Spassky - Fischer: The Match Diary by Nikolai Krogius, part 2

Oct 21, 2015, 2:38 PM |

Part 2, in which Bobby comes, sees... loses and forfeits

Part 0 and Part 1 can be found by following the hyperlinks.


The postponement of the match caused a stir in the world. Spassky received many telegrams from Yugoslavia, Germany, Sweden and other countries, condemning Fischer's behaviour. Interestingly, many similar telegrams came from the United States. But, of course, our country's reaction was the most emotional. The Soviet Chess Federation and Sports Committee were very resolute. But even they couldn't go against Spassky's firm desire to play the match, despite everything. After several talks over the phone, the Chess Federation and Spassky finally came to an agreement. It boiled down to the following points: 1. FIDE should condemn Fischer's behaviour; 2. Euwe should publicly state that he violated the FIDE rules with his decision to postpone the match; 3. Fischer should send a written apology to the world champion. If any of those three demands weren't satisfied, Spassky wasn't going to play.

At noon of 4th July, we came to the Esja Hotel for the draw. There were Euwe, Schmid, Thorarinsson, Lombardy, a lot of journalists. Lombardy brought a crumpled piece of paper with Fischer's distinctive writing, saying that he had the authority to represent the candidate at the draw. Another violation: the rules clearly stated that the players had to attend the drawing procedure in person. Lombardy said that Fischer was tired after a night in the plane and was sleeping now, and he hoped that we were true sportsmen and wouldn't insist on playing the first game today.

But we didn't discuss anything. We handed Euwe Spassky's protest, signed by Geller with his permission, asked the FIDE president to show its text to the journalists and departed.

The protest said, among other things, “The world champion was present at the opening ceremony, while the candidate was absent without any explanations... In violation of existing traditions, the drawing procedure was postponed... On July 2nd, instead of performing the drawing procedure and starting the first game, the FIDE president decided to postpone the draw and the first game for two days, stating R. Fischer's illness as the reason. He had no documents proving Fischer's illness. We think that this decision of the FIDE president violates the Amsterdam agreements and the FIDE rules and goes against his own letter sent at 5th May 1972. The FIDE president stopped the arbiter from performing his functions, violating Paragraph 12 of the Amsterdam agreements. Subsequently, Paragraphs 5 and 6 were also violated.

The FIDE president's decision disrupted the schedule of the match, agreed upon in the Paragraph 7 of the Amsterdam agreements and the president's letter sent at 5th May 1972.

The FIDE president's decision also led to the violation of Article 7, part 5b of the FIDE rules regarding the possibility of a match's postponement due to an illness of one of the players.

In view of that, we make a vigorous protest and demand sanctions to be imposed on Fischer according to the FIDE rules.”

An hour or so later, Euwe also received a telegram with the Soviet Chess Federation protest. The press, however, remained silent: the FIDE president didn't say anything. Euwe and Fischer also didn't react to our demands. Later that day, on 4:30 p.m., Geller and I met Lombardy and Marshall by their insistent request. The Americans offered a private agreement between two sides, sidestepping FIDE. We disagreed.

On 5th July, the atmosphere was really hot. The most fantastic rumours were floating around. The press still didn't receive the texts of Spassky's and the Chess Federation's protests. Considering all that, we scheduled a press conference of the Soviet delegation for 6 p.m.

At 4:30 p.m., Euwe and Schmid came to the Saga Hotel, seemingly to try to learn Spassky's intentions. The talks didn't go too well: Euwe couldn't answer the question, “Why the journalists still don't know the texts of protests?” Then we went to the press conference. It attracted a lot of interest. There were more than 100 journalists in a small hall. I heard the whispers, “This is Spassky's farewell press conference before returning to Moscow.”

We voiced the documents we gave to Euwe and the Soviet delegation's statement that included three aforementioned demands. Then Euwe came and said that all our demands would be satisfied.

That evening, Euwe indeed publicly condemned Fischer and admitted that he violated the FIDE rules when he postponed the match. And early in the morning of 6th July Spassky received the following letter from Fischer (retranslated from Russian):

“Dear Boris!

Please accept my sincere apologies for my impolite behaviour, manifested in my absence at the opening ceremony. I was too distracted by a petty squabble over my fee with the Icelandic chess organizers. I have offended you and your country, where chess are held in such a high regard.

I also want to apologize to Dr. Max Euwe – the FIDE president, to the Icelandic organizers, to millions of chess fans around the world and especially to chess fans and all my friends in the United States.

