Spassky - Fischer: The Match Diary by Nikolai Krogius, part 7

Oct 27, 2015, 1:06 PM |

Part 7. The fallout: Boris returns to USSR

Previously on: Part 0Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6.

And so, the departure day came. This time, we flew to Copenhagen through Oslo. The cold and rainy Icelandic autumn seemingly accompanied us to Norway. Though the weather was quite similar to our mood. But in Denmark, the storm clouds, both literal and metaphorical, started to come apart. The latter was largely due to N. Egorychev, the Soviet ambassador in Denmark. During our stay in Copenhagen, he treated Spassky very warmly and tactfully. I think that Boris' grim thoughts about how would the homeland greet a defeated champion became more calm and reasonable. Life goes on, and you have to think about the future – that's was the leitmotif of our Copenhagen thoughts.

Moscow met us relatively calmly and businesslike. We passed the border control and customs quickly and without accidents. There were many people in the greeting hall: from the Soviet and Russian Sports Committees, Lokomotiv sport society, Central Chess Club.

Of course, the sport officials and ordinary people didn't try to hide their disappointment, but there were no talks of any harsh sanctions like dissolution of the USSR national football team after their loss to Yugoslavia at the Helsinki Olympic Games. Everyone understood that Reykjavik was a tough lesson, and now they had to concentrate on returning the chess crown to USSR.

Some time later, the Soviet Sports Committee deputy chairman Ivonin called a meeting to discuss the match's results. Among the invited were Spassky, Geller, Krogius, Baturinsky, grandmasters Petrosian, Tal, Korchnoi, Boleslavsky, Kotov and Averbakh, Rodionov (Soviet Federation), Boikov (Russian SFSR Federation), Tupikin (Leningrad Federation), Alatortsev and various Soviet Sports Committee workers.

We were the first to speak. Spassky's report was inconsistent: on one hand, he said that preparation was satisfactory, and the reaction to Fischer's antics up until the third game was correct; on the other hand, he pointed out various mistakes, such as Bondarevsky's resignation, the invitation of Nei, the wrong evaluation of Fischer's intentions before the 3rd game: “I was under an almost hypnotic impression that Fischer wanted to abandon the match, and if I saved this important contest, I could count on the struggle continuing in the pure spirit of chess traditions. It was a great psychological mistake.” Geller complained that he had too much organizational duties to take care of, and also said, “Another thing that hindered us was the lack of understanding between the chess department head (Baturinsky) and the world champion.”

I said that the help during the preparation wasn't always of high quality. How about, say, this advice from the chess lab: “Convert playing actions into thought operations.” During the match, Spassky showed idealism in his evaluation of Fischer. Another serious mistake was making the head coach the head of the entire delegation as well; this distracted Geller and drew Spassky into solving the organizational problems as well. I also stated my wish that the chess players would receive more information through various technical innovations.

Then Averbakh spoke; he was the head of the Soviet Chess Federation at the time. He said that Spassky lost his advantage over others during the transition into middlegame and in the middlegame itself. The reason was lack of practice. “You had to play in more tournaments”, concluded the grandmaster.

Baturinsky talked in great detail about the organization work involved with preparations for the match. He pointed out Spassky's self-assuredness, his unjustified desire to handle all talks himself and to make principal decisions alone (for instance, agreeing to postpone the first game). Also he said that after 1969, Spassky worked on chess too little and played in strong tournaments unacceptably rarely. Another mistake was not sending someone with Spassky's group who would exclusively handle the organizational questions (including talks with Euwe, Schmid and the Icelanders). Also Baturinsky pointed out that we didn't put up enough resistance to Fischer's psychopatic personality, and the strange spying scare that began back in Moscow continued in Reykjavik, when Geller insisted on examining and disassembling Fischer's chair only to find nothing.

In conclusion, Baturinsky said that the relationship between the coach and his trainee is very important. Previously, the choice of coaches and the evaluation of their work was similar to the work of a private firm. This had to be changed, brought under control from the Federation.

Kotov also pointed out the lack of control over Spassky's training and criticized the tradition of “unaccountability” of the country's leading chess players in their chess training. “We have to seriously examine the relationship between coaches and their trainees and systematically control their work”, Kotov said. Then he discussed the problem of the influence of Fischer's personality, and condemned the “pro-Fischer” bias of Euwe.

Petrosian was next; he supported Kotov and added that, firstly, he was bewildered by Spassky's naivete, who spoke about the match as though it was some kind of a festival, and, secondly, he considered Fischer's no-show to the second game a well-prepared psychological trap. Petrosian also pointed out Euwe's bias and said that he would probably go out of his way to “make” a Western player the next candidate.

