The inspiration for the iconic film, this memoir by the father of a prodigy reflects on chess, competition, and childhood.
Fred Waitzkin fell in love with chess during the Cold War–era showdown between Russian champion Boris Spassky and young American superstar Bobby Fischer. Twelve years later, Waitzkin’s own son, Joshua, discovered chess in Washington Square Park and began displaying the telltale signs of a prodigy. Soon, crowds gathered to watch the six-year-old, calling him a “Young Fischer.” An unstoppable player, little Josh was suddenly catapulted into the intense world of competitive chess.
When Josh first sat down at a chessboard, he was a charming, rambunctious, rough-and-tumble child. Within weeks, he was playing the game with poise and constrained violence, as if there were a wise old man plotting moves inside him. Then, renowned coach Bruce Pandolfini discovered Josh in the park and began to refine the child’s game.
In Searching for Bobby Fischer, Waitzkin recounts his journey with his son into the world of chess, from the colorful milieu of street hustlers to the international network of grandmasters. Looming large over their story is the elusive Bobby Fischer, whose mysterious disappearance from the chess world created a vacuum that would profoundly affect young Josh and his dad.
Josh went on to win eight national championships before he turned twenty—but his achievements did not come without cost. In this memoir, Waitzkin explores his love and ambition for Josh, who faces pressures far beyond his years. Even as father and son travel to Moscow to watch Kasparov challenge Karpov, Waitzkin doubts his own motives: Is he pushing his son too hard? Is the game a joy to Josh, or is he just fulfilling his father’s wishes?
Searching for Bobby Fischer is about more than chess. “A little gem of a book,” it is ultimately about the struggle we all face to love our families and do right by them while also setting our own paths as individuals (The New York Times).
Ever since he started playing tournament chess at age seven, Josh Waitzkin, an athletic, fun-loving, not overly studious boy, has been among the top-rated players of his age group in the U.S. He is now 11. The troubled relationship between son and father, a talented but amateur chess buff, torn between ambitions for the prodigy and guilt at exploiting him, develops here against a background of chess clubs, seedy game parlors and Washington Square populated by a colorful gallery of Manhattan chess loversmasters, hustlers, Russian emigre teachers and doting parents. In marked contrast, notes the author, is the hero status of chess champions in Russia and the palatial setting of competitions like the Moscow Hall of Columns where he and his son attended the 1984 Karpov-Kasparov matches, which may have been not only state-supported but politically controlled, he contends. What, the author wonders, will become of Fischer's legacy of a promising generation of young American players following their idol's premature retirement from chess and society? First serial to the New York Times Magazine and Sports Illustrated; author tour.