Spassky - Fischer: The Match Diary by Nikolai Krogius, part 5

Oct 27, 2015, 12:27 AM |

Part 5. In which Operation Chair is commenced and fails completely, and there are some draws

Previously on the series: Part 0, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Let's discuss the atmosphere around the match; we haven't touched that subject since Fischer returned to playing. After the third game, he still continued filing various protests and statements to the arbiters and organizers, though in a less harsh tone. First he demanded to make the first 5 rows empty, then the first 7, then the first 14. In the hotel, Fischer swapped several rooms, and also demanded to close off the pool while he swam. So, he surely made the organizers' life much more exciting than they would like. He was constantly accompanied by an Icelandic policeman Sam Palson, who wore civilian attire instead of uniform. Fischer's official representative, Kramer, behaved arrogantly and obnoxiously. He stopped greeting us altogether, and incessantly pestered Schmid with complaints. For instance, he demanded to remove a spectator who coughed softly from the hall, etc.

Fischer's behaviour, Spassky's reactions and other match accidents, let alone the exciting games, were widely publicized around the whole world. So no wonder that the participants and match officials received a lot of letters from many countries. I think that Spassky's correspondence alone weighed 80-100 kilograms. People wrote so many things!

Among the various advices and fantastic plots, there were letters discussing various psychological aspects of the match struggle. Typical was, for instance, the letter of a psychology professor V. Chernin from the Windsor University (Canada). He wrote to Spassky: “Fischer's non-chess gambit is seemingly directed towards the organizers, but actually, it's against you. He seems to have managed to upset you and weaken your concentration. You should defend against that.” But how to defend? The professor recommended, “When Fischer throws his antics, you should react calmly and indifferently. Or you might try an active approach – file some protests too.”

More categorical was B. Reinhardt from Munich: “The insolent Bobby is deliberately shocking, provoking, getting on your nerves, behaving unsportsmanlike. You shouldn't yield to such a base pressure. “To win, you have to be tough!”, Alekhine said!” There was a lot of similar letters, especially from the USSR and Yugoslavia. Spassky, of course, knew about this position well before the match, but, as the reader knows, he looked at those problems differently.

Some chess fans expressed an opinion that Fischer was using hypnosis and telepathy to influence his opponent. I thought that it was baseless speculation at best, complete nonsense at worst. Luckily, the celebrated Soviet psychiatrists M. Vartanian and M. Zharikov happened to visit Reykjavik. Their opinion was similar to mine: “Fischer has a strong personality of a psychopathic disposition, and his behaviour affects Spassky. But this is a result of their natural interaction. No hypnosis or telepathy involved.”

But the opinion of Spassky being influenced by some kind of non-chess factors gradually gained more and more support, even among the serious people. During the second half of the match, our group members received several books and booklets (mostly printed in the United States) and dozens of letters (also mostly from the U.S.) that said about the possibility of radiation, electronic and chemical influence. In particular, they wrote about using infrasound, an extremely low-frequency sound that can't be heard by human ear. It was said that infrasound oppresses people's mind and often causes depression.

Such scientific and “science-ish” facts were connected by authors of those letters to the behaviour of Fischer and his entourage during the match. They speculated, for instance, that an infrasound generator could be installed on Fischer's famous revolving chair. Fischer makes his move, turns the chair and goes away, and Spassky gets affected by the infrasound. Spassky makes his move, then Fischer returns, turns his chair into normal position, turning off the generator, and calmly thinks on his move.

Overall, the letters suggested that Spassky was subjected to systemic “non-chess” influence by his opponent. And to make things fair, Fischer's “schemes” should have been exposed. In the middle of the match, the Western newspapers picked up this theme.

