Spassky - Fischer: The Match Diary by Nikolai Krogius, part 1

Oct 21, 2015, 8:43 AM |

As promised, I'm continuing the translation of Nikolay Krogius' biographical book about Boris Spassky, particularly the most interesting part for the Western readers - about his match against Bobby Fischer.

The chapter was divided by arbitrary parts (which were then arbitrarily named) by me.

"Part 0": Spassky's preparation

Part 1, in which Boris waits for Bobby. And then waits some more.

As planned, Spassky, Geller, Nei and me flew from Moscow on June 21st 1972 and, after a transfer in Copenhagen, reached Reykjavik the next day. The small delay was caused by the match organizers asking us to fly with an Icelandic airline from Copenhagen.

While in Copenhagen, we met an interesting man, N. Egorychev, the Soviet ambassador in Denmark. He once was the head of the Moscow party organization, but then Egorychev fell out of favour, and Brezhnev sent him into an “honorary exile” - to diplomatic work. Egorychev's refinement, friendliness and energy made him a popular man in Denmark. The simplicity of the new Soviet ambassador's behaviour also attracted people. Unlike his predecessor, he would often drive his car himself, and sometimes would even go to work by a bicycle, like most Danes.

During a lunch, Egorychev told us many interesting things about Danish history and modern life, customs and traditions, people's character.

But let's go to Reykjavik. The world champion received a ceremonial welcome in the airport. There were organizational committee members, Soviet embassy workers, journalist. A pretty girl of age 7 or 8 gave Spassky a posy of bright field flowers.

It was Spassky's second visit to Reykjavik in 15 years (previously, he was there in 1957), and it made a good impression on the champion: a relatively small city (with population around 100,000) on the oceanic shore, with fresh, invigorating air, a comfortable hotel, tasty food and friendly people who were invariably considerate and sympathetic to Boris. However, the first few days were unusually cold even by Icelandic standards (only +10°C or so at noon), and the nights were very light. I must assure the readers that the Leningrad white nights look much darker than the Icelandic.

Boris' adaptation to the Icelandic climate went pretty well. A few days later, he would energetically play Nei at what passed for a tennis court in the hotel. But there was a net, the balls flew through the air, and it was enough. In those first few days, we've managed to get out of town several times. The mountainous landscape looked like what's usually referred as the “moon landscape”. I think this impression was correct, because later we were told that the American astronauts trained in Iceland before going to the moon. The vegetation is of the Northern type: there were only a few trees, and those weren't too tall. But the ground is covered almost entirely by the bright green grass, grazed on by droves of sheep.

There are many volcanic rivers and lakes with valuable fish: salmon, sturgeon. The Icelandic Fishermen's Union invited Spassky to go fishing. He used that invitation during the match. The geysers made a lasting impression as well – the underground springs that occasionally erupt with 20-30 meter-high fountains of water and steam. We learned that eruptions could be provoked by throwing a bar of soap into the spring. The Icelandic boys used that to their own advantage: they were selling soap at the most popular geysers.

But geysers aren't just for entertainment: they are an important power source. Many houses, industrial plants, pools, greenhouses in Iceland are heated by geysers.

The Icelandic capital was preparing for the match. Inspection of the playing hall showed that the organizers have fulfilled all the requirements. Well-known chess players and journalists started coming to Reykjavik. Among the first to come were Gligoric, Kazic and Belica (Yugoslavia), Litmanovicz (Poland), Alster (Czechoslovakia), Evans, R. Byrne, Schonberg (USA), Golombek (UK) and others. Everyone was waiting for the FIDE officials and Fischer. Dmitri Belica, as always, breathes life into the chess society: he knows all the latest rumours and backstage gossip. But, to his credit, he was also always the first to learn the latest news.