Tal continued on the topic of the second game, saying that in reply, Spassky should have no-showed the third game (!). The ex-champion didn't agree that Spassky's opening training was satisfactory, pointing out, in particular, his playing against 1. c4 with Black. Also Tal said that Spassky was out of practical form.

Korchnoi was harsh as usual. He said that he was not satisfied with Geller's report. He called Spassky's opening preparation disastrous, citing 6th and 7th games. He said that the world champion hadn't studied chess seriously since 1969 and didn't take part in serious tournaments. Because of all this, the world champion had to restore his theoretical and practical form during the match rather than before it.

Boleslavsky didn't agree that Fischer allegedly deliberately sacrificed a point in the second game to set a psychological trap for Spassky. We shouldn't mystify Fischer and overestimate his abilities, the grandmaster continued; he had quite a few shortcomings and vulnerabilities. He considered Spassky's lack of chess work the main reason for his loss. “We need more efficient control over the chess players' training”, Boleslavsky concluded.

Tupikin, Rodionov and Boykov mostly discussed the sociopolitical meaning of the match. They pointed out Spassky's self-assuredness and naivety, his lack of understanding of his responsibility before the millions of Soviet chess players. The presidium of Soviet Chess Federation was harshly criticized for giving Spassky carte blanche in his preparation for the match and basically taking no part in it. The presidium also, in their opinion, showed wrong attitude towards Euwe, they were too soft with him.

Ivonin summed up the meeting. He stated the following particular reasons for Spassky's defeat:

1. Disconnection and lack of trust between our leading chess players;

2. Unnecessary practicism, the inability to raise above the financial problems and forgetting the creative stimuli;

3. Spassky's lack of responsibility, idealism, naivety and excessive self-assuredness;

4. Fischer's great work ethic and superb preparation;

5. Wrong evaluation of Fischer's action and the coaches' inability to stir Spassky in the right direction;

6. Lack of Federation control over Spassky's preparation work;

7. Wrong evaluation of Euwe's personality and actions.

After the meeting, the Soviet Sports Committee implemented emergency measures to stimulate chess development. A lot was done to improve the conditions of children- and junior-level chess: the number of schools and tournaments was increased. Special attention was devoted to young promising chess players (more travels abroad for the international tournaments, more training camps, etc.) Karpov was among the most promising, along with Beliavsky, Tukmakov, Vaganian and others.

The Soviet championship system was reorganized. Now the qualifying pyramid was topped of with two leagues: first and High. It was hoped that this system would attract the leading grandmasters to the Soviet championships. The supply of foreign chess literature was vastly increased; a lot more chess literature was printed in the Soviet Union as well. So, paradoxically, Fischer's victory was a blessing in disguise for the Soviet chess: the society's attention increased, and the state started to support chess more generously.

The verdict on Spassky's group was as follows: the ex-champion's stipend was decreased, I wasn't sent to the Hastings tournament despite having an invitation and tickets. Soon, however, the sanctions were lifted. It seemed strange that Nei's punishment was the hardest: he was forbidden to go abroad for two years. Though soon we learned that in Reykjavik, Nei commented the games for Western newspapers together with the American grandmaster Byrne, who was close to Fischer. I doubt that Nei disclosed any secrets, but the very fact of working behind Spassky's back wasn't exactly a good thing.

Many news agencies of the time (Associated Press etc.) said that Spassky had to give up most of his prize money to the state. It's time to finally clear this question once and for all. The ex-champion received 3/8ths of the $250,000 prize, or $93,750 (Fischer got $156,250). No official demands to give up any of these money were presented to Spassky. So, any stories about Sports Committee taking away Spassky's money are fabrications.

How can the Sports Committee's generosity be explained in this case? The reason is the sluggishness of the Soviet bureaucratic machine. It was the first ever case of a Soviet sportsman receiving such a large prize sum, and there were no documents regulating such cases. Later, the world championship participants had to give away 50% of their prize to the state.

When I started to work on this book, I, of course, wasn't planning to limit myself with my own memory and diaries. I've gone through a lot of publications about Spassky, particularly about his match with Fischer. One of my friends once offered me to read an article by grandmaster Eduard Gufeld, “Bobby Fischer – legends and truth”, in the book Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess (Kiev 1991). I started reading it and saw something very familiar. Upon comparing the texts, I saw that Gufeld repeated my article “Fischer Then, in Reykjavik” (64 10-11, 1987) almost verbatim, but without any reference to the real author. In the same article, I found materials by Kobysh and other writers, also commandeered by Gufeld. I'm not writing this to condemn the fact of literary cheating; I'm just hoping to discourage any further plagiarism of my own works.

