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Searching for Bobby Fischer: The Father of a Prodigy Observes the World of Chess

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The father of a real american chess prodigy reflects on chess, competition, childhood, and his son's meteoric rise to the highest levels of global competition.

“[A] little gem of a book.” — The New York Times

Fred Waitzkin was smitten with chess during the historic Fischer-Spassky championship in 1972. When Fisher disappeared from public view, Waitzkin's interest waned—until his own son Josh emerged as a chess prodigy.

Searching for Bobby Fischer is the story of Fred Waitzkin and his son, from the moment six-year-old Josh first sits down at a chessboard until he competes for the national championship. Drawn into the insular, international network of chess, they must also navigate the difficult waters of their own relationship. All the while, Waitzskin searches for the elusive Bobby Fischer, whose myth still dominates the chess world and profoundly affects Waitzkin’s dreams for his son.

240 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1988

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About the author

Fred Waitzkin

8 books35 followers
Fred Waitzkin was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1943. When he was a teenager he wavered between wanting to spend his life as a fisherman, Afro Cuban drummer or novelist. He went to Kenyon College and did graduate study at New York University. His work has appeared in Esquire, New York magazine, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Outside, Sports Illustrated, Forbes, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Beast, among other publications. His memoir, Searching for Bobby Fischer, was made into a major motion picture released in 1993. His other books are Mortal Games, The Last Marlin, and The Dream Merchant. Recently, he has completed an original screenplay, The Rave. Waitzkin lives in Manhattan with his wife, Bonnie, and has two children, Josh and Katya, and two grandsons, Jack and Charlie. He spends as much time as possible on the bridge of his old boat, The Ebb Tide, trolling baits off distant islands with his family. His novel, Deep Water Blues, will be published in spring 2019. You can find more on Fred Waitzkin at his website or check out some exclusive content on Facebook.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 136 reviews
Profile Image for notgettingenough .
1,026 reviews1,180 followers
November 30, 2009
You might be more likely to have seen the film, which is a good representation of the book.

I recall that the film got some flack for its representation of Washington Square Park as a den of iniquity, but it seemed spot on to me, having played there around the same time.

That trip I played quite a bit of chess, often outdoors, around Manhattan, and apart from one game in The Village Chess Shop the only time I looked like losing was in Washington Square Park. Sat down and started playing a black guy who was the consummate hustler. I'd never experienced anything like it, only read about it. Yep, I was going to lose, but it was going to be a lot of fun.

Suddenly, however, another black guy came up and asked for table money. I was happy to pay whatever, these guys, whether legitimately or not, as I found out near the world trade centre, never asked for much, so what did I care? But I was completely ignored as these two started a big black dude mother-fucker argument about who owed what to whom. After a while the board was smashed, pieces and clock flying.

I ran for it, quite nervous, I must confess, to another row of tables where people were - laughing at me. I'm not sure if this is the case or not, but when I gathered my wits it seemed like maybe the chess area is segregated and I was in the black part. Maybe somebody who has played there can answer that for me. It seemed like I'd suddenly gone from being surrounded by blacks to surrounded by whites and that the latter found the whole incident highly amusing.

New York. Everybody's a hustler. I played outside near the World Trade Centre on this trip. Somebody asked me to play and said it was usual for the loser to pay the table money, a dollar a game. Fine, I said. After I won maybe the first half a dozen games I decided that was enough. I hung around to see if my opponent handed over money to the guy running the show, but of course he didn't. I think that's what amazes me about America. Not that there's a hustler near by whereever you are, but that they are so penny ante.

There must have been a whole generation of fathers who lived vicariously through their children in that post-Fischer period. Children overburdened with unreasonable expectations. I hope they are all ashamed of themselves now. The fathers, that is.

Profile Image for Eric_W.
1,920 reviews354 followers
August 21, 2009
Chess has always been a particular passion of mine, which, much like other passions, rises and falls as the years go by. Most games and their inherent competitiveness are fun, but chess remains the most elegant. It has the physical beauty of the pieces, the simplest of rules, yet the potential for incredible complexity, and no dice. I hate dice. Chess requires pure intellect.

