Without Bobby Fischer this column would not exist. The American's one-man challenge to the Soviet domination of chess during the Cold War brought the game into the mainstream of public discourse — and I was one of the hundreds of thousands of youngsters who were then captivated by studying Fischer's games, marvelling at their sublime combination of force and elegance.
Like music, painting and poetry, chess has an aesthetic appeal to the human mind, which, once discovered, is never lost. The ex-world chess champion, Mikhail Botvinnik, described chess as "an art which illustrates the beauty of logic"; but it is also a sporting contest. This combination of combat and intellect makes it even more of an addiction than art alone could induce.
Those of us who became hooked on chess as a result of Bobby Fischer's exploits in the early 1970s have also retained a fascination for the Fischer legend: in particular, what made him the person he was, and why did he self-destruct at the height of his powers?
Naturally, these questions are of particular potency in the US. When he won the World Chess Championship by beating Boris Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972, Bobby Fischer briefly became the most famous man in America, with more popular recognition than film stars and presidents-and then he just disappeared.
Now, two Americans have produced separate attempts to solve the mystery of Bobby Fischer. Frank Brady, who knew the chess genius well from the days when he was a child prodigy, has just published his third and most revelatory biography of Fischer: Endgame (Constable, £20); and the film-maker Liz Garbus has come up with Bobby Fischer Against The World, which is released in the UK on July 15.
As one would expect, a 388-page book contains vastly more information than could be packed into a one-and-a-half hour documentary. This is especially true in Fischer's case, as he was notoriously camera-shy even before his later years of reclusive flight. So there are some eerily evocative glimpses of Fischer in Brady's book which could never be captured by film. None more so than one of the passages in which Brady described Fischer's hermit years in a cheap rented apartment in South Pasadena: the undefeated world champion "far into the night would play over the latest games by himself — from tournaments in places ranging from England to Latvia to Yugoslavia to Bulgaria — and he'd hiss and scream as he followed the moves. So loudly did he exclaim ‘Yes!', ‘Absurd!', or ‘Always the rook on that rank!', that his pronouncements could be heard on the quiet lane where he lived. These outbursts startled the infrequent passers-by and sometimes produced complaints from neighbours."