narration. As a boy, Fischer distinguished himself as a prodigy, winning multiple chess championships, battling Soviet players at the height of the cold war, and catapulting himself to international fame. His later years, however, were marked by controversy, paranoia, and possible mental illness. Porter handles Russian accents with aplomb and builds tension by modulating cadence throughout. His steady, intimate narration brings the intricacies and drama of competitive chess to life—as well as Fisher's prodigious drive and obscure motivations. A Crown hardcover. (Feb.)
Publishers Weekly
The Mozart of the chessboard is inseparable from the monster of paranoid egotism in this fascinating biography. Brady (Citizen Welles), founding publisher of Chess Life magazine and a friend of Fischer, gives a richly detailed account of the impoverished Brooklyn wunderkind's sensational opening--he was history's first 15-year-old grandmaster--and the 1972 match with Boris Spassky, in which Fischer captivated the world with his brilliant play and towering tantrums. Brady's chronicle of Fischer's graceless endgame is just as engrossing, as the chess superstar sinks into poverty after rejecting million-dollar matches; flirts with cults; and becomes, though himself Jewish, a raving anti-Semite and conspiracy theorist. Brady offers an insightful study of Fischer's obsessively honed gifts--his evocative description of the 13-year-old prodigy's legendary "Game of the Century," with its seemingly suicidal queen sacrifice, will stir even nonadepts--and a clear-eyed, slightly appalled portrait of his growing paranoia. One senses a connection: the pattern-seeking faculties that could discern distant, obscure checkmates went berserk when trained on the chaos of everyday existence, finding in every reversal not random misfortune but the subtle moves of hidden opponents. Brady gives us a vivid, tragic narrative of a life that became a chess game. Photos. (Feb. 1)
Dick Cavett
Even if you don't give a damn about chess, or Bobby Fischer, you'll find yourself engrossed by Frank Brady's book about Fischer, which reads like a novel.

The facts of Bobby's life (I knew him from several memorable appearances on "The Dick Cavett Show" on both sides of the Big Tournament) are presented in page-turner fashion. Poor Bobby was blessed and cursed by his genius, and his story has the arc of a Greek tragedy—-with a grim touch of mad King Lear at the end.

The brain power and concentrated days and nights Bobby spent studying the game left much of him undeveloped, unable to join conversations on other subjects. Later in his life, unhappy with his limited knowledge of things beyond the chess board, he compensated with massive study—-applying that same hard-butt dedication to other fields: politics, classics, religion, philosophy and more. He found a hide-away nook in a Reykjavic bookstore—barred from his homeland, Iceland had welcomed him back—-where he read in marathon sessions. (After he was recognized, he never went back to his cozy cul de sac.)

In Brady's telling the high drama of the Spassky match quickens the pulse; the contest that made America a chess-crazed land was seen by more people than the Superbowl. People skipped school and played sick in vast numbers, glued to watching Shelby Lyman explain what was happening. The fanaticism was worldwide. The match was seen as a Cold War event, with the time out of mind chess-ruling Russian bear vanquished.

Arguably the best known man on the planet at his triumphant peak, Bobby is later seen in this account riding buses in Los Angeles, able to pay his rent in a dump of an apartment only because his mother sent him her social-security checks. The details of all this are stranger than fiction, as is nearly everything in the life of this much-rewarded, much-tortured genius.

I liked him immensely, knowing only the tall, broad-shouldered, athletically strong and handsome six-foot-something articulate and yes, witty, youth that Bobby was before the evil times set in, with deranged anti-Semitic outbursts and other mental strangeness preceding his too early end at age 64.

I can't ever forget the moment on the show when in amiable conversation I asked him what, in chess, corresponded to the thrill in another sort of event; like, say, hitting a homer in baseball. He said it was the moment when you "break the other guy's ego." There was a shocked murmur from the audience and the quote went around the world.

