Spassky - Fischer: The Match Diary by Nikolai Krogius, part 6

Oct 27, 2015, 4:33 AM |

Part 6. Ending and Aftermath, with Bobby speaking Russian

Previously on: Part 0Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, Part 5.

But while some wrote articles, and others prepared to greet the new world champion in person, thinking that the next few games would just be a formality and there will be some quick draws, Spassky never thought about giving up. He had a lot of hopes on the game 20, even though he had Black pieces.

Up until the 10th move, the opponents repeated the variant from game 18. But then Fischer played differently: 10. Be2 instead of 10. Nf3. The American's move showed his intentions to play quietly. After Fischer's next move, Spassky had a dilemma: either to prepare for complications in a cramped position or to make some exchanges, hoping for a better endgame. Despite the fact that a draw wasn't much better than a loss for Spassky, he chose an objectively more correct line. I think that it was a completely right decision at that point.

Fischer thought that those simplifications were the sign of Spassky's peaceful intentions, and so he played too straightforwardly. After that, Spassky got not just a slightly better, but a noticeably better endgame. Fischer was nervously pacing on the stage, but managed to brace himself and started to think on the difficult defence moves.

The crisis came at move 30. Spassky could methodically improve the position of his pieces and then prepare a Knight invasion at the kingside. The analysis showed that White had much less chances to draw than Black had to win. But Boris yet again played too rashly. His pawn exchange in the center allowed Bobby to repel the threats. The game lasted for 16 more moves, but the draw was unavoidable. And so, 11½-8½. Fischer had to score just one point in the last four games to win the World Championship. Spassky understood that he had no hope. The 20th game delivered the last crushing blow.

The FIDE president Euwe came to Reykjavik. He was joyous. “Look what a titanic match I've managed to save!”, he would repeat. The 21th game took place on 31st August. In this last day of summer, cold but sunny, the last game of this historic struggle was played.

The sports palace was packed to the full. There was a lot of people in the press center, as though the Americans sent several planes with journalists to Iceland.

After Spassky's 1. e4, Fischer again used Sicilian, but (again for the first time in his practice) decided to play the quiet Paulsen variant. He played a novelty at move 7, leading to a definite situation in the center.

Afterwards, some wrote that Spassky had to go for the long castling. Indeed, this line gave White good prospects. But Spassky wasn't up for a fight anymore: he made several mediocre moves, exchanged the Knights where he shouldn't have, and had to transition into the endgame where Fischer's two Bishops dominated.

Trying to solve the situation, Spassky sacrificed an exchange for a pawn. White could have forced a draw several times, but...

Let's not judge Spassky this time. There was practically no difference between a draw and a loss. After 40 moves, the game was adjourned in a following position:

Seeing that he had no chances, Spassky decided not to continue playing. On 1st September in 12:50 p.m. local time, he called Schmid and said calmly, “I resign in the game 21.” The tenth World Champion sat at his throne for three years and 76 days.

At the moment, Fischer analyzed the variants after 41. Kh3. When he was told about Spassky's decision, he asked, “Did he sign the game sheet? If not, I'm continuing my analysis.” Kramer called Schmid and said that Bobby insisted on Spassky personally signing the game sheet. Schmid ultimately managed to convince Fischer and Kramer not to make any waves, saying that his own signature was enough to formally end the game and the match.

As soon as the journalists learned about that, Fischer and Spassky were literally besieged. Spassky answered the questions calmly and thoroughly. He said that he was hoping to win up until the 20th game and commended Fischer's good playing. He called the night after losing the 13th game the most difficult period in the whole match. “Before that, I won the 11th game and was close to winning the 12th, I thought I had good chances to turn things around.” The journalists unanimously pointed out Boris' politeness and friendly atmosphere created by Larisa Spasskaya.

Fischer said that his best game was the 3rd, and the most important was the 13th. When Belica asked for how many years was he going to be the champion, Fischer, without any doubts, said, “For ten years, maybe even more.”

