Fischer-Spassky 1972 Highlights

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World Chess Championship
1972 Fischer - Spassky Title Match

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. The opening ceremony in Reykjavik was scheduled for 1 July 1972, but on that day Robert Fischer was not in Iceland.

Fischer, who had not signed any document confirming his participation, was demanding an increase in the 125.000 US$ prize fund, as well as restrictions on television cameras.


"The Match" by Robert Byrne, Chess Life September 1972
Will There Be a Match?
The match of the century was supposed to have started Sunday, July 2, 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 the camera-shy challenger back to New York City following brief appearances at Kennedy airport.
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.
An Angel in the Wings
Suddenly, a British chess promoter and financier, James Slater, came forward with a dazzling surprise $125,000 donation to the prize fund, matching the amount the Icelandic Chess Federation had put up, and setting the winner's slice of the purse at $156,250 and the loser's at $93,750.
But even this record purse did not bring Bobby to Reykjavik, although it more than made up for what the share of the admissions would have come to. For whatever reason, it took hours of persuasion by Bill Lombardy, Fischer's last-minute choice as second, and attorney Paul Marshall to get Bobby to go through with the match.

Fischer arrived in Reykjavik on 4 July. He apologized to Spassky, to Max Euwe, the president of FIDE, and to the organizers for having missed the opening ceremonies.

The first game was played on 11 July. Of the five games contested previously between the two players, the score was three wins for Spassky and two draws. At the appointed hour, match arbiter Lothar Schmid started the clock and Spassky played 1.d4, but Fischer was not in the Laugardalshoell Sports Exhibition Palace.

Seven long minutes passed and then Fischer arrived. He shook Spassky's hand and sat down to play. The 'Match of the Century' had finally begun.

On the 29th move, in a drawn position, Fischer captured a poison pawn, allowing his bishop to be trapped. It was a move which almost any strong player would have rejected instinctively.

Game 1 : Spassky - Fischer
after 29...Bd6-h2(xP)

Struggling with pawns against a bishop and pawns, Fischer missed a draw just before adjournment. During the second session on the following day, he left the playing area for 30 minutes to protest the presence of a television camera. After returning, he resigned on the 56th move.

That evening Fred Cramer, an official of the U.S. Chess Federation and a spokesman for Fischer, sent a letter to 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 13 July, the clock was started for the second game, but Fischer was not at the board. Fox quickly accepted that the cameras be removed for at least that game. Fischer agreed to play provided that his clock was reset to zero. Schmid refused and forfeited the challenger after one hour.

Contrary to all expectations, Fischer did not leave Iceland. Was it the phone call he received from Henry Kissinger, or the many telegrams from his fans around the world? Whatever the reason, the match continued on 16 July, in a closed playing area.

The third game marked the first time that Fischer had ever beaten Spassky.

Game 3 : Spassky - Fischer
after 41...Bf5-d3+ 0-1

The players returned to the playing hall for the fourth game, where there were no television cameras. Spassky developed a strong attack, but Fischer defended well and the game was drawn.

Game 4 : Fischer - Spassky
after 21...h7-h5

Fischer won the fifth game with a nice combination and the match was even. Spassky's 2-0 lead had been erased.

Game 5 : Spassky - Fischer
after 27...Bd7-a4(xP) 0-1

During his entire career, Fischer was known for opening exclusively with 1.e4. Annotating this move in his book My 60 Memorable Games, he wrote 'Best by test', in the notes for one game, and 'I have never opened with the QP - on principle.' for another.

In game 6 Fischer played the Queen's Gambit for the first time in his life. The game continued in the Tartakover Variation, a line which Spassky had never lost, and ended in a brilliant win for White. After the game Spassky joined the 1500 spectators in applauding his opponent. 'Did you see that? That was class.', Fischer said later of Spassky's show of applause.

With three wins in the last four games, Fischer was now winning the match.

Game 6 : Fischer - Spassky
after 38.Rf5-f6(xN)

Game 7 ended in perpetual check even though Fischer had a two pawn advantage.

