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"Preparing for the match against Fischer", excerpts from Boris Spassky's bio

Oct 20, 2015, 2:22 AM 19

Nikolai Krogius was one of Spassky's coaches during his preparations for the match against Fischer. He shares a lot of insight from the Soviet camp.

Here are some quotes from his biographical book about Spassky, published in 1998 and 2000 (2 volumes). Spassky was offered to write an autobiography, but he said he wouldn't write about himself and offered Krogius to do the job.

Preparations and Talks (excerpts)

Our preparation for Spassky's match against Fischer formally began at the Trans-Elbrus region in March and April 1971 and subsequent meeting with Bondarevsky in Pyatigorsk. We have developed working plans for the whole 1971. Sadly, the world champion, upon returning to Moscow, didn't sit at his desk, preferring to tour the Far East and Yakutia.

Seeing another criticism of Spassky, the reader may ask a question: Which measures did the coaches take to overcome the world champion's lukewarm attitude to systematic chess work? This is a fair question, and I have to admit that we didn't do everything that was in our power.

This can be explained with the circumstances: first of all, we all lived in different cities (Moscow, Pyatigorsk and Saratov) and met only sporadically after the 1969 World Championship match. And Boris just couldn't study alone. He needed a constant everyday opponent and helper at the chessboard. Without such a man, he couldn't work. An ideal solution would be for all the coaches to move to Moscow. And such variants were discussed. But Bondarevsky, who was offered an apartment by his Lokomotiv sport society, feared the troubles entailed by the move and didn't like the bustling Moscow. Though if he really did want to move, I think he could overcome that psychological barrier. In 1970, I was offered a lucrative administrative position in Moscow, but I didn't want to leave my scientific career in the Saratov University and my doctor's thesis, so I declined too.

On the other hand, neither me nor Bondarevsky could predict the future, and we sincerely believed that in the face of a new opponent, Boris would pull himself together and show his great skills again. Although Spassky was worried by Fischer's appearance among the candidates, we all were calmed down by Boris' score against him (+3-0=2).


On June 9, 1971, I had a long talk with Taimanov, who just got back from Canada after a crushing defeat from Fischer (0:6!) Instead of a usually very optimistic and self-confident grandmaster, I saw a tired, confused man who visibly grew older. He would often repeat: "Fischer knows everything", "He's an Achilles without an Achilles' heel", "He's like a wall that moves inexorably towards you, a wall that has no hole to shoot through."

We still managed to discern some important things from Taimanov's emotional account:

1) Fischer played easily and quickly (our representatives didn't measure the time in Canada). He never had time troubles. Only once did Fischer think on a move for 20 minutes. Usually, he had 10 to 30 minutes left at the end of the game;

2) Fischer knew the Soviet chess literature, including periodics, very well;

3) Fischer was always deeply concentrated during the game, so he would try to remove any obstacles to his concentration in advance (this manifested in his demands about the public's placement in the hall, lights, carpet colour on the stage, etc.);

4) Fischer demonstrated superb calculating abilities;

5) Fischer showed great opening preparation. He calculated his preferred variations up to the tiniest details.

Taimanov also pointed out (though with a degree of uncertainty) some of Fischer's shortcomings:

1) He believed too much in his own opening analysis;

2) His playing was not very flexible due to a limited opening repertoire.

Grandmaster Kotov, who was present at the Canadian match as well, said that Fischer analyzed the adjourned games very well, and he worked alone. Also, Kotov said that the American's "fanatical appearance" and confident behaviour during the game has a strong psychological effect.

Besides Taimanov and Kotov, I've also discussed the "Fischer problem" with Tal in great detail. The ex-champion pointed out the American grandmaster's "incredible consistency" in openings. By Tal's opinion, Fischer's opening repertoire didn't really change much since 1958.

In the middlegame, Fischer was more vulnerable when he was deprived of piece activity or captured too many pawns. If he had a worse endgame, he would overestimate the opponent's chances. Tal thought that against Fischer, one should either try to get as much initiative as he could, even at the price of some material concessions, or, conversely, to restrict Fischer's pieces by "drying out" the game.


In July 1971, there was a special training camp in the Moscow Oblast dedicated to analyzing Fischer's games. There were "guest experts" at the training camp: grandmasters Boleslavsky, Polugaevsky, Shamkovich and Vasyukov. They studied around 500 Fischer's games.

But both this and other good-intentioned events didn't produce the desired effect due to lack of coordination, organizational mistakes and/or certain people's subjectivism. When someone offered to send me to the United States to watch Fischer's match against Larsen, the president of the Soviet Chess Federation categorically declined. But the same man, several months later, accused others in "not studying Fischer enough, both as a person and as a chess player."


Viktor Davidovich Baturinsky worked as the director of the Soviet Central Chess Club and, simultaneously, as the head of Sports Committee's chess department; essentially, he headed the entire Soviet state chess organization. He was a lawyer by occupation, and he brought clarity, definiteness and accountability into our chess world. Many people liked to "fish in troubled waters" of Soviet chess, and so, Baturinsky's very clear demands would often face resistance. He was very harsh at times, which also didn't help his cause.


