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Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness Paperback – January 17, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2011: There may be no one more qualified than Frank Brady to write the definitive biography of Bobby Fischer. Brady's Profile of a Prodigy (originally published in 1969) chronicled the chess icon's early years, a selection of 90 games, and (in later editions) his 1972 World Championship match with Boris Spassky. With Endgame, published two years after Fischer's death, Brady's on-and-off proximity to Fischer lends new depth to the latter's full and twisted life story. Though Fischer's pinnacle artistry on the chessboard may often be discussed in the same breath with his eventual paranoia and outspoken anti-Semitism, the particular turns and travels of his post-World Championship years (half his life) lend his story most of its vexing oddity: the niggling insistence on seemingly arbitrary conditions for his matches, the years on the lam after flagrantly disregarding U.S. economic sanctions, his incarceration in Japan, his eventual citizenship and quiet demise in Iceland. All told, Fischer's life was like none other, and told through the lens of Brady's personal familiarity and access to new source material, results in an utterly engaging read. --Jason Kirk
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.--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Brady’s insightful biography of the legendary chess player focuses more on Fischer’s life as a chess champion than on his much-publicized legal troubles and alleged psychological breakdowns. Brady first became friends with Fischer at a chess tournament when they were both children, and he combines a traditional biography with a personal memoir. Fischer began playing chess at age six and was soon playing games by himself, unable to find worthy competition. He seems to have had a lifelong battle with himself, and his biggest challenge may have been conquering not his competitors but his own intellect. Brady is uniquely qualified to write this book. Not only is he a seasoned biographer and someone who knew Fischer on a personal level; he’s also an accomplished chess player himself, able to convey the game’s intricacies to the reader in a clear, uncomplicated manner. 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. --David Pitt --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Fischer grew up in New York City where he learned to play chess at the age of six. He quickly became obsessed with it. He read as many chess books as he could get his hands on and studied the game sometimes for several hours a day. He became very adept at it and joined local chess clubs. This would culminate in what would later be called "The Game of the Century" when Fischer, then only 13 years-old, beat chess master Donald Byrne.
Fischer's success in chess only continued. He entered tournaments and won many titles which was quite an accomplishment at his rather young age. He started to become a celebrity not only in the chess community, but to the general American public. He continued his way up through the 1960s and became a candidate for the World Championship.
The World Championship he would eventually compete in happened in 1972. His opponent was Boris Spassky. Spassky, from the Soviet Union, and Fischer, from the United States, gave the match a Cold War overtone. Despite his numerous demands on how the match was to be played, people back in the United States wanted Fischer to play as an attempt to wrest the title from Soviet players. He even received a phone call from Henry Kissinger encouraging him to go through and play with the interests of the United States in mind. He would go on and beat Spassky thus becoming the World Chess Champion.
The 1972 match against Spassky was probably the greatest point in his life. He returned from the match a hero and a celebrity. The popularity of chess skyrocketed in the United States, all thanks to Bobby Fischer. However, it seemed that Fischer almost fell off the face of the Earth after 1972. He stopped playing chess publicly. In 1975, a match was to be held between Fischer and Anatoly Karpov to defend his Champion title. Fischer had numerous, and often outrageous, objections as to how the match was to be played and the rules governing it. FIDE refused to comply with all of Fischer's demands. As such, Fischer refused to play and Karpov became World Champion by default.
And thus began Fischer's long decline. He stayed out of the limelight for many years. During this period, he likely began to form his outrageous views that would lead to statements that he would become infamous of. He stopped paying his taxes. He developed a very deep hatred of Jews and anything related to Judaism.
His last true public game of chess came in 1992. Boris Spassky, the man who Fischer defeated in 1972, agreed to a rematch to be held in Yugoslavia. At that time, due to the war occurring there, Yugoslavia was under international and United States sanctions and the match against Spassky, with a large monetary prize, was considered illegal by the U.S. government. Despite being warned, Fischer went ahead and played against Spassky, won, and collected his money. U.S. officials took notice and he became a fugitive afraid of being arrested. He never returned to the United States again.
He lived incognito for the next several years, mostly in Hungary. After the 9/11 attacks, Fischer made remarks that spread around the world praising the attacks and condemning the United States and Jews. It would seal his fate with the chess community, Jews around the world, Americans, and the U.S. government. He was once again on the move before being arrested in Japan for using a revoked passport. The Icelandic government took notice and made him a citizen of their country in recognition of what he did for Iceland because the 1972 match was held in Reykjavik. He lived there the rest of his life and died at the age of sixty-four, no doubt helped by his refusal to accept medical treatment.
Bobby Fischer was a man who had a complex personality. He was a genius in some respects and is still considered by some to be the greatest chess player in history. But his obstinate attitude towards things seemed to more often hinder than help him.
In conclusion, I found this to be a very well written book and a fascinating look at Bobby Fischer. The author has managed to write the book so brilliantly, that one would not even have to know how to play chess in order to enjoy this book. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about Bobby Fischer and his sometimes strange life.
Bobby Fischer grew up fatherless, raised by a caring but doting mother, one who was convinced of his brilliance but unequipped to deal with him on her own. Fischer was an obsessive child who, from a very young age, was drawn to puzzle games. He viewed the game of chess as the ultimate puzzle--one that could not be solved, but one that could be mastered. And he sought to master it, dedicating almost every waking hour, year after year, to honing his skills. Even as a teenager he made his mark on the chess world, steadily rising through the ranks and eventually rising to the pinnacle as the World Chess Champion.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Fischer, apart from his brilliance, is his ego--an ego that seemed to know no bounds. He was remarkably self-assured and utterly convinced that he was the most brilliant chess player in history. All honor, all adoration, all acclaim belonged to him alone. He would demand recognition and demand honor. When he felt he had been slighted in any way he would respond with fury and outrage. He would turn down tens of millions of dollars if accepting the money would in any way prove a blow to his pride.
As it turns out, that kind of outrage soon consumed his life. He spent decades lost in a morass of self-pity and fury. He frittered away money he had won, eventually ending up homeless and wandering through Skid Row. He returned to fame for a widely-celebrated match in the early 90's but that match only deepened a growing paranoia as he came to believe that the Soviets were after him, that the United States government was out to get him, that he would be assassinated by someone. He steadily lost his grip on reality.
Fischer's wavering faith proves an interesting study. During his life Fischer was drawn first to Judaism, then to the Worldwide Church of God and finally to Roman Catholicism. He died without faith and without hope. He died an angry, embittered man who had turned against those who loved him most. He took and rarely gave, he was the center of his existence, his own god. By the end of his life he was firmly antisemitic despite his Jewish ancestry and adamantly anti-American despite being American. He cheered every disaster on 9/11 and called for the eradication of American Jews. He died in Iceland, an adopted home, the only country that would take him in. He died with few friends--friends he had wronged constantly but who, for some reason, remained strangely loyal to him.
Endgame is a fascinating character study. The Bible teaches us that the wages of sin is death. And Fischer's life is marked by death--by the due consequence of his sin. There can be a fine line between brilliance and insanity. Fischer proves that the two are not mutually exclusive.