On the 3rd September, the closing ceremony took place. The sports palace transformed completely. The great hall was filled with dinner tables for 2,000 guests. The tickets for the closing ceremony cost $25 – a hefty sum for the Icelanders by the time. In the center of the hall, there was a “free” VIP table for government members, diplomats, various officials and members of the Soviet and American delegations. Euwe was at the center of the table, Fischer to his right, and Spassky to his left. Edmondson and Collins, Fischer's first chess coach, were also present. The champion's sister Joan Targ broke her silence that day. She said, “I believed that Bobby would win the World Championship title, and now I wish him to keep it.”

The ceremonial music sounded. Fischer was invited to the stage. Euwe declared Robert James Fischer the new World Chess Champion and crowned him with a wreath of... Icelandic birch. Laurel wasn't growing in Iceland, and it was too expensive to transport a laurel wreath from abroad because the organizers were trying to save money on everything by that point. Fischer, however, didn't pay any notice.

Then the FIDE president gave Fischer an envelope with the prize check and held out his hand for a handshake. But Fischer wasn't in a hurry. He opened the envelope and studied the check thoroughly. Euwe's hand was still in the air. Finally, making sure that the check was all right, Fischer folded it neatly, put it into his jacket pocket, quickly shook the president's hand and, removing the wreath, returned to the table.

He quietly and quickly ate a steak and put aside his wine glass. There were congratulations for the new champion from the stage. Upon finishing his food, Bobby looked around absent-mindedly. Then his eyes flashed suddenly, and he reached into his jacket pocket. Would he study the check again? I asked myself. But no. He took out a worn set of pocket chess, set up a position and started thinking again, paying no notice to anyone around. This episode says a lot about Fischer, about his chess fanaticism that never left him even in his stellar hour.

Some time later, Fischer asked Spassky, “Why did you resign in the last game? There was a lot of struggle still.” They started analyzing together on the pocket chess. Then Euwe joined the conversation. He said that there were offers of a return match between Fischer and Spassky next year. Particularly, Las Vegas guaranteed a prize fund of $1,000,000. It was quite strange to hear such words from the FIDE president, since there were no return matches in the FIDE rules, and Fischer had to play with the Candidates' cycle winner in 1975 – not necessarily Spassky.

But Euwe seemed completely unabashed. Fischer actively supported the discussion. Those table talks continued. During the next days, up until our departure, the return match question was actively discussed. Fischer talked with ambassador Astavin about it. Some correspondents even called their articles about the match's end “Goodbye Until Las Vegas” or something similar. When going back to Netherlands, Euwe also said about his hopes to hold another match between Spassky and Fischer next year.

But this idea didn't gain much support due to various reasons. The Soviet sport officials were bewildered, since the idea flew in the face of the FIDE World Championship regulations. But why Euwe, seemingly the first person to strike down any efforts to disrupt the FIDE works, was so supportive of that idea?

I think that Euwe acted like that because he wanted to make Fischer's position on the chess throne as safe as possible. The return match (which the American was slated to win) would break the existing FIDE system and allow Fischer to play World Championship matches with whoever he chose rather than someone who qualified through a tournament system. I don't know if the idea was possible at all at the time, but at least they tried.

In the sports palace, Fischer's long stay at the table was interrupted by a sweet Icelandic girl who invited the champion for a dance. Bobby mumbled something, fidgeted for a bit, then smiled and accepted. To the surprise of many people who thought that Fischer was a complete recluse, he danced pretty well.

Then, returning to the table, Fischer started to talk about his new hobby – photography – and showed several photos made by Polaroid, the sale of which had just started. Suddenly he asked Spassky, “Boris, would you like such a camera as a gift?” While Boris thought on the most polite way of declining, Bobby ordered Kramer to find some Mr. X. Kramer and Mr. X came to the table several minutes later. “Mister,” Fischer said, “you gave me this Polaroid, and I'm quite satisfied, and now could you please give one to Spassky?” Mr. X was at a loss, but Spassky saved the situation by declining the gift. Fischer seemed to think of this situation as a good joke. I don't know if it's true, but his off-hand treatment of people was very obvious in that episode.

After the match ended, several receptions were held – by the president of Iceland, in the American cultural center and in the Soviet embassy. Spassky, Fischer, their coaches, the Organization Committee members and celebrated journalists were present. The receptions weren't too crowded, and Fischer didn't want to be the center of attention, and so I've managed to talk to him a few times. I wanted to get to know the man who defeated Petrosian and Spassky better.