During the 70's, following the famous Fischer-Spassky match, the virtual embodiment of Russo-American war, practically every American mother wanted nothing more for her child than to grow up a chess master. Chess even had its cadre of groupies who worked their way up the ranking ladder.

Times have changed. Internationally ranked grand masters now must hustle games in New York's Washington Square Park, having no place to live or eat. Having devoted their lives to chess, they have no marketable skills. Meanwhile, the Russians coddle and nurture anyone showing the slightest hint of talent.

Fred Waitzkin's son Josh was found to be exceptionally talented at age six. By 11, he had fought the current world champion Garry Kasparov to a draw in an exhibition match. Waitzkin writes of his own passion for the game and his relationship with his son, and the impact such intense dedication can have on a child and his family, in a marvelous book entitled Searching for Bobby Fischer: The World of Chess, Observed by the Father of a Child Prodigy . The book is a fascinating account of the chess world, populated with eccentric characters. As one reviewer has said, "chess lives, or windmills its arms, on the outer rims of sanity." The "search" for Fischer becomes an allegory for families and values and the way we determine what is important in our lives. Fischer, even yet a recluse, even though probably "insane" (whatever that means), continues to dominate the American game. The Fischer-Spassky rematch in Yugoslavia may become the non-event of the century.

By the way, the movie was great, too

Profile Image for Abbie Lewis.
87 reviews6 followers
March 14, 2021
The wandering thoughts of this book are odd. The story of his son is interwoven with other chess related things and other completely unrelated things. My only take away is becoming obsessed with anything and letting it consume you is destructive. And being diligent as a parent to not set a standard for your child in their life and push them to meet it. I will say it made me more interested in the game of chess and how complex and mathematical it is but I wonder if there are better books out there about chess. Also inappropriate things mentioned were completely unnecessary. Over all not horrible but leaves you wondering why... the movie was better honestly.
Profile Image for Lee Davis.
40 reviews
April 7, 2011
I went to the library to look for books about chess strategy, because, you know, I like chess. They were all out of Susanna Polgar, so I brought home this book instead. It's basically what it says it is; a chess prodigy's father writes about his son and the international chess scene in the 1980s. And here is what I got out of the book: Chess is real bad news! Chess might seem like a classy pastime, or an intellectual pursuit, but it just wants to fuck you up and leave you getting rained-on in the gutter. Stay away from chess, while you still have time!

If you're an adult, chess might turn you into a schizophrenic Nazi, but it will probably just make you a drunk asleep on a park bench. If you're lucky, you can hustle your skills for drinking money in Washington Square Park. If you're a child, chess is even more insidious. Your parents, who once loved you unconditionally and sought to give you a well-rounded childhood, will start wanting to turn you into a single-speed killing machine. As their love for you rises and falls with the number of other little kids you decapitate at tournaments (whose parents' love is similarly linked to victory, so their tears are not just poor sportsmanship), you realize that to maintain a competitive edge/parental love you need to give up almost all non-chess activities, and play and practice and memorize chess moves for hours every day.

The best part is that while everyone loves chess prodigies, with their little hands and big heads looking so serious and cute, once you hit puberty, no one cares. They might care a little if you're absolutely the best in the country, or world, or if you're super-hot like Susanna Polgar, but for most of you: it's over kid, find a new pastime. I bet you wish you had some childhood memories to guide you forward.

So remember, chess is safe to read about, but never, never to play. If you ever see a kid with a chess board, take it away and introduce them to video games and sugar. They will thank you someday.
Profile Image for Kressel Housman.
971 reviews222 followers
March 21, 2016
My youngest son has become an avid chess player of late, so while I have no interest in learning the game itself, I figured I might as well learn its history. History is precisely what sparked my son’s recent enthusiasm; his favorite magazine, the Jewish history magazine “Zman,” did an article on the Karpov-Kasparov match. Kasparov was Jewish, and his victory was considered a blow to the Soviet elite, an angle that the “Zman” article undoubtedly played up. But the only grandmaster I’d ever heard of was Bobby Fischer, and that led me to the movie “Pawn Sacrifice,” which depicts Fischer’s historic match against Boris Spassky, and to this book. So I’ll start my review with a brief summary of what I learned from “Pawn Sacrifice” because it really is basic background for understanding this book.

