After buying a copy of the book quite cheaply, I was delighted to so thoroughly enjoy Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How the Soviets Lost the Most Extraordinary Chess Match of All Time by David Edmonds and John Eidinow.
The subject of the book is the famous 1972 chess match between Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassy in Iceland. Unlike many other books that cover the chess games themseles, this book covers the personalities of the men playing the games and the circumstances that surrounded the match.
Mention Bobby Fisher to nearly anyone familiar with his name and they will most likely a strong and immediate reaction. One of my co-workers described him as a “world-class flake.” Unfortunately, such a reaction is probably unfair to Fisher. He is undeniably difficult to interface with as a person. His sense of morals is clearly underdeveloped and when they were handing out social graces, Fisher wasn’t just at the back of the line, he was in another line altogether. What Fisher did, probably better than anyone else at the time, was play chess. All of this leads nearly inexorably to the conclusion that Fisher is most likely a savant. He plays chess like a brilliant grandmaster, but runs the rest of his life like an 8 year-old kid.
Spassky is something of an unknown to many people. While he was a product of the Soviet system, he was a Russian at heart. It is important to understand the difference between a Russian and a Soviet because they are not the same thing. Russians are born in Russia and they may or may not be believers in the Soviet way of life. Soviets, on the other hand, could be born in any former USSR state as long as they advocated the advancement of the Soviet agenda. The Soviets pushed the idea of chess as a measure of their society’s superiority over other societys and economic systems. As such, there were extensive programs setup to identify and develop latent chess talent all across the Soviet Union. This system helped to create a long line of Soviet grandmasters that held the world title for many, many years. Spassky, being a Russian, was not interested in imbuing the game of chess with the Soviet agenda. He loved the game for what it was.
Edmonds and Eidinow repeatedly cover just how the governments of the two superpowers viewed the match within their inner circles. While much of the world looked at the game as a lone American rising up to challenge the Soviet dominence, ample evidence is presented to support the idea that the two governments did not much care about the match in the larger geopolitical sense. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the USSR, many previously hidden records were opened to the authors. They mined these records to reveal many interesting behind the scenes facts about the participants in the game and their respective governments. Actions taken by the KGB during the match are discussed, as are accusations by Spassky’s team there were psychotropic drugs or mind control devices hidden in Fisher’s chair.
Bobby Fisher Goes To War is an excellent and compelling book about the great chess match in Iceland. The authors’ extensive research and interviews with many of the principals of the time, along with their accessible and well-constructed prose, really bring the work to life.