The relationship between Baturinsky and Spassky was uneasy. I'll tell you about one incident. In early 1972, Baturinsky should have gone to Amsterdam to take part in the talks about the World Championship match. A couple of days before his departure, Spassky asked him to sign a warrant that allowed someone else to drive Spassky's car, and imprint it with the Central Chess Club seal. Baturinsky said that he could do that, but he warned Spassky that such warrant should be necessarily signed by a notary, or else the road police could just confiscate the document. Spassky left.

An hour later, during the discussions in the Sports Committee, Spassky, wound up by some "well-wisher" (his name is well-known in chess circles, but I don't want to tell it here), said, "Baturinsky doesn't trust my warrant, and so I don't trust him to be my representative at the Amsterdam talks". So, Geller went to Amsterdam instead. This episode shows how something can appear out of nothing in the chess world, and what stupid things the chess organizers are sometimes relegated to do. I think Spassky doesn't remember this story too fondly, too.


In October 1971, Fischer defeated Petrosian and formally became the World Championship candidate.

As the chess history shows, before the World Championship matches, the champion and the candidate would often argue about the time and place of the competition and a lot of other things. Such arguments were often harsh and would often turn into serious personal clashes.

It's notable that the future opponents didn't care much about the subject of disagreement: the main thing was the result of those disputes. Each opponent wanted the other to give in, to submit to their demands and so suffer a defeat, even not a chess defeat yet. A psychological duel began long before the match even started.

The events before the Spassky - Fischer match took a similar turn. There were five sides in the disputes: 1) Spassky; 2) Fischer; 3) Euwe, the FIDE president; 4) Soviet Chess Federation and the Sports Committee (Ivonin and Baturinsky); 5) United States Chess Federation (Edmondson). It may seem strange to list five sides rather than three, since you could assume that the positions of Spassky and the Soviet Federation would be identical, as would Fischer's and the USCF.

But actually, even such a well-organized structure as the Soviet sports ruling body couldn't reach full agreement with Spassky. In November 1971, Spassky sent a letter to P. Demichev, a Politburo candidate and the CPSU Central Committee secretary who was in charge of sports at the time. Spassky said that he and his coaches are fully accountable for the match's result, and he would hold the talks about the time and place of the match on his own, without the Sports Committee dictating terms. Later on, Spassky's attitude towards the country's sport officials became milder, but he still retained his autonomy in decisions.

I don't think that all of such Spassky's actions should be viewed favourably. In a number of cases, he would stubbornly decline very reasonable suggestions of the Sports Committee and the Federation, harming himself first and foremost. Fischer had similar troubles due to his disagreements with Edmondson.


The Soviet sport officials, knowing perfectly how dangerous Fischer was and how important the match was from the sociopolitical point of view, were trying to secure the most favourable conditions for their representative, and so they offered to hold the match (or at least a part of it) in Moscow. In October 1971 in Buenos Aires, right after Fischer defeated Petrosian in the Candidates' Final, the Americans were informally asked what they thought of that offer. Edmondson had an opinion that Fischer would agree to play in Moscow if the prize was large enough. Fischer himself said that he would have very weak moral support if the match would indeed take place in Moscow, but it was certainly possible if the financial conditions were good.

After coming back from Argentine, Baturinsky prepared an offer to hold either the entire match or its second half in USSR. He proposed a prize fund of $30,000. Now, when the chess prizes are up in millions, such a sum seems laughable, but at the time, it was a substantial step ahead: the most richly-sponsored match (Fischer vs. Petrosian) had a prize fund of just $12,000.

The Soviet government would probably have agreed to these terms, but Baturinsky's offer never saw the light of the day because of the world champion's negative position. In mid-November 1971, during a meeting in the Sports Committee, Spassky said that, firstly, he didn't want to play the match in Moscow or somewhere else in USSR at all; secondly, he didn't want to split the competition in two parts (between USA and USSR) because of all the climatic and other condidion changes involved; thirdly, he wanted to play in a European country with moderate climate, like Sweden, Netherlands, Switzerland or West Germany.


Bondarevsky sent two documents to the Sports Committee.

#1. "General Plan for Grandmaster B. Spassky's Preparation for a World Championship Match Against Grandmaster R. Fischer.

B. Spassky's preparation shall encompass three main branches: 1. Psychological preparation; 2. Physical preparation; 3. Chess preparation.

Psychological preparation involves deep study of the opponent as a chess player and as a person. This is necessary to develop an effective match tactic and to focus chess preparation on the opponent's most vulnerable points. Besides, psychological preparation is necessary to increase the willpower for the ensuing match.

Physical preparation is very important for a match that would last for two months and require 100% concentration of strength. Also, good physical form is a reliable base for developing a good chess stamina, which is very important in playing against R. Fischer.

Chess preparation includes the following parts:

a) Analysis of Spassky and Fischer's strengths and weaknesses;

b) Studying Spassky's games from Fischer's point of view;

c) Opening preparation;

d) Tactical preparation;

e) Technical preparation;

f) Practical preparation.