Bobby Fischer was a self-taught chess genius who won the national championship at the age of 14. The Soviet grandmasters were considered the best in the world, though, so that was where young Bobby set his sights. He played several matches with them, but realized they were cheating by deliberately throwing matches and thus manipulating rankings and scores. He dropped out of competitive chess in protest, but in 1972, he was urged to return. We were losing Vietnam, and because chess was held in such high esteem in the Soviet Union, an American victory would be a real humiliation. Nobody less than Henry Kissinger telephoned him to persuade him to compete.

Genius like Fischer’s comes at a cost. The movie portrays him as paranoid, but with the pressure of the American government on him, plus being around the secretive Soviets, and the mental stress of the game itself, it’s no wonder he broke down. But it’s hard to be entirely sympathetic toward him because he was also an arrogant jerk. Though he himself was Jewish, till the end of his life, he spouted the most atrocious anti-Semitic conspiracy theories you can think of. Boris Spassky, on the other hand, proved himself a class act by applauding Bobby Fischer when he realized he’d been beaten.

This book picks up where “Pawn Sacrifice” leaves off. Bobby Fischer’s victory triggered a chess craze in the States, and author Fred Waitzkin was swept right along with it. After discovering he could beat everyone in his school and neighborhood, he went to some chess clubs in the City, only discover that he wasn’t champion material. Fourteen years later, in 1984, he had become a journalist, gotten married, and had a son, who, at age six, showed such promise at chess, he was being called “the next Bobby Fischer.” That is how Fred Waitzkin became a “chess father.”

Most of the book is about the high-stress world of youth competitive chess and Fred’s guilt for putting his son through it. He made it look so bad, I was glad my son has started out too late to ever play competitively. But aside from the hours of training and tension-ridden tournaments, there were two other corners of the chess world he explored that were quite interesting. One was in the informal world of the parks. I never gave much thought to the chess players I’ve passed in parks, but it seems they’ve got their own little subculture going. The other part of the chess world the book explored was in the Soviet Union itself.

Because he was a journalist who knew something about chess, Fred was assigned to cover the Karpov-Kasparov match, which was about as big as the Fischer-Spassky match. The fall of the Soviet Empire was a few short years in the future, but Fred saw no signs of it. (Did anyone?) What he makes clear is how big a deal chess was in Soviet culture. A grandmaster was treated with as much celebrity as a star athlete in the States. It made me understand why Henry Kissinger considered Bobby Fischer’s game such a priority. It was like a small-scale space race. This section of the book also captured in detail the negative side of the Soviet Union, and it was everything we’ve ever heard about: anti-Semitism, the suppression of dissidents, the endemic corruption, and the constant surveillance. It was one of the best real time looks behind the Iron Curtain that I’ve ever read. It was easily my favorite part of the book.

If you’ve got a young chess player in your life, this book will serve as a warning about competitive chess. But it’s still an interesting look at the many aspects of chess culture, and the Soviet section is especially worthwhile. I’m impressed enough with Fred Waitzkin that I might read his other book, which is all about the Karpov-Kasparov match. But not right away. Like young Josh Waitzkin, I think I need to take a break from chess for a while.

Profile Image for Jared.
577 reviews32 followers
July 31, 2010
I've loved the movie that came from this book for a long time, so when I ran across the book at the library I had to pick it up.

Fred Waitzkin was inspired by Bobby Fisher's 1972 world championship chess win over the Russian Boris Spassky. He studied chess for awhile before realizing that he would never be better than a patzer -- a chess player who will never amount to much.

Ten years later, Fred discovered that his six-year-old boy Josh has talent for chess. This results in several years of life consumed by chess lessons, tournaments, and travel to meet some of the greatest chess masters and grandmasters of the age. This book covers the period between when Josh started studying chess and when he won the National Scholastic Chess Championship at eight.

Along the way, Fred relates stories about the Soviet and U.S. chess establishments, the struggles of U.S. masters and grandmasters to survive in an occupation that pays peanuts (and often less than that), and some of the colorful chess personalities that he met. His description traveling with Josh and his chess teacher, Bruce Pandolfini, to Russia for the Karpov-Kasparov match of 1984 is an intriguing discussion, more for the window into Soviet Russia than for the chess match itself.

