24 June 2022

Hatchet Job

My favorite book about the 1972 Fischer - Spassky Title Match is 'Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World' by Brad Darrach. I've mentioned the book before, most recently in Was Fischer Really Against the Whole World? (September 2017). Sometimes described as a Fischer 'biography', the book is neither that nor is it about the chess of the match. It is instead a first hand account of what it took to get Fischer to play the match, organized chronologically.

The book has been much maligned by leaders of the chess community. In Brad Darrach and The Dark Side of Bobby Fischer, Edward Winter, the foremost chess historian of the modern era, quotes several key sources who panned the book. Although Winter never gives specific instances of Darrach having misstated facts, it is clear that his opinion aligns with those he quotes when he mentions that 'demeaning phrase: "According to Darrach"'. He twice quotes others who called Darrach's book a 'hatchet job'.

Winter gives many quotes from Fischer's main biographer, Frank Brady, in the September 1977 CHESS magazine. All of the quotes beg further comment, but one quote struck me as particularly unfair:-

A large part of the book covers Fischer’s peregrinations before deciding to go to Iceland. Darrach weaves a colourful account of those moments and quotes long sections of dialogue, as though he were on the scene and heard the specific conversation. In fact, Darrach was already in Iceland, Fischer was in New York and most of the material that Darrach relates as history is just an exercise of his imagination.

In another recent post, Bobby Fischer Day by Day (May 2022), I introduced 'a site that offers [Fischer] newspaper clippings in chronological order'. More accurately described as a family of blogs, the site includes a post Brad Darrach's History of Defamation Before Bobby Fischer Met Him (bfchos.blogspot.com; June 2018; 'Bobby Fischer Chess Hall of Shame'). Although the writer/blogger is not at the same level as Winter, the post echoes Brady's criticism, saying,

This demonstrates the lack of personal knowledge of Darrach about Bobby Fischer. His articles persistently cite third parties, as if Darrach had an "inside scoop" on Fischer's personal life, relying on hearsay and embellishing with his wild imagination and passing his speculation off as "factual news" and even a "biography".

In the last section of his book, 'Acknowledgments', Darrach wrote,

The summer of '72 was one of those moments when life imitated art. Sometimes it seemed that The Author of Us All -- part Sophocles, part Mel Brooks -- had decided to write, produce and direct the damnedest happening that ever happened. More often it seemed that Bobby Fischer was in full charge of everything and everybody.

I want to thank Bobby for this book -- without him, nothing it describes would have happened.

I also want to thank everyone Bobby drew into the vortex of his demon -- all the people who appear in the pages of this book and dozens who do not. They gave me hundreds of interviews that took up hundreds of hours. More essential, they gave me the chance to lean in close and watch them live.

I cannot thank them all here but I must expressly thank Gudmundur Thorarinsson, Fred Cramer, Paul Marshall, Andrew Davis, Ed Edmondson, Frank Skoff, Saemundur Palsson, Boris Spassky, Chester Fox, Richard Stein, Jack and Ethel Collins, Joan Targ, Bill Lombardy, Larry Evans, Robert Byrne, Lubomir Kavalek, Arthur Bisguier, Isaac Kashdan, Don Schultz, Frank Brady, Milunka Lazarevich, I. S. Turover, George Koltanowski, James Slater, David Frost, Leonard Barden, Nicholas Bethell, Hans Indridason, Tedd Hope, Bob Hallowell, Herb Hochstetter, Morris Dubinsky and the Saidy family.

Darrach apparently took the notes from his 'hundreds of interviews that took up hundreds of hours', storyboarded them in chronological order, and constructed dialog based on the words of his interviewees. The result might not be literally true, but it's not fiction either. Near the end of his analysis, Winter writes,

At the end of the Brady article CHESS [B.H.Wood] opined: 'Darrach is sometimes grudgingly fair to Fischer but obviously loathes him.'

I've read the Darrach book several times and found little to support that last statement. In the November 1972 Chess Life, Anthony Saidy, one of the most quoted personalities in Darrach's book, wrote a four page article, 'A Tale of Two Titans - Ten Weeks That Shook the Chess World'. In the first paragraph he revealed a telling anecdote about Fischer's behavior during the match and gave its source in a footnote:-

Revealed in LIFE by Brad Darrach, one of the minority of journalists sympathetic to Fischer. - AS

The same anecdote is repeated in chapter nine of 'BF vs. the World', where we learn that Darrach was present at the scene. How many of his critics can say the same?

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