After the Reykjavik match, there were lots of various articles, opinions, commentaries. Botvinnik wrote: “Even though our grandmaster lost, we have to admit that in the second half of the match, Spassky managed to expose Fischer's weaknesses... What are those weaknesses? Fischer, by playing fast, depletes his games. When he grows older and his calculation skills diminish, this depletion will surely take its toll... I'm often asked why do I reproach Fischer for his lack of education, though I'm by no means alone in that. This doesn't stop Fischer from winning, right? This doesn't stop him only because his opponents don't exploit this weakness. And the lack of general education surely narrows the chess scope. This is Fischer's weakness, his shortcoming.

When he plays familiar, carefully-studied schemes, this weakness doesn't show. But when an original situation appears at the board, the weakness can manifest. And the match's second part proved that. Why couldn't Spassky exploit that, why didn't he win back the lost points? Obviously, because he had weaknesses on his own. One of them, in my opinion, is very serious. I previously thought that Spassky was a universal player, like Emanuel Lasker was in old times. But this match, with a very strong opponent, showed that Spassky had certain personal predilections.

What's he striving for at the board? Spassky prefers the same style that was once employed by Tolush... He had no real school to speak about, but when the situation needed to created a turmoil at the board, with a lot of active pieces, he would capture the initiative and launch an aesthetically pleasing attack.

Spassky also does this very well. When he needs to win, he employs the same style. Like in his famous game against Fischer at the Siegen 1970 Olympiad. Spassky won it convincingly. And so, when he got advantage in the second half of the match against Fischer, he, instead of continuing amassing the advantage, played in Tolush's manner: opened up the play, tried to liven up the pieces. That's his mistake.

In the games against Fischer, Spassky shouldn't have opened the play until everything was clear. Of course, when everything is clear and the advantage is obvious, then even an average master can win. But Spassky opened up the play prematurely, and this gave Fischer an opportunity to escape.

If Spassky's style was more universal, Fischer probably wouldn't get away as easy.”

In the United States, among the lots of superficial articles, there's a big work by grandmaster Reuben Fine, Bobby Fischer's Conquest of the World Chess Championship: The Psychology and Tactics of the Title Match. He thoroughly examined Fischer's life and chess career, analyzed the critical moments of the Reykjavik match. Fine also wrote about Spassky and the Soviet chess life.

Fine didn't think that Spassky was a fighter with strong willpower. He thought that the world champion's title was a burden for Boris, and he instinctively tried to lose it. That's why he worked on chess only half-heartedly, made short draws in many weak tournaments, played bridge on the game days, etc.

But Spassky, as Fine thought, was equal to Fischer in terms of raw talent, and so the match was decided largely by the nuances of personality.

Also Fine wrote about the special responsibility of the Soviet chess players before the state. A loss is a communal, rather than a personal failure. So, Spassky was bound by his fear of defeat, and this influenced his playing.

Let's also quote Spassky himself: “I'm not satisfied with my playing. I've never made such mistakes in such numbers before. Fischer is the number one chess player due to several distinctive features. The first one is great playing technique... The second one is Fischer's great energy and work rate during the games. He's able to fight until the end, “until the last one standing”... Also Fischer has a subtle understanding of his opponent's physical and mental state.

The broadening of Fischer's opening repertoire wasn't a surprise (?! - Krogius). His opening erudition exceeds mine, and such tactics were advantageous for him. But Fischer didn't have large advantage in the openings.

Now concerning the transition from opening to middlegame, which was strong before. In the first stage of the match, I've lost this important weapon. I lost my solidity, became feverish.

I'm satisfied with my general training. My physical condition and opening preparation was good. I think I made a mistake by not playing in a strong tournament a couple of months before the match. I've played too little in the recent years...

Various “protests” didn't affect me, except Fischer's no-show of the opening ceremony and the second game of the match.”

So, the variety of the opinions is great, even those stated by Spassky himself. Now let's try to formulate the reasons for Spassky's defeat in Reykjavik, taking into account both the materials of the Sports Committee meeting and various things said during and after the match.

I think that Spassky's defeat cannot be explained solely by some singular features of his personality, no matter how important they seem at a first glance. For instance, we can't say that he lost only because he calculated variations slower than his partner or knew some opening systems worse than him. Some particular moments did indeed take place, but they were caused by more general reasons. I think there are three main reasons for Spassky's defeat.

Firstly, Spassky didn't anticipate Fischer's dynamic evolution. He didn't even think that in Reykjavik, he wouldn't face the Fischer he knew, from 1966 or even 1970, but rather a very different chess player. A player who put a lot of work into self-analysis and self-disciplining and made a lot of progress both in chess psychology and perfecting and enriching his playing style as a result.

Such conservatism can be explained with the fact that Spassky never had to play against opponents that showed tendencies to change their psychological makeup, creative scope and opening tastes. For instance, the playing style of Geller in 1965 and 1968 or Petrosian in 1966 and 1969 wasn't too different.