One of the best aspects of this book is its honesty. Fred is forthright over his struggles about whether he's pushing Josh too hard, the kids' thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, life as a chess parent, and the ambivalence of raising a child to focus so exclusively on something that has little chance of providing a lucrative occupation. He describes the obsession that many chess players have with the game, irrespective of ability, and how it consumes and sometimes destroys their lives.
Profile Image for Martyn.
369 reviews35 followers
July 8, 2014
This is a great read, helped immeasurably by Fred Waitzkin being a novelist who can write well - talented family huh?

It doesn't just center on Josh's beginnings in the chess world, but also manages to provide a snapshot of the scholastic, American and world chess landscapes in the late 70's to late 80's, a short biography of Fischer, the machinations of the Soviet chess system and of course the consistently changing nature of Fred's own chess fandom coupled with his relationship to his son.

It's honest, uplifting and definitely worth checking out, even if you're not greatly interested in chess; the story of father and son is good enough on its own.
76 reviews
July 21, 2022
i read one book on chess so now i'm a self proclaimed expert and no one can convince me otherwise

anyways i honestly did like this book for its honest i hope portrayals of the "chess world" which i have no real way of verifying to be true...but anyways i thought the characterizations of real life people mentioned were fantastic-particularly pandolfini who i loved. a lot of the characters were incredibly lovable, especially the ones who helped joshua throughout the book.
this book was irritating at times to read, especially the scenes in which chess parents were described like yikes... i also felt so bad for the authors kid for most of the book. i cant really comment on fred waitzkin or whatever but at least his portrayal of himself as a character i absolutely hated like those chess parents are literlaly living vicariously through their kids thats so selfish i feel like... i guess at least chess has made a comeback recently so maybe now its different but at least the way its shown is so toxic??? i do think its sad that joshua quit chess according to the wiki but i mean its understandable considering this book
i didnt think a book on chess would be this interesting but who knows
Profile Image for Dave.
13 reviews
April 16, 2020
Disclaimer: I have not seen the movie and am not a chess enthusiast. With that being said, the book is a story about a father and his chess prodigy son going through the daily struggles of trying to be the best in the world. It goes into long detail about chess culture in the US and Russia in the 1980s. It is interesting enough to finish and makes you think about what it would be like to be in the positions both Fred and Josh are going through. I am intrigued to learn more about Bobby Fischer and his rise and fall (which there was a relatively small amount about) and to watch the movie, but it is not a book I would recommend to most people.
Profile Image for John.
346 reviews12 followers
November 11, 2020
An excellent look at the pressurized and competitive world of chess through the context of a child prodigy. Written 35 years ago, the book still has a current feel to it and works as a written complement to The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix.
788 reviews9 followers
November 22, 2020
I enjoyed this story of how a father balanced (or not) his support of his son to be a chess master---especially the last chapter. The more than 25% of the book devoted to a trip to Russia was less than compelling.
Profile Image for Timothy Ha.
16 reviews
May 6, 2021
A humble story by a proud chess parent

This is a great and humble story by a proud and loving chess parent, Fred Waitzkin. As a captain of a local chess club and an active tournament player, I’ve seen many chess kids and parents. I have found some of my observations echoed here and though I’m not a chess parent myself, I’ll be recommending this book to the ones I know. The movie is also great but the book is so much better.
Profile Image for Sean Cuddihy.
10 reviews
April 23, 2023
Took me right back to the chess tournament days. 9 years old and feeling the full range of human emotion over the board. Pressure, elation, despair, hatred. Paul was a very good chess dad in comparison to some in this
Profile Image for Lesley.
81 reviews3 followers
June 21, 2010
I didn't see the movie that was made of this novel. Others tell me it was pretty much the Rocky of chess, with the underdog working his way up to win the nationals.

