Bobby Fischer, who carried the diminutive into his ’60’s, was fascinating in the way that both exceptionally accomplished people and weirdly twisted sociopaths qualify for that distinction.
As the president of the Marshall Chess Club and founding editor of Chess Life, Frank Brady is well qualified to chronicle Fischer’s achievements in the world of chess, which were myriad and grand. But though Brady acknowledges multiple episodes over many years during which Fischer demonstrated flamboyant bigotry, spectacularly self-destructive behavior, paranoia that would be funny if it weren’t so sad, and an egomania that was colossal even for a former child star, the author stops short of acknowledging that Bobby Fischer was nuts. In fact, Brady is more inclined to see Fischer as “a changling, a troubled child” than a megalomaniac whose grudge against the United States led him to fail to pay income taxes for thirty years and gloat over 9/11.
Certainly it can be argued that when Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky in Iceland in 1972, he raised the profile of chess in the United States to a new level. But Fischer’s take on what he’d accomplished was a little more grandiose. “Nobody has single-handedly done more for the U.S. than me,” he said in a radio interview in 2001. “You know, when I won the World Championship in 1972, the United States had an image of a football country, a baseball country, but nobody thought of it as an intellectual country. I turned that all around single-handedly, right?”
The achievement of End Game is that within the same book, the author provides us with both the excitement that surrounds a brilliant champion and the jolt of adrenaline one gets from being in the presence of a deluded crank who is dangerous to himself and others.