On the other hand, and that's probably the main thing, before the match against Fischer, Spassky didn't want to study his partner's playing style by comparing the various periods of his development. I think that Fischer's mistakes and lost games should have been thoroughly examined. This could show us how critical is the future opponent towards his mistakes and whether he works on eliminating them.

Similarly, we should have studied the changes in the opponent's opening repertoire, his preferred middlegame position types, distribution of time spent thinking and other parameters, including psychological. This could allow us to evaluate the tendencies of Fischer's development more objectively and anticipate many of his actions that surprised Spassky. But, sadly, my recommendations were not heard. Bondarevsky could be of great help, but, as we know, he resigned as a coach in early 1972.

And so, Spassky faced a number of surprises in Reykjavik. R. Byrne wrote that Fischer, “before the match against Spassky, would persistently play his favourite, albeit limited, range of openings... But Fischer's phenomenon wasn't solidified. When it seemed that he would play his limited opening repertoire until the end, he sensationally changed it for the Spassky match. With cunning worthy of Alekhine, he caught Spassky by surprise, playing a classical Queen's gambit variant for the first time in his life and scoring an excellent win in game 6.

When the Najdorf was crushed by Boris' mighty strike in game 11 and almost led to a disaster in game 15, Bobby included Alekhine and Pirc defences in his arsenal. In the last game, he won the world title with a Sicilian line he never used before. Now, when Bobby has surprise weapons, he'll be even harder to beat.”

And here's Suetin's opinion: “I think that even the most knowledgeable experts were surprised by a sudden broadening of Fischer's opening repertoire in the world championship match. Spassky thoroughly studied his partner's favourite schemes, and Fischer uncorked a whole new range of opening variants... Fischer obviously grew as a strategist and tactician.”

Interestingly, in Reykjavik, Fischer surprised his partner in the opening seven times, while Spassky only twice.

But the surprises weren't limited to the opening. Yudovich, speaking of the second half of the match, pointed out, “Once [Fischer] blasted Petrosian for his draws, for cautious play, but now, he played all his games in Petrosian's manner, very safely.” Doesn't such a clever change of tactics show a flexible general approach, looking little like the straightforward Bobby of old? I'd also like to ask the critics who talked about Fischer's limited intellectual development: wasn't the new world champion's great and effective work on self-discipline a proof of a mighty intelligence?

So, Spassky's stagnant evaluation of his future opponent, which was formed a long time ago, is one of the main factors that influenced the Reykjavik match's result.

The second reason of Spassky's defeat is the dramatic decline in the volume and intensity of his chess work in the last three years. After winning the world championship in June 1969, he essentially voluntarily stopped in his chess development. The peculiarities of a world champion's status, his natural lack of organization and progressing self-assuredness did play a major role. Another negative moment was parting with Bondarevsky.

The lack of systematic chess work and rare participation in strong tournaments that needed full concentration led to decrease of his fighter's qualities, falling behind in opening preparation and decline in his calculating abilities. The study of Reykjavik games showed that Spassky made 36 obvious mistakes (mostly during the calculations), while Fischer made only 23. Fischer had an advantage out of the opening in 6 games, while Spassky in 4 (other 10 games were roughly equal).

Spassky thought (and his coaches partly shared his sentiment) that when necessary, he would easily regain his former chess strength, and past victories against Fischer guaranteed him advantage in Reykjavik. But, as an old saying goes, “The one who stops, falls behind.”

The third reason of the defeat is losing the psychological war. Fischer paid a lot of attention to psychological aspects. He said many times that he was trying to suppress the partner's will. And for that, anything goes. The partner's psychological submission inevitably leads to decline of his chess strength. This program was consistently executed by Fischer both before and during the match.

Boris has a great character trait – he trusts people. He's very honest and sincere, and counts on others being honest and sincere to him. So he's organically averse to various underhanded tactics, intrigues, lies. He's a knightly, almost quixotic type. The opponents probably planned to exploit those qualities of Spassky in their favour. Fischer's constant complaints, violations of match rules, coming late and other “antics” provided the intended result, unsettling Boris. Spassky's nervousness was one of the components of the American's success.

We've tried to convince Spassky multiple times (the author tried most often) to rebuff the brazen actions of Fischer and his team. But Spassky couldn't bring himself to do it. He gave in and so, gradually, but inevitably lost the psychological struggle.

The memories of those events awaken a feeling of resentment towards the triumph of injustice. But could we blame Spassky? I don't know. If he was different, he would have a different fate.

The human memory works to retain good things and quickly forget the bad. Let's treat the Reykjavik match the same way. Years later, the match between Spassky and Fischer is deservedly regarded in chess history as a great sporting and creative struggle.