Head coach I. Bondarevsky".

#2. "Approximate Calendar Plan for B. Spassky's Preparation for the World Championship Match Against R. Fischer

Direct work with Spassky

Dec 20 to Feb 10. Analysis of Spassky and Fischer's strengths and weaknesses.

Feb 10 to Mar 10. Studying Spassky's games from Fischer's point of view.

Mar 15 to Apr 15. Opening preparation.

Apr 15 to May 1. Tactical and technical preparation.

May 1 to May 15. Practical preparation in a closed tournament.

May 15 to June 1. Analysis of the tournament's results, with conclusions.

Coaches' work

Dec 20 to Feb 10. Studying the opening repertoire of both opponents. Development of individual systems.

Feb 10 to Mar 10. Further opening work, preparing the tactical materials. Analyzing various playing situations.

Mar 15 to Apr 15. Opening preparation.

Apr 15 to May 1. Practical checking of prepared recommendations.

May 1 to June 1. Participating in practical preparation.

Notes: 1. Psychological preparation is included in various forms into all listed parts. 2. Physical preparation with necessary medical control is being worked on constantly. 3. Practical preparation - a closed tournament - assumes the possibility of including more grandmasters.

Head coach I. Bondarevsky."

On 20th December 1971, Spassky, Bondarevsky, Geller, me and an Estonian master Ivo Nei, who was invited by the world champion for the first time, came to the Krasnaya Pakhra village near Moscow to begin preparing for a match against Fischer. Krasnaya Pakhra wasn't chosen randomly: we spent several months before the match against Petrosian there. Bondarevsky and me hoped that the very fact of Spassky's coming to Krasnaya Pakhra, the place where he prepared to become the world champion, would encourage him to take up studies.

And we had our share of worries about the preparation. After the Sports Committee meeting, Bondarevsky was consulted several times. He grudgingly admitted that he didn't work much with Spassky that year, and the world champion, in his words, was "empty".


Nei's participation in the training camp raised many questions. He was invited by Spassky who said that it was necessary to have a training companion. But, in addition to the training sessions, Nei was involved in the most intimate discussion of our plans and secret analyses. The Sports Committee stated their bewilderment about Spassky's rash and insufficiently considered decision, but it was too late.

I would like to say that before the match, Nei was very reserved, mostly being involved in Spassky's physical training. He didn't take part in our chess analyses, but sometimes discussed some general questions with us. He was always looking smart, dressed neatly, adhered to sporting regime - I think that these attributes attracted the world champion.

But there were downsides; the Estonian master essentially became a yes-man to Spassky. No matter what he said, Nei would quickly add, "You're completely right". Considering that Spassky's self-assuredness grew greatly after 1969, such conciliation was dangerous: in case of any disagreement or criticism, Boris always had Nei's full support.

On 29th December 1971 <...> Baturinsky delivered a report about the preparation. He expressed his worries about Spassky's form (shared 6th place in the recent Alekhine Memorial), his unplanned tours instead of training, and reiterated his bewilderment concerning Spassky inviting Nei, rather than some distinguished grandmaster like Keres. Other participants voiced their concerns about Spassky's refusal to organize the match in two countries (USA and USSR).


A consultative committee was created, which included Botvinnik, Smyslov, Petrosian, Tal, Keres, Kotov, Korchnoi and Averbakh. For medical help, nutritional organization, developing the optimal regime, physical normatives and ways of quick rehabilitation after extreme pressure, it was decided to call upon the scientists and practitioners of the Soviet Science Academy, Soviet Medical Science Academy, some research institutes and the newly-created chess lab.


Personal questions were also quickly resolved. Spassky was given a monthly salary of 500 rubles [approximately $610 in 1972 dollars] (a Soviet minister's salary at the time), Bondarevsky was given 300 rubles, me and Geller - 250 rubles. Furthermore, Spassky and Geller were given new, more comfortable apartments in Moscow, and I was given one in Saratov.


Now (in 1998) people say different things about the Soviet way of organizing important events. They say that efforts and money were often spent disproportionately to the stated goals. Perhaps it was true to an extent. But for many years of being privy to the country's sporting life, I've never encountered any cases of obvious waste of resources in preparation for important competitions. Also I would say that because of such a thorough and responsible preparation, the sportsmen were completely free from any organizational worries and received ideal conditions for creative work. The approach was equal and democratic: the conditions were created proportionally to the competition's importance and sportsmen's successes, not according to sponsors' biases and sympathies towards individual participants or teams.


In early January, the list of cities willing to host the match was published. Here's the list: Argentine, Buenos Aires, with a prize fund of $150,000; Brazil, Sao Paulo, $80,000; Canada, Montreal, $75,000; Columbia, Bogota, $40,000; France, Paris, $50,000; West Germany, Dortmund, $92,000; Greece, Athens, $52,000; Iceland, Reykjavik, $125,000; Netherlands, Amsterdam, $80,000; Switzerland, Zurich, 60,000; Yugoslavia, Belgrade, $152,000; Sarajevo, $120,000; Bled, $100,000; Zagreb, $70,000.


