Guest Reviewer: 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.