The Match of All Time: The Inside Story of the Legendary 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, by Gudmundur G. Thorarinsson
is an excellent book, which is, however, marred by 64 pages devoted to three needless chapters. The first is a Prologue. The fourth chapter is entitled, Prologue to the match of 1972. The book would have been better if it had started with the fourth chapter. The second chapter is titled The Origins of Chess. Not one word concerning Greco, the father of modern Chess, can be found concerning the origins of Chess. When apprised of this fact, the Legendary Georgia Ironman replied, “Shame, shame, shame.”
The title of the third chapter is: World Chess Champions from unofficial to official. The reason for all these needless pages could be all the ‘newbies’ entering the world of Chess recently. Nevertheless, the book concerns the 1972 World Chess Championship, which would have been better served without a very short overview of the history of the World Chess Championship. There are sixty four pages to get through prior to actually getting to what Brian McCarthy would have called “the meat” of the book. (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2021/04/24/brian-mccarthy-r-i-p/) Books attempting to serve two masters often serve neither. This book is an exception. The main part of the book is so good I forgot all about the chaff. Frankly, the book simply could not be put down.
On the second page of chapter 4, Prelude to the match of 1972, there was a copy of “Bobby Fischer writing about Tigran Petrosian at the start of the first game of the 1970 match Soviet Union vs. The Rest of the World.” In Bobby’s handwriting there is written, “He looked scared!”
Like a freight train the book began picking up steam!
A few pages later there is a picture of GM Bent Larsen,
whom I first met when working the wall boards at the Church’s Fried Chicken Chess tournament in San Antonio in 1972.
It is written, ‘He (Larsen) was asked: “How come you decide now at this stage in your studies to become a professional chess player?’ He answered,: ‘Denmark has many great engineers but only one good chess player.”
A few pages later one reads, “Demonstration boards had been put up for every game of the tournament and the young lads working the demo boards were busy transferring every move made to the boards.” Reading that caused me to smile, while remembering those wonderful days in San Antonio ‘working the boards’ half a century ago…
It continues, “As we were watching the positions a sign was put on a board showing the game between Raymond Keene
and Leonid Stein. A draw-the sign stated. Fischer’s face was transformed into utter disbelief, almost disgust. “This position is completely lost for Stein, that is the way they do it, offering draws in lost positions’, he said and walked out. The day after I drove him to the airport and on the way I asked him: ‘Are you sure that Stein’s position was lost.’ He then picked up the pocket chess he carried with him everywhere he went, put up the position and showed me a few moves. The he said: ‘Stein is without defence.’ Initially Fischer had looked at the position for only a few seconds.”
Raymond Keene vs Leonid Stein
Reykjavik (1972), Reykjavik ISL, Feb-??
Gruenfeld Defense: General (D80) · 1/2-1/2
- d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bg5 Ne4 5. Bh4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. e3 c5 8. cxd5 Qxd5 9. Nf3 Nc6 10. Be2 cxd4 11. exd4 Qa5 12. O-O Qxc3 13. Rc1 Qb4 14. Rb1 Qd6 15. Bg3 e5 16. Nxe5 Qxd4 1/2-1/2
A comparison of the two players, Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer, was made by the author that was striking: “They both opposed the inner workings of the society they were brought up. This was evident by their public statements. They were outspoken in political matters never hesitating to criticize ruling governments. At times they would disregard the advices of experienced trainers. In short, they both had at least a slight attitude problem. They both became fugitives from their homeland, the most bizarre aftermath of the match in Reykjavik.”
Bobby was a well-known night owl. It is written, “After midnight he would turn on the radio and, according to Eidinow and Edmonds in Bobby Fischer Goes To War, (A tremendously good book! AW). The Temptations
and The Four Tops
were among his favorite bands, but he also liked jazz and heavy-metal rock.” Bobby, my Man!
Was Bobby a genius?
“I once stated in a newspaper article that Fischer was a genius capable of being a recipient of the Nobel prize in any chosen field. Much later a reporter asked Fischer: ‘Are you a chess genius?’ Fischer answered: ‘I am a genius, but by the winds of fate I started to play chess.’
