The 1972 World Championship Chess Match, Fischer vs. Spassky

By Bill Wall

In October 1971, Bobby Fischer defeated former world champion Tigran Petrosian (6.5-2.5) to qualify for the world chess championship match against world champion Boris Spassky. He had already won the 1970 Interzonal in Palma de Mallorca, and defeated Mark Taimanov and Bent Larsen in the Candidates Matches. For the first time since 1948, a chess player from outside the Soviet Union had achieved the right to play a match for the World Chess Championship title.

In January 1972, fifteen bids from 10 nations and five cities, ranging from $40,000 from Columbia to $152,000 from Belgrade were opened at FIDE headquarters in Amsterdam. The USSR submitted no bid. The only bid from the United States was $100,000 from the Chicago Convention Bureau. Prior to this match, the largest prize for a chess match was $12,000 put up in Buenos Aires for the Fischer-Petrosian Candidates match.

In February 1972, Fischer chose Belgrade to play the match (it offered the most money) and Spassky chose Reykjavik, Iceland (climate that suits Spassky). The match was supposed to be split, 12 games in Belgrade starting on June 22, 1972, and 12 games in Iceland.

The 1972 World Chess Championship was to be a 24-game match in Reykjavik, Iceland. The prize fund was $138,000. The winner was to receive $78,125 and the loser $46,875. If the match ended in a 12-12 tie, the title would remain with world champion Boris Spassky.

In early 1972, Bobby Fischer stayed and trained at the Henry Hudson Hotel in New York, provided by the American Chess Foundation. He also trained at Grossinger s, a hotel complex in Ferndale, New York. During that time Fischer memorized every single game of Spassky s, over 14,000 moves. A few weeks before the start of the match, Fischer checked into the Yale Club in Manhattan to train and study.

In March 1972, Fischer said he would not play in Iceland unless there were better financial conditions. Fischer requested that all the profits from the match be divided between himself and Spassky. The Icelandic organizers argued that, since they bore a financial risk, they were entitled to the profits.

In April 1972, Yugoslav officials decided not to host the first half of the world championship match in Belgrade because the USCF would not pay Yugoslavia a $35,000 guarantee for Fischer to appear in Belgrade. The USCF stated that the guarantee was illegal and not provided for in any agreements. Other countries, such as the Netherlands, France, Australia, Mexico and Puerto Rico, were asked to sponsor the first half of the match.

In May, it was decided to play the whole match in Reykjavik. The prize fund dropped from $138,000 to $125,000.

Fischer was supposed to fly to Iceland on June 25, 1972, but cancelled at the last minute. Fischer wanted to negotiate more money from the gate receipts (he wanted 30% of the gate receipts). Fischer was in Los Angeles relaxing in preparation for the match.

In July 1972, the FIDE ratings list was released. Fischer, Elo rated 2785, was rated 125 points higher than Spassky, who s Elo rating was 2660.

On July 1, 1972, the opening ceremony for the 1972 World Chess Championship took place at Iceland s National Theatre. Bobby Fischer was not present. He failed to arrive in Iceland. Theodore Tremblay, US Ambassador to Iceland, telegraphed to Henry Kissinger and Secretary of State William Rogers, detailing his concerns about Fischer s refusal to play. Fischer said he could not travel from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday for religious reasons.

On July 2, 1972, the match was supposed to have started, but it did not. Fischer had failed to show up in Reykjavik after two abortive attempts to board Loftleidir flights earlier in the week. Both times, press photographers had driven Fischer back to New York City following brief appearances at Kennedy airport. Fischer returned to the New York suburb of Queens and stayed at the house of Dr. Anthony Saidy in Douglaston, Queens.

On July 2, FIDE President Max Euwe told Spassky that he was considering a postponement of the match by two days. The Russian delegation was against it. The Icelandic organizers pleaded with Spassky to phone Fischer and agree to a delay, but Spassky was against it. The Russian delegation finally agreed to a 2-day postponement. According to the rules, a player was allowed the postponement of three games if he can show a medical certificate. Fischer, however, said he was suffering from fatigue and did not believe in doctors.

Then Bobby announced he was holding out for 30% of the gate receipts for both himself and Spassky. The Icelanders could not agree, since they had earmarked that anticipated income for expenses connected with the staging of the match.

In Reykjavik, three of Iceland s best artisans designed a heavy mahogany table for the occasion. The tabled weighed 300 pounds. The set was a John Jacques and Son chess set flown in from England and costing $300.