Endless (and fruitless) discussions began in our Krasnaya Pakhra house, led by Spassky and Geller. Training was put aside, even though many materials were prepared for the winter training camp.

As was agreed beforehand, I brought the data about the reasons of Fischer's and Spassky's losses and about peculiarities of their playing in important games I studied in Saratov. Interestingly enough, several years later I read an interesting book by grandmaster E. Mednis, How to Beat Bobby Fischer, published in the United States in 1974. Fischer's lost games were analyzed in the book. When reading Mednis' work, I would often encounter evaluations and reasonings similar to my own. So, in essence, Mednis and I did the same work independently. Sadly, my work didn't attract Spassky's attention and is now gathering dust in archives.

An interesting analysis of Fischer's middlegames and endgames was prepared by Bondarevsky, Geller offered to study some popular opening lines in Ruy Lopez, Sicilian and King's Indian Defences. But, as I already say, the training never started in earnest as we spent time discussing cities, prizes, airways and weather conditions. Bondarevsky was seriously upset by that. Several times he would harshly (perhaps too harshly) confront Spassky, asking him to finally start doing some work. Also, in the talks with FIDE Bondarevsky's position was more hardline than Spassky's; he insisted that we should never give in to Fischer in anything.

All those circumstances quickly led to Bondarevsky's resignation. I think this was a serious blow to Spassky's preparation and especially his condition during the match. But how and why did Bondarevsky resign? I think that Geller played an important role in that.

Without a doubt, Geller is a great grandmaster, a brilliant chess analyst and opening expert. His opening expertise was the reason for Bondarevsky to invite him to help Spassky at the finish of the 1969 match against Petrosian. Geller is a withdrawn man, introverted, as psychologists like to say.


Geller seemed to overestimate his organizational and administrative skills. He wasn't opposed to the prospect of becoming the head coach instead of Bondarevsky. He would constantly remind Spassky of Bondarevsky's lack of opening knowledge and serious playing practice, discrediting him in Spassky's eyes. This tactic might have seemed hopeless, but Spassky suddenly started to listen to the criticism towards his long-time coach without any objections. This was an indication that Spassky's evaluation of himself and others changed dramatically after he won the world championship. Now he strived to become his own master. And Bondarevsky's insistent demands to take preparation seriously, including phrases like "If you don't work, you'll lose the match", only irritated Boris. So Geller planted his seeds in a very receptive soil.

On 1st February 1972, Bondarevsky handed his resignation letter to the Sports Committee. Spassky also sent a letter asking to remove Bondarevsky from his coaching position, stating that Bondarevsky "fell behind in theory and practice lately and doesn't believe in success of our pursuits".

Geller became the head coach, but his role didn't change - he still followed commands of others, but those commands were now issued by Spassky rather than Bondarevsky. Boris, getting rid of any kind of control, made our preparation even more chaotic.

I think that Bondarevsky's firing was a grave mistake of the world champion. In a critical moment, he lost a man who was an epitome of wisdom, determination, clarity and work ethic. Bondarevsky's absence was especially sharply felt during the hard days of the match against Fischer.

These events placed me in a precarious situation as well. To successfully influence Boris, for instance, to persuade him to specifically analyze Fischer's vulnerabilities (mistakes, lost games etc.), I needed the help of other coaches. Bondarevsky was usually supportive of such endeavours; Geller, on the other hand, called them "useless psychological things". On the other hand, I thought that Bondarevsky's resignation causes massive, possibly irreparable damage to our cause. I've started to think about resignation too.


I met grandmaster Kotov. Alexander Alexandrovich knew the entire situation, he was friendly both to Spassky and me, and, what's most important, he was a wise and straightforward man. I could be sure that he wouldn't tell anyone about our conversation. Upon hearing me out, Kotov fell silent for a long time, just walking on. Then he said firmly, "I met Bondarevsky, so I know the situation. I told him, "Oh, cossack, cossack (he would occasionally call Bondarevsky that), you should have been more patient, not showed your pride like that". And I tell you: don't even think about leaving. If you resign too, would that do any good to Spassky?" After that, I never thought about resigning, but some bitterness still remained.

They say that time is a good teacher. After the match against Fischer, Spassky reconciled with Bondarevsky and asked for his advice before many tournaments.


Spassky suddenly agreed to play in Belgrade. He indeed felt very bad in hot climate, and his refusal to play in the Southern countries wasn't just a whim. But why did he change his mind? Boris wanted very much, I could even say, he dreamed to play a match with Fischer. Not even because of big money - no chess tournament had such a large prize before. Spassky wasn't a mercantile man.

I think that Spassky thought that it was necessary for his self-affirmation to play a match with Fischer. He thought that it was unfair to consider himself the true world's first chess player without defeating Fischer. And he firmly believed in his success: his score against the American grandmaster (+3-0=2) did give him a base for such beliefs.


Fischer seemed completely unaffected and even pleased by the conflicts, still working hard on his chess and sporting preparation.

