After his world championship match with Boris Spassky in 1972, Bobby Fischer was one of the most recognised faces in the United States. He was rich, famous and at the very peak of his creative talents. Most importantly for the Americans, he had defeated their cold-war nemesis in a game that was considered the Soviets national sport. He held the adoration of millions and single-handedly spawned a chess craze throughout a nation. Then, one day, he disappeared. At the time this book was published, everybody was Searching for Bobby Fischer.
This book is the tale of Fred Waitzkin and his son Josh, a chess prodigy who had discovered a talent for the game at the age of 6. Fred was one of the many parents of the era who imagined their children growing up to be the next Fischer, challenging for the world championship and going on to similar fame and riches. The difference is, Josh Waitzkin may very well have the ability to do so.
The story works its way through Josh’s rise up the chess rankings to the penultimate crown for a young player in the United States, the national championship. It comments on the role of parents in the life of a talented child and the pressure on these kids that they must deal with alone. Can such dedication and single-minded focus at a young age lead to deficiencies in other areas, perhaps even spawning a little psychosis/mania as in the case of Bobby Fischer? It also comments on the larger issues of the day, freedom in Soviet Union and the poor state of chess in America, particularly in terms of respect and compensation. Josh may have the chess talents but his father is certainly a great writer.
I was a big fan of chess around the age of 10 or so and even won an outer-school tournament one year. This book rekindled a little of my interest in the game. Chess is truly an artform, such a seemingly simple game full of endless intricacies and possibilities. It encourages (perhaps a better word would be ‘forces) patience, strategic thinking, creativity and discipline. Even if you don’t have your sights set on glory, I believe most people would get something out of the game.
This book is well worth the read & I’ve heard the movie of the same title is also well-done.