Endgame Book Review
by Bill Wall
Endgame was written in 2011 by Frank Brady and published by Crown Publishing. Brady previously wrote two editions of Profile of a Prodigy, which chronicled Bobby Fischer’s life in the 1960s and in the early 1970s when Bobby won the world chess championship title in 1972. When Brady published the first biography of Fischer in 1965, he was a friend and confidant of Bobby.
Fischer’s match against Soviet grandmaster Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1972 was part of the Cold War propaganda of the USA vs. the Soviet Union. Spassky had the backing of the entire Soviet chess organization and the government. Fischer had no backing and took on the Russians all by himself with no other support.
Bobby Fischer died in 2008. He was a controversial figure with a fascinating personality. Brady knew him well and is well qualified in writing a biography of Bobby Fischer. Brady explores both sides of Bobby Fischer, the chess player and the man without a country who renounced his citizenship, traveled around the world after being banned from the United States in 1992, getting arrested in Tokyo with the threat of being extradited to the United States, finally ending up in Iceland, where he died at the age of 64.
Brady chronicles his life growing up throughout the United States, finally settling in Brooklyn, addicted to chess, dropping out of high school, and taking on the Russians and the rest of the world over the chess board. In the early years, Fischer and Brady played hundreds of chess games together.
Brady knew Fischer since Bobby was a child. Brady saw this boy, raised by a single mother, rise to prominence in the chess world, especially after Bobby won the U.S. chess championship at the age of 14 and became the world’s youngest grandmaster at the age of 15. Fischer had a very high I.Q., attended Erasmus High School, was friends with Barbra Streisand, who also attended. Brady writes that Streisand remembered “Bobby was always alone and very peculiar. But I found him very sexy.”
Brady writes that Fischer’s first chess coach, Carmine Nigro, was also a professional musician and gave him accordion lessons. Bobby was soon playing the accordion at school assemblies. After a year, he gave up playing the accordion. Fischer said, “I did fairly well on it for a while, but chess had more attraction and the accordion was pushed aside.” Fischer eventually dropped out of high school and became a full time chess player. Bobby’s mother was Jewish, but he never practiced the faith. Later in life, he had a hatred for all Jews, despite his mother being Jewish.
Brady writes that when Bobby Fischer was born in Chicago, his mother, Regina, was homeless and had to move into a hospice. Bobby had an older sister, Joan, but the hospice refused to provide housing for Regina, Bobby, and Joan. The hospice had Regina arrested for refusing to move out of the hospice. She was given a psychiatric exam and part of the report stated that Regina had a “stilted (paranoid) personality, querulous, but not psychotic.” Regina was also being watched by the FBI as a possible Communist spy and Brady was able to get the FBI records on the Fischer family through the Freedom of Information Act.
Brady does a fine job of tracing Fischer’s childhood and his teenage years in Brooklyn. Compared to his earlier books, he had added perhaps 80% new information on Fischer’s early life. There is an unresolved question as to who the real father of Bobby Fischer is. Was it the man listed on the birth certificate, Hans Fischer, a Jewish German physicist who never came to America? Or was it Paul Nemenyi, a Hungarian Jewish physicist who may have had an affair with Fischer’s mother and has a striking resemblance to Bobby. Brady writes that Regina Fischer, Bobby’s mother, denied that Nemenyi was Bobby’s father. However, Brady found a distant relative of Fischer who said that Nemenyi was the real father.
Brady follows Fischer’s career as well as documents his strange personality and eccentricities. Brady covers the 1972 world chess championship in great detail. By then, Fischer and Brady were not on speaking terms after Brady published his first book on Fischer. After the world championship match, Fischer stopped playing chess and became a recluse. The second half of Brady’s book focuses on what became of him. Fischer became involved in the Worldwide Church of God. His anti-Semitism grew as well as for his hatred for the USA and its political system. Fischer moved to Los Angeles and was living in poverty on his mother’s social security checks.
In 1992, the U.S. State Department threatened him with arrest and big fines if he played chess in Serbia when the U.S. was blocking all travel to Serbia. Fischer defied the order , played chess for millions of dollars, and then ended up living in Europe, the Philippines, and Japan, fearful of arrest by the USA. During the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., Fischer was being interviewed on radio in the Philippines and expressed his glee over the attacks in New York.
In the late 1990s, Brady interviewed a former friend of Fischer who said that he called the State Department and asked if Bobby Fischer could return to the United States. The State Department spokesperson said, “Of course he can. But as soon as he land at JFK, we’ll nail him.” Fischer would later accuse the Jewish community of conspiring against him.
Brady concludes that greed and violence played no part in Fischer’s genius, and that he left the world gifts of pure artistry in his chess games. Brady write, “We may not – and perhaps should not – forgive Bobby Fischer’s twisted political and anti-religious assaults, but we should never forget his sheer brilliance on the chessboard.” The book is 416 pages in length with several pictures of Fischer in his early years. The hardcover price is $25.99. The Kindle price is $12.99. I have an autographed copy from him.