When I didn't show at the first game, Dr. Euwe said that it would be postponed. You didn't protest this decision. Now I have learned that the Soviet Chess Federation demanded to award you with a win in the first game. (The Federation did make such a demand, but Spassky didn't support this decision. - Krogius) I don't quite understand the reason for your Federation to make such a demand. If this demand was satisfied, this would be an enormous handicap. You already have a handicap before the beginning of the match, since you need to score only 12 points in 24 games, while I need 12½ points to become a World Champion. Now imagine if your Federation's demands were satisfied. This would mean that it's enough for you to score just 11 points in 23 games, while I still have to score 12½. In other words, I should win three games without losing one to get into the same state. I cannot believe that a World Champion might want such a handicap for a match against me.

I hope that you would be a true sportsman and gentleman, and I'm hopefully looking forward for a chess meeting with you.

Reykjavik, 6th July 1972, Robert Fischer.”

A curious letter, showing us some peculiarities of the American grandmaster's character. He understood perfectly that he could have easily been punished for his antics with forfeit of the first game, but, as a calculating and tough fighter, did everything he could to deflect the punishment with this letter. His main hope was for Spassky's gentlemanliness. And his diplomatic efforts did bring some results: the match began with the 0-0 score. It's interesting what would Fischer do if he were in Spassky's place.

So, everything seemed to finally calm down. Schmid scheduled the drawing ceremony at 8 p.m. of 6th July. But we'll discuss it a bit later, and now let's digress from the chronicling of events and try to understand the motivation of all the main characters of this drama. Spassky, as we already said, wanted to play because he believed in his lucky star and considered himself unworthy to be called a true champion without defeating Fischer.

Euwe's actions showed clear favouritism towards Fischer. And the FIDE president most probably wasn't motivated by personal sympathies or his wishes to help the Americans. I doubt that Euwe, a respectable Dutch burgher, was particularly fond of the brazen attitude of the candidate and his inner circle. I think that Baturinsky gave the best explanation for Euwe's behaviour. He said, “The ex-world champion, of course, liked the American's playing and successes. But perhaps there were other reasons. We should remember that after Alekhine's death in 1946, when the chess world lost a reigning champion for the first time, some Dutch circles insisted on declaring Euwe champion, citing the fact that he defeated Alekhine in 1935 (even though he lost a return match two years later).

This project, as well as some others, equally baseless, was turned down (mostly because of the Soviet delegation's firm position – Krogius), and in the 1948 World Championship tournament (Hague – Moscow) Euwe finished last. Since then, only Soviet players won the World Championships for quarter of a century. I think that Euwe couldn't forget 1948.”

The reasons for Fischer's actions are much less obvious. The reader knows that before Reykjavik, Fischer continued his psychological war that began during the talks about the place and time of the match. The goal of those actions was to destabilize his opponent psychologically. But this is only one side of the story.

Another reason is the peculiarities of the American's emotional and volitional spheres of personality. Fischer was known as a very determined, combative player. This is true, but not completely true. Indeed, when you see Fischer at the board, you cannot find any uncertainty in his looks. But before an important competition, the result of which isn't so obvious, he was plagued by doubt and anxiety. And he would seek out or invent arguments (for instance, the size of the prize, the interpretation of the rules, etc.) that might allow him to avoid the tournament without losing his prestige. Perhaps this can explain his behaviour before the 1972 match as well. Most probably, he felt something similar three years later, before the match against Karpov that never took place.

Slater's move was nothing short of genius: he completely shattered Fischer's arguments. Fischer had either to play or to admit his cowardice. And he couldn't do that. Let's also point out that Fischer's psychological type reminds me of the French marshal Massena who couldn't pull himself together before the battle, hesitated, procrastinated, almost panicked, but when the battle actually began, he transformed completely. Napoleon, praising Massena's strategical prowess, added that this prowess was only shown “when the cannons started firing”.

In the morning of 6th July, Euwe, considering his mission completed, flew back to Amsterdam, delegating the duties of a FIDE representative to the English master Harry Golombek. Spassky played tennis with Gligoric, while Fischer and Lombardy inspected their apartments in the Leftleider Hotel (Fischer spent his first days in Reykjavik in a remote countryhouse).

In the evening, we went to the draw, which was scheduled to take place in the sports palace. There were several halls for spectators: the main hall for 3,000 people, with a stage for the players, and two smaller halls for 2,000 more people who would watch the game on monitors.

We came five minutes before the appointed time. The main hall was almost packed. But there was no sight of the Americans again. Finally, at 8:25 p.m., Fischer arrived, accompanied by Lombardy, Marshall and Kramer.

Fischer's greetings were friendly; he again apologized to Spassky. He was looking very imposing: tall, lean, with an athletic figure. We knew from the newspapers that he was 188 cm tall and weighed 87 kg. The American wore an elegant, well-fitting dark green suit. A modest tie of a similar colour, short hair, lively face and direct look. As a whole, he looked like a pleasant, self-assured man.