This is really not what the book is about. On the surface, the book has interesting insight into the world of chess, from the impoverished masters and grandmasters that play in clubs or parks in New York and other cities, to the rigid study of Soviet chess (at least, back during the cold war when this was written). A great deal of the book follows his son as he plays tournaments, many of them with kids his age. (His son ranges from ages 6 - 9 over the course of the book.) During the book, Fred Waitzkin goes into the terrible behavior of chess parents, the pressure they can put on their kids, and the terrible shame of losing that the champions develop. And he periodically questions his own behavior, or remarks on his wife or mother criticizing how much he has pushed his son. But that brief bit of insight lasts for only a moment before he is back to pushing his son harder than ever.

That phenomenon in Waitzkin's writing is representative of the book as a whole. He will touch upon a topic, perhaps even start to bring about a conclusion, then rapidly spin away to something else, leaving you unsatisfied and wondering exactly what the point was. He is repetitive on the subject of his own inadequacies and behavior as a parent, and then periodically dives into other topics without any seeming rhyme or reason.

Bobby Fischer, the namesake of the book, barely makes an appearance, except to be referred to frequently as an inspiration for so many kids/parents getting into chess, and a brief chapter when the author goes unsuccessfully looking for him in Los Angeles. While so many great players live impoverished lives in the US, Fischer could command huge sums for interviews or games, and this made him something even more extraordinary in the chess world. Of course he also seems to have become a crazy recluse, supporting Nazi philosophies and spouting anti-Semitic slurs. And once again, Waitzkin doesn't really seem to bring this to any sort of real point.

I read separately that Fischer, once the book was made into a film, was very angry at not receiving any royalties for the use of his prestigious name. And, crazy or not, I really can't blame him for that because his name feels like it was tacked onto the book solely to sell more copies.

The book was not totally worthless, I feel I learned something about the world of chess, but it could have been a lot more coherent.
Profile Image for Benjamin Rubenstein.
Author 5 books13 followers
June 17, 2019
This is a great story demonstrating the power of talent and pressure, and I imagine it's a story that repeats every year thousands of times as children who are exceptional at something keep at that thing and parents push them harder at that thing until they themselves may feel emotions higher and lower than the children. Take these two snippets from this book:
David came out of the building with a toothy smile. I asked if he had won. He nodded yes and said something about Josh’s having fallen for a trap. Then Josh appeared, his face looking washed-out. He was attempting to be casual and trying not to cry, but he looked defeated, as if some of his life had been taken away. I put my arm around him, gave him a kiss and said that it didn’t matter. Later I realized that I repeated this a few times as if it were a question, until he nodded yes, it didn’t matter.

One would think that an eight- or nine-year-old could no more defeat a master than beat an NBA player in a game of one-on-one. But it is an unexplained and wondrous phenomenon that in chess, as well as in music and mathematics, a gifted child is capable of the creativity and genius of an exceptional adult. The parent of one gifted little boy said that when her son played brilliantly she felt as though she were the mother of Jesus.

Throughout this book, the author showed the tug-of-war he had with knowing his son's chess play didn't matter but also being entirely consumed by it. The author delved into the social aspects of brilliant children, too, and how others perceive them. He writes a lot about chess itself and how it is perceived as a cognitive barometer, even though perhaps that's not true. For the Russian children the author writes about who play chess like 10 hours a day in place of school--is it worth it? Does the process of perfecting chess lead to life lessons not learned in traditional schooling? I haven't a clue, but this book poses these interesting questions.

