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One of the strangest and saddest stories of our time
on 11 December 2012
I'm a pretty good chess player having achieved a USCF expert's rating in my twenties and even in my sixties gaining a draw with International Master John Donaldson at the US Open in Los Angeles in 2003. (He offered a draw in a losing position. Since I had little time left on my clock I accepted.)
I should also say that I am a personal friend of Larry Remlinger whom I have known since childhood. He played against Fischer in at least one US Junior Championship in the 1950s. He recalled that after the games one day he and Fischer played blitz chess well into the night. Larry told me that Fischer (a year and half younger than Larry) was winning at first but as the night wore on Larry pulled ahead. Larry despised Bobby Fischer as well he might since even then Fischer was a narcissistic spoiled brat of a human being. And of course he only got worse as the paranoia and schizophrenia kicked in.
Frank Brady did not interview Larry Remlinger and Larry did not contact Brady. Too bad.
Nonetheless this is an outstanding biography, painstakingly researched and documented, beautifully edited and written in the kind of prose that tells the story without flourishes or pretension, the kind of "invisible" prose that George Orwell admired and practiced. And it is a "fair and balanced" account, celebrating the genius of Fischer's mastery of chess while not shying away from reporting his great failings as a human being. Moreover it is a great human tragic tale, the sort of story that would engage the mind of Sophocles or Shakespeare, and may someday find its great author to dramatize the sadness.
Yes, sadness, profound and maddening sadness. Note well that there is no review of this outstanding biography written by a master chess player among the Amazon reviews. There are many reasons for this but the most important one is that the story is just too painful to relive, especially if you love chess and have spent some serious time playing the game. What the rise of Robert James Fischer promised for chess--excitement, prestige, publicity, and especially the infusion of more money into the game so that a working professional might make a living playing chess--was in some measure delivered when he stepped off that stage in Reykjavik in 1972 as the World Champion. However almost immediately Fischer withdrew his magical presence from the game. This effectively trashed the hopes and dreams of chess players everywhere, but especially in the United States. Those who knew Fischer well realized that he was mentally ill (almost surely a narcissistic paranoid schizophrenic) and really was not able to behave in a socially acceptable manner. So it was hard to blame Fischer, the "good" Fischer, the genius Fischer, the Fischer who worked harder than anyone else, the Fischer who loved the game more than anyone else, the obsessive Fischer who could at his best be charming.
Ah, charming. The one real failing in Brady's book is his inability to show us that charming Fischer. He relates how so very many people put up with Fischer's hateful remarks, his virulent anti-Semitism, his egomaniacal self-centeredness, and his just plain antisocial behavior. What did they get in return for their fawning obsequiousness and especially for allowing him extended stays in their homes even while he was insulting them? The prestige and thrill of being in the presence of a genius does not explain it completely. What Fischer apparently was able to do on occasion was to charm. For some reason Brady was not able to produce the kind of reminiscences that would make this charm come to life.
What Brady does reveal here that was not entirely clear in previous works about Fischer is a clear expression of Fischer's sexual preferences (young, pretty, blond, female and plays chess). Also any doubt about Fischer's sex life or lack of is dispelled. Well, almost. It is clear that Fischer had liaisons. However what it was like to be in bed with Bobby is unrevealed, and perhaps that is just as well. Someday maybe a woman may come forward and tell us. (And we might believe her.) But for most readers that understandably would be Too Much Information. My guess is that Brady knows more than he was willing to tell us...
Also not revealed is who Fischer's biological father was. Brady makes it clear that it is not clear whether a Hungarian Jewish physicist named Paul Nemenyi (the primary suspect) actually was his father or not. Almost certainly Hans-Gerhardt Fischer who is listed as Bobby's father on his birth certificate is not his biological father.
And with this we can add what is probably the saddest irony of Bobby Fischer's life, not only was this hateful anti-Semite Jewish on his mother's side, the high probability is that he was Jewish on his father's side as well. One can guess that fear and subliminal self-hatred was the primary guiding force in Fischer's life. Indeed, as Brady and many others have observed, the bad things that happened to Fischer and the good things that never happened were almost always Fischer's fault.
--Dennis Littrell, chess player and author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"