Many similar warnings from the Soviet chess fans were received by the Soviet Chess Federation. At first, we didn't pay attention. But in mid-August, when Spassky's position was critical, Geller started talking about the “non-chess” methods of influence. I don't know why Geller decided to bring up this subject. One of the version – foreseeing the defeat, someone of the Soviet Chess Federation (headed by Averbakh by the time) offered to “make some noise” about the Americans' non-chess methods as a precaution to the possible repercussions from the officials. Most probably, this offer was made by some incompetent “specialist”. Directing the “blame” for the subsequent actions in Reykjavik on the respected state and scientific institutions would be stupid, since they knew perfectly about the possibilities of using the non-traditional technical and psychological means of influence on people.

The official steps should have been taken by the head coach Geller (I think at this point, he sincerely regretted that he was the head coach). I thought that this action was unwise. Nei had the same opinion, but... The following document was issued.

Statement by Grandmaster E. Geller, the world champion's second.

The World Championship match currently taking place in Reykjavik attracts great interest in the whole world. B. Spassky, I and other members of our chess delegation receive many letters from various countries, United States included. Many letters are concerned with quite an unusual topic for chess history: using non-chess methods of influence on one of the opponents.

They say that innumerable “antics” of R. Fischer, his complaints to the organizers, constant coming late to the games, demands to play in a closed room, baseless protests etc. are means for an end: to put pressure on the partner's personality and to bring B. Spassky out of his best sporting form.

I consider R. Fischer's behaviour a violation of the Amsterdam agreements, which require gentlemanly conduct of both partners. I think that the arbiters had enough reasons already to demand R. Fischer to follow this particular point of match rules. This should be required again immediately, when the match enters its decisive stage.

There are letters suggesting that Spassky could be affected with electronics and chemical substances inside the playing room. Particularly, they mention R. Fischer's chair and the special stage lighting installed by the American side's demand.

All this may seem fantastic, but some objective facts still make one consider even the most fantastic assumptions.

For instance, why does R. Fischer vehemently protest against filming, even though it leads to money losses? Perhaps he wants to prevent constant objective control of the partners' behaviour and state? The same can be said about his repeated demands to play the games in a closed room and forbid the public to sit at the first seven rows.

The Americans' coming into the playing hall in non-playing time, even at night, also looks suspicious, as well as Kramer's demands to give R. Fischer “his” and only his chair, even though both chairs look identical and were made by the same American company.

I also want to add that, having known Spassky for a number of years, it's the first time I've seen uncharacteristic lapses in attention and impulsiveness in his playing. And I can't explain it by R. Fischer's exceptionally strong play. On the contrary, the candidate made technical mistakes in several games, and also, in a number of games, he demonstrated his lack of understanding of the position.

In view of the aforesaid, our delegation filed an official statement to the match arbiter and organizers, asking to run a thorough check of the playing hall and items located in it and to prevent any unauthorized persons to enter the players' rooms.

22nd August 1972, E. Geller.”

Geller's statement caused a lot of stir among the journalists and much chagrin to the Icelandic organizers; they felt offended because they had full responsibility for the playing hall. The arbiter asked the Match committee members to go through with the check. And so, on the next day, Krogius, Kramer, Arnlaugsson and Meler came to the sports palace. They were joined by Schultz (representing IBM), Thorarinsson, the Reykjavik police deputy chief, experts and technicians.

The checking of electric appliances and other items in the players' rooms and on stage showed nothing unusual. So, we started to examine the chairs. I'll say a few words about those furniture items that gained some fame during the Reykjavik match. Fischer first got this high armchair in Buenos Aires, during the match against Petrosian. After the match, he received this chair as a gift from the manufacturer. Then the chair traveled to Iceland. When Schmid said that it wasn't good for the participants to use different furniture, the Americans ordered a second identical chair. Spassky sat in it during the match, though he didn't get it as a gift after the match.

And so, the examination of the chairs started. Spassky's chair was clean, but the X-ray machine suddenly showed a metallic foreign object in Fischer's chair. Everyone was anxious. What was it? A policeman disassembled the chair and removed a small screwdriver from it; it was probably forgotten by the workers when they assembled it.

