One of the legends about the chess career of Bobby Fischer is that when he began showing signs of greatness—at age 11, or thereabouts—the Russians tried to get him to defect to the Soviet Union, but he turned them down. Frank Brady has not included this story in his anecdotal biography, Profile of a Prodigy: The Life and Games of Bobby Fischer (McKay, $6.50), but he gives plenty of others. A former editor of Chess Life, Brady contributes an insider's gossip that adds interest to a readable but somewhat prejudiced book.Not that anecdotes are necessary, In fact, they get in the way of the extraordinary facts about Robert James Fischer, born in 1943, the youngest person (according to Brady) ever included in Who's Who in America, U.S. chess champion (for the first of six times) at 14, and a tireless and original contender for the U.S. at almost every great international tournament ever since.
At the heart of Brady's controversial interpretation of Fischer is an article which Fischer wrote for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, The Russians Have Fixed World Chess (SI, Aug. 20, 1962). The 19-year-old Fischer wrote that the preponderance of Russian masters at world tournaments and their tactic of drawing their games with each other while they concentrated on knocking out contenders from other countries insured the world championship would go to one Russian master or another. Brady holds this argument is sour grapes, resulting from Fischer's poor showing at the tournament in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, where he expected to emerge as challenger for the world title.
Here the anecdotes provide a wry accompaniment. We learn that Fischer shunned other players and fell into "a furious, shouting argument" with the other U.S. entrant. Brady's point is that Fischer refused to accept the fact that he was outclassed by the Russians "and so he arrived at that great catchall repository for contemporary frustration: the conspiracy theory." Ralph Ginzburg, the editor and publisher of Eros magazine, published an interview with Fischer that was devastating in its unguarded expressions of self-esteem. Fischer said he was misquoted. But Brady, who was the associate publisher of Eros, says the interview was partially tape-recorded. All told, the anecdotes seem to prove only that any Brooklyn teen-ager who sets out to conquer the chess world is likely to run into trouble. The bare facts are more impressive. They suggest that Fischer's achievement to date is one of the most remarkable in the long history of chess.