Before the draw, Schmid, Golombek and organizers consulted with the players. Golombek offered to begin the match on 9th July. But Spassky firmly disagreed: “The latest events drained a lot of strength from me. I cannot begin the match earlier than on Tuesday, 11th July.” Schmid and Golombek agreed. Then, we have founded a so-called Match Committee to examine any disputes that could arise during the match. The committee included Schmid, Krogius (as a representative of the Soviet Chess Federation), Kramer (as a representative of USCF), Arnlaugsson and Meler from Iceland.

Schmid invited the match officials to the stage for the formal drawing procedure. First, the arbiter asked the world champion to choose one of two envelopes on the table. Boris took the envelope with the name “Spassky”. This meant that he got to choose his piece colour in the first game. Fischer, nevertheless, asked to open the second envelope. It had “Fischer” written inside. Then the world champion pointed at Schmid's left hand. There was a white pawn. So, Spassky got White in the first game. Fischer offered Schmid to open his other hand. Everybody laughed; Schmid indeed had black pawn in the other hand.

After the draw, Spassky and Fischer lingered at the playing table for a few minutes. Fischer said that he didn't like the colour and the size of the board. Thorarinsson promised to provide more variants for consideration. After that, Spassky and Fischer said friendly goodbyes and left. On the way back to the hotel, we exchanged our impressions about the event. Boris said that Fischer looked calm and self-assured. “At least he looked much calmer than before”, the world champion added.

Boris needed a pause before the first game. The endless discussions, meetings and arguments about the match's beginning made him very tired and short-tempered. In such situations, coaches should be very tactful and delicate. It's important to choose our words and actions wisely, offering sympathy and friendly support (but not pity!), encouraging him and not arguing. Also, it was necessary to distract him from the worrisome thoughts and, if possible, change the environment.

However, we, the coaches, didn't agree among ourselves about the whole situation. Geller didn't pay much attention to Spassky's psychological state. Instead of trying to decrease the emotional pressure on Boris, he only made him more nervous with incessant talks about Euwe, Fischer, who wanted to say want and why.

Nei and I tried to isolate Boris, to let him spend some time alone, but met some resistance. In the evening of 7th July Boris was looking over-excited. Thankfully, we have received a call from the fishing club members: they offered the world champion to visit them for 2 or 3 days. Nei and I strongly agreed with that idea, understanding that we all have become annoyances to Boris, and it would be beneficial for him to spend time with other people. In the morning of 8th July Spassky departed. Geller was unhappy, saying that he should have been preparing for the game rather than gone fishing.

This pause seemed to affect the candidate adversely. Fischer had just overcome his pre-start uncertainty and was raring to go. And now, he had to return to his doubts and anxiety again. Perhaps that's why he couldn't fully mobilize for the first game.

Belica told about his visit to Fischer in these days. “I came to the 4th floor of the Leftleider Hotel, to the apartment 470. The first thing I saw upon entry were huge black suitcases filled with chess literature. There was also a tennis racket around. In the middle of the living room, there was a table with a chess set. Bobby moved the pieces, paying no attention to Lombardy and me. There's “Fischer's Bible” beside him – that's how Lombardy called his Spassky game collection. Somebody knocked on the door; it was a waiter who brought dinner ordered by Bobby: a large natural steak, two vegetable salads and two liters of grape juice. Yes, I thought, I'd have to start eating more immediately. Perhaps this would bring me some success in tournaments as well.

And we, having sent the champion away, decided to go to the site of the first Icelandic parliament that started its work in 930 (!) AD. There's a national park there now. A very picturesque place, there's a lot of lakes and rivers. And then... we suddenly saw a familiar figure on the beach: Boris, accompanied by several Icelanders, was preparing his fishing equipment. He was laughing and generally in a good mood. He didn't notice us. We quietly moved to another place. Thank God he didn't see us.

The match finally began. The first game was played on 11th July. On the previous day, the final technical questions were resolved. Thorarinsson offered the players three boards with three piece sets. Spassky said, “I don't care, let Fischer choose”. The American grandmaster was taken aback by Spassky's comments, but then, seeing that there was nobody to argue about anything, apathetically pointed to one of the sets.

Fischer also demanded to keep the first five rows in the hall empty, or else the players would be distracted by the noise. The organizers, arbiter and Spassky didn't disagree.

And so, finally, the sports palace, 4:55 p.m. The world champion came to the stage first and was greeted by a round of applause. He looked very imposing, a sharp gray suit looks very fine on him. He put on some tan while fishing and looked well-rested. At 5:00, Schmid started White's clock. The world champion thought for a few seconds and then made his first move, 1. d4.

Fischer came to the stage five minutes late. He quickly moved his Knight to f6, but, after thinking for several minutes on his second move, played 2... e6. This precluded both Grunfeld (he lost to Spassky twice in this opening) and the King's Indian. Soon the game reached a position that occurred in my game against Spassky at the 25th USSR Championship (Riga 1958).

