Garry Kasparov on Bobby Fischer, and Frank Brady’s new biography

A long and detailed article on Bobby Fischer, with a review of Brady’s new Fischer bio in the mix.

If you have even a smattering of interest in the topic, I encourage you to read the full piece. If you prefer a black-and-white understanding of Bobby Fischer, you need read nothing. Over the coming weeks and months, there will be plenty of opinion pieces to satisfy your needs. As Kasparov points out, there have always been “starry-eyed sycophants”, as well as “spiteful critics” whose need for facts will never extend beyond listening to his lunatic rants in his later years.

The sycophants you can easily ignore. The critics less so. But as you encounter one or another writer who portrays Fischer simply as a man with no principles, understand that that is not the opinion of many– I think most– Grandmasters. On the contrary, as Kasparov reminds us:

Fischer returned from beating Spassky in Reykjavík—the Match of the Century—a world champion, a media star, and a decorated cold warrior. Unprecedented offers rolled in for millions of dollars in endorsement deals, exhibitions, basically anything he was willing to put his name or face to. With a few minor exceptions, he turned it all down.

Keep in mind that the chess world of the pre-Fischer era was laughably impoverished even by today’s modest standards. The Soviet stars were subsidized by the state, but elsewhere the idea of making a living solely from playing chess was a dream. When Fischer dominated the Stockholm tournament of 1962, a grueling five-week qualifier for the world championship cycle, his prize was $750.

Of course it was Fischer himself who changed this situation, and every chess player since must thank him for his tireless efforts to get chess the respect and compensation he felt it deserved. He earned the nickname Spassky gave him, “the honorary chairman of our trade union.”…

It’s important to understand that Fischer turned down the huge advertising deals on principle. He didn’t feel that being a champion gave him any special perspective that should make someone else go out and buy a brand of sneakers that he endorsed. Maybe there are some American athletes who have displayed similar character regarding endorsements. Maybe you can name me one.

Brady does not, Kasparov tells us, spend much time trying to defend, explain, or judge Fischer’s bizarre side. Fischer was never medically diagnosed, so Brady’s– or your or my– analysis would be speculative and probably, for most of us, self-serving. In the end, Fischer’s failings are an important issue, but one outside of the questions that Fischer raised as a chess player. As Kasparov says:

Despite the ugliness of his decline, Fischer deserves to be remembered for his chess…. There is no moral at the end of the tragic fable, nothing contagious in need of quarantine. Bobby Fischer was one of a kind, his failings as banal as his chess was brilliant.

Fischer’s decline was a sad thing. Personally, I can leave it at that. As can also, apparently, Garry Kasparov.

Related Link:
Above, one of a number of previously unseen portraits of Bobby Fischer