This is a fast, great read, and offers a few moments of real reading emotion. My one gripe is with the book's premise--the literal search for Bobby Fischer. I could do without it. For me, he's not important to this story, and I'd have enjoyed the book more with that being a figurative rather than literal quest.
80 reviews
December 22, 2020
C'est plutôt rare que je vais vers un livre après avoir vu le film, mais dans ce cas là, je n'avais pas trop le choix. J'ai bien fait parce que les deux sont complètement différents. Les deux sont géniaux à leur manière. Tandis que le film focus sur l'histoire (quelque peu romancée) de Josh, ce livre focus de manière plus générale sur le monde des échecs qui intéressait le père avant même que son fils se révèle être un prodige. Le talent du fils ravive l'intérêt et aide à développer les contacts qui emmènent le père et le fils à Moscow, en Union Soviétique où Fred est officiellement là pour couvrir le championnat du monde, mais s'intéresse surtout à essayer de retracer les joueurs juifs et d'écrire sur la façon dont ils sont traités, souvent contraints notamment de perdre volontairement pour qu'un soviet qui représente plus les valeurs du communisme soit sous les projecteurs. Ça se transforme assez rapidement en roman d'espionnage haletant où des joueurs russe se compromettent pour aider Fred à interviewer des joueurs que le gouvernement cherche à bâillonner. Tout ça dans la première centaine de pages tandis que le reste de l'essai (sauf un chapitre où il cherche Bobby Fischer (duh!)) se concentre plus sur le rôle d'un père d'enfant prodige d'échecs. De ce côté, le film a vraiment atténué la folie de certains parents, probablement parce que parfois c'est vraiment trop fou pour qu'on y croit, cette rivalité, voir même haine viscérale, entre certains parents...
En tout cas, c'est vraiment passionnant!
422 reviews1 follower
December 17, 2017
Probably more like 4.5 stars.

I can’t really see how they made this into a movie. Even though I saw the movie (maybe 20 years ago). Of course, my recollection of the movie is quite different from this book. For example, I thought that the title sort of refers to the search for the “next” great American chess player (and maybe it could be the author’s son). But in the book, it’s a little more about one part of the story where the author is genuinely looking for the genuine Bobby Fischer. At that point in time, it was still conceivable that Fischer was around somewhere and might make a comeback.

The author is somewhat of a chess nut, and it turns out that his son is really good at chess. Like really good. Like the best under 10-yr-old in the country. Most of the action takes place in the mid-80’s, as his son ages from 6-ish to 9-ish. It happens that that was when I was most interested in chess, though I was a little too young when Bobby Fischer was in. (I have read a biography of Fischer. He really was one of the biggest assholes in human history. Some of that comes through here. But he’s not really what the book is about.) So the names were all familiar to me---I even knew Joel Benjamin a little.

It’s really more like a series of essays than a book, but that’s fine. He’s a good writer, writing about a interesting (to me) topic.
Profile Image for Jason Ray Carney.
Author 26 books48 followers
May 17, 2019
This excellent memoir is not much like the motion picture that it is loosely based upon it (although I enjoy the film adaptation). Although it centers on Fred Waitzin's dynamic relationship with his son, Joshua, and his son's chess talent, it essayistically incorporates a diversity of elements, such as the state of chess in the Soviet Union (in the 80s), the enigmatic disappearance of Bobby Fischer, the nature of fatherhood, and the disturbing undercurrent of anti-semitism in the chess world. I came to this so late this because Joshua Waitzkin's memoir/self-help book, The Art of Leaning, is one of my favorite books. I read The Art of Learning several times a year. In that book, Joshua Waitzkin often alludes to experiences from his childhood. This memoir gave me a clearer idea of his childhood and the events that shape his theory of learning. A side effect of reading this memoir is it will inspire you to take chess more seriously, as an art, philosophical exercise, and sport.
Profile Image for Agatha.
66 reviews
August 30, 2010
As a chess enthusiast, one may enjoy this book for all its facts surrounding the chess grandmasters. However, as I am not a chess fan, I did not enjoy this book as much. Even though the book is not merely a story about the chess world, it is primarily about a father's (Fred Waitzkin) relationship with his son (Josh Waitzkin). Fred struggles to balance his role as an encouraging parent and as a father forcing his own dream onto his son. I would've liked the book better if the stories of Josh's chess games were not repetitive and pointless. After a couple of the same stories told, I understood that the chess world was not rewarding, monetarily or professionally; so, what? At least, that's how I felt. The movie was better for its portrayal of Josh's point of view, as the movie was narrated by Josh. Overall, skip the book unless you're a chess fanatic, but don't miss the movie.
Profile Image for Roger Md.
19 reviews2 followers
December 13, 2011
This book arrived in my postoffice mailbox instead of the DVD from Amazon. The movie production by the same name cost $100, so for the sake of frugality, spending $10 was well worth the money. The story is the true story of a young genius guided by his father to a measure of greatness.
I enjoyed reading this true story about the young Josh Waitzkin as he won the US National Junior Chess Championship in 1986.
The agony and disappointment that follows the path of professional chess in the USA is clearly and tellingly described by his father who is a professional writer and chess aficionado.
This book is worth the reading for those who desire a deeper understanding of the world of chess and the international foment engendered in the process.
Profile Image for Mahendra Palsule.
146 reviews17 followers
February 4, 2017
Don't be misled by the title, this is not a book about Fischer. Sadly, it seems to be a marketing ploy to market the book in a world where chess remains far from a mainstream pastime.

