A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma 2

| 1 | Chess Players

By the 11th game Bobby was psychologically unfit to play safe. He wanted victories. Here was the weakness so many commentators had uncovered - an inability to pace himself in a prolonged struggle and thereby allow an opponent the opportunity to overextend himself. But then that weakness was also Fischer's strength. His uncompromising determination to see his opponent's ego collapse permitted him the risk of losing numerous battles as long as he won the war. In this game Bobby might have resigned somewhere between Moves 22 and 24. "But you can't win by resigning," the old master Tartakower once said, and Fischer plodded on to Move 31 before acknowledging his fate. Why did he not resign earlier? I think he was carried on by the momentum of the occasion. After so many victories, he found it difficult to reconcile himself to his first loss since Game One. There was a master who used to attribute his own delayed resignations to "his great love for the game."

In the 12th game the world was waiting for Fischer to avenge his loss, from which, presumably, he was smarting. Fans expected a wild affair, but the game produced hardly a flurry. There was a hint that Bobby was playing safe, and Boris was in no mood for a mishap that would increase Fischer's already commanding lead of two points. The game was adjourned with Bobby suffering no illusions as to the possible outcome, a draw. That night Bobby said if he tried too hard he could lose, although by no stretch of the imagination did he believe he could lose the adjourned position. But the comment did show he was growing wiser in the application of match strategy. He was no longer keen to plunge into his opponent's defenses on the mere chance of winning. That course had once provided weaker opponents with unmerited opportunity for victory over Fischer.

His carelessness in the 13th game, however, nearly resulted in another loss. Fortunately, he recovered. But he did not recover sufficiently. He had missed at least two winning continuations, and when the game was adjourned his expression betrayed this knowledge. That night was spent in an exhaustive session of analysis. "Do you think there's a win?" he anxiously asked. He gave the distinct impression that he knew there was no win. Fischer began furiously to shift the pieces over the board in a mad search for the win. One try, then another, produced no tangible result. He desperately wanted, needed, this win, if only to exonerate his inaccurate play during the first session. Very likely he suspected that victory was at best problematic, for at 11:45 p.m. he decided to have supper. The hotel's maitre d' had been patiently awaiting Fischer's pleasure and soon was serving up a luscious meal of salmon. Bobby had taken great pains to order large portions of everything he could think of -- soup, juices, salad, herring -- but his intense scrutiny of the adjourned position dulled any hunger pangs he might have felt earlier. He barely touched the dinner laid before him.

"What do you think of this line?" he would say, rattling off a variation. Then, without waiting for a reply, he would play a few moves beyond his suggestion and quickly reassemble the pieces at the adjourned position. Occasionally I would make a suggestion. Bobby would look and then go on alone for a while. The process was repeated constantly during the two-hour-meal." -- If the maitre d' -- entered the room with another course, at Bobby's behest the pocket sets were snapped shut. Not a word was uttered until we were alone again. At one point grandmaster Lubomir Kavalek, who was covering the match for the Voice of America, came to offer his talents in working out the adjournment. Bobby was grateful but dismissed him, saying, "a little later."

Fischer's favorite chess set sat on a dressing table flush against a wall in a corner of the room. We sat before it testing lines that offered even the remotest chance for the win. The more ephemeral became the notion of winning, the more tense Fischer became. With a start, he turned to me and asked that I move away from the board. "I'd like to look at the position alone. See what you can find on your pocket set." Intermittently he would call me back: "Take a look at this. What do you think?" Again the pieces would shuffle about the board, gaining momentum, some progress, but still no win insight.

At 3 a.m. Bobby turned suddenly and said: "Call Kavalek." The phone was at his left hand, but he seemed to fear the instrument. I protested, given the hour, but Bobby insisted, "Call him, call him." 

Kavalek picked up the receiver. "Lubosh, sorry to awaken you," I said lamely. "Bobby would like you to come to look at the adjournment." Lubosh arrived within minutes. The cycle of "Look," "No," "What do you think?" "Let me look at it alone" became a refrain. The playoff of Game 13, as on every Friday, was set for 2:30 p.m. Bobby had not tired of analysis until 8 a.m. What's more, by noon he was up struggling with that beguiling position. There were chances, but the win, he knew, was just as far away as ever.

Although Kavalek and I knew Bobby's plan of attack, Boris seemed uncomfortable when the game continued. The Russian nervously circled the table while Bobby considered this move, then that. A position was reached which many experts judged drawn. At this stage Bobby decided to go into a huddle. He stewed about 10 minutes over Move 62, another 10 over 63, and then an hour over his 64th turn! Time spent in finding the best try in a drawn position. And suddenly Bobby had won.

Watching the game's progress over the TV monitor in the lobby, the Soviet seconds were stunned by the result. Nikolai Krogius sadly admitted that Boris had erred on his 69th turn. "I didn't make enough of the fact that Fischer had consumed an entire hour over only one move," Spassky said later.

