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Endgame

Bobby Fisher in 1960

Bobby Fischer was perhaps the greatest chess champion of all time. He certainly was the greatest native born American chess champion. He was a genius at chess but a completely despicable and neurotic individual as a human being. His long time follower and himself a chess expert Frank Brady has written a fascinating biography about Bobby Fischer. The biography, titled “Endgame,” presents Bobby Fischer as he was with all of his neuroses, bigotry, hatefulness and unbelievable talent as a chess master. He was born to a Jewish mother and an uncertain father. The mother, a wild liberal Leftist advocate, raised him and she was a truly doting Jewish mother.

Brady is of the opinion that Bobby Fischer, raised in polyglot Brooklyn  had a traditional bar mitzvah commemoration. However Fischer’s attention to Judaism was very tenuous at best. His passion and religion was chess from childhood on. His school work and attendance was desultory at best because of his continuing concentration on chess. He played chess in the public parks with the older players who gathered there daily. He was a regular at The Manhattan Chess Club and there met many of the grandmasters of chess of the twentieth century. Most of them were Jewish. He was especially combative and competitive with Samuel Reshevsky, a world grand master who was an observant Orthodox Jew who I knew personally when I lived in Monsey, New York. Fischer’s genius was recognized by all and even as a teenager he was a feared opponent and a fierce competitor. He was sponsored for chess tournaments by the Manhattan Chess Club and soon came to international attention in the rarefied world of professional chess players. The chess world then in the middle of the twentieth century was dominated by Russian grand masters such as Boris Spassky and Gary Kasparov.

These Russian champions were Jewish but Fischer saw them as Russian and he hated Russians. He also hated Jews as I will discuss shortly. He claimed that the Russians ganged up on him, fixed games between themselves to deprive him of opportunities to win the world championship and were basically despicable people. Fischer suffered from serious paranoia and believed that he was entitled to deferential treatment that no other chess champion ever received or demanded. The ironic thing is that most of the time he had his way. His defeat of Spassky that gained him the world championship and made him a wealthy man sparked unprecedented interest in chess in the United States and throughout the world. But his temperament was so mercurial that no one knew how to deal with him.

He went into isolated seclusion for many years after winning his world championship. He joined a  cultist church organization and gave it millions of dollars only to become disillusioned and a bitter foe of it. His personal life was as disordered as his personality though he finally apparently did marry a companion of his. He eventually agreed to defend his title against Kasparov. The venue that was chosen was in Yugoslavia, at that time breaking up in a terrible atrocity filled civil war and under American sanctions not to visit there. Fischer ignored the warnings, defeated Kasparov in Yugoslavia and became an outlaw to the American government. He eventually moved to Iceland where he gained political asylum and died and was buried there – no longer a hero to Americans and even to the professional chess world. His foul and erratic personal behavior and terrible rantings and ravings about Jews, Russians, and the United States had finally caught up with him.

Even genius in one field of human endeavor – in this case chess – does not provide immunity for evil behavior and despicable attitudes. Bobby Fischer was a vicious anti-Semite. Brady is hard pressed to find any reason or turning point in Fischer’s life that made him so. Every scurrilous libel about Jews and Judaism was believed by Fischer and spread by him. As such he falls into the category of the many Jewish self-haters that history has spawned. In fact he became the poster boy of the neo-Nazi groups throughout the world. But as is usually the case in such circumstances he was himself the greatest victim of his own unreasoning hatred of Jews. His rabid anti-Semitism more than anything else robbed him of the approbation and respect that his chess genius should have earned for him.

Brady’s biography is fascinating and a great read. One need know nothing about chess to reap its benefits and insights. It records another example of genius gone wrong and talent befouled by hatred, bigotry, avarice and hubris. In that regard it serves as another type of medieval morality play for all of us.  

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