Game 7 : Spassky - Fischer
after 41.h3-h4

For the eighth game Fisher accepted the presence of television cameras on the condition that they be kept at least 150 feet (about 45 meters) from the chess board. He also demanded that Fox's camera team be replaced. Not wanting to jeopardize his investment, Fox sold the rights to the American television company ABC for 100.000 US$.

On the 15th move, Spassky lost the exchange. Whether it was a sacrifice or a blunder, he went on to lose the game.

Game 8 : Fischer - Spassky
after 15...b7-b5?

Trailing 5-3, Spassky took a time out for game 9. When the game was played on 1 August, it became clear that he was having difficulties with Fischer's constant psychological pressure, both on and off the board. After each move, Spassky left the stage and disappeared into the wings. The game, the shortest draw in the match, ended after 29 moves.

William Lombardy, Fischer's second, later remarked that he could not understand how Spassky could endure Fischer's behavior for even a single game. Realizing that their genial star was being beaten, the Soviet authorities attempted to recall Spassky back to Moscow. He resisted on sporting grounds.

Fischer won the tenth game, crushing Spassky's Breyer Defense (9...Nb8) in a sharply played Ruy Lopez.

Game 10 : Fischer - Spassky
after 29.Rb1-d1

For game 11, Spassky narrowed the gap to 6 1/2 - 4 1/2, winning against Fischer's Poison Pawn variation in a Najdorf Sicilian. Fischer failed to find a good plan against Spassky's 14.Nb1 innovation and was crushed.

Game 11 : Spassky - Fischer
after 21.a2-a3

After a hard fought draw in the 12th game, Fischer won the 13th with a trapped rook and five passed pawns against rook, bishop, and pawn.

Game 13 : Spassky - Fischer
after 61.Be7-f8

Game 14 was agreed drawn in a rook and pawn endgame. Game 15 began the day after Fox filed a lawsuit for 1.750.000 US$ in a New York court for damages from Fischer. Fischer's lawyers responded that the challenger had no contractual obligation with Fox. The legal maneuvering continued off the board.

The 15th game was another Sicilian Najdorf, but Fischer avoided the Poison Pawn variation which had cost him game 11. He lost a pawn early in the game, developed a strong attack, and missed a win.

Game 15 : Spassky - Fischer
after 38...Qf5-d5+
(38...Ka8 should win)

Spassky tried unsuccessfully during the 16th game to win with rook plus g- and h-pawns against rook plus g-pawn. Fischer complained again about noise from the spectators. The first three rows of seats were cleared for the next game.

In the 17th game Fischer sacrificed the exchange, but Spassky was unable to win with his material advantage. He allowed a draw by triple repetition at the beginning of the second session.

Game 17 : Spassky - Fischer
after 21...Qc5-e5

Efim Geller, Spassky's chief second, accused Fischer of using unethical means to disturb Spassky's concentration. During the night Icelandic police swept the playing hall for electronic devices. They found two dead flies in the lighting system.

The 18th game was another hard fought draw, where both players had chances throughout the game. In the 19th game, Spassky sacrificed a knight, but was unable to convert his daring play into a win.

Game 19 : Spassky - Fischer
after 18.Nc3-d5(xP)

In danger of losing the game 20, Fischer claimed a draw by triple repetition. It was the seventh consecutive draw.

Game 20 : Fischer - Spassky
after 41.Nf2-d1

Leading 11 1/2 - 8 1/2, Fischer needed a win in the 21st game to clinch the match. In a level position, Spassky blundered twice in the endgame and was lost at adjournment.

Game 21 : Spassky - Fischer
after 18...c5-c4


The next day Spassky resigned the match by telephone. Fischer at first refused to accept the legality of this, preferring the customary signing of the scoresheet. Finally he acquiesed and, on 1 September, the match was over. Fischer's victory ended 24 years of Soviet domination of the World Chess Title.

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