Spassky, on the other hand, reacted differently. It was cleared that the uncertainty of the situation affected him adversely, made him nervous and decreased the quality of his preparation. In March - May 1972, Spassky was far from Moscow, in the Caucasus mountains, but still, he was upset by the talks' progress. He still refrained from criticizing Fischer publicly; in particular, he refused to make a public statement on 30th March, despite the Federation's insistence. Nevertheless, his attitude towards the candidate became less friendly.


Let's return to Krasnaya Pakhra, which we left after Bondarevsky's resignation. The training session finally started, though they were very irregular. We analyzed openings. We spent much time searching for new continuations for Black in Marshall's attack.

We tried to study the more general questions (like Fischer's favourite middlegame positions or Spassky's weaknesses from the American grandmaster's point of view), but unsuccessfully. In the middle of March, we had to admit that the first two parts of the training plan (analysis of Spassky and Fischer's strengths and weaknesses and studying Spassky's games from Fischer's point of view) have failed.


Spassky never took any medications, except aspirin, and viewed any kinds of stimulants very negatively.


The advice from leading Soviet chess players proved very useful. We asked them the following questions:

1. Your opinion about R. Fischer's strengths and weaknesses at each stage of the game; your advice on how to exploit the weaknesses of the American grandmaster.

2. Your opinion about B. Spassky's strengths and weaknesses; your advice on how to eliminate the weaknesses of world champion's playing. What strategical and tactical plan would work best against Fischer?

3. Your advice about the opening repertoire against Fischer, in particular:

a) What system in the Sicilian would you recommend for White against d6 and a6?

b) What system would you recommend for White against King's Indian Defence and the Grunfeld?

c) What opening and system would you recommend against Fischer's 1. e4?

d) Other concrete opening advices.

Keres, Korchnoi, Petrosian, Smyslov and Tal answered this questionnaire. All the answers were very interesting, and we could even say that each of them was an independent and very interesting take on Spassky's and Fischer's legacies. Baturinsky sent us those materials in early April.

Here are some excerpts.

Keres wrote: "Fischer's opening repertoire is limited, but his knowledge of any opening variant he uses is perfect. So, the conclusion is... pay most attention to the openings that Fischer used comparatively rarely in his practice." Fischer's relative weaknesses is middlegames with non-standard piece positions. But in calculation skills, Fischer is better than Spassky. Another Spassky's shortcoming is lack of any thoroughly developed opening systems.

Concerning the openings, Keres gave the following recommendations: in Sicilian Najdorf, play 6. Be2 or 6. f4, but not 6. Bg5; prepare the Samisch system against the King's Indian; play Open variant in the Grunfeld with White. Ruy Lopes is dangerous with Black; better to reply with 1... c5, 1... c6 or 1... e6. A very interesting offer was to play 1. Nf3 or 1. c4. "Considering that Fischer often plays 1... c5, perhaps there's some sense in trying to play a Tarrasch defence with colours reversed against him. Fischer never played this opening." Keres didn't consider the possibility of the American seriously changing his opening repertoire.

Tal emphasized Fischer's consistency in openings and middlegame plans. He advised to play Sicilian defense with Black, preventing the Sozin variation (6. Bc4). In the middlegame, pressure and initiative are the key to success.

Smyslov also said that we shouldn't fear any new opening systems from Fischer. "Fischer's opening repertoire is well-developed, but limited. We can't expect any revelations or new opening systems from him. Fischer is a great performed, but not an improviser", Smyslov wrote.

Among other Fischer's weaknesses, Smyslov named excessive practicism that stifles creative fantasy, psychological unstability and a certain uncertainty in a sharp tactical struggle. Interestingly enough, Smyslov didn't find any shortcomings in Spassky's playing. His opening recommendations were as follows: against the Najdorf, play 6. Be2; against the King's Indian, play the Samisch; against the Grunfeld, 4. Qb3 or 4. Bf4 seems interesting.

With Black, Smyslov recommended playing 1... e5 against 1. e4, preparing some lines in Ruy Lopez or the Petroff.

Petrosian also didn't predict any serious changes in Fischer's playing and opening repertoire. As Fischer's weakness, he named undervaluing the opponent's good pawn center. Petrosian thought that Fischer was weaker in defence than in attack and in closed positions (with long pawn chains) than in positions with dynamic chess structure.

Also Petrosian warned Spassky against using Ruy Lopez with Black and advised, "You should play a big variety of openings against Fischer, both with White and Black".

Despite some small differences, the four grandmasters gave very similar or sometimes even identical evaluations. Korchnoi's quite interesting and rich letter was very different. Let me give some quotes from it.

