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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"
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on 19 October 2011
As a keen amateur chess enthusiast and one similar in age to Fischer, I was already aware of most of the details of Fischer's life. I read this book in the hope of finding some explanations for his anti-Americanism, his anti-Semitism, his Holocaust denial, his ingratitude to friends, his hypochondria, and his failure to play competitive chess after 1972 except for the meaningless match against Spassky in 1992. This book describes those elements of Fischer's character but offers no insights, and is a somewhat superficial treatment. For example, we are told that as a young man Fischer suddenly started to make anti-Semitic comments to acquaintances. There is no attempt to explain why this might have been so. Fischer's mother was Jewish (as was his probable real father) but he was not brought up in a religious family so it is unlikely that he might have been rebelling against his Jewish heritage.

I suspect that in Britain the book will be read mainly by chess players but the author clearly aims the book primarily at Americans, including non chess players interested in their fallen hero, which means he has to regularly explain features of the game that are basic knowledge for players. More importantly, the author avoids being too critical of Fischer, aware that many American readers will be passionate Fischer fans. For example, Brady explains Fischer's failure to play Karpov for the world championship in 1975 primarily as Fischer's desire for a change from the pattern of a 24 game match established by FIDE for all world championships after 1948 to a first to 10 wins with the holder keeping the title if the score was 9-9. This meant that if the score reached 8-8 then the challenger would have to win 10-8 to become champion. Brady does not criticise Fischer for this but quotes a match in 1910 with the same rule. He does not say that the rule was considered controversial and unfair even in 1910 and that the situation was very different in 1910, when the champion treated the title as his personal possession and accepted challenges on his own terms. From 1948 the title was owned by FIDE, which established the rules, and FIDE went to enormous lengths to change the rules to the first to ten wins to accommodate Fischer but was unwilling to accept Fischer's 10-8 demand. Neither does Brady offer fear of failure as a possible reason for Fischer's unwillingness to play Karpov except on his own terms. Karpov had played powerfully in matches to quality to meet Fischer, and was the only leading player younger than Fischer and the only one Fischer had never played. It is odd that Brady does not mention this as at least a possibility because he does suggest that fear of failure was a factor inhibiting Fischer's participation in chess after 1975.

After 1975 Fischer spent much of his time as a semi-recluse and this is reflected in the book's sketchy details of the final 33 years of his life. Fischer's paranoia is recounted but not explained. One of the strangest of Fischer's theories was that the five matches between Kasparov and Karpov between 1984 and 1990 were rigged, with the players making pre-determined moves. As a conspiracy theory that has even less credibility than the theories that the moon landings were faked or that the CIA organised 9/11.

Fischer was one of the greatest of all chess players. He was also a fine writer on chess. However, as a human being he sadly had many deficiencies that cut short his chess career and led to his eventual exile in Iceland. These are outlined in "Endgame" but it is a character sketch of Fischer rather than a finished portrait.
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on 13 July 2012
The story of Bobby Fischer is quite fascinating. However, this book does not go far enough to explain why Fischer, on the brink of becoming the world's greatest chess player and a millionaire, threw everything away and ended up living almost like a down-and-out in California, then trawling around Asia in search of young women like many older American and European men, and ending up spending his last days in Iceland.

The author knew Fischer personally for a long time but he obviously lost touch and provides little first-hand insight on his later years. He never met Fischer after he disappeared from public view and does not even seem to have tried to contact him.

As he is chairman of the Marshall Chess Club in New York, he concentrates a lot on never-ending accounts of chess competitions and games and lists of players that end up just overwhelming the reader.

He does not dig into Fischer's background to even try and find out who his real father was. Nor does he tell the reader enough about Fischer's extraordinary mother - a Communist who ended up living in East Germany and Nicaragua. Her death is dismissed in the second half of a sentences.

Fischer was technically a Jew as his mother was Jewish but he became an unhinged anti-Semite. The author does not really try to explain this.