The Lady At The Bar
The author writes, “After a very long and difficult session on energy-prices I was in my hotel room near midnight, tried to go to sleep but without success…” “So I left my hotel room and headed straight to the bar and ordered a double cognac. At the bar there was a small gathering of people. A middle-aged woman approached me, sat by my side and asked: ‘Aren’t you this guy Mr. Thorarinsson.’ This surprised me-but not altogether. I had been asked the same question a few times in Kastrup and at some other airports…” I answered: ‘Yes.’ Then the new-found acquaintance said to me: ‘I want to give you an advice. I have worked as an interpreter in the negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union in the attempts to restrain the arms race in strategic ballistic missiles with nuclear weapons. When the Soviets suggest or demand something you may never say no. If you do that you have terminated the meeting. You just always have to say: ‘Yes, but… I would really like to accept your proposal and I do agree on most of your points of view, but my circumstances are such that it is not entirely up to me.’
The author continues, “To me this advice sounded funny and I guess that I appeared thankful without giving her words too much thought.” This comes into play later. Diplomacy is so damn disingenuous. Can part of the problem be that diplomats do not say what they want, or needs to be said? The only Democratic POTUS spoken of fondly by my parents generation was Harry Truman, because he had a reputation of speaking frankly.
The Poisoned Pawn
“Some of the journalists who had been sent in haste to Iceland to cover the match did not know much about the game. An amusing incident happened in the Icelandic Chess Federation office when the match had finally got under way. A foreign journalist came in and told us that he had been sent to Iceland to cover the match: ‘My problem is that I do not even know how to play chess’, he said. ‘Can anyone teach me how to play the game?’ he asked. We arranged for a staff member to instruct him. When they sat down and our employee started to explain a few things, the journalist exclaimed: ‘Stop, Stop. Before we begin you must tell me which piece on the board is the poisoned pawn.’ Clearly, some people believed that a certain pawn was called the poisoned pawn. The news had been broken all over the world that in the endgame of the first game Fischer had captured a pawn on h2, but this bishop got locked in and was lost. This was reported as Fischer ‘capturing the poisoned pawn’. The incident was so well known that the journalist concluded that it was the first priority in his education to learn which pawn on the board was the poisoned pawn.”
Slater to the rescue
“Fischer received an unexpected offer on 3 July. A British multimillionaire by the name of James D. Slater
ordered to double the prize fund the Icelandic Chess Federation had guaranteed, i.e. add 50,000 pounds. He said: ‘Fischer jas said money is the problem. Well, here it is.’ Slater was aware of the dispute about the player’ share of the gate money, and decided to step in to solve matters. And Slater was quoted as saying: ‘Now come out and play, chicken.’ Slater was a renowned financial wizard who specialized in acquisitions of struggling companies to optimize the operation and then divest. England did not have a single grandmaster at this time, and by the end of the year Slater promised the first Briton who became an International Grandmaster, an incentive of 5000 pounds. In 1976 Anthony Miles won the Slater Prize.”
I could write all day and deep into the night about this magnificent book, but this must suffice, because it is, after all, only a review. The last part above ends on page 123. The book contains another one hundred magnificent pages.
A day after writing the above I perused the January 2023 issue of Chess (www.chess.co.uk) magazine. The section, Off the Shelf, by Sean Marsh, contains a short review of the book, in which it is written, “In fact, the first 110 pages look at the origins of chess, the world champions and the prelude to the match, all of which provide valuable context.” To each his own. Mr. Marsh needlessly includes the fourth chapter, Prelude to the match of 1972 with the first three chapters. The book should have started with the fourth chapter. Nevertheless, the book was enjoyed immensely. In addition, the reader may want to check out: The Match of All Time: The Inside Story of the legendary 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, which was found at: ZOBOKO.COM (https://zoboko.com/text/e9m50316/the-match-of-all-time-the-inside-story-of-the-legendary-1972-fischer-spassky-world-chess-championship-in-reykjavik/1)