Brad Darrach and the Dark Side of Bobby Fischer

Edward Winter



Below is an article on Brad Darrach and Bobby Fischer which we contributed in November 2010 to ChessBase.com. It is followed by extensive complementary material posted in Chess Notes about Fischer’s dark side and, in particular, his virulent anti-Semitism.

***


From page 678 of the October 1975 Chess Life & Review:

‘A UPI item in the New York Sunday News, datelined Los Angeles, 30 August, reports Bobby Fischer is suing Brad Darrach, Time-Life International and Stein and Day (publisher of Darrach’s Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World) for $20 million.’

Earlier in the year, an advertisement had appeared in Chess Life & Review, on page 19 of the January 1975 issue:

darrach

Chess Life & Review returned to the subject on pages 299-300 of the May 1975 edition, when its Editor, Burt Hochberg, discussed an article (‘by somebody named D. Keith Mano’) about Darrach’s book which had appeared in the New York Times Book Review, 13 October 1974. Mano had concluded that ‘men who play at the grandmaster level are, almost without exception, strange and unpleasant’, which prompted Hochberg to comment that Mano had been misled. Darrach’s book, Hochberg added, ‘is unbalanced and unfair; he has taken an extremely complicated and tortured genius and subjected him to an almost morbid scrutiny at the most critical and stressful period in his life’.

Hochberg (a fine writer and editor, unjustifiably disregarded nowadays) added:

‘Mr Mano has fallen into a trap; he sees Fischer the nut, Fischer the unreasonable child, Fischer the pathologically repulsive – all through Darrach’s eyes, for of course Mr Mano does not know Fischer. But Darrach does not really know Fischer either; no-one can really know him who does not understand chess. Strange Fischer may be, even to his friends in the chess world, and unpleasant he is at times – but who isn’t? In Fischer’s case, his unpleasantness is obvious to journalists because they know nothing about chess and are incapable of correctly interpreting anything Fischer says or does.’

The rebuttal by Hochberg concluded:

‘... Fischer is not perfect. He is not even close. But he deserves to be treated fairly and with some attempt at understanding. If he were not the man he is, he would not be the greatest chessplayer the world has ever known.’

Darrach’s reply in the newspaper (23 February 1975), which included the claim that ‘The book shows Fischer as superhuman, subhuman and normally human (whatever that is) in different proportions at different times’, was also discussed by Hochberg. He observed that Darrach ‘will not hesitate to sacrifice accuracy for the sake of a good line’ and concluded that the book mainly comprised ‘incidents chosen to show Fischer in the worst possible light’. It was ‘a hatchet job’.

On the next page of Chess Life & Review a reader requested Larry Evans’ view on whether the Darrach book was fair and accurate. The reply included the following opinions:

‘Darrach is not always fair and not always accurate, but his book is clever and gives a better picture of what Bobby is really like than anything else ever written. In my review for newspapers I noted that: “Darrach’s anecdotes are choice and indiscreet. Little escapes his keen eye, and he was the only reporter allowed to shadow Bobby after promising not to write a book about him.”’

Evans’ ‘review’ can be found on page 9 of his book The Chess Beat (Oxford, 1982). From the first paragraph:

‘This hilarious portrait of a genuine loner reads like a novel as it recreates the inglorious saga of the title match in Iceland. Bobby is revealed as an idiot-savant who can neither cope with nor fathom the forces driving him. A moody genius.’

(See also, in this connection, C.N. 323, reproduced on pages 208-209 of Chess Explorations.)

In contrast, Fischer’s biographer, Frank Brady, wrote on page 808 of the December 1975 Chess Life & Review:

‘... Fischer is no idiot savant, no Grandmaster Cro Magnon, as he is constantly portrayed in the popular press and in worthless hatchet jobs like Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World by Brad Darrach.’

The French term cropped up yet again in Yasser Seirawan’s discussion of Fischer on page 293 of the book he co-wrote with George Stefanovic on the 1992 Fischer v Spassky match, No Regrets (Seattle, 1992):

‘The media had a field day. They could write anything they wanted, both real and imagined.

