One squally night two
years ago, just when it seemed that Bobby Fischer was finally going
to board a jet for Reykjavik, Iceland, when it looked as if his match
with Boris Spassky for the world chess championship might actually
take place, all hell broke loose at Kennedy International Airport.
This time the perpetrator was not a freaked-out Fischer but a small
boy who discovered the skittish grandmaster hiding in an airport bar
and led a charge of newsmen to the scene. Bobby bolted out the door,
across a highway and vanished into the gloom. His handlers meanwhile,
fending off the reporters with kicks and body blocks, were approached
by a cop who got right to the heart of the matter. "Who," he wanted
to know, "is Bobby Fischer?"
Does anyone in fact really
care any more? Brad Darrach surely does, and so will the readers of
his fast, funny account of the Great Airport Caper and other
misadventures of the Brooklyn bad boy. Darrach, who became Fischer's
confidant while covering his matches for LIFE, offers many new and
intriguing facts about the "Chess Match of the Century." At one point
in the hectic go, no-go negotiations, Darrach reports that despite
diplomatic requests from such noted peacemakers as Henry Kissinger
("In short," Kissinger said later, "I told Fischer to get his butt
over to Iceland"), Bobby, the exercise buff, refused to budge because
he could not get Jack LaLanne on Icelandic TV. One of Darrach's more
startling disclosures is that Fischer, assured of a $125,000 purse
and still demanding more, inexplicably and in all seriousness asked
Darrach to help him draft a letter to Spassky proposing that "we both
give up all the prize money and play for the sake of chess."
Spassky also harbored some
surprises. Though often pictured as the witty, urbane sportsman going
against the Brooklyn brat, Boris was himself a spoiled chess darling.
Depressed, out of shape, drinking too much and beset with marital
problems in the months before the match, he was "less interested in
winning the title," says Darrach, "than in pulling himself out of the
worst emotional hole he had ever been in."
The contestants had no
monopoly on strangeness. Throughout the frantic days when it appeared
that the match would be cancelled, Gudmundur Thorarinsson comported
himself with the kind of cool dignity befitting the president of the
Icelandic Chess Federation and a Reykjavic city councilman. Except,
that is, for that one moment when, by the light of the midnight sun,
he assured some foreign friends that the match would take place
because, based on consultations with a spiritualist, "prophetic
dreams" and "certain powers" unique to his people, "I know a
miracle will happen!"
The Russians got in their
wierd licks by charging that Bobby was using mysterious "electronic
devices and chemical substances" to cause Boris to "lose his fighting
spirit." The absurdity of it all was summed up when, in the
subsequent investigation, a chemist whipped an open plastic bag
around the stage of the playing hall and then sealed it for later
analysis with the label AIR FROM STAGE.
Darrach paints all his
characters with rich strokes. Almost too rich, in fact. He describes
one U.S. chess official as a "Huckleberry Babbitt," a man whose "pink
scalp looks like a ham in mourning." Such vivid excesses might be
well placed in a short treatment. But served in book-length bunches,
the cumulative effect is a bit like overdosing on chocolate fudge.
Yet the central figure of
this lively book comes through loud, clear and not a little screechy.
Though Fischer is a kind of walking Rorschach test open to all manner
of interpretations, most of them bad, Darrach grants him his due. As
he notes, many of the seemingly outlandish demands Bobby has made
over the years have not only been justified but have since been
adopted as rules for tournament play. Although he recently resigned
his world title because chess officials rejected additional demands,
Fischer has more than made good on his own bold promise: "I'm gonna
put chess on the map."
Still, upon hearing of the
book's publication, Fischer reportedly told his lawyers to "get
Darrach." Bobby, who for years shunned women in favor of his trusty
chess board and Bible, will probably be most annoyed by a pair of
revelations. First, that during off moments in Reykjavic he
frequently took to the mineral baths with a pair of adoring young
lovelies in bikinis. And second, that for six months thereafter,
while secluded in a California compound run by the Worldwide Church
of God, he not only dated but, at his request, was introduced to
"vivacious" girls with "big breasts."
All of which suggests the
hopeful prospect that just maybe the Bobby Fischer who is versus the
rest of the world is also part of it.