Indeed he hadn't. Boris was jittery, waiting for Bobby to move. He seemed to prefer not to reason that Bobby might be weaving a trap. More often than not, he stayed away from the table instead of bolting himself to his swivel seat and studying the position while Bobby pondered. Boris Popped in and out of the curtained entrance to the backstage. During Bobby's prolonged think, the champion, on occasion, sauntered over to the board and gazed down at the-position with a studied expression of boredom on his countenance

While Fischer dashed for his car, Spassky remained glued to his seat. A sympathetic Lothar Schmid came over, and the two shifted the pieces about with Boris demonstrating his careless mistakes. The two were left wondering how Bobby could have squeezed a win from a position which a night of competent analysis by a renowned Soviet team had showed to be a guaranteed draw.

The 14th, 15th and 16th games ended in draws. Each draw by now was as good as a full point for Bobby. With 9.5 points in his pocket, he needed only three in the remaining eight games to take the title. The match was now in the stretch. The opening repertoire of both players had been exhausted-as far as the element of surprise was concerned. The problem was how to win a won game, not just draw.

By now Fischer was becoming more and more frenetic about the noise in the hall. He instructed Cramer to write to Schmid. The letter declared, "Playing conditions Sunday at Exhibition Hall were the worst of the match to date. The audience was big, noisy, moving about, coughing, standing on all sides, whispering, even horsing around. It looks less like a chess match than like County Stadium in Milwaukee when the Braves were around. ... We must remove the first seven rows of seats. ... Persistent coughers, children running and jumping, spectators whispering, and others who con- tinue walking about should be asked to be seated quietly or to leave, not only for better playing conditions but for the benefit of those spectators who want to sit quietly and watch the exciting play. ... We have waited too long, Lothar. Let us correct these things before the match itself is jeopardized."

The Icelanders were adamant about not removing seven rows of seats. They were willing to remove two. We felt a news release stating this would be inopportune. Bobby would remain intransigent in his demands and would quit the championship if he heard of this compromise which we had quietly worked out. I hoped that when Fischer arrived for the 17th game he would not inspect the seating arrangement in the hall closely. Bobby was told that an amicable agreement had been reached; he might have been suspicious, but en route to the hall he heard over the car radio that seven rows had been removed. Thank goodness for an occasional mistake by newscasters.

New York Times Correspondent Harold Schonberg made a point of getting to the hall an hour before game time to count the seats. Seats had been an issue for so long that he apparently kept rotating charts on the number of rows moved in and out of the orchestra section of the auditorium. Harold concluded that two, not seven, rows had been removed. Fortunately, no other member of the press wanted to know Harold's count. And Schonberg himself didn't count too loudly.

The hall was dead quiet in fearful anticipation of a blowup. When Fischer emerged from backstage, he squinted out at the shadowed hall filled with spectators, sat down in his swivel seat and countered Spassky's king pawn opening.

No Fischer protest! During the course of the match, as he swayed in his executive chair, Bobby's vacant stare would engulf Boris, who seemed to be making a concentrated effort to avoid Bobby's gaze. Bobby's mannerisms must have gotten to Boris, who decided on the antidote. Boris, too, swayed-first right, then left, in a rolling motion which coupled with Bobby's lasted several minutes. It was a kind of chess rock 'n' roll. Later Fischer remarked innocently, "Yeah, I noticed he was imitating me! He's not the kind of guy who would purposely annoy you." For Bobby, this imitation might have been another clue to Spassky's deterioration, his desperation.

When the game was resumed after adjournment, Spassky moved his pieces back and forth in a threefold repetition of a position. Fischer summoned the referee to confirm what had happened and the game was declared a draw.

It was about this time that the Russians claimed electronic and chemical devices were being used to influence Spassky's play. The Soviet accusations only seemed to put Bobby in a very relaxed frame of mind. Spassky and Fischer locked in fierce

Spassky and Fischer locked in fierce combat in the l8th game. The edge shifted one way, then the other, and back again. The game was adjourned with the decision in the balance.

In an interview for 64 (No. 40, 1972), a Soviet chess publication, Spassky surveyed his play in the match in general, and in Games 18 and 20 in particular: "'Opportunities were open to me in Games 18 and 20. ... It seemed that one solitary move would be enough to reduce MY opponent. But somehow I was not capable of the effort." It is likely that Spassky psyched himself out. He has called himself "a lazy Russian bear." It takes him a long time to rev up his spirit, to get himself in good form. And possibly he no longer was by the time of the world championship.

Bobby chastised himself for his inaccurate play in Game 18. He had given Spassky too much play -- in fact, Boris might have won. On the return trip to the hotel that night Bobby whipped out the pocket chess set. In and out of the slots for the various squares flew the plastic pieces. "There may not be a win," he concluded.

Bobby waged the customarily fierce all-night analytical session, after which he realized forcing the game was too risky. He compelled the draw. Bobby: 10.5, Boris: 7.5. Any combination of victories and draws totaling two points would give Fischer the title. To retain the crown, Boris would have to score 4.5 points from the remaining six games.

