Tag Archives: Bobby Fischer

Only A Pawn In Their Game

Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall by Frank Brady (Broadway Books, $16.00, 432 pages)

“(Bobby Fischer was) the greatest genius to have descended from the chess heavens.”   Mikhail Tal

“(He was) perhaps the most mythologically shrouded figure in chess.”   Garry Kasparov

“I am the best player in the world.”   Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer’s life was proof positive that genius often lies close to madness.   The boy who once went to high school in Brooklyn with Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond made chess a household game in the U.S., and at one time he was one of the two best known people in the world – along with Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali.   Fischer was a child prodigy at chess and he became a grandmaster (at 15) and World Champion who, notably, would win every chess match or tournament he completeted from the age of 23 onward.

Rumors began to spread that Bobby and his mother were estranged…  (However,) he did remain close to his mother…  they could agree to disagree.

Frank Brady decades ago wrote the then-seminal biography of Fischer, Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy, and he uses this opportunity to both update and correct so-called facts about the life of the chess legend.   He also tells us much about the relationship between Fischer and his mother Regina.   Most of the bios of Fischer have claimed that he and his mother were estranged, which is simply incorrect.   As Brady notes, Fischer was actually close to – and a lot like – Regina:  “As Regina had proselytized all her life for various causes – always liberal and humanistic ones – so, too, Bobby (became) a proselytizer.   The pawn did not stray too far from the queen.”

The misunderstandings about Bobby and Regina appear to stem from the fact that they had very different positions on political issues.   However, they were able to set these aside in order to maintain a respectful personal relationship.

This is, to be certain, an account of Fischer’s late-in-life madness – his “state of increasingly frequent paranoia” – which destroyed his reputation as a gaming genius.   Although Fischer was half-Jewish, he became a raving anti-Semite and a foe of the United States government.   To his credit, Brady places all of this in perspective, noting that Fischer was battling a form of mental illness that he could not accept or control.   Fischer, for example, was living virtually penniless on the streets of skid row in Los Angeles in 1975 when he rejected a $5 million dollar purse to defend his World Championship title against Anatoly Karpov.   It still seems shocking:  “…five million dollars!  It was the largest refusal of a prize fund in sports history.”   (Emphasis in the original.)

It is hard for Brady to recreate the context of a time when chess was a spectator sport; a time when 10,000 fans and spectators would show up to watch Bobby Fischer play Tigran Petrosian or Miguel Quinteros.   What Brady does extremely well – a major failing with most bios of talented figures – is to detail for the reader exactly how smart, how intelligent Fischer was in his prime.   So how smart was Fischer?   Well, before playing Boris Spassky for the World Championship, he demonstrated that he had memorized every move made by Spassky and his opponents in 355 games of chess – over 14,000 individual moves!   Fischer could recite every move of every one of these matches the way another person might recite a poem or the lyrics to a song…  But, for him, it was not a way of showing off – it was simply a tool of his intellectual trade.   Fischer was nothing in his life if not the most prepared individual who ever sat down before a chessboard.

Absent the behaviors created or caused by his mental illness, Fischer would likely have died as the  most beloved chess player of all time.   He was certainly loved by his great rival Spassky, who said at Fischer’s death, “My brother is dead.”

This is a beautifully-detailed and well-rounded biography of “America’s greatest prodigy,” a man who died near “the edge of madness.”   Endgame checkmates any all of the other bios of the brilliant but troubled man who may well have been the greatest chess player of all time.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Bobby Fischer’s IQ was 181.

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Every Story Tells A Picture

When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead: Useful Stories From A Persuasive Man by Jerry Weintraub with Rich Cohen (Hachette Audio, Unabridged on 8 CDs; $29.98).

“I’ve never been afraid to fail.”   Jerry Weintraub

If you’re going to experience a book based on an “old man’s” stories of his life, you might as well hear them in the voice of the man himself, Jerry Weintraub.   Weintraub, now 72, has worked with the biggest of the big in the music and movie businesses.   Yes, everyone from Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley to Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan – who wrote the introductory poem – and Led Zeppelin in music; Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis and Gene Hackman (with whom he attended acting school) in film.

Weintraub was also the Zelig-like figure who befriended the biggest figures in politics including a young John F. Kennedy, CIA Director George Herbert Walker Bush, and a peanut farmer by the name of Jimmy Carter.

I first attempted to read the standard book version of Talking, but something was missing.   The stories were entertaining but I couldn’t get a feel for the narrator, the person telling the stories.   This all changed when I began to listen to the audio book.   Initially, Weintraub sounds every year of his age and I began to wonder if a young actor should have been hired to voice the tales.   But within just a few minutes one becomes mesmerized by his voice.

Weintraub likes to say that there are differences between a person’s appearance and his/her behaviors and true personality; but it takes some time to learn about the individual’s soul.   The same is true here…  Only by spending time with the man do you get past his appearance as one of “the suits” in New York City and Hollywood/Los Angeles.   Eventually you get to the man and his soul – what makes him tick, what really drives him, and what he thinks life – success – is really about.

Jerry Weintraub takes the listener on a journey which begins with him as a poor Jewish kid on the streets of Brooklyn.   In his early twenties he becomes the most ambitious young man working in the mail room at the famed William Morris Agency in Manhattan.   After a couple of very quick promotions, he quits William Morris – now who would do that? – as he has the idea of taking Elvis on his first nationwide concert tour.   In order to do this he needs to come up with a cool $1 million deposit to hand to Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager.   How does he come up with the money?   This is just one of the many great, highly entertaining, stories told in this anthology of true tales.

“While we’re here, we may as well smile.”   Armand Hammer

It comes as a surprise that the most fascinating stories are about the secondary figures, such as John Denver, George Burns, Dean Martin, Dorothy Hamill (who married Dean Paul “Dino” Martin), Colonel Parker (who was originally a carnival barker), and Armand Hammer.   But Weintraub saves the very best for last, when this very mature man touches upon spirituality, religion, mortality and family.   By his own admission, Weintraub has never been religious and yet he has come to work closely with Catholic charities and Jewish congregations.   It is all very personal, as he explains in Talking and some of the connections have to be heard to be believed.   (Yes, real life is so much stranger than fiction.)

It is when he talks of the death of his parents that we come to feel the emotional soul of Mr. Weintraub.   His voice breaking, he tells us that “everything changes in life when you lose your parents.”   Materialism takes a sudden back seat to memories, to one’s basic values as one comes to realize that we’re all renters in this place.

Jerry Weintraub, we come to know, was proud of his success but so much more so because he could share it with his parents – such as with his skeptical father who came to doubt that he “really knew” President Carter and the First Lady until the Weintraubs were invited to a State Dinner at the White House.   (Weintraub’s father once wondered aloud if his son had made millions as a Jewish member of the Mafia.)

By the end of Talking, you’ll come to feel that Jerry Weintraub is a very nice man, one you’d be happy to invite to one of those special “10 people you would like to have dinner with” events.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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