The coup de grâce was Brad Darrach’s book, Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World, that forever nailed Bobby as the horrible combination of idiot savant and enfant terrible. This single work undoubtedly influenced multitudinous journalists to write about Bobby in exactly the same way. This book would prove to be a monkey on Bobby’s back. He would find himself forced to fight back against the media.’

The Darrach book has certainly been influential. For example, Bobby Fischer Goes to War by David Edmonds and John Eidinow (London, 2004) made liberal use of it and even had, on page 153, two sentences which started with the same demeaning phrase: ‘According to Darrach’.

fischer darrach

Fischer v Spassky in Reykjavik. Front-cover photograph of How Fischer Won by C.J.S. Purdy (Sydney, 1972)

This Crazy World of Chess by Larry Evans (New York, 2007) began with an item entitled ‘Fischer Letter to Marcos’ which Evans had originally presented in 2004. The letter was dated 27 January 1975 and began ‘Dear Mr President, How are you?’. It included this passage:

‘... I’ll be starting a suit of my own against someone who has written an incredibly boring book about me [Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World by Brad Darrach] that’s being pushed as “the most deliciously indiscreet biography ever written”. I think it should be called the most inaccurate biography ever written! But we can’t expect much accuracy from the press.’

That last sentence, at least, is hardly open to dispute, and mainstream journalists have seldom paused to wonder how much of Darrach’s narrative and dialogue was true. The text is too colourful for any qualms about using it freely and with relish. In 1975 Stein and Day brought out a paperback edition, which quoted commendatory phrases such as the following from the Dallas Times:

‘High comedy with the language of a Marx Brothers movie and the comic pace of a Keystone Kops caper.’

darrach

But what about the issue of truth, the question of Fischer’s right to privacy and the wealth of direct speech? Discussing Chess Scandals: The 1978 World Chess Championship by E.B. Edmondson and M. Tal (Oxford, 1981) we commented in C.N. 509:

‘The late Colonel provides a mass of documentation tracing all the unbecoming disputes that marked the 1978 match as one of the most bitter in the game’s history. It seems strange that the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match did not give rise to such a book (we are discounting the scurrilous fiction of Brad Darrach).’

On 13 September 1983 Anthony Saidy (Santa Monica, CA, USA), who was frequently mentioned in Darrach’s book, wrote to us:

‘How accurate you were to describe Darrach’s “scurrilous fiction”! He writes superior pulp novel stuff.’

The views quoted so far have come from the compatriots of Fischer and Darrach, but the reception accorded to Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World across the Atlantic was also highly diverse. In fact, the BCM, edited by Brian Reilly, gave the book no reception of any kind, whereas the brasher CHESS (editor: B.H. Wood) had a field day. A cover page of the May/June 1975 issue mentioned that the book was in limited supply and gave readers every encouragement to place an early order:

‘Racy dialogue and a breathless hard-hitting style ... gripping stuff.

To what extent spontaneous conversation can be accurately reproduced years later is, of course, debatable.

The book is full of it, revealing R.J. Fischer as an obnoxious person indeed. As Brad Darrach has contributed to Life, Esquire, Harper’s and other magazines and (on the lines of this book) to the English Daily Telegraph supplement and attended the 1972 match at Reykjavik in person, we might assume that he has tackled his reportage responsibly. In the eyes of an ordinary man not blinded by hero-worship, Fischer emerges as a pretty noxious individual.’

Thus Fischer was described within a single paragraph as both obnoxious and noxious. Concerning Darrach, the grounds on which ‘we might assume that he has tackled his reportage responsibly’ scarcely appear rock-solid, but B.H. Wood was never an enemy of gossip.

The paperback edition of Darrach’s book received a mention among the cover pages of the February 1978 issue of CHESS, which showed that the magazine’s enthusiasm for such reportage had not diminished:

‘Deliciously sordid, and controversial, account of the clash of ’72. Racy, amusing prose and vivid portraits of even the minor characters give the book the air of a “non-fiction novel”.’