The book is about chess, a chess child prodigy, and the father's parenting of this prodigy. It is a delightful, entertaining, and informative read, a must for all chess fans.

The inner corruption of the Soviet-era chess establishment was shocking to me. The ability of the author to present the challenges, turmoils, and achievements of his precocious son while maintaining the objectivity of a third-person are outstanding. The book seems dated now, with Fischer dead, and the chess scene in the US not as gloomy as described here, but it remains a great read.
July 24, 2017
This is a fantastic book which explores relationship between father and son using chess as a background. It also talks about the realities of the current competitive world and the effects on children and their parents, how parents are putting immense pressure on children many a times being indifferent to their feelings. For a person who rarely plays chess though I like it very much, it also provides lot of information about various chess personalities and their playing styles. But the book is primarily about parenting and familial bonding. I was overcome with emotions during some of the incidents mentioned as you can feel the pressure, anxiety and pain of the children and parents.
Overall a great read!!
Profile Image for ErinJ.
224 reviews
March 8, 2018
I saw the movie forever ago and it may have endeared me to the book a little more as I really liked the movie at the time. Going to watch it again now. A lot more information about the politics of chess and those involved. The tense climate in Russia and the hard road for Jews. Really interesting. Also holy cow chess parents make soccer moms look sane. Wow! Just like to read books about things I know nothing about every now and then. I don’t know if I even remember how to play, haven’t since college. I don’t have the patience for that type of game.
Profile Image for stormhawk.
1,384 reviews30 followers
April 21, 2021
Reigniting My Chess Obsession

This is an amazing little book, about a fathers love, and a boy's achievements in chess at a level will beyond his years. I will never play that well, but I can appreciate someone else's skills. Fred Waitzkin tells the good, the bad, and the ugly of the chess world, the minimal support in the US, the old Soviet system, and the shenanigans of chess parents. It's a more complex story than offered us by the film, but touched the great in the same way.
Profile Image for Eric Eggertson.
5 reviews3 followers
February 3, 2018
Interesting to read the book after seeing the movie. You get a better sense of the author's misgivings about his role in pushing Josh Waizkin forward on the path to being a chess master. A bit meandering, but a story well told of a remarkable kid who loved chess but resisted being forced to treat it as something beyond an intricate game.
Profile Image for Todd.
99 reviews
December 16, 2021
A fascinating look into the world of obsession and the lives of exceptional children and their parents. The prose was more than a bit stilted and cold as was the author himself (my impression), but the story of their lives is engaging and truly very unique.

(Note, the book is a very different animal than the movie. The movie is spectacular, by the way.)
Profile Image for Palash Goel.
23 reviews3 followers
October 28, 2017
Feels more like a rant. American readers might appreciate the nationalist analogies given in the text. There are too many characters and the narrative feels disconnected at times.
Profile Image for Harry Harman.
607 reviews13 followers
March 3, 2022
Now I mostly worry about Joshua’s chess. I worry about his rating and whether he’s done his chess homework.

his sedentary activity has displaced many priorities in my life.

Perhaps Josh doesn’t really like chess, I tell myself. Maybe I’m forcing it on him. When I ask him how he feels about the game he shrugs in a way that suggests he likes video games more. Then I have to wonder if you can really trust what an eight-year-old says he likes. I’m the parent; I must decide what’s best for him. But what is best?

I decided that it was time to get serious. I bought chess books and memorized a few openings. I went over the game that thirteen-year-old Fischer had played against Donald Byrne, in which he had sacrificed his queen to win twenty-four moves later, and I wondered how many more weeks it would take before I would be making such moves.

The more I looked, the less I saw.

contemptuously pushes ahead the king pawn.

