Back in 1972, when Fischer opposed Boris Spassky for the world championship chess title, the game was propelled to an extraordinary high, which no one had ever realistically witnessed. It was dubbed the ‘Match of the Century’. People literally stopped what they were doing to listen to aired broadcasts on radio, or television commentary, for those who were fortunate to be blessed with that medium of communication. My brothers, my grandfather and my grandmother and I listened to shortened analyses of the match on BBC radio. I can still hear that clear, unmistakable voice announcing, “This is London calling,” amid a beeping sound. The match was being held within the framework of Capitalism versus Communism. No one in my family had ever heard of a game called chess. But we realized eventually, it was a fight between America and the Soviet Union. Of course, we were all backing America, the underdog (Fischer had never won a game from Spassky); and, after all, Americans had walked on the moon. It was the pinnacle of the ‘Cold War.’
Walking on the moon had gotten my grandmother into a frenzy, dissipating into fear, and ultimately, despair. “Why America trouble God creation?” my grandmother kept remonstrating. At the time of the match, my delightful grandmother was anticipating the end of the world with overwhelming sadness. The thought had taken possession of her wandering mind. Following exhaustive enquiries by my grandfather about chess in our village, he obtained the answer from Mr Gomes. Growing up, we understood Mr Gomes had fought in the first World War, somewhere in Egypt. While there, he explained to my grandfather, he perceived that chess was really draughts. But it was played with horses, kings and queens.
Up to the 70s, the Soviets had enjoyed a persistent hegemony on the world chess championships. No American had ever even qualified to play for the title, and this fact caused a greater stir to be generated when Fischer became the undisputed challenger for the ‘Holy Grail.’ As Fischer equalized the match from a two-game deficit, Spassky seemed prodigiously troubled, according to analysts. When Fischer surged ahead, I recall the words of my grandfather who claimed in a fawning manner: “Like this Yankee bwoy manish?”
I later learnt from Anatoly Karpov that Fischer had accumulated legions of chess fans in the Soviet Union following his herculean task of amassing 3½ points ahead of the competition at the 1970 Interzonals, where he annihilated the cream of the familiar Soviet players, except Spassky.
We once again tune in to Karpov, as we did last week, to obtain a candid perspective of the Spassky-Fischer chess match from a Soviet/Russian outlook.
Irwin Fisk: Geller and Krogius went to Reykjavik, as I recall?
Anatoly Karpov: It was the team of Spassky, Geller, Krogius and Ivo Nei from Estonia. We had our team, the Soviet Union team, which were preparing for the Chess Olympiad.
IF: What were the team members saying as the Spassky vs Fischer moves were coming in?
AK: We could see it was a very big fight. Very emotional. Actually, my friends on the team with whom I was working were impressed by one of the adjournments where Fischer had the advantage, but after the adjournment he played a very sharp line and he analyzed very deep because it looked dangerous. Fischer analyzed very deep and won the game which had many complications. We were impressed by the quality of his analysis of that game. Fischer showed many novelties in the opening, so it was clear that Fischer had prepared very well.
I know Fischer was playing 1.e4 so much before the match that there was a cartoon on the cover of Chess Life that featured Spassky at the board, surrounded by the Soviet team. One asks, “But Boris, what if he doesn’t play 1.e4?”
IF: Were they training for a variety of openings or did they place more emphasis on e4?
AK: I wasn’t there for all of the training, but Fischer had to play 1.d4.
IF: At what point did you and your team realize that you were going to lose the match?
AK: Fischer took the lead very quickly after he lost the first games. Spassky couldn’t show anything; he was playing very bad. It was already clear that Fischer was playing better chess at that moment. Later, nobody expected Fischer to lose.
IF: When Spassky lost, there was a lot of talk [that] he wasn’t treated well?
AK: What do you mean he wasn’t treated well?
IF: The Soviet authorities were unhappy that he lost; there was so much at stake.
AK: The Soviet authorities were very disappointed, and of course chess players had deep privileges within the society until that moment. We started to come under attack years later, not immediately, but at that time the prizes were not taxed. Spassky received the full prize without paying any taxes, but then he began to behave strangely. Probably this was a reaction for his defeat, and so he didn’t feel psychologically well. He started to behave a little bit arrogant. He just made the leaders disappointed and upset. They gave full support to his preparation. They put some conditions which Spassky didn’t like about forming his group. They insisted that he have security as part of his team. Spassky didn’t want it. Spassky wasn’t happy. He was not free to take everyone he wanted. This, as I understand, was the only inconvenience.
These people thought Spassky should behave differently after losing this important match. He had problems with his private life, which was being criticized at that time. In the Soviet Union, the moral part of life and the private life was to be under control, always. Spassky, from their viewpoint, wasn’t behaving well. At the end, they [Soviet authorities] attacked not only Spassky, but all of our advantages. In 1975, they created a law under which we gave part of our prizes [money], a big part of our prizes, to the state. (Continued next week)
The games were taken from the Reykjavik Open Chess Tournament in Iceland. Erwin L’Ami was this year’s winner, the 24th edition. Former world chess champion Mikhail Tal, won the first edition in 1964.
White Erwin L’Ami
Black Pavel Eljanov
- d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Bd3 a6 9. O-O Bb7 10. a4 b4 11. Ne4 Be7 12. b3 c5 13. Nxf6+ Bxf6 14. Bb2 O-O 15. a5 Ra7 16. Ne5 cxd4 17. exd4 Bxe5 18. dxe5 Nc5 19. Bc4 Qg5 20. f3 Rd8 21. Qc1 Qe7 22. Qe3 Bd5 23. Bd4 Rc7 24. Bxc5 Rxc5 25. Bxa6 Rc3 26. Qf2 Rxb3 27. Rfd1 Ra3 28. Bf1 h5 29. a6 h4 30. f4 g6 31. Rac1 Rb8 32. Rd2 b3 33. h3 Ra2 34. Rb1 Rc8 35. Kh2 Rxd2 36. Qxd2 Rc2 37. Qa5 Kg7 38. a7 Ra2 39. Qe1 Rxa7 40. Be2 Ra2 0-1.
White Abhijeet Gupta
Black Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
- d4 d6 2. Nf3 g6 3. c4 f5 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. Bf4 Bg7 6. e3 O-O 7. c5 Kh8 8. h4 Nh5 9. Qb3 a5 10. Rd1 c6 11. Na4 Ra7 12. Ng5 Qe8 13. Bc4 Nxf4 14. exf4 d5 15. Be2 h6 16. Nf3 Nd7 17. h5 g5 18. fxg5 hxg5 19. Nxg5 e5 20. Nb6 Nxb6 21. Qxb6 Ra8 22. dxe5 Qxe5 23. Kf1 f4 24. Nf3 Qxb2 25. h6 Be5 26. Nh4 Bf5 27. Qxb2 Bxb2 28. Nxf5 Rxf5 29. Rb1 Bc3 30. Rxb7 Re8 31. Rh3 Bb4 32. a3 Bxc5 33. Bd3 Rg5 34. Rf3 Bd6 35. Rh7+ Kg8 36. Rd7 Be5 37. Bc2 Kh8 38. Rh7+ Kg8 39. Rd7 Kh8 40. Rh7+ Kg8 41. Rb7 Kh8 42. Rfb3 c5 43. R3b6 Bc3 44. Rb8 Rgg8 45. Rxe8 Rxe8 46. Kg1 Rd8 47. Rb7 c4 48. Bg6 d4 49. Rh7+ Kg8 50. Rg7+ Kh8 51. Rh7+ Kg8 1/2-1/2.