Talking about Fischer's strengths, Korchnoi wrote: "Fischer's main advantage is the exceptional lightness and practicality of his playing. He never gets into time trouble... The energy of his playing, from the very beginning to the very end - which is also exceptional, to say the least - reminds me of Tal in his best years... Fischer's technique has little in common with Smyslov's or Petrosian's. As a rule, he doesn't maneuver much, he seeks the quickest way to win - he presses forward. It's both a strength and a weakness (too "energetic" technique - 5th and 6th games against Petrosian)... Constantly working on his analysis, Fischer is trying to expand his chess tastes, add more variety to his playing. It's remarkable that lately, he's started to play the Alekhine defence, 1. b3, and the Reti opening. It seems that he might also study 1. d4 for the match against Spassky". (Emphasis by Krogius.) So, Korchnoi, unlike all his colleagues, told us that in most probability, FIscher's playing style, especially the opening repertuire, might change dramatically. Sadly, Spassky didn't pay due notice to this warning and similar speculations of his coaches.

"Still", Korchnoi noted, "I think there are some shortcomings in Fischer's opening preparation. He'd been playing a number of schemes since childhood. His style and approach change, but some schemes that look like a child's play are still there. For instance, he plays 6. Bc4 in the Sicilian defence as White... With good preparation, this system might hit him as a boomerang".

Korchnoi also pointed out several middlegame vulnerabilities of the American: the most important was his uncertain playing in unfamiliar positions. He played by intuition here, often not understanding the true depth of the position. Also, Fischer liked material gain. But if the dangers of accepting the sacrifice couldn't be calculated quickly and precisely, his intuition might betray him. "I consider this Fischer's weakness (for instance: Taimanov - Fischer, 5th game of the match; Fischer - Korchnoi, Zagreb 1970, etc.) one of Spassky's most important trump cards, who had mastered the art of changing the character of the struggle with a sacrifice in a crucial moment", Korchnoi wrote.

There are some weaknesses in Fischer's defending: "First of all, when the situation on the board changes, he sometimes misses the moment when it's necessary to start defending, like aganist Spassky (Siegen 1970). Secondly, he's defending too academically, without sacrificing material for defence and avoiding any bluff. This last thing can be considered an advantage as well, but I think of it as a shortcoming."

Korchnoi also sharply criticized Spassky's playing. "Spassky's games have never been seriously analyzed in the Soviet chess press. From each of his coaches, with whom he'd worked for quite some time, he received many valuable things. Oftentimes, those things are contrary to each other. That's why his playing is so multifaceted. But he can hardly be called a universal player".

"I think that now Spassky is in a crisis. The greatest shortcoming in Spassky's current playing style is his backwards opening repertoire. His opening knowledge is worse than an average grandmaster's. Nihilism - refusing to admit the necessity of studying the theory, to fight for initiative with the most modern methods, overestimating his own defensive technique - is a long-term ailment".

"In the middlegame, Spassky was, for a long time, head and shoulders ahead of everyone. Great tactical talent, attacking intuition, the ability to gain initiative with a non-obvious sacrifice based on that intuition rather than calculations, the subtle, ingenious, sudden continuations of the attack - here Spassky is obviously stronger than Fischer, whose fantasy is not that rich".

"In a complicated tactical struggle, in positions that are far from the theory (Fischer, as I'm told, doesn't currently study openings, but rather the middlegame positions around the 25th move that follow from those openings) Spassky has all he needs to prevail".

"Spassky's defence is very subtle. But still, he overestimates his defensive skills. In positions without active pieces, without opportunities for pawn play, his defence is weaker (for instance, in Nimzo-Indian with Black)".

"Spassky often allows himself to relax in better positions, and experienced opponents, Petrosian, for instance, have managed to save the game, and not once".

Korchnoi concluded the general characteristic of the opponents with this: "Against Fischer, one should be prepared to play all games at full strength, without any relaxation. Petrosian was right when he said that the main reason of his crushing defeat was the loss of combative mood (sadly, that happened after the 3rd game already).

From my own experience, I must say that Fischer feels the opponent's attitude pretty well, and so the partner's combativeness (real, not Taimanov-style one) won't make him feel any good.

Returning to the middlegame: the more complicated the struggle will be, both strategical and tactical, the more intuition and the less calculation and scientific preparation involved, the more chances Spassky has".

Among Korchnoi's concrete opening recommendations were those:

1) in the variant 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cd 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qb6 he recommended to try 8. Nb3 or 8. Qd3;

2) for Black, Spassky could try the Najdorf as well. "I think that Spassky, by learning some lines in this variant, can really turn this match around".

3) "The most sturdy system in the Grunfeld is 4. Bf4 - White easily get a small advantage".

4) Against Fischer's King's Indian, it's better to use Samisch system.

5) "For some breather games, I would recommend some schemes that lead to short draws (for instance, the Petroff or 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc3 3. Bb5 Nf6)".

In addition to the five grandmasters' recommendations, Spassky received a lot of letters from many chess players - from grandmasters to amateurs. There were many interesting advices in the letters, mostly concerning opening variations. <...> Grandmaster Vasyukov offered a very interesting plan: after 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 c5 4. d5 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. Nc3 g6 7. Nd2 Nbd7 8. e4 Bg7 9. Be2 O-O 10. O-O Re8 11. Qc2 Nh5 (this plan was invented by Ljubojevic), play 12. Bxh5 gxh5 13. b3! and 14. Bb2, to quickly exchange the pride and joy of Black's position, the g7 Bishop.

