The story behind the most famous chess match of all time often dubbed as Match of the century. The ingredients: A gritty Russian, a sleepy deserted country and the most eccentric chess genius that ever walked the Earth.
“The most individualistic, intransigent, uncommunicative, uncooperative, solitary, self-contained and independent chess master of all time, the loneliest chess champion in the world. Bobby Fischer is also the strongest player in the world. In fact, the strongest player who ever lived” – Larry Evans.
1972 saw turbulence in Northern Ireland, Vietnam War was at its peak and Ceylon became a republic and changed its name to Srilanka. But the world was tuned-on into only one man – Bobby Fischer. 1972 was unlike any. Every sport gets that one genius that comes in once in a lifetime and shakes it to its very core and nothing remains the same ever again. Chess was blessed with Robert James "Bobby" Fischer, or was popularly called Bobby! The world of Chess has been dominated by the Russians since the 1800’s, and often when this domination happens in any sport for such a prolonged time, its popularity is going to take a hit. Chess was going through its own toughest test in the late sixties. And then came Bobby.
He was an eccentric lanky American who was obsessed with one thing - Chess. This obsession fuelled him restlessly to chase his dream to become the world champion and conquer the world.
In the fall of 1972, a little country called Iceland became the center of the world when it won the bid to host the world chess championship of 1972, often dubbed since as the Match of the Century. It was between the Challenger Bobby Fischer of America and the reigning World Champion Boris Spassky of Russia. It was played at the height of the cold war between the two super powers USA and USSR. So, a lot was at stake – outside of chess too.
A World Championship Chess Match has 24 games. 1 point for a win, ½ a point for a draw and 0 for a loss. Bobby needed 12 ½ points to become the new world champion, Spassky needed 12 to retain it.
Setting the pieces
Bobby’s eccentricity was well known in the chess world, so it wasn't’t a surprise when he began to make unusual demands before the match: increase the Prize money, change the Venue and he finally accused the Russians of ‘fixing’ the world chess. The federation did relent to his demands, ignored his accusations but he never showed up to the opening ceremony in Iceland. No one knew where Bobby was.
On the day of the 1st game, television cameras captured the now iconic image of Spassky playing his first move of the match against an empty chair. He turned OFF his clock (which then automatically turned ON Bobby’s clock) and got up from his seat and paced around the room.
After an eternity, Bobby finally showed up, to the elation of the fans across the world attached to their TV sets. He shook hands with the Russian, sat down and began his game – officially starting the Match of the Century
Bobby lost the 1st game on a blunder. Unable to digest it and in a fit of frustration, he started making more demands: remove all the cameras in the playing room as he was disturbed by the hum of the cameras and hence could not concentrate.
His appeal was rejected, so he never showed up to the 2nd game. Spassky was awarded the win and this meant Bobby trailed by 0-2. Chess experts around the world analyzed that it’s a hard lead to beat in a 24 game match.
In game 3, Bobby came back to play and this time he used Son of Sorrow, which is the riskiest defense of all and is full of complete and unexplored danger. That was Bobby’s way of saying, “We are not going to make a draw. We are going to fight to the death here.”
It was a real test of genius for Spassky. The world held its breath. Bobby won Game 3. Championship back ON!
The middle game
All of Bobby’s antics were finally cracking Spassky’s calm demeanor. After Bobby won the points in successive games 3, 4 and 5, the Russian noise grew. Their support for Spassky was very vocal and they blamed the Americans for rigging the light conditions and even fiddling with Spassky’s chair to pass electricity through it to disturb him from thinking straight. After a lot of finger-pointing and blame games from the two sides, an extensive 3rd party search of the chairs was done, and all they found was 2 dead flies.
A newspaper saw the funny side of it all.
The Wild Card
Game 6 is the most celebrated game of the whole match – when Bobby did the “Gotcha” on the entire world. Apart from the eccentricity and the air of arrogance he carried, Bobby was most well-known for his consistent opening move in his chess game. He always first played the pawn in front of his queen to E4 – the most sought after opening in a game of chess. But Bobby cherry picked the moment to surprise the whole world – none more so than Spassky – by playing the English opening C4. It instantly threw all of Spassky’s preparation out the window. Bobby stretched the whole game even more by playing a very anti-bobby game, an almost slow motion build-up of the attack – first depriving Spassky of his mobility and then taking his pieces gently and finally a poetic capture of his opponent’s king. It was the most different and the most beautiful game Bobby Fischer ever played. At the end of it, Spassky stood up and applauded the American. Of the gesture, Bobby said to his coach, “Did you see what Boris did? That’s a sportsman, He is a real Sportsman”.
The End game
Scoreboard: Bobby 11½ - Spassky 8½.
Bobby only needed one point (one win) to become the new World Champion. Game 21 started and it reached the move 40, the move where it could be adjourned for the players to go study it overnight and come back with a strategy to win.
The next morning, Spassky was the first to arrive, he walked straight over to the match referee and uttered just one line. “There is another world champion. His name is Robert James Fischer”.
As soon as Bobby came to the venue, he was given the news and was instantly engulfed by the reporters, everyone wanting to know how it feels to have conquered the world. He immediately ran to his car and drove off – saying one less line than Spassky.