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Bobby would rather fight
Larry Evans
December 05, 1966
As a player Fidel Castro was no threat to U.S. Champion Bobby Fischer at the Chess Olympics, but Bobby's popularity threatened to rival Fidel's. A member of the U.S. team tells how and why
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December 05, 1966

Bobby Would Rather Fight

As a player Fidel Castro was no threat to U.S. Champion Bobby Fischer at the Chess Olympics, but Bobby's popularity threatened to rival Fidel's. A member of the U.S. team tells how and why

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With the Russian masters thus assured of another victory in their long string, the interest of the Cuban enthusiasts shifted to Fischer's individual record. After his first 15 games Bobby had 13 wins, two draws and .the gold medal in his pocket. His only rival was Petrosian, who finished with 11� points out of a possible 13—10 wins and three draws. Bobby had faced tougher opposition than Petrosian and played more games. He could have stopped after his 15th game, with first place at first board safely in his grasp. There is no question that the Russians, under such circumstances, would have chosen to play it safe. After the tournament some criticism was directed at Captain Donald Byrne for allowing Bobby to take on more than 15 opponents. But Bobby was given his head, and, in effect, beat himself in his 16th game.

He played Rumania's No. 1 player, Florin Gheorghiu, two years his junior. Offered a draw by Gheorghiu, Fischer refused it. Had he been willing to accept a draw, he would have had no losses, three draws (the same number as Petrosian) and far more wins than Petrosian—for a higher percentage and the gold medal. But he lost to Gheorghiu, which still gave him 14 wins, two draws and one loss to Petrosian's 10 wins and three draws. Petrosian's winning average was 88.46 to Fischer's 88.23, a microscopic difference of .23, but enough to give him Bobby's coveted gold medal.

The drama of Fischer's decision to refuse the draw was not lost on either the Russians or the Cubans, though it was given scant notice in the Havana newspapers. Cuban enthusiasts who, right up to the last day, expected that Fischer would win, attached a special importance to it.

The fans were on Bobby's side just as enthusiastically over another bold challenge he made. Midway in the tournament Fidel Castro gave a banquet at the Palace of the Revolution, at which Fischer approached Stein and suggested that they stay on in Havana after the Olympics and play a match. In the past Fischer's attempts to promote man-to-man matches with the Russians have been rebuffed.

But caught off guard in Havana's festive atmosphere, Stein agreed. Fischer immediately led him to Castro, to announce their intention and to obtain Castro's approval. The Prime Minister, not wearing his cap on this occasion, listened attentively while Bobby explained things, occasionally puffing thoughtfully on his cigar. "The Prime Minister said that it was all right with him," Bobby told the newspapermen, "and that furthermore he would like to watch the match." But the next day, after second thoughts and consultations (and perhaps a message from Moscow), Stein announced that he considered Fischer's proposal a mere publicity stunt and ended the discussion by postponing the match.

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