This position indeed occurred in the third game of the match, but, sadly, the world champion chose another plan which didn't prove to be as effective. The tale of the Soviet chess players' help in Spassky's preparation has a downer ending: Spassky didn't pay any notice to the overwhelming amount of advices. Of course, not all those proposals should have been accepted. But studying even the most controversial ideas would have been beneficial: they would stimulate the thought processes, give some additional information.

On March 15th, we went to Arkhyz, a small village in the Caucasus mountains. <...> The training finally became more serious, but mostly boiled down to analyzing the opening variants. Sadly, my efforts to make Spassky go beyond the opening analysis and pay attention to other problems, such as analysis of Spassky's and Fischer's latest games, systematization of Fischer's and Spassky's mistakes, Fischer's behaviour, his character weaknesses that could be exploited for match struggle, etc., were futile. After Bondarevsky's resignation, I've lost a good ally, and Geller and Nei, while working hard, wanted only to analyze the concrete opening systems.


We spent almost a month in Arkhyz, and did some good work there. We have developed playing systems for Black in the Sicilian, particularly against the Sozin variant that Fischer very often used with White. We also studied King's Indian defence (mostly the Samisch system for White), Exchange variation in Ruy Lopez (4. Bxc6) for White and the Marshall Attack for Black. We have found good positional development ways for Black. But Spassky seemed not to like the Marchall Attack that much, despite using it successfully against strong opponents (Tal, Fischer) before. We also discussed some fashionable plans for White against the Breyer system in Ruy Lopez (9... Nb8). All those opening variants were prepared very thoroughly. I'll give big credit to Geller who loved studying opening variations.


In the middle of April, we moved to Sochi. <...> The chess training continued, but less intensive than in Arkhyz. Spassky still considered even them too long, but he was ready to spend all day at the tennis courts.

The Sports Committee sent Boleslavsky to Sochi with a short visit. The grandmaster read some lectures about opening theory, paying special attention to the Rauzer system in the Sicilian with Black. I was surprized by two things: first, the lecturer, a well-known chess theoretician, directly quoted his book written for candidate masters, without any addition; second, Spassky listened to those lectures as though they were some kind of a revelation, even though Boleslavsky said the simplest, elementary things!

We played several training games in Sochi. Mostly it was Geller, Nei and me versus Spassky. The champion didn't have a great score in those training games, so there were some concerns about his playing form. But Spassky kept his cool, saying that he would restore his form in June, when he faces Karpov in a training match. He chose Karpov because many people saw similarities between Fischer's and young Karpov's styles.

During the entire preparation period, we paid much interest to information about Fischer. But, sadly, there were only a few bits of reliable information. We knew that Fischer prepared for the match in California, and then in the Fernandelle training camp near New York. We knew that he studied the Soviet chess publications very thoroughly, and met grandmasters Evans, Byrne, Lombardy and Kavalek. He avoided journalists.


Also we were told that the candidate dedicated himself to sports training in addition to the purely chess one - he swam and even did some boxing. One American commentator stated an opinion that the conflict around the choice of place and date of the match didn't adversely affect Fischer's morale and perhaps even boosted it.

So, as you see, we didn't have much information about Fischer. Of course, we've tried to predict Fischer's possible plans. I remember that more than once, we speculated about possible changes in Fischer's playing style or opening repertoire. But when we asked whether could we expect 1. d4 or 1. c4 from Fischer, Spassky just said, "Stop this nonsense. I'll just play the Makogonov-Bondarevsky system. What can he get from it?"


Of course, our society (and especially Spassky himself) was interested in the Icelanders' attutude, their thoughts about the match and its participants. I've learned that the interest towards this match was exceptional, it's widely covered by the local press and is discussed among the general population. As I was told by the Icelandic Chess Federation, everyone now talks about Spassky and Fischer - from taxi drivers to the country's president. The fears of Spassky lacking support were quickly dissolved; I even had an impression that the American grandmaster was less popular in Iceland than the Soviet one.


In early June, our entire group went back to Moscow. We couldn't do much serious work there: we had to talk to journalists, do official meetings, solve organizational questions. But still, Spassky did play a training game against Karpov. First, I'll let Karpov himself tell about this game:

"Since I've started to study chess in earnest and was able to tell apart the chess players' styles, I've singled out Spassky and regarded him as the model of a modern chess player. I liked everything about him: subtle understanding of position, skillful mastery of dynamics, incredible chess sight that allowed him, and him alone, see some secret mechanism behind the seemingly obvious position. And, of course, the striking freedom, the full breath of his games... And then, believe it or not, I received an invitation to Spassky's training session. And I went to Spassky... I watched in astonishment how Spassky was doing nothing. The morning usually began with quotes from the ancient Greek myths during the breakfast: Spassky loved them and would read them before sleeping. Then we played tennis. Then did something more. He would do anything - except play chess...

