The Fabulous 10s: Liberties with Fischer

I chortled and guffawed through a recent piece of semi-fiction regarding the famous game Donald Byrne-Bobby Fischer, “The Game of the Century”, played at the Marshall CC in New York City in 1956, as recounted by ChessBase online.

This excerpt is Chapter 3 from the book “Endgame” by Frank Brady.  I put sections in bold that are particularly comment-worthy.

Let’s take a look at some of the writing in this chapter with my own comments in color.

“The club – which was located on Tenth Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, one of Manhattan’s most attractive neighborhoods – had been quartered in this venerable brownstone (built in 1832) since 1931, when a group of wealthy patrons, including one of the Roosevelts, bought the building so that their beloved Frank J. Marshall, the reigning U.S. Champion, who would hold the title for 27 years, would always have a place to live with his family, and to play, teach, and conduct tournaments. Walking down the street with its rows of stately brownstones festooned with window boxes of flowers, and a private boarding stable on the same block, Bobby could have easily felt he was transported back to the Gas Light or Silk Stocking era of the 19th century.”

GM Kavalek has said the most dangerous thing to do for an analyst is place himself inside the head of the player.  I doubt Fischer felt anything like this, but I am certain Brady did, or does!

“Certainly, there was a sense of decorum that permeated the Club, even when it came to dress. Bobby’s habitual mufti of tee shirt, wrinkled pants, and sneakers was considered an outrage by Caroline Marshall, Frank Marshall’s widow and the longstanding manager of the Club, and on several occasions she informed him of his sartorial indiscretion, once even threatening to bar him from the premises if he didn’t dress more appropriately. Bobby ignored her.”

Mufti?  Geez.  What is this, 1830 Calcutta?   On a more humorous note, many years later Leslie Braun took on the role of fashion and manners police, physically booting young Maxim Dlugy out of the club for over-boisterous behavior.  I was booted simply because I was near young Maxim.    To give the readers a clearer sense of what was going on, Bobby had on crummy outfits.  Similar to outfits favored by future champions Fedorowicz and Rohde.    What do we expect, ascots and lace? 

A kibitzing GM here said that Black was simply lost in this position.”

Out with it, man!  Name this GM!  The only person I can think of is the late GM Larry Evans.  I don’t see the point of not naming the individual. 

““What is he doing?” said someone to no one in particular. “Is this a blunder or a sacrifice?””

Am I the only one who finds the above rather ludicrous?   Someone says to no one?   Maybe it was Jackie Beers talking to Asa Hoffmann.  And where are they located?  Near the restrooms? Near the coke machine?  Near the pay phones?  Right next to the players? 

“Bobby’s opponent that night was the urbane college professor Donald Byrne, an International Master, former U.S. Open Champion, and a fiercely aggressive player. Dark-haired, elegant in speech and dress, the 25-year-old Byrne invariably held a cigarette between two fingers, his hand high in the air, his elbow resting on the table, in a pose that gave him an aristocratic demeanor.”

Eh?  Byrne played quiet, passive openings, favoring long drawn-out English opening type positional battles.  This was no Tal.  Brady might be thinking of Robert Byrne (Donald’s brother), a much more aggressive player.   As for the cigarette, imagine a lot of smoking going on with no a/c and you can get a sense of how difficult it was to play in the summer there.    Again with the dress in this passage?   The dress would be more interesting if we were talking about Hastings 1895.

““The onlookers were invited to sit right next to you and if you asked them to leave or be quiet they were highly insulted,” Bobby recalled”

No criticism here, just a hearty laugh because there still are a bunch of the same type of people at the club!  (and also at the Manhattan Club while it existed).

“A whisper of spectators could be heard: “Impossible! Byrne is losing to a 13-year old nobody.”