On June 23rd, there was a reception in the Soviet embassy. The Icelandic organizers came, including grandmaster Fridrik Olfasson (the future FIDE president), the Icelandic Chess Federation president Thorarinsson, the deputy arbiter Arnlaugson; our entire delegation also was there. The Soviet ambassador Sergey Timofeevich Astavin greeted everyone warmly. I've already told you about the impression made by the Soviet ambassador in Denmark, Egorychev. In Iceland, we also got lucky. Ambassador Astavin was a chess fan, and also a tactful, restrained and sympathetic man, who more than once gave us wise advice and knew well the specifics of various informal situations that kept coming up.

We all knew about Boris' distinctive feature – slow and sluggish starts at the tournaments, and so immediately upon arriving, he played two training games against Geller. Boris' playing wasn't particularly great – the score was 1-1.

Fischer should have come in the morning of 26th June. But he was not on any plane coming from the United States. We haven't received any news as to why the American grandmaster didn't come. Fischer's absence worried Boris. He was hoping that all the troubles were finally overcome, and now he was just going to sit at the board and play, but now, he again faced annoying obstacles and painful uncertainty.

Boris showed his mood at the press conference that took place on 26th June. Spassky was nervous, answered the questions very floridly; it was clear that his mind was elsewhere. We knew that on the 6th May Fischer agreed to the Amsterdam terms. But he immediately made extra financial demands to the Icelandic Chess Federation.

Still, Edmondson explained to us that those arguments are beside the point, they concern only Fischer's relations with the Icelanders and won't affect his intentions to play the match. But after the 26th June, new complaints came. On the 27th June, Fred Kramer, declaring himself Fischer's representative, sent a telegram to the FIDE: “An arbiter who is also a chess player is unacceptable for a World Championship match due to obvious money conflict. Immediately appoint a non-playing arbiter. Only then the match can begin. Kramer.”

The situation became even more piquant, since Lothar Schmid, who was approved by both players and appointed by FIDE, just came to Reykjavik. On the next day, Euwe confirmed his appointment. But on 28th June, Kramer sent an even more confusing telegram: “Fischer approved nothing. I repeat, nothing. Your refusal to understand our unhappiness is incredible. Also, your position of paid informants (?! - Krogius) is dangerous for the world chess. I advise you to reconsider it. Kramer.”

If we took the telegram at face value, I think we would've had to consult a psychiatrist. But I think that Fischer and Kramer didn't need anything of the sort at the time – they just wanted to use extravagant methods, so to speak, to exacerbate the nervousness and uncertainty before the match.

For a couple of days, Boris was seriously upset by the situation and behaved impulsively and inconsistently. A Daily News correspondent inadvertently defused the situation when he said that Fischer was mentally ill and wasn't going to come at all. We didn't believe him, of course, but this did calm down Spassky. At least, he wasn't looking so upset anymore.

On 28th and 29th June, we made some forays into the countryside on a Ford Bronco given to our delegation. The car was similar to our GAZ-69 and behaved very good on the country roads – it was very important for Iceland that had very few paved roads at the time. Geller, an experienced and cautious driver, was at the wheel. In the evening of 28th, Boris found another distraction as he visited a performance by a famous French ballerina Margot Fountaine.

On 29th June, the all-knowing Belica said that Fischer was expected to arrive next morning. He also said that Evans told him that Fischer chose grandmaster William Lombardy as his second. The arbiter soon confirmed Belica's info. But Fischer didn't arrive on the next day as well. The New York journalists told us that Fischer did arrive to the Kennedy airport. He had 14 places reserved for him on a plane to Reykjavik. Bobby checked in, turned in his baggage and entered the plane. But, upon learning that he wouldn't be guarded by the police there (!? - Krogius), he expressed his unhappiness, waited a bit and left the plane. The pilot waited for him for an hour, then his baggage was unloaded. And Fischer himself vanished without a trace. These news exploded like a bombshell in Reykjavik. The official opening of the match will take place on the 1st July, but the candidate didn't arrive. What to do? Thorarinsson didn't look particularly well.