When Fischer drew the 19th game the score stood at 11 to 8. The 20th game came; the 20th game was adjourned. It featured lackluster play on the part of both contestants. Boris seemed satisfied with simply attaining a respectable score. He had resigned himself to his fate. And Bobby was not one to disturb the sleeping bear. Yet throughout the match neither side would acquiesce to an easy, quick, premature draw. The result was another adjournment edge for Boris. He was continually plagued by having the advantage without being able to win. Fischer didn't enjoy being pressed. As usual, his anxiety for perfection demanded a fiercely analytical session. The draw was assured.

After the seance with Bobby, I joined his old teacher Jack Collins for coffee, but Bobby's worries apparently persisted. He telephoned me. "Are you analyzing the position with anyone?" he demanded. I pledged that all was well.

With the score 11 to 8.5, the challenger needed but two more draws or one precious victory to cinch the match. Speculation arose that Bobby, hoping to end the match, would come out slugging. But how could he hope to administer the knockout blow? He had, after all, the decided drawback of marshaling the black pieces.

As it happened, of the six Fischer wins three had been with black. The actual routing of Boris took place in Games Three and Five. Both times Fischer was black. The odds were not so long against another breakthrough in Game 21.

A very brave Boris set to work. He adopted an aggressive posture with a king pawn opening. Bobby, also in a sporting mood, retaliated with a determined Sicilian Defense, choosing a move (2. ...P-K3) he had never played before and transposing into a variation the Paulsen -- which he had never employed in serious competition. Thus, despite Spassky's determination, the element of surprise was already Bobby's with his seventh-move novelty (P-Q4).

Shaken by the tactics of a man who should have been content to grind out a draw here and in the next game, Boris consumed 50 minutes to Bobby's 20 on the first 10 moves. The sober study of the position presented no solution. He could not refute Bobby's ploy. The game was adjourned, this time with the edge firmly Bobby's.

The next day -- Sept. 1, the day Iceland proclaimed its 50-mile fishing limit -- I was drinking tea in the hotel cafeteria when someone told me it was rumored Spassky had resigned. I raced to Cramer's room where we called Lothar Schmid, who at first was unwilling to admit anything. He was afraid that if the news broke Bobby would not show at the hall. Schmid finally told us, "Bobby wins, but it is not official until he signs the scoresheet." Paul Marshall, Cramer and I marched to Bobby's third-floor suite. I knocked on the door. "Who is it?" came the voice. "Bill." The door opened a crack. "What do you want? I'm busy [analyzing the position]." "Congratulations! You're world champion!" I exclaimed. "Yeah. I heard some rumor on the radio. Is it true? Is it official?" "It's official," we said. "We spoke to Schmid."

"But that's not official," Bobby said disbelievingly. "You better go," he continued, "I've got work to do."

Marshall and Cramer left while I stayed to take a last glance at the ad- journed position. It was already 2 p.m., half an hour before game time. Bobby simultaneously ate, dressed and continued to study the position. Somehow he understood the game was really over. But he wasn't ready to admit this to anyone, even himself. "Why should Spassky resign this position?" he said. "There's a lot of play." I remember when Bobby was 11 or so how he misspelled the word "resign" on scoresheets. It was as if he never wanted to use the word. On the way to the hall Bobby sat analyzing in the front seat. I thrust a copy of My 60 Memorable Games into his hands. "What's this?" Bobby asked.

"Sign it," I urged. "I want your first autograph as world champion!"

"No, no. It's not official. Later," he replied, returning the book.

"All right," I said, "but remember, as soon as you come out of the hall, me first!"

"O.K., O.K.," said Bobby as he returned to his pocket chess set.

The car slowly edged through the crowds surrounding the hall and arrived at the players' entrance. Bobby bounced out of the car, pierced the crowds and disappeared.

Spassky did not show. Perhaps, understandably enough, he did not want to suffer the final humiliation of resigning before such a tremendous audience. He had telephoned his resignation, which was permissible under the rules, to Schmid at 12:50 p.m.

Schmid moved to the front of the Laugardalsholl stage. "Ladies and gentle- men," he said, "Mr. Spassky has resigned. This is a traditional and legal way of resignation. Mr. Fischer has won this game, Number 21, and he is the winner of the match."

Thunderous applause rang out. Bobby sat glued to his seat. Overpowering shyness forced him to look away from the audience. Schmid tried to coax him forward, taking him by the elbow. Bobby, rose, moved a step and stopped. He nodded a silent thanks to the audience and returned to the table where he apparently reviewed his and Boris' signatures on the scoresheets. Finally, he strode quickly off the stage.

On the way back to the hotel I thrust My 60 Memorable Games once more on Bobby.


"I mean, Bill, what's in it for me?" he teased.

"You want to know what's in it for you?"

"Yeah, what's in it for me?" repeated Bobby.

"A big congratulations!"

At the top of the first leaf of the book Bobby put his signature, his first autograph as champion. "Should I write anything?" he asked.

"If you want, write what you feel."

Bobby wrote: "To Bill: Thanks for your help and patience."

Bobby should be champion of world for a long time to come. He is a genuine world champion. Now the only question is: Will he ever again play another match?

by William Lombardy
Sports Illustrated - January 21, 1974

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