By that time, the lawsuit had come and gone. On page 238 of the May-June 1975 CHESS Frank Brady wrote:

‘... Fischer had other business matters to be discussed, including the possibilities of instigating a legal suit against author Brad Darrach for his book, Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World, most of which, Fischer claims, is libellous and untrue (as do many others in the chess world, including myself; Saidy calls it a “great work of fiction”) and also violates an agreement that Fischer had with Darrach that the latter would not write a book while covering the Fischer-Spassky match for Life magazine.’

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Pages 80-81 of Playboy, July 1973

As mentioned earlier, Fischer sued Darrach for $20,000,000 in August 1975. The outcome of the case, two years later, was related by Frank Brady in a detailed article (‘Bobby Fischer Pilloried – His lawsuit collapses because he disdained legal aid’) on pages 364-365 of the September 1977 CHESS. Brady’s main points are quoted below:

We have yet to find details regarding an appeal by Fischer or any other lawsuits against Darrach.

In CHESS B.H. Wood conspicuously distanced himself from Brady’s analysis and gave the article this heading:

‘Frank Brady, official biographer of Fischer, whose opinions as an unreserved supporter of the ex-world champion are very definitely all his own.’

At the end of the Brady article CHESS opined:

‘Darrach is sometimes grudgingly fair to Fischer but obviously loathes him. He stresses the mad genius’s merciless eccentricities. He has researched assiduously though nobody could have attended every personal encounter written up in such vivid dialogue. The facts are all basically authentic, as to prompt the question again and again “Could anyone behave like this?”

A gripping book, almost a work of genius whose bad faith, which Frank Brady documents so fiercely, is another matter.’

It is unclear how CHESS felt competent to affirm that ‘the facts are all basically authentic’.

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Bobby Fischer (Chess Life & Review, February 1973, page 71)

Independently of who was closest to the truth about Fischer in the 1970s, the subsequent revelations as to his character naturally cannot be ignored. In a 2005 Afterword to a feature article we observed:

‘From the late 1990s onwards he gave a series of radio interviews in which, egged on by standardless “broadcasters”, he came out with the most abject set of utterances ever made by a chess master.’

Yet there was even worse to come. The extent of Fischer’s depravity, anti-Semitism and, it must be said, apparent insanity was shown when a selection of his personal notes and other memorabilia was reproduced in Bobby Fischer Uncensored by David and Alessandra DeLucia (Darien, 2009).



Whereas Fischer, even during his periods of relative mental steadiness, viewed attempts to befriend or assist him with narrow-eyed paranoia, Kasparov’s failure has been at the opposite extreme and has, down the years, enabled some spectacularly unsuitable individuals to work their way in as neo-associates and pseudo-friends.

(3648)

There may never have been a chess book, even by Dimitrije Bjelica, with more direct speech than Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World by Brad Darrach (New York, 1974). The matter was touched on in a recent ChessBase article of ours [reproduced above].

It brings to mind the brilliant, though possibly untranslatable, remark by François Mitterrand about Jacques Attali: ‘Il a le guillemet facile.’

(6987)

Further to our ChessBase article on Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World by Brad Darrach (New York, 1974), we are grateful to Frank Brady (New York, NY, USA) for a copy of Fischer’s legal complaint (‘Demand for Jury Trial’, addressed to the United States District Court for the Central District of California). It was filed in 1975 against 27 parties, including Brad Darrach, Time Inc., Stein and Day, the United States Chess Federation, Burt Hochberg, Edmund Edmondson, Frank Skoff, Martin Morrison and Leroy Dubeck.

The ‘Plaintiff in pro ter’ was recorded as ‘Robert James Fischer, 300 Mockingbird Lane, South Pasadena, California. Tel: 795 5181’. He demanded a jury trial for his ‘complaint for defamation, invasion of privacy and interference with contractual relations’. The document, filed under 28 USC Section 1332, was 24 pages long and had two annexes (exhibits). These comprised advertisements reproduced from the United States Chess Federation’s magazine [such as the first illustration in our present feature article and the following]:

fischer darrach

Chess Life & Review, September 1975, page 603

With much textual repetition the cause of action fell into eight sections:

‘... All such charges, references, assertions and imputations were false, malicious and unprivileged, and were calculated to and did expose Plaintiff to hatred, contempt and ridicule, causing him to be shunned and avoided and proximately caused him to sustain severe nervous shock and strain, and to suffer great mental anguish, humiliation, shame and embarrassment.