What are the odds someone said this bizarre sentence?  Not very good.  And what is the plural spectators about, are we to imagine some kind of Greek chorus calling out this inane patter?   I can easily see instead some C-player babbling “Byrne’s losing to a freakin’ kid” near the Coke machine (curse words deleted).    It does sound accurate if this was Hastings 1895, for example:  “Balderdash!  Lasker is losing to an erstwhile Pillsbury Dough Boy!” 

“On the 41st move, after five hours of play, with his heart slightly pounding, Bobby lifted his rook with his trembling right hand, quietly lowered the piece to the board, and said, “Mate!” His friendly opponent stood up, and they shook hands.”

No criticism here, just another hearty laugh because many years later Tom Davidoff slowly executed a move with a trembling hand against veteran club member Alex Kevitz (I will wait for confirmation from Davidoff that this was, in fact, the Marshall CC – there is a chance it  may have been at the Manhattan CC which does not lessen the humor) and Kevitz barked out “Just move the piece, ya trembly-handed schmuck!”  Good times.

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5 Responses to “The Fabulous 10s: Liberties with Fischer”

  1. Leon Shernoff Says:

    I actually have friends of the family who have sent me “news” stories about the release of this book, apparently on the theory that because I play chess I must be “waiting with bated breath” much like… Brady’s intended audience.

    Sounds like about what I expected.

    Yes, I don’t think Bobby’s mind was ‘festooned’ the way Brady depicts it. On the other hand, Bobby was a regular kid, part of pop culture, so say if “Gangs of New York” had come out back then, I can easily imagine Bobby going back to the early 1800s and seeing W 10th Street as a gang battleground. I do NOT see Bobby transporting himself back to a foppish gaslamp era.

  2. Charles Maddigan Says:

    Hi Mark,

    Nice blog! I originally agreed with your opinion that Brady had mixed up the styles of the two Byrne brothers in his book, but coincidentally, I just came across the following words written by Larry Evans in an old CHESS LIFE (Dec. 1963, p.305) in which he describes the participants in the upcoming U.S. Championship:

    “ROBERT BYRNE combines the depth, thoroughness and eccentricity of Nimzovitch. He has a penchant for safe, closed positions which yield to systematic strategical concepts. His chess is strong and powerful, and he should be rated as a dark horse to win.

    “DONALD BYRNE is certainly as strong as his brother, but their styles are poles apart. Donald courts complications and sharp tactics, always ready for a pitched battle. He can beat (or lose) to anybody, and for this reason cannot be considered a serious threat (although I could easily be wrong about this). One also wonders to what extent his recent illness and absence from the tournament arena will affect his chess.”

    Evans certainly seems to suggest that Robert was the stodgy one and Donald the wild attacker, thereby confirming Brady’s assessment. Maybe the Byrnes changed their styles over the years?

    I am willing to accept this! Still Robert Byrne was a much sharper player for the vast majority of their careers. Check out the famous Najdorf game.

  3. Steve Mayer Says:

    ““Just move the piece, ya trembly-handed schmuck!”

    Oh My God, that’s funny! I definitely hope to use the line if the opportunity ever presents itself.

  4. Howard Goldowsky Says:

    The whole book is like this. These are literary techniques that stretch the “truth.” Brady the journalist is trying to be Brady the I-am-there-at-all-times biographer. Bet, heck, have you written a book that’s sold tens of thousands of copies? :) BTW, Steve, I’m currently enjoying your old classic, “Bishop vs. Knight,” very mcuh.

    Heck yeah. My “HTML and CGI Unleashed” (Sams Macmillan, 1995, 2nd Ed., 1996) sold 37,000 copies in English and a few thousand more in Italian!! Critics loved it for its turn of the century Noblesse Oblige and character development.

  5. Steve Mayer Says:

    Hi Howard,

    I missed your post earlier. I’m glad you like BvN. The thing is OOP and Batsford, true to their fashion, still owes me royalties that I will apparently never receive. See, if you aren’t owed much, they basically send you a statement every year or two saying “This is how much we owe you. If we ever owe you more than x, we’ll send you a check.” I guess the British have different business standards.

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