We spoke Russian, with some Serbian and English words. Fischer said that he learned Russian because he thought it necessary to study the Soviet chess literature in the original language. He added that he didn't trust the translations. He knew Serbian because he often played in Yugoslavia. Of course, Fischer's Russian was not perfect, but it was easy to understand him, especially when he spoke about chess.

I learned that Fischer was well-versed in our chess literature. He held Bondarevsky and Boleslavsky's book Petrosian – Spassky 1969 in very high regard, as well as works of Sokolsky, Keres and Tal. Also he said that he respected Spassky's commentary. However, he was very critical of some theoretical articles in the Shakhmatniy Bulleten' magazine and the King's Indian Defence monography. “They are full of errors”, Fischer said.

Then we started discussing mistakes made by chess players. I told him about my views on the subject. Fischer said that he did read my psychological books, but not thoroughly, since it's harder for him to translate non-chess texts. “Mistakes are often made when a chess player persists in his delusions”, Bobby said. “Perhaps this thought guided you when you were preparing for the match? We saw a completely new Fischer in Reykjavik, very different from the old one”, I asked immediately. The new world champion just smiled in reply.

With the passage of time, the superficial, minor things were forgotten, and perhaps I could more clearly see the essential things. I remember the 1972 Robert Fischer as a complicated, contradictory person, but especially as a man of great intelligence. Some called Fischer ignoramus and primitive just because he didn't finish high school. Such conclusions are completely baseless. How can you call someone who studied several language by himself, acquired knowledge and taste in literature and music, wrote good books with a clear and logical narrative, and, finally, achieved the pinnacle in one of the richest fields of intellectual creativity – chess – a primitive?

While talking to Fischer, I noticed how quick were his thoughts and how irresistible was his urge to study any question clearly and fully, perhaps even thoroughly and absolutely. Sometimes this manifested in hypertrophied form as pedantry and suspiciousness. Let's remember the episodes from drawing ceremony (with the envelope and the black pawn) and the closing ceremony (studying the check). Fischer wasn't joking: he indeed studied everything “to the very end”.

However, despite being highly intelligent, Fischer, as I think, wasn't too refined, and this showed in his general behaviour and attitude towards people. I'm not even speaking about his manners, which left much to be desired. I didn't see any consideration, or even interest, towards other people in him. The non-chess troubles of others, their state of mind never interested him in the slightest. He showed his psychological acumen only in chess struggle. There, he was interested in everything that could be interpreted as a manifestation of his opponent's state, whether he was confident or not, joyous or fearful. But outside the tournament hall, he paid no attention towards anybody. He retreated into himself, and his behaviour showed no regard towards others.

But let's return to Reykjavik. Remembering the match, Fischer tensed. I could feel that he didn't calm down after the competition yet. He said little of his plans. Promised to play often. Said that a return match in 1973 was most possible: “In Texas or Nevada, I'll play only to win.”

Concerning the organization of chess life, Fischer said that after becoming the champion, he was going to change a lot in the chess world. “The next matches will be held as the chess world deserves.”

Speaking of his time in Iceland, he was ironic of the organizers, but praised the policeman Sam Polson's work, who basically became a “nurse” for Fischer during that time.

Fischer seemed to like Astavin, the Soviet ambassador in Iceland. “Good man”, he told me. So, Bobby accepted the invitation to the Soviet embassy without hesitation (and even without any Marines to accompany him! - Krogius). He discussed the match with the ambassador, including the prospects of a new match against Spassky. Gladly gave autographs to Astavin's son and the embassy workers. Finally, he asked the ambassador to give him a filing of Pravda for the last few months. “I'd like to know what was written in your country about the match”, Fischer explained.

At the same reception, Fischer asked anxiously, “Are there any journalists?” When he learned that there were none, he calmed down. He was very suspicious towards reporters, and he had all the reasons for that. Ever since his childhood, they wrote untruthful or biased thing about Fischer's life.

 After the match, Fischer spoke favourably, but reservedly about Spassky. But he still seemed to draw a line between him and other Soviet chess leaders. He was sure that Petrosian, Geller and Keres conspired during the Curacao 1962 tournament, when those Soviet grandmasters drew all 12 games between each other.

Concluded in Part 7.