As a direct result of the foregoing, Plaintiff has suffered general damages in the amount of $20 million US dollars.

As a further result of the foregoing, FIDE Delegates who would have voted in favor of amending the FIDE world championship rules in accordance with Plaintiff’s requests after reading the ad in Chess Life & Review lost respect for Plaintiff – did not vote in favor of Plaintiff’s amendments, and as a result Plaintiff was precluded from amending the rules for the FIDE world championship match scheduled for about June 1975 in Manila, Philippines, did not compete in said match and consequently was damaged in the amount of $4 million US dollars.

As a further result of the foregoing conduct of Defendants on or about 1 April 1975 Plaintiff was stripped of his prestigious FIDE world chess champion title and thereby damaged greatly in his reputation, property and business interests, as governments, chess organizers, individuals and corporations who would have employed Plaintiff now would not and Plaintiff has suffered damages in the amount of $16 million US dollars.’

In each of the eight sections the sum of $20 million US dollars was claimed against ‘each and all of the Defendants’, and there was also a request ‘for costs incurred and such other further relief as the court may deem just and proper under the circumstances’.

The fate of Fischer’s complaint is related in our above-mentioned ChessBase article.

(6982)

Concerning the court case, see too page 216 of Endgame by Frank Brady (New York, 2011).



Some observations by Burt Hochberg on page 299 of the May 1975 Chess Life & Review:

morphy

(9095)

C.N. 4797 mentioned that Darrach also wrote on music, and his output included monographs about Beethoven and Verdi:

darrachdarrach



On the subject of New in Chess and the importance of factual accuracy, we turn to an article entitled ‘Facing Bobby Fischer’ by Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam on pages 12-27 of the 3/2015 issue [which praised Brad Darrach’s book highly]. It refers to the large amount of ‘unsettling’ material in Bobby Fischer Triumph and Despair edited by Alessandra DeLucia (Darien, 2014) and argues that ‘even to this day, many Fischer fans and people that had known him personally are looking for ways to excuse his outrageous behaviour or gloss over his dark side’ (page 12). The dark side is identified as Fischer’s mental illness and virulent anti-Semitism, and page 16 states that ‘since the book appeared one year ago, it has been surrounded by silence’.

That last remark comes from a lengthy paragraph which, bafflingly, criticizes us for such silence. To quote just the conclusion:

‘It is remarkable that Winter, a historian who loves unearthing historical titbits, often fairly insignificant and from obscure sources, could not find more than a number of unpublished training games in Triumph and Despair to show to his readers. It is hard to come up with another reason than that he had no wish to enter the dark recesses of the mind of a man he admires so much as a chess player.’

Mr ten Geuzendam is referring to C.N. 8634 and, wilfully or not, he omits the obvious explanation for our ‘silence’: by that time we had already discussed Fischer’s dark side on many occasions, on the basis of earlier volumes by Mr David DeLucia.

Below, for instance, is an extract from C.N. 6189, concerning Bobby Fischer Uncensored (Darien, 2009):

Another item in Mr DeLucia’s collection, dated 18 November 1997: ‘a 100-page working typescript by Fischer entitled “What Can You Expect from Baby Mutilators”’.

Numerous illustrations are of books and other publications owned by Fischer, including such titles as The White Man’s Bible, The World Conspiracy and The Myth of the Six Million. His personal notebooks are also reproduced, and it would be impossible to overstate the anti-Semitism with which they are suffused. ‘Hitler was right about the Jews: They want to steal everything I’ve worked for all of my life’ (page 244). On page 285 another note, dated 21 May 1999, is also typical: ‘It’s time for programs against Jews and it’s also time for vigilante killings of Jews – random killings of Jews.’ Page 301 has a draft letter which begins:

‘Dear Mr Osama bin Laden allow me to introduce myself. I am Bobby Fischer, the World Chess Champion. First of all you should know that I share your hatred of ...’, etc., etc.