Despite these criticism, this is a pretty good book overall and certainly worth reading but I feel a more detached writer could have done a better job. I have not read any other biographies of Fischer so perhaps there is a fuller version of his life out there somewhere.
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on 18 July 2011
I actually was in the thick of the pre-World preparations in the early 1970's, when I was living in Montreal. I went regularly to the Montreal Chess club in those days and remember an exciting visit by the Grand Master Bent Larsen, a relatively young, impressive, tall handsome, tanned healthy looking blondhaired man, brimming with explosive confidence. We of course asked him questions about his prospects in the imminent prelimenaries, and the actual world championship. In particular we asked about his impending tussle with Bobby Fisher, who was already displaying signs that this was going to be a mere walk in the park for him. Bent Larsen with loud burst of laughter told us in no uncertain terms that he would show Bobby Fisher how chess should be played and that he was the man who was going to teach him that lesson and put him in his 'rightful' place.....Well the rest is history....Bobby Fisher, if I remember correctly, thrashed all the contenders, including our erstwhile superconfident Bent Larsen, by a score of 6 to O in every match!! And went on, of course, to beat reigning World Champion Boris Spassky to become potentially the best player in history....These were indeed heady days for me and all chess lovers!

Too bad that Bobby Fisher, then, not that long after those glorious days of heavenly mastery descended into a creeping dark sinister state of insanity....It became a sad tragic loss to the royal game and all connected....

The book unfortunately but unavoidably, descends with him from the glotious into the dark abyss of a self created hell...Not worthy ending to such a talent.
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on 26 November 2017
They say that genius skirts close to madness and that could certainly be pointed at Bobby Fischer, but he was not mad.

He was certainly a genius at chess, but his outlandish statements and behaviour as he reached adulthood and onto death make him a hard man to like or even admire.

All that being said this is an interesting read, and I feel an even-handed look at his life.
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on 24 October 2011
Overall, Brady's book is a well-written, pacy read, which affords the reader a good general overview of Fischer's career. As other reviewers have noted, however, certain sections of the book may feel a tad superficial, and Brady often says that this or that fact about Fischer is simply "not known" - which can be a little irritating. It's also debatable as to whether Brady solves the central mystery about Fischer: how could a man who displayed such powers of reasoning on the chessboard swallow whole the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion', and go on to espouse a very distasteful kind of Julius Streicher-like anti-Semitism? How could it be that the charming and bashful young man who appeared on the Dick Cavett Show in 1971 (which, incidentally, Brady doesn't mention), could turn into a truculent anti-Semite? I didn't feel that this mystery was really dealt with in the book. Perhaps the answer is simply that human beings - even ones with intellects like Fischer's - are also capable of believing some spectacular nonsense, if it suits them. Was it to do with his mother, the absence of his father, or as a smokescreen for the real reason behind his refusal to defend his title against Karpov in 1975?

Whatever the answer is, Fischer's story is ultimately a desperately sad one.
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on 25 May 2011
Bobby Fischer was a complex,fascinating person who also happened to be one of the best chess players in the world with a genius iq.However we are all aware of his descent into mental illness and his hatred of jews.I find these obsessive people so interesting and was very much looking forward to this biography.Well it was a good read but boy its like a thrown stone skimming water.It literally will jump years in paragraphs and for me this is not good enough.I would recommend the book but would advise waiting for the paperback version.It offers a a few interview snippets but nothing much.A subject like Fischer needs a lot more work and effort,i read the book in two days wanting to know far more.
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on 27 December 2012
Frank Brady gives us a close look into the career of a chess genius, from his first contact with the board to world championship and beyond. He helps us to understand that genius is not a bed of roses. Bobby Fisher certainly made many people suffer, but he also suffered from the incomprehension of many people. A tragic life, that this book helps understand.
You won't learn much about playing chess, but you may learn things that will help you live with genius.
This book is hard work, but worth it.
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on 31 December 2015
all ok
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on 2 June 2015
He read this very quickly, enjoyed it a lot.
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