“Chess is like war on a board,”

In 1977, Bobby Fischer was offered a quarter of a million dollars to play a single game at Caesars Palace but turned it down: it was not enough money. President Marcos offered to sponsor a three-million-dollar championship match in the Philippines, and Bobby was said to have ten million lined up in commercial offers.

“I can’t make a living from chess, but I’ve devoted so much time to the game that I have no other marketable skill.

“Let’s see what you know, Mr. Grandmaster,” Vinnie taunted

He was concentrating so hard on his game that he didn’t seem to notice how cold he was.

The United States Chess Federation categorizes players by rating—as Class E, D, C, B, A, Expert, Master, or Senior Master. An A player has a rating between 1800 and 1999 and is among the top 17 percent of all tournament players.

just returned from a two-month visit with Fischer in California, but he walked away without a word when asked about it. Bobby is the libido of the game, a chess player who could call a press conference tomorrow and play a game for a million dollars.

David Shipler’s book about the Soviet Union, Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams

Russia was catchwords such as “Cold War,” “Raskolnikov,” “vodka,” “Kremlin,” “Bolshoi,” “KGB,” “Anna Karenina,” “Iron Curtain,” “gulag.”
Profile Image for Joe Bruno.
263 reviews3 followers
February 25, 2020
A review can attempt to be critical or objective but the reality is that one can't get away from how one feels about the material. This book influenced a certain part of my life so an unbiased opinion is unlikely. Written by a sports reporter, the language is not that of literature but of newspapers and popular magazines. The story is good but not great. This book, when it first came out, captured the attention of all the now grown-up generation that was assaulted as children in the early 70s with Bobby Fischer's underdog chess championship mania. The title is genius. If titled "Josh Waitzkin, Chess Prodigy" it would have not sold many copies. As a novel it is only fair, as a part of US culture it is amazing.

Having been part of both chess crazes, Fischer's championship and the resurgence in chess with Waitzkin's book, and the movie, I was looking forward eagerly to re-reading this. I was a bit disappointed. It is workman-like writing and talks about the chess scene in the US that is completely gone. Since this book has been written computers beat the best human players and there is actual money in the upper levels of competitive chess. There are significant chess programs in a larger percentage of US schools than in the setting of the book. Josh Waitzkin plateaued in his chess career and has been out of competitive chess for 20 years. If you want a game of chess, you can play fast or slow and everything in between 24 hours a day online.

I am not sure if I would recommend this book to others anymore. There is not much in the way of chess instruction in the book, Waitzkin's style of writing is better suited to shorter work and the insights into Reagan era Russia/US politics is quite dated. I liked it because I play a good deal of chess because of the book and movie.

Profile Image for Jason Shaw.
95 reviews
July 10, 2021
Ever since I found out about Josh Waitzkin the second time, I've been a huge fan. I watched this movie around the time it came out, liked it, and then forgot about it. Many years later, I listened to Tim Ferris interview him on The Tim Ferris Show after I had started training Jiu Jitsu. That is when I became a big fan. (Josh became the first black belt in jiu jitsu under Marcelo Garcea later in life.)

Since then, I've enjoyed Josh's own book, The Art of Learning, and a few other podcasts he has partaken in. I admire how much he avoids the public spectacle and does his own thing.

With the popularity of the Netflix show, The Queen's Gambit, and my admiration of Josh, I revisited the movie and wasn't satisfied. I wanted the more accurate story, and not the flare of Hollywood. There were many differences, of which I will point out two that I find most significant.

Josh, as he points out in his own book, is really good at learning. It took many games with his father before he could beat him, but he eventually did beat him and at a very young age. Younger then the kid in the movie in fact, but it wasn't the first time.

And during the final match we see in the movie, against a fictional Jonathan Poe, he actually plays Jeff Sarwer. In this game, he doesn't play his usual aggressive game and falls behind. In the final tense moments depicted on the big screen, it wasn't to offer a draw because Josh saw a win. It was because he saw a draw, which is how the game ended.

It doesn't help us to believe that children (or anyone) can just instantly get something. It takes work. It also doesn't help us to believe that hard work always leads to victory. It sometimes leads to a Rocky story where you lose, or to a story where you draw, and that's OK. That's life.
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