Interestingly, the X-ray examination of chairs was continued. Baturinsky remembered: “Six years later, Korchnoi also brought his own chair, specially constructed in the UK and worth around 1,000 pounds. The manufacturers offered an identical chair to Karpov for free as an advertising trick, but he declined. I personally do not believe in any “outside” powers influencing the chess games. But to calm down Karpov and his team, I asked to examine the chair with X-rays, and it was done. The X-ray specialist said that the chair was “completely healthy, without any dark patches”.

So, the Operation Chair ended with a complete and utter failure. But our moral loss wasn't the only one. Thorarinsson was so angry at us that after the match ended, he ordered to tax all money given to us for minor expenses. As far as I remember, it was the only such decision in the entire history of international chess competitions. Interestingly enough, Lombardy said that no taxes were deducted from their delegation.

The fifteenth game was nervous and fluctuating. Fischer played his favourite Sicilian Najdorf with Black, but couldn't overcome the opening hardships. He probably failed to find the best continuation against Spassky's 12. Qg3. Black lost a pawn. But in the heat of the battle, the world champion played rashly and lost his advantage. Now he should have played for a draw, but, under false impressions of advantage, Spassky made another rash decision, and his position was lost. But then it was Fischer's turn to make mistakes. He could force a win three times, but didn't find the best moves. The game finally ended up with perpetual check.


After a fight in the previous game, the 16th game was much more slow and relaxed. Fischer played the exchange variation in Ruy Lopez (4. Bxc6) that brought him many great victories. During the training camp, we studied this opening carefully, and Spassky showed his opponent some home preparation. The analyses were good, and White didn't get any advantage out of the opening. Furthermore, it was Black who started to think about win.

Nevertheless,” Korchnoi said, “Spassky made 26 more moves, knowing perfectly that Fischer would torture him the same if he were playing Black. Also, Spassky showed that it's not easy to make a short draw with him even if you have White pieces.” Draw was agreed after the 60th move.


And while Spassky and Fischer played that boring endgame, the candidate's representative Kramer acted: he handed Schmid a new protest in Fischer's name, stating the allegedly noisy behaviour of the spectators and demanding to hold the next game in an isolated room. Schmid had to prepare another answer. I noticed that Kramer's troublesome persistence started to drive even the usually calm Schmid out of his wits. Near the match's end, he would shudder every time Kramer appeared.

In game 17, played on 22nd August, Fischer again uncorked an opening surprise. After 1. e4, he chose Pirc Defence. This was totally unexpected. In reply, Spassky played the most active system for White, with 4. f4. And then, Fischer also faced a nasty surprise: White found an original plan to improve their position at the board (11. Rad1 and 12. Bc4!) The American reacted to Spassky's novelty with a dubious move 12... Nh5.

Some experts, including Korchnoi, put an exclamation mark after Black's last move. But I think that the evaluation is totally opposite. Instead of bland 13. Bb3, Spassky could exploit the Knight's absence from the center with 13. Rd5, and after 13... Qc7 (13... Qb4 14. Rb5) play 14. Rg5. If the Bishop retreats, an exchange sacrifice at h5 looks strong. White also threaten 15. Nd5. After 14... Nf6, White have the simple 15. Bb3 with good attacking chances. After 14... Nd4, there is 15. Qd3 Nxf3+ 16. gxf3 Be6 (16... Bh3 17. Rd1) 17. Bxe6 fxe6 18. f5 with strong threats. Fischer made an interesting exchange sacrifice at move 21, hoping to draw the game because of White pawns' weaknesses and protecting the key e5 square. But this decision looks questionable too.

The 18th game was one of the most intense in the entire game. Spassky played Sicilian. Fischer chose the Rauzer attack (6. Bg5). Another novelty for the American. He seemed to avoid the Sozin attack (6. Bc4) after a bad opening in the 4th game. Still, White's position was better after the move 20. But then Fischer played passively (a rarity for him), and Black equalized. The crucial events happened during the mutual time trouble. Spassky made the first mistake, but Fischer couldn't exploit it and made a mistake on his own, chasing a pawn on the edge of the board.