Frank Brady's ENDGAME is one of those books that makes you want your dinner guests to go the hell home so you can get back to it.
From the Publisher

“One the year’s best biographies.”  —Washington Post

"Mr. Brady's biography is well-written, studiously researched and filled with fascinating details.  It imparts the love of chess and affection for 'Bobby' that the author clearly feels...Boris Spassky, after the losing the world championship title to Fischer, said: 'I think I understand him.'  Perhaps one day the rest of us will too.  Until then, we have Endgame to fill the void." Wall Street Journal

The freakishly talented, freakishly flawed Fischer played the game as if it were a blood sport…In ENDGAME Frank Brady tells the story of Fischer’s life with a dramatic flair and a sense of judiciousness.”
—The Boston Globe
"Brady's book is an impressive balancing act and a great accomplishment...What results is a chance for the reader to weigh up the evidence and come to his own conclusions -- or skip judgments completely and simply enjoy reading a rise-and-fall story that has more than a few affinities with Greek tragedy." —The New York Review of Books

“Presents Fischer’s story with an almost Olympian evenhandedness that ends up making it far more absorbing than any sensationalized account.”
—Laura Miller, Salon.com 
"Brady is in a unique position to write about Fischer...he had access to new materials, including files from the FBI and the K.G.B. (which identified Fischer as a threat to Soviet chess hegemony in the mid-1980s); the personal archives of Fischer's mother, Regina, and his mentor and coach Jack Collins; and even an autobiographical essay written by the teenage Fischer.  The wealth of material allows Brady to describe many rich moments and details."
—New York Times Book Review

"Brady seems unusually well qualified to capture Fischer’s many facets and contradictions…ENDGAME is a rapt, intimate book, greatly helped by Brady’s acquaintance with Fischer…he sees the person behind the bluster…he also makes use of unusually good source material…fascinating."
New York Times

“Even if you don’t give a damn about chess, or Bobby Fischer, you’ll find yourself engrossed …has the arc of a Greek tragedy --with a grim touch of mad King Lear at the end…ENDGAME is one of those books that makes you want your dinner guests to go the hell home so you can get back to it.”
—Dick Cavett

"Recommended not just for chess enthusiasts but for anyone interested in the compelling compelling life of a complex, enigmatic, American icon." —Library Journal

"Brady masters Endgame." —Vanity Fair

"Insightful…Brady is uniquely qualified to write this…The book should appeal to a broad audience, from hard-core chess fans to casual players to those who are simply interested in what is a compelling personal story."

Engrossing…The Mozart of the chessboard is inseparable from the monster of paranoid egotism in this fascinating biography…Brady gives us a tragic narrative of a life that became a chess game.”
Publishers Weekly (Pick of the Week/Starred Review)
“The teenage prodigy, the eccentric champion, the irascible anti-Semite, the genius, the pathetic paranoid—these and other Bobby Fischers strut and fret their hour upon celebrity’s stage….Informed, thorough, sympathetic and surpassingly sad.”
Kirkus Reviews
"ENDGAME is rich in detail and insight. It is sympathetic and human, but not at all naive. I admire Brady's resolve, and I consider this book essential reading in the effort to understand Bobby Fischer and his place in our world."
"The definitive portrait of the greatest—and most disturbed—chess genius of all time.”
“Bobby Fischer began life as a lonely prodigy and ended it as a hate-spewing enigma, and in between became America's greatest chess player, a man renowned both for his unmatched brilliance and social clumsiness. In ENDGAME, Frank Brady masterfully chronicles the full breadth of Fischer's life, producing a narrative driven by staggering detail and profound insight into the psyche of a troubled genius.”
—Wayne Coffey, New York Times bestselling author of THE BOYS OF WINTER
“You don’t have to know the game of chess to be mesmerized by the dizzying and ultimately dark journey of the world’s most heralded player.  Frank Brady has researched and detailed Bobby Fischer’s every move—on and off the chessboard—for an incisive and objective account of a man whose genius was matched by his eccentricities.  This is a riveting look at a tarnished American icon.”
—Pat H. Broeske, New York Times bestselling co-author of HOWARD HUGHES: THE UNTOLD STORY
"I've wondered about the weird and fascinating life of Bobby Fischer since I was a teen-aged New York Times copyboy sent out to the lobby to keep Fischer’s mother from pestering editors and reporters. Finally, after 50 years, I've finally gotten the weird and fascinating biography I've been waiting for. Bravo, Brady."
—Robert Lipsyte, author of AN ACCIDENTAL SPORTSWRITER 
“A definitive and finely detailed chronicle of one of the most fascinating and eccentric Americans of the 20th century, written by one of the few men with the expertise, knowledge and writing ability to pull it off in a manner deserving of the subject.”
—Michael Weinreb, author of THE KINGS OF NEW YORK
“Fischer is America’s greatest antihero. This fascinating biography is filled with hope, Cold War intrigue, the fulfillment of genius, and an explosive fall from grace that is both deeply moving and, ultimately, profoundly sad.”
—Jeremy Silman, author of THE AMATEUR’S MIND
"I have been following Bobby Fischer my whole life, but I learned something new on nearly every page of this wonderful book. Frank Brady is the perfect biographer for Bobby Fischer, and ENDGAME tells the full and fair story of Fischer's astonishing rise and heartbreaking fall."
—­Christopher Chabris, author of THE INVISIBLE GORILLA