On July 3, 1972, British financier James Slater then offered $125,000 to the prize fund if Fischer would play. That set the winner s prize at $156,250 and the loser s prize at $93.750. Slater said, If [Fischer] isn t afraid of Spassky, then I have removed the element of money. Fischer then responded and said he would play because there s an awful lot of prestige of the country at stake.

On July 3, 1972, British journalist David Frost called Dr. Henry Kissinger and asked Kissinger to persuade Fischer to attend the world chess championship. Frost asked Kissinger to help Bobby Fischer America s gift to the world of chess.

On July 3, then National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger (1923- ), later Secretary of State (September 1973) phoned Bobby Fischer from Washington, DC. Kissinger s introduction to Fischer in the phone call was, This is the worst player in the world calling the best player in the world. Kissinger told Fischer, America wants you to go over there and beat the Russians. Get your butt over to Iceland. The phone call convinced Fischer to play, so he made arrangements to fly to Iceland. Fischer told others, I have decided that the interests of my nation are greater than my own. Fischer was in Douglaston, New York at the time, staying with the Saidy family. The call was arranged by David Frost and suggested by James Slater. The phone call from Kissinger lasted 10 minutes.

On July 3, 1972 Fischer was driven to JFK airport, transferred to a Loftleidir ( Icelandic Airlines) station wagon and was smuggled on board flight 202A. The flight, scheduled for 7:30 PM, took off at 10:04 PM; Fischer took off from JFK airport, arriving at 11:00 AM local time on July 4 in Iceland. He arrived 5 hours before the start of the rescheduled first game.

On early July 4, 1972, Fischer arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland. Fischer was mobbed at the airport by the assembled press, so he ignored the Icelandic dignitaries waiting to greet him and jumped into a waiting car and drove away. From the airport, Fischer was taken to a house two miles away from the center of Reykjavik. Fischer later left the house and stayed in a three-room suite at the hotel Loftleidir.

On July 5, another deadline passed for the drawing of lots, scheduled for noon at the Hotel Esja. Spassky appeared, but Fischer did not. He was too tired and wanted to sleep, so he sent his second, Bill Lombardy, to draw lots in his place. When Spassky arrived, he was told that Fischer was sleeping, and that Lombardy was there to draw lots for Fischer. Spassky then refused to draw lots and left the hotel.

On July 6, 1972, Fischer apologized to Spassky, to Max Euwe, the president of FIDE, and to the organizers for having missed the opening ceremonies. Fischer personally delivered a note of apology to Spassky s hotel room, slipping a letter of apology under the door.

On July 7, 1972, lots were drawn for the white pieces. Again Fischer was late by 20 minutes, but met Spassky right away backstage. Spassky put a white pawn in one hand and a black pawn in the other, and then approached Fischer. Fischer pointed at the hand containing the black pawn. Spassky would have White in the first game.

On July 8, 1972, Fischer visited the Keflavik military base and went bowling at the base bowling alley.

On July 9, 1972, Lothar Schmd, referee for the match, was not available for the first game of the match because he had to fly home in Bamberg, Germany, upon receiving news that his 10-year-old son had been injured in a bicycle accident. Fischer objected to the choice of Schmid as referee, maintaining that no active chess player who participates in international tournaments should referee important matches. Dr. Max Euwe, head of FIDE, ruled that Fischer s objections were invalid, and that Schmid would remain as referee.

On July 11, 1972, the first game started in front of 2,500 spectators (tickets were from $5 to $11). Bobby Fischer was 7 minutes late after the chess clock had been started. Bobby Fischer had Black and played the Nimzo-Indian Defense. The game was shown on 40 closed-circuit monitors. On move 29, he blundered by grabbing a poison pawn with 29 Bxh2 On his 41st move, Spassky decided to adjourn the game. Fischer returned to his hotel and spent 7.5 hours analyzing the lost endgame with Bill Lombardy at Fischer s hotel, the Hotel Lofteidir.

The next day, July 12, after the adjournment, Fischer resigned on move 56. During the game, Fischer left the playing area for 30 minutes to protest the presence of television cameras.

After the first game, Fischer wanted all cameras taken out of the auditorium and all filming stopped. This violated rule 21 of the Amsterdam Agreement between Fischer and Spassky, which specifically allowed filming, videotaping, and television in the playing room.