Mr DeLucia presents such material without editorial comment, rightly leaving readers to supply their own revulsion.

We also wrote about David DeLucia’s collection, again stressing the dark side of Fischer, in an article at ChessBase.com in 2012. The same year the feature article A Letter from Bobby Fischer to Pal Benko was posted, again courtesy of Mr DeLucia. We first mentioned the letter to Benko in C.N. 3165 (‘Fischer on Hitler’ – see pages 329-330 of Chess Facts and Fables) following publication of David DeLucias Chess Library: A Few Old Friends (Darien, 2003).

Another article, Instant Fischer, has an Afterword written in 2005, and its conclusion provides further proof that we have not shied away from denouncing Fischer:

From the late 1990s onwards he gave a series of radio interviews in which, egged on by standardless ‘broadcasters’, he came out with the most abject set of utterances ever made by a chess master.

(9245)

A retraction and apology are awaited from Mr Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam over his claim on page 16 of the 3/2015 New in Chess that we have been silent about Fischer’s dark side. As demonstrated in C.N. 9245, the truth is the exact opposite: thanks to Mr David DeLucia’s generosity, we have quoted extensively from the series of books which he and his daughter have published over the past dozen years, and much ‘dark’ material has been included.

A further example of non-silence is our conclusion to a ChessBase.com article in 2010:

The extent of Fischer’s depravity, anti-Semitism and, it must be said, apparent insanity was shown when a selection of his personal notes and other memorabilia was reproduced in Bobby Fischer Uncensored by David and Alessandra DeLucia (Darien, 2009).

(9252)

Despite the rebuttals in C.N. 9245 and 9252, the 4/2015 issue of New in Chess contains no apology or retraction regarding Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam’s false statement in the previous issue that we have been silent over the dark side of Fischer shown in the documentation which David DeLucia has published from his collection.

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Page 16 of the 3/2015 New in Chess. The section with the false attack on us is marked.

The truth is the exact opposite of what New in Chess readers were told, given that we have quoted far more ‘dark’ material from Mr DeLucia’s books than all other chess writers combined.

Before publication of his Fischer article in the 3/2015 New in Chess, Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam sent a preview to Mr DeLucia and was specifically told, in advance of publication, that his intended criticism of us was unfounded. Mr DeLucia has informed us:

‘When he sent me the draft the one comment I made was that he was wrong with his assessment of your view on Fischer. I told him to review past C.N. articles as I knew you had done a number of them regarding Bobby and his craziness. Dirk Jan obviously had a different view.’

(9338)

Addition on 15 June 2016:

Mr DeLucia’s next sentence in his above-mentioned e-mail message to us (13 May 2015) stated with regard to Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam:

‘There is no doubt that anyone who has followed C.N. and read his Fischer article knows that he is simply wrong on his assertions.’

On 20 June 2015 David DeLucia wrote to us regarding Mr ten Geuzendam:

‘My take on this was that he didn’t care what you wrote in past articles but wanted to get his view out there in NIC.’



Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam still cannot bring himself to correct the record in New in Chess after cold-bloodedly deceiving his readers about us on page 16 of the 3/2015 issue.

(9401)

From Olimpiu G. Urcan (Singapore):

‘As New in Chess did not correct the record off its own bat, I sent the magazine this letter:

“Concerning page 16 of the 3/2015 New in Chess, Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam’s criticism of Edward Winter for disregarding the dark side of Fischer (as shown in published items from David DeLucia’s collection) is unfounded. Winter’s article Brad Darrach and the Dark Side of Bobby Fischer demonstrates that the truth is the exact opposite: in his Chess Notes column over the years, Winter has posted, courtesy of DeLucia, a large amount of such ‘dark’ Fischer material (more than all other chess writers combined, in fact). Moreover, DeLucia states that when he was sent a preview of the New in Chess article he specifically told Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam, prior to publication, that the planned criticism of Winter was wrong.”

My letter has not been published.’

(9635)

Addition by Mr Urcan on 30 May 2016: ‘In an e-mail message dated 4 November 2015 Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam told me that he would publish my letter. He has not done so.’



Latest update: 15 June 2016.

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