Library Journal
A biography by Brady (communications, Saint John's Univ.) on chess icon Bobby Fischer might seem familiar because Brady wrote the best-selling Profile of a Prodigy: The Life and Games of Bobby Fischer in 1965 (with an update in 1973). A chess aficionado himself, Brady first met Fischer in 1953 when Fischer was a 10-year-old chess prodigy. Profile details Fischer's youth and World Championship match with Boris Spassky. Here Brady aims to decipher Fischer's entire life, both the ascent and the descent, and draws on new information from family archives, FBI files, and personal correspondence. With less chess game analysis, more biography, and some speculative narrative, this book is clearly aimed at a more general audience. Probably still the world's most famous chess genius, Fischer also had a reputation for being difficult, arrogant, and rude and in later life anti-Semitic and anti-American. VERDICT Brady strives to decipher Bobby Fischer in a sometimes novelistic style that makes the book readable, if problematic to purists. Recommended not just for chess enthusiasts but for anyone interested in the compelling life of a complex, enigmatic American icon.—Leslie Lewis, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh
Kirkus Reviews

The teenage prodigy, the eccentric champion, the irascible anti-Semite, the genius, the pathetic paranoid—these and other Bobby Fischers strut and fret their hour upon celebrity's stage.

Chess Life founding publisher Brady (Communications/St. John's Univ.; The Publisher, 2000, etc.), who knew his subject well—and wrote about him in Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy (1965)—is generous, but never to a fault, with Robert James Fischer, who died in 2008 at 64. The author begins with Fischer's 2004 arrest and incarceration in Tokyo (an event to which he returns toward the end of the book), then segues to Fischer's background, specifically the story of his Swiss mother, who married a man in Moscow while she was working on her medical degree. When he was six, Fischer received his first chess set from his sister. A ferocious autodidact, he taught himself the game, read every chess publication he could and rose spectacularly, if erratically, through the chess ranks. He tolerated school only for a while (Barbara Streisand was a high-school classmate) and won his first United States championship at 14. Brady, who was present in Reykjavík for the 1972 World Championship match between Fisher and Boris Spassky, writes compassionately about Fischer's bizarre behavior and demands then (he very nearly withdrew from the competition), but the author's allegiance to his subject weakens thereafter. Fischer became increasingly paranoid and isolated in the ensuing decades, descending into mad theories and openly embracing ludicrous notions (Holocaust denial, for example). He gave numerous bizarre radio interviews, including one on the heels of 9/11 that is a classic of crudity. After his release from the Japanese jail, no one really wanted him. He lived in Iceland, then soured on it, alienating, as was his lifelong wont, a source of refuge.

Informed, thorough, sympathetic and surpassingly sad.

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