That evening Fred Cramer, an official of the U.S. Chess Federation and a spokesman for Fischer, sent a letter to Lothar Schmid demanding that the television cameras be removed and that the spectators not be seated in the first few rows of the hall. Chester Fox, an American businessman who had procured filming rights, responded that the cameras were necessary to finance the match.

On Thursday, July 13, Fischer forfeited game 2 by not showing up an hour after the 5 pm start time. Fischer would not play unless the cameras in the playing hall were removed. Chester Fox said he would remove the cameras, but Fischer would not play unless the chess clock was reset to zero. Schmid refused (Spassky would not allow it) and forfeited Fischer after one hour.

On July 14, Henry Kissinger called Fischer again. Kissinger phoned Bobby Fischer from San Clemente, California while entertaining Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and his wife. Kissinger found time to put in a call to Reykjavik 22322, the hotel Loftleider, where Fischer was staying. Kissinger encouraged Fischer to continue playing.

On July 15, President Nixon relayed an invitation to Fischer, through Life s photographer Harry Benson, to visit the White House after the match was over, win or lose. Nixon s message said, Tell Bobby that I admire his fighting spirit. He s a fighter. I like that. Tell Bobby from me that when it s all over I want him to come down here and visit me, even if he loses. Nixon later failed to invite Fischer to the White House after Kissinger didn t think it was a good idea and told Nixon so. Nixon wanted to invite both Fischer and Spassky, but Kissinger thought that Spassky might defect and it would look bad for the United States if Spassky defected after a Nixon invite.

On the morning of July 16, Fischer got a ride to the airport, having booked himself on a flight home. He then switched the flight to Greenland. But his delegation persuaded Fischer to return and play chess. Suddenly, he decided to play after all.

On July 16, game 3 was played, but in a small closed playing area away from the playing hall (called the ping pong room). Fischer arrived 8 minutes late. After examining the camera equipment, Fischer agreed to play. For the first 5 minutes, Fischer complained about the size of the chess table squares, the colors of the squares, and the finish of the board, but he did play. Spassky blundered just before time control and Fischer sealed the move of the adjourned game.

On July 17, Spassky showed up for the resumption of the game. Once Spassky saw that Fischer sealed the winning move, he spent another 5 minutes in thought before he resigned. Fischer had not showed up yet. Spassky left before Fischer showed up, 15 minutes later. Fischer won that game as Black. It was the first time that Fischer had ever beaten Spassky.

On July 18, game 4 was played in the main auditorium. The game ended in a draw.

On July 20, game 5 was played. Bobby Fischer won in 27 moves in what was called his best game of the match. After resigning, even Spassky joined the audience applauding Fischer for such a good game. The match was now tied at 2.5-2.5.

On July 23, game 6 was played. Bobby Fischer won. Fischer surprised Spassky by starting with 1. c4 instead of his normal 1. e4. Fischer executed a strong attack after a small misstep by Spassky, winning the game and taking a 3.5-2.5 lead.

On July 25, game 7 was played. The game ended in a draw. At the beginning of the game, Spassky got the same type of chair that Fischer got, a $524 black leather Herman Miller Eames Executive Chair.

On July 27, game 8 was played. Bobby Fischer won.

On August 1, game 9 was played. The game ended in a draw.

On August 3, game 10 was played. Bobby Fischer won.

On August 6, game 11 was played. Boris Spassky won after beating Fischer s Sicilian Najdorf, Poison Pawn variation.

On August 8, game 12 was played. The game ended in a draw.

On August 10, game 13 was played. Bobby Fischer won.

On August 15, game 14 was played. The game ended in a draw.

On August 17, game 15 was played. The game ended in a draw.

On August 20, game 16 was played. The game ended in a draw.

On August 22, game 17 was played. The game ended in a draw.

On August 24, game 18 was played. The game ended in a draw.

On August 27, game 19 was played. The game ended in a draw.

On August 29, game 20 was played. The game ended in a draw.

On August 31, game 21 was played. Spassky's sealed move after the adjournment was a blunder.

On September 1, 1972, Spassky called the match arbiter, Lothar Schmid, to resign. At 2:47p.m., Fischer appeared on stage at Laugardalsholl to sign his score sheet and was told by Schmid that he was the winner of the match. Fischer had won the match by a 12.5-8.5 score to become the 11th World Chess Champion.

Of the 21 games in the 1972 Reykjavik match, Fischer was late for every game except one.

Fischer lost 5 rating points after the match with Spassky.