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The Troubled Genius of Bobby Fischer

Jan 30, 2011 (All Things Considered)

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Chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer pictured in 1971, at age 28.

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One night in 1960, author and chess fan Frank Brady sat down for dinner in a Greenwich Village tavern.

Across the table from him was Bobby Fischer, just a teenager but already a grand master of the game. Fischer was never without his pocket chessboard, and as they lingered over dinner, he pulled it out and began to rehearse for an upcoming match. His eyes glazed, his fingers flew over the little board, and he seemed completely unaware of his surroundings as he whispered to himself about possible moves.

Brady found that in the presence of Fischer's chess genius, his eyes were full of tears.

He describes the scene in his new book, Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall — From America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness.

Brady tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz that he first became aware of Fischer while both were playing in a New York chess tournament in the mid 1950s.

"I remember some older man kibitzing the game, and Bobby spun around and said, 'Please! This is a chess game!' The man was about 65 years old, and he was silenced by this child."

Brady later became friends with Fischer, and wrote about him often, including a 1965 biography.

But Fischer was a troubled genius. He dropped out of sight after winning the 1972 World Championship against Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. Today, he's better known as a paranoid recluse whose frequent anti-Semitic and anti-American rants drove away friends and angered the U.S. government.

"Paraphrasing Churchill, he was an enigma inside of a conundrum," Brady says. "Think of him as the greatest chess player who ever lived. The Mozart of chess. And then think of him as a failed human being, one who fell, tremendously and quickly and swiftly, fell from grace."

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Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness
By Franky Brady
Hardcover, 416 pages
List Price: $25.99
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