Bobby Clears The Board For The Title 2

| 1 | Chess Players

Games three, four and five-all draws-represented another kind of turn in the Fischer fortunes. In the third game Petrosian barricaded his king behind a hedgehog formation and waited for Fischer to come and get him. Fischer made a speculative sally, sacrificing a pawn and offering to sacrifice the exchange (trading a stronger rook for a bishop), but Petrosian declined. For a time his ruthless precision promised another victory, but he again got into time trouble, and Fischer gained an automatic draw on repeated moves. It was a lucky save for the Americana the score, now 1� to 1�, could easily have been 3-0 in favor of Petrosian.

For the next 10 days, while he took on all the earmarks of a loser, Fischer reverted to kind. No photographs. No smiles. No interviews. "I've been seeing too many people," he said. He caught cold. He changed hotel rooms repeatedly. He could not sleep and blamed it on the sound of traffic rising from the Avenue of the Ninth of July. "I do not know how many times Mr. Fischer changed his room," said the hotel manager with dignity. "Every day, I think."

Edmund Edmondson, a retired Air Force colonel and executive director of the U.S. Chess Federation, acted as Fischer's buffer against photographers, television cameramen, journalists and innocent bystanders. When a well-wisher told Edmondson that he looked forward to happier chess occasions for Fischer, the colonel said hollowly, "A draw is a happy occasion."

The fourth game was a grand master's draw, a perfunctory 20-move affair, with Fischer proposing and getting a draw after only an hour and 20 minutes of play. In the fifth game Petrosian offered a draw on the 34th move, and Fischer refused, only to turn around four moves later and offer one that Petrosian accepted. "Petrosian is making Bobby play his kind of chess," said Larry Evans, Fischer's second.

The draws seemed to increase, rather than reduce, the tensions of the crowds, which appeared, in the great mirrored lobby, to reach out into infinity. People stood shoulder to shoulder, like a crowd in a subway rush hour, remaining till the final move of each game. In addition to the fans trying to figure out each player's next move, there were those who studied something else: they were watching Fischer come down from his mountain of unbroken victories, to the plains of victory, loss and draw.

With the white pieces in game six, Petrosian was relaxed and confident. Fischer was pale, if not haggard. And yet, after half a dozen moves Fischer had calmed and begun to concentrate. About an hour into the game two stench bombs went off in the last row of the theater. All over the theater handkerchiefs were held to noses; in the back rows people headed for the exits. Referee Lothar Schmid, a West German publisher and chess master, approached Petrosian and Fischer to ask if they wanted to stop. "It's a gas bomb," he said.

"Poison gas?" Fischer asked.

Assured it wasn't, Petrosian and Fischer agreed to continue. But it turned into a sterile game for Petrosian. Fischer broke through on the queen side just before the game was adjourned at the 40th move; when it was resumed at five o'clock the following day Fischer demolished the blockades that Petrosian tried to set, and after the 66th move Petrosian resigned.

Fischer's victory in game six was simplified because Petrosian played badly, but there was no such weakness in the seventh, a classical, logical demonstration of mastery and the turning point of the match. Tradition has it that when two chess masters are of roughly equal ability the winner will usually be the one in the best physical condition-or, as chess players put it ironically, no body has ever won a match from a healthy opponent.

Until this stage of the drama, Petrosian looked better than Fischer. But two days later, at the last possible moment before the eighth game, Petrosian requested a postponement, submitting a certificate that he was suffering from low blood pressure complicated by the hot, humid weather of the Buenos Aires spring. He spent the day wandering through the city and listening to Tchaikovsky records in a music store.

The five-day rest was precisely what Fischer needed. With a two-point advantage, 4� to 2�, and relieved of the pressure of his victory string, he relaxed Petrosian visibly. He avoided the American chess hack experts and hung out with a young Argentine champion, Miguel Angel Quinteros, 24, who was doing commentary for local television. Fischer played a little tennis at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club, swam in the pool of the Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima, played Ping pong with some Argentine youngsters and hid out from reporters.

What chess players think about during a game is incommunicable, particularly in matches like this, when every move they make is being pondered around the world. Fischer gave one small glimpse of what went on in his mind as he took stage for the eighth game when he admitted (after the match) that he was still not confident of winning. He played carefully, coldly, logically, trying no bold ventures or brilliant forays, slowly building up a minute advantage in position until he was able to launch an attack of overwhelming power. "Petrosian's spirit is broken," said a Russian grand master, Yuri Auerbach, when Petrosian resigned at the 40th move. "You can't Play chess after you are 40 years old. Spassky will be stronger."

So the stage was set for the ninth game, same scene, same setting, except that the characters looked drawn and the crowd spilled out of the theater into the street. Playing the white, Fischer advanced his queen pawn on the second move, and it all seemed to have happened before, a static drama endlessly continued repeated. But now Fischer seemed to be more mature. He watched Petrosian hesitate over his opening, saw him spend nine minutes on his seventh move, and two moves later, when Petrosian wasted another five minutes on a weak response, Fischer knew he was going to win.

At that point Fischer may have been the only one who did. But then, chess masters see farther ahead than ordinary chess players. Petrosian sacrificed material to set up a mating net on the king side. To the layman's eye (and even to some experts), Petrosian's web looked lethal, and although Fischer slowly worked his king to safety, picking up pawns as he did so, his position seemed hopeless. But Petrosian failed, and on the 44th move had only his king, a knight and a single pawn; Fischer had his king, rook and six pawns.

"Six pawns!" said Herman Pilnick, the commentator on the games. "Do you know what that means? There are only eight to begin with." Two moves later Petrosian resigned. By any standard, even those of the rankest amateur, he should have resigned long before. But he went on playing like an automaton, until he literally had nothing left to lose.

Fischer's recent record raises the distinct possibility that he has made a breakthrough in modern chess theory. His response to Petrosian's elaborately plotted 11th move in the first game is an example: Russian experts had worked on the variation for weeks, yet when it was thrown at Fischer suddenly, he faced its consequences alone and won by applying simple, classic principles. Masters like Petrosian may have become prisoners of the past.

In the moment after winning, Fischer started to step forward on the stage to acknowledge the cheers. Then he changed his mind and disappeared through a rear exit while Petrosian threaded his way slowly through the screaming mob in the lobby, nodding his thanks to applause. Fischer and Quinteros ran down the dark back street, pursued by a crowd of excited youngsters. Finally at Uruguay Street they found an empty cab, made a brief appearance at the television studio to discuss the match, and then drove to a bowling alley in a suburb in north Buenos Aires where the two of them bowled steadily until 3:30 in the morning.

By Robert Cantwell
Sports Illustrated - November 8, 1971

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