I played Black and chose 14... b6; this was a bad move due to White's threats along the a2-g8 diagonal. Fischer improved Black's play, preparing 14... Bd7 at home. He equalized, and after several exchanges, everyone expected a draw agreement.

But the candidate didn't allow the spectators to quietly leave the hall and perhaps even come home in time for the dinner. With his 29th move, Fischer caused a stir in the hall and confusion in the press center, since it was obvious that his daring Bishop would be lost in the opponent's camp.

The ill-fated Bishop was lost, but Black won two pawns and managed to centralize the King. Lombardy even said that Black weren't risking anything, but still, Fischer's choice couldn't be fully justified: the endgame was very difficult for Black, and the most they could hope for was finding a study-like way to draw.

A very interesting position could occur if Fischer played 32... g5!?


In the actual game, Fischer chose a different move, one that was objectively stronger. But eventually he succumbed to many difficult problems. He could still draw if he found the maneuver that began with 37... a6! The game was adjourned after 41 moves, but we still needed precision in the play-off. We thoroughly analyzed the game at home and found a clear way to win.

On the next day, Fischer was late by 25 minutes. He looked worn out. Most probably, he didn't sleep at night, trying to find some way to save the game. After 15 moves in the play-off, the candidate resigned. Spassky got ahead, 1-0.


As in all fields, there are many kinds of chess journalists. Some of them are very knowledgeable and give reliable accounts of the events, but some of them are shallow; they don't understand chess, but try to compensate their lack of knowledge with “spicy” facts and various fantasies.

The Reykjavik match also had a fair share of attention of those persons. The first false rumour spread by some American journalist said that the adjourned game was actually analyzed in Moscow and then sent to Spassky as a coded message (!? - Krogius). You, the readers, understand that such drivel needs no excuses or commentary.

But down with the awful journalists. There's a more interesting question: why Fischer decided to go through with such a crucial Bishop sacrifice, even though he knew perfectly that it didn't give him any winning chances?

I think that the American grandmaster made this decision mainly for psychological reasons. He wanted to show Spassky that he, firstly, didn't fear him at all, and, secondly, that he was going to fight him to the end in every game, without any compromises. These reasons were reinforced by an intuitive speculation that he did have a draw, and by certain knowledge that he was stronger in calculating.

This decision revealed Fischer's credo in this match. But in the first game, he made a mistake: the price of risk was too high, and any psychological gains didn't compensate the overall loss.

The defeat had a very strong negative effect on Fischer. He was always emotionally upset by losing, but now, when he pursued his lifelong dream, this failure seemed irreversible. I think that he seriously considered forfeiting the match.

On 13th July, the second game should have been played. At 5:00 p.m., Schmid started White's (Fischer's) clock. Spassky was already at the table, but the candidate was nowhere to be seen. 10, 15, 25, 30 minutes passed – Fischer was still absent. Grandmaster Olafsson came to the American's hotel. Fischer said that he couldn't play with a 30-minute handicap, and asked Schmid to restart the clock.

Olafsson returned to the hall with the news. Fischer no-showed, and so after an hour, according to the rules, the game was awarded to Spassky. In the discussions with Golombek and Schmid, Fischer explained that he didn't come because of the cameras in the playing hall.

Those cameras were installed by the Chester Fox's TV company as a part of the contract with the organizers. Fox refused to remove the cameras because he paid a substantial amount of money to the organizers. The match regulations allowed filming or TV translation on the condition that the cameras would be invisible to the players and will not provide distractions due to flashes, lights, crewmen on stage and other things. Those conditions were satisfied. We should also point out that Fischer didn't state any objections or protests concerning the cameras on the first day.

A new scandal began. Kramer, now having official authority as Fischer's representative, protested Schmid's decision to award the game to Spassky. The Match Committee, quickly gathered on 14th July, supported the arbiter's decision with three voices to one (Krogius, Arnlaugsson, Meler voted yes, Kramer voted no, Schmid didn't vote since his actions were protested). The rumours that Fischer was going to abandon match started circulating. In a traveling agency office located in the Leftleider Hotel, the reporters learned that Fischer reserved a ticket for a plane to New York that departed at 4:15 p.m. on 14th July. During a second meeting with Olafsson, Fischer said that he'd lost all interest for the match and didn't want to continue.

 Another effort to save the match was made by Schmid. On July 14th and 15th, he was going back and forth between the champion's and the candidate's camps. Soon Fischer gave in and canceled his protests against filming and against awarding the second game to Spassky. I remember with a smile that several days later, the witty Belica showed us a short film about Fischer playing tennis. The film was called The Cameras Have Won.

Continued in Part 3.