On the 1st July, we visited the sports palace together with Schmid to inspect the hall. Spassky didn't raise any objections. Kramer also appeared there, seemingly out of nowhere. He pestered Schmid, saying that he represented Fischer. Schmid asked him to show some official credentials. Kramer failed to produce anything of the sort and went away angrily. It was our first meeting with the USCF vice-president Kramer. He didn't make a particularly nice impression: too fussy, spoke too much, over-free attitude.

Schmid discussed the drawing procedure with Spassky. Of course, they also talked about Fischer's absence. Schmid said that even if Fischer doesn't come today, the draw would still take place, and the first game would be played on 2nd July. The arbiter added that Fischer would finally come to Reykjavik today.

At the same day, Euwe, the FIDE president, come to Reykjavik. He immediately asked Schmid to speak in private about the whole situation. The journalists, believing in a rumour that Fischer took off from New York, went to the airport to meet American planes. The Icelandic organizers, also still hoping for Fischer's arrival, were finishing the last preparations for the opening ceremony.

At 8 p.m., the opening ceremony for the World Championship match formally began in the Icelandic National Theater. The president of Iceland and his wife took the box-seats. The first row was occupied by ministers and MPs of Iceland, the Soviet ambassador and the U.S. representative. Euwe and Schmid took the stage. The anthems of USSR, USA and Iceland were played, then there were speeches by the mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland's minister of education, the Icelandic Chess Federation president, the FIDE president, the Soviet ambassador, the U.S. representative. Spassky was warmly welcomed by everyone present. Fischer never came. After all planned speeches, there was an awkward pause.

Everyone assumed that the drawing procedure would take place now. But the FIDE president, nervous and red-faced, said that the draw would take place tomorrow at noon. The audience was left confused. The situation was paradoxical! The opening ceremony took place, the champion was there, but because of Fischer's new stunt, everything was still hanging by a thread.

It was clear for us that Euwe knew nothing about Fischer's arrival and decided something along the lines of “let's postpone the draw, perhaps we'll know more tomorrow”. But, according to the regulations approved by FIDE and both players, the first game should have been played on the 2nd July!

Later, many critics in Moscow blamed Spassky for not leaving Reykjavik, despite having several legitimate opportunities to do so. In particularly, they said that he could go away after the draw was postponed on 1st July. But this particular claim is baseless. Euwe clung to a technicality, the letter of the law (or, to be precise, the lack of such letter), while obviously ignoring the essence of the problem.

The FIDE regulations of the time didn't formally indicate the date of the draw, though by tradition kept ever since the very first World Championship match, the draw was held one or two days before the first game. If Euwe was impartial and objective, he could (and should) have referred to existing precedents in absence of a concrete rule. But Euwe's position was different.

So, Spassky had to comply with the FIDE president's decision and come to the Leftleider Hotel next day, where the drawing procedure should have taken place at noon. The hotel lobby was crowded with match officials, journalists, Icelandic chess players. Fischer didn't come at 12 o'clock.

Euwe called for a meeting with Schmid, Olafsson, Thorarinsson, the four of us (Spassky, Geller, Krogius and Nei), Kramer, Arnlaugson and the match doctor, Fordarson. Euwe said that Fischer couldn't come due to an illness. Kramer told him that a telegram about Fischer's illness was sent from New York on 4 a.m. of 2nd July, signed by a doctor. Where was that telegram, we asked. Soon we learned that no such telegram has arrived to Reykjavik. Kramer stood up and swore that the information was true and the telegram was indeed sent. Perhaps there was something wrong in the post office. (Later we learned that there was no telegram at all; it was all Kramer's invention, which he and Euwe tried to use to save the match.)

