Artwork by Justin Jenkins

Chess mate
An authoritative biography of a perverse American genius.
By CARL ROLLYSON, Special to the Star Tribune
Last update: February 19, 2011 – 12:15 PM

When Bobby Fischer (1943-2008) defeated Boris Spassky, the Russian world champion, in an epic match that ran from July to September 1972, his victory seemed to mark a decisive moment in the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In the 1950s, the U.S.S.R. had dominated the game, with more than 4 million members in the Soviet Chess Federation, compared with 3,000 in its American counterpart. When the Soviet and U.S. teams played against one another in the 1950s, it was like the NBA All-Stars playing a college team, writes Frank Brady in his new book, “Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall — From America’s Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness.”

With the successful launch of Sputnik in 1959, even as American rockets fell back on their launch pads, the Soviet Union seemed poised to “bury” the United States — as Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev boasted.

The successful moon landing in 1969 and Fischer’s chess triumph signaled that America had come roaring back. The quirky, eccentric, camera-shy Fischer — who unsettled Spassky by requesting changes in venue and treating the board game as a battleground — held the world in his hands. He seemed the epitome of American individualism and know-how, owing to his innovative chess moves and canny self-promotion. But Fischer found fame a burden he could not bear and was stripped of his title when he refused to schedule matches that would not be played on his terms.

By the early 1990s, Fischer was famous for refusing to play chess — at least in public. The 1993 film “Searching for Bobby Fischer” explored the perils of pushing a young player toward the crushing, competitive arena of international chess, a process that had transformed Fischer into a kind of monster, exploited by cold-blooded mentors who neglected to develop a rounded human being.

Full article here.

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