After this “exchange of niceties”, both partners played the sharp endgame impeccably. Attack was balanced by defence, and the draw was a natural result.


The next game was equally interesting and combative. Fischer chose Alekhine's defence after 1. e4 for the second time in the match. Rather than 4... g6, he chose a classical continuation, developing his Bishop to g4. White chose an original plan in the opening, got a strong pawn center and a seemingly better position. This impression only strengthened after Spassky sacrificed a piece at move 18. Many in the press center thought that Fischer's position was hopeless. But Fischer found a great defensive resource (21... Qd2). He found several best moves in a row to repel the immediate threats and exchange Queens. White won all the sacrificed material back, but there was an equal Rook endgame on the board, and draw was agreed at move 40.


The score was 11-8. Many newspapers considered the match's result already obvious and published articles about Fischer's ensuing victory. One of the more curious one was written by the popular American journalist Art Buchwald; this humorous article pays tribute to Bobby's personality and behaviour.


Nixon Calling Bobby Fischer


WASHINGTON – In a few weeks President Nixon will have to make one of the most important decisions of his Administration. He will have to decide whether or not he puts a telephone call through to Iceland if Bobby Fischer wins the World Championship Chess Tournament.

There hasn't been an antihero like Bobby Fischer in years. His behavior before and during the tournament caused one Washington Post reader to write, “Fischer is the only American who can make everyone In the United States root for the Russians.”

Based on what Fischer has been doing in Iceland, the President's call could go something like this:

Hello Bobby, this is President Nixon. I just wanted to call and congratulate you on your victory in Iceland.”

Make it short will you? I'm tired.”

This is a great day for America, Bobby.”

It's a greater day for me. I won $150,000, and I showed these Icelandic creeps a thing or two.”

You know, Bobby, I almost made the chess team at Whittier College.”

Big deal.”

But I went out for football instead.”

Is that what this call is all about?”

Now wait a minute, Bobby. I always call anyone who wins a championship for America. I would like to give you a white-tie dinner at the White House when you come back.”

How much will you pay me to come?”

Pay you? I don't pay people to have dinner at the White House.”

Then what's in it for me?”

I'll invite the Cabinet, the Supreme Court, the leaders of Congress and every rich Republican chess player in the country. I'll get Guy Lombardo to play after dinner. It's the least I can do for someone who beat the great Spassky.”

All right. I'll come, but these are my demands: You send the presidential plane to Iceland to pick me up. You personally meet me at the plane and provide me with a limousine, a suite of rooms, a private tennis court, my own swimming pool and 10 Secret Service men so I'm not bugged by the press.”

I think I can do that, Bobby.”

And no television cameras.”

No television cameras?”

I hate television cameras. They send me into a frenzy. If I see one television camera at the dinner, I'm walking out.”

Don't worry, Bobby. There won't be any television cameras.”

And no talking while I'm eating. I can't eat when people talk.”

It's very difficult to hold a large dinner at the White House and not have anyone talk.”

That's your problem. If I hear noise of any kind, you're going to have to get yourself another world champion chess player.”

Anything you say, Bobby. It's your dinner.”

What time is this shindig of yours going to take place?”

I thought about eight o'clock.”

I'll be there at nine. I don't like to stand around and make small talk with a lot of stuffed-shirt politicians.”

I understand, Bobby.”

And I'm bringing my own chair. I can't eat when I'm using someone else's chair. And you better know this right now, I don't like bright lights when I'm eating. If the lights are too bright, I don't start the first course.”

No bright lights. I got you, Bobby. I just want to add how proud we all are of you. You're an inspiration to the young people of America.”

The President hangs up and calls Richard Helms of the CIA.

 Dick, I'm sending the presidential plane to Iceland to pick up Bobby Fischer. Do me a favor. After he's on board, will you see that it's hijacked to Cuba?”

Continued in Part 6.