We again asked for Kramer's credentials. He failed to produce any official warrant from Fischer. Then we asked him to leave. He left, muttering something about “the Soviet machinations”. We told Euwe that since Kramer wasn't acting in any official capacity, any information provided by him couldn't be discussed. Euwe was under heavy pressure. Suddenly he asked the match doctor to grant Fischer a medical time out. Fordarsson flatly refused. Schmid offered to declare the first game forfeited by the candidate. But Euwe again intervened, and, as he wrote later, “made a bold decision – postponed the match for two days”. That meant that the first game was to take place on 4th July, as well as the draw.

Euwe's decision provoked a harsh reaction from us. As far as I remember, even the quiet Nei got worked up and started to quote the FIDE rules to the president. A nervous speech by Thorarinsson didn't help much; he literally pleaded Spassky to agree, mentioning, in particular, that the Icelanders spent a lot of money on the preparation.

We continued our onslaught on Euwe. We asked, “Did the match begin?” Schmid said that it did, but Euwe said that it didn't, because the match only begins after the clock is started in the first game. “What happened yesterday then? What event did we all attend in the National Theater yesterday? Who said 'I congratulate the chess world with the beginning of a momentous competition'?” Euwe said nothing. “Were there any cases in chess history when the champion was in place, while the candidate went in hiding and received support for that?” Euwe deflected the question. Seeing that there was nothing we could do to get a straight answer from the FIDE president, we left the meeting. Geller said that the Soviet delegation considered Euwe to be fully accountable for the emerging situation. We didn't agree with any further postponements and would inform FIDE and the Icelandic Chess Federation about our next actions.

2nd July 1972, 2:20 p.m. This moment, I think, was the culmination point of the clash of powers behind this match, motivated by sporting, political, economical, nationalistic and many other questions. It was a situation when an obvious and legally indisputable breach of the contest regulation by the candidate and FIDE president allowed Spassky to demand cancellation of the match and leave Reykjavik without losing dignity. Euwe understood that too well, and so he deliberately prolonged the talks with the Soviet delegation members who already stood up from their seats and continued to plead with the world champion.

And then, things started to happen that were very difficult to understand for many people, including the author. Just before leaving the meeting with Euwe in the Leftleider Hotel, Spassky suddenly uttered a monologue; he didn't say he agreed with the postponement, but it was clear that Spassky still hesitated and wasn't ready for the final decision.

Euwe immediately sensed the world champion's indecisiveness and started his own energetic pressure. That evening, Boris was contacted by an American millionaire and chess fan Isaac Turower who invited him for a dinner with Euwe. Boris told us three about Turower's invitation; all of us bluntly asked him to refuse. Boris said that he gave his word, so he couldn't refuse now. However, he returned rather quickly and said he promised Euwe nothing.

Nevertheless, the next day the news said that Spassky agreed for a two-day postponement. Boris, in reply, issued a statement for the press that this information was not true. “I told neither the FIDE president nor anyone else about the postponement,” the world champion wrote. But those words weren't followed by any actions; Boris never said anything about canceling the match or disagreeing with Euwe's decision. Thus he ignored the most legitimate and understandable possibility to cancel the Reykjavik match and put the psychological warfare lovers into their proper place.

Boris wanted to play, and deep inside he believed in his success. Another important event happened at July 3rd. The English banker Jim Slater contributed $125,000 to the prize fund, effectively doubling it. Slater said that if even now, when Fischer's financial demands were fully satisfied, he wouldn't come and play, then Fischer would be just a coward. Slater explained his generosity: he grew up in poverty, and chess playing helped him to nurture a strong character necessary for a financial career.


And what's with Fischer? In the evening, Belica said that Fischer was going to arrive from New York next morning. This information was true. On 4th July, at 6:46 a.m., Fischer, accompanied by his second Lombardy and his laywer Marshall, got off the plane. The TV cameras recorded this moment: the police was forcefully pushing back the reporters, as Fischer, pale, hunched and gazing down, quickly walked, almost ran to the car. He didn't say a word. The car's door closed, and it immediately took off from the airport.

Continued in Part 2.