Friday, March 22, 2013

The Greatest Secrets of Bobby Fischer by Nenad Nesh Stankovic

      Subtitled The Final Truth About the Greatest Chess Player of All Time. I bought this book the other day by accident.  Ads for the book (in several languages) appear all over the Internet and it even has a Facebook page. All this hoopla initially made me think… sales hype for a real potboiler that’s not worth reading.  The book claims that for the first time, some of Fischer's most intimate confessions and thoughts are told and it focuses on the ideas which lead Fischer toward “misunderstanding, rejection hatred and contempt.”
       After reading the review about it I decided to download it, realizing too late that my $25 gift card was for Amazon, not Nook. Oh, well.  I have only read the first few chapters, but find the book very hard to put down.
       Stankovic was essentially Fischer’s personal assistant when Fischer arrived in Yugoslavia to prepare for his match with Spassky.  Stankovic was more patient with Fischer’s twisted personality and petty, irrational demands than I would have ever been and I commend him for that!
       Just for example, the author describes how that when he arrived in Yugoslavia, Fischer’s clothes were worn and tattered and he had to have new ones tailored at the expense of Mr. Jezdimir Vasiljevic, the sponsor.  After endless searching, Stankovic finally found a tailor to Fischer’s liking, an elderly, well-known female.  Fischer drove the poor woman to tears over the next few months.  At each fitting for his shirts he would find something wrong and make new demands.  The waist was too tight.  The height of the collars was repeatedly adjusted and they were either too limp or too stiff. On and on it went. Then there were his haircuts and beard trimmings.  They had to search all over Belgrade to find a barber that only used a comb and scissors because Bobby didn’t like electronic clippers.  The Fischer would sit in the shop for an hour or so to observe the barbers’ work before finally selecting one. I would have told him to go pound salt, but everybody kowtowed to his demands.
       Of course the real meat of the book is the match with Spassky.  I can’t say much about that as I haven’t gotten that far yet.  What I can tell you is that so far the author has made Fischer come alive and it feels like I am actually in the presence of a disgusting, loutish, jackass whose one redeeming characteristic is that he was a great chess player.  Fischer is like a gory accident scene.  Repulsive, but you can’t look away.
       For $6.99 for the Nook/Kindle edition, how can you go wrong?


“In the overall gloom of his spirit and tempest of thought, Bobby became irrational to the utmost in practical matters that were not his strong suit even in his ‘lucid’ days." - Stankovic
      One day while the author and Fischer were sitting in a hotel lobby in Belgrade two thirty-ish Czech men were sitting nearby laughing and talking.  Stankovic asked Fischer if they were disturbing him and Fischer replied, “No, it’s alright.”  Finally the two of them turned towards Fischer and asked, “Are you Bobby Fischer?” to which he replied, “I am.”  The two men and Fischer then had a short conversation and one of them told Fischer that when they left Prague their neighbor, a Mr. Steelman who was a big Fischer fan, asked that if the run into Fischer to give him his best regards.
       Early the next morning Stankovic was approached by Fischer who was still in his pajamas and bathrobe and white as a sheet.  He explained that the two men in the lobby the night before were sent to kill him.  Fischer’s “proof:”

He did not know this Steelman; he surely did not exist
To Fischer the message was clear: “Steel” and “man.” meaning the men were sent to “pump me full of lead.”  “They will shoot me.”
They had said they were from Czechoslovakia, “the land that is no more.  Therefore they want me gone, too.”

      He asked Stankovic to find them and bring them to him.  Stankovic said Fischer was looking at him with eyes wide open and gesturing for silence so nobody would hear them or record anything. Stankovic did what he felt was his duty and followed up on Fischer’s request to try and locate the men even though nothing illegal had taken place; it was becoming necessary for him to protect Fischer from “demons and spooks.”


  1. I have read this book and did not care for the author’s waxing poetic on many occasions and there are no games. in fact the games themselves are barely mentioned at all but that is ok because they have been adequately covered in other books. halfway through the match spassky told the author fischer was not playing well and asked for additional money! we do find out fischer was often changeable as the wind and only really cared about one thing and that was chess. we also learn the only person he cared about was robert j. fischer, but all that is nothing new.

  2. A player at my club, Mr. Brook, tells a story of when he played Bobby Fischer in a simultaneous Exh. He played a French defence and lost terribly but while he was playing, he had placed a gold-painted rook by the chessboard as a good-luck relic. On the sixth or seventh occasion that Bobby came to make his move, picked up the rook and tucked it away into the pocket of his jacket!
    When the simul was over, he came back and said "Man with the golden rook, it was distracting me but here's your piece back."

    Sometimes he brings it to the club and shows it off. The golden rook that disturbed the concentration of Bobby Fischer. That piece is priceless!