Spassky wanted to check his form and so decided to play a few games against me. In the first one, he asked for Ruy Lopez, I played White and soon got a winning position. All that was required from me was to hold to it for several moves, but, exhausted with doing nothing for so long and angry at Spassky for his attitude towards me, I've decided to show what I'm really worth and started some unnecessary tactical complications. It was a chance for Spassky - and he didn't miss it, showing his characteristical resourcefulness. I should have tried to at least hold on to what I still had, but I was blinded by my former advantage, so I risked too much and lost. Spassky liked the game. He decided that he was in great form and there was no need to check it further".

Karpov's account sounds a bit harsh, but it was more or less fair. Still, there is a question: why would a world champion, who wasn't a stupid man or an enemy to himself, show his disinterest in preparation for such a difficult event so markedly?

I think that in the last pre-match period, Boris came to some kind of fundamental view: he could not outprepare Fischer anyway, so he would make do with the minimum he already had, and rely to his over-the-board skills for the rest. Anyway, this approach didn't fail him yet: he defeated the American at Mar del Plata, Santa Monica and Siegen. Why would it fail in Reykjavik? This position explains everything: the bravado, the "clear head" theory, tennis games instead of chess training.

I should say that this attitude was largely formed by outside circumstances: the champion's special status, overestimation of his strength both by sincere and insincere fans, and, of course, the conflict with coaches that allowed Boris to get out of control - at the time he needed it the most.

The nearer was the match, the more letters would Spassky receive. He got more than 2,000 letters from all regions of the USSR. Some letters were addressed to "Moscow, World Champion Boris Spassky".

Despite the obvious stylistic differences, the vast majority of letters expressed concerns and fears about the result. The chess fans obviously felt that Spassky's title was in a real danger.


One fan from Sverdlovsk wrote, in all seriousness, about some kind of poisonous gas Fischer used to incapacitate his opponents. "To incapacitate his partner, Fischer may use a rubber gas container attached to his sleeve. When a certain moment comes, he pushes at this container, and a stream of gas flows towards the partner, while Fischer remains safe. To prevent gas attacks, we should use a glass wall between the players on stage".

I'm sorry for quoting such drivel.


The prognosis of Robert Byrne later caused a sensation. He said: "Fischer will win 12.5 to 8.5 in 21 games. Fischer would remain a world champion for 12 years". If there were such things as chess betting shops, Byrne would have won a lot of money with the first part of his prediction. I think this was one of the rarest correct prediction. I, for one, can only remember the Soviet master Ilyin-Zhenevsky who predicted that Botvinnik and Capablanca would win the Nottingham 1936 tournament.

And that's what Botvinnik said in May 1972 at the Odessa chess club: "No doubt, Fischer is the most worthy world championship candidate now. He proved it by defeating all opponents at all qualifying stages. He possesses great calculating skills, which define good practical strength, and so he's very dangerous in typical positions that suit his chess tastes and result from his favourite openings. Phenomenal chess memory allows him to spend little time on the openings, and the encyclopedical endgame knowledge allows him to spend less time and effort on analyzing the adjourned games and play even the most difficult endgames with high precision. Fischer is especially strong in the positions where he has initiative.

Nevertheless, Fischer also has his weaknesses. His overall cultural level is not particularly high, and his weak psychological training doesn't allow him to be flexible against different opponents (emphasis by Krogius). His playing style is the same against everyone, even though it's very strong. Still, after a thorough analysis, Fischer's playing style shows some certain weaknesses that can be exploited by a chess player of Spassky's strength.

The current world champion is a universal player who plays any positions equally good. Boris Spassky is weaker at calculations than Fischer, but he's stronger psychologically. Let's not forget that before Fischer's famed victories, Spassky's run before winning the world championship was no less impressive.


Spassky managed to find "keys" to Fischer. This is reflected in their personal score: +3-0=2 in Spassky's favour.

Concerning the concrete predictions of who wins, I think they are useless. Everything depends on how the match goes. I'm sure that if Spassky played the Candidates' Final against Fischer instead of Petrosian, he would have managed to capitalize on the first successes. The main thing is to break Fischer from the very beginning, to impose your own playing style on him, to get him away from well-known roads. To neutralize the American's strengths, if shortly".

On June 16th, Spassky held a press conference. There were many journalists and many questions, but Spassky wasn't particularly talkative. About his preparation, he said, "I should keep some professional secrets", and "I've grown to like tennis lately. I play badly, but... tirelessly".

Some foreign correspondents tried to provoke Spassky into an indirect discussion with Fischer, reminding him of some of the American's tactless words. But Spassky didn't say much on this topic as well, though he allowed that Fischer's suspicions about the Soviet chess players' hostility towards him look like "persecution mania". Then the world champion said, "I don't know how the match ends, but it's going to be very interesting from the chess point of view".


The delegation line-up was quite unusual for the time: four chess players... without a supervisor (this role was assumed by Geller), doctor, translator or any other entourage. Spassky told the Sports Committee very firmly: "We know the languages, there's a good doctor in Iceland, and we can supervise ourselves". After some hesitations, the Sports Committee agreed with the world champion.

Continued in the Match Diary.

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