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For the next 10 days, while he took on all the earmarks of a loser, Fischer reverted to kind. No photographs. No smiles. No interviews. "I've been seeing too many people," he said. He caught cold. He changed hotel rooms repeatedly. He could not sleep and blamed it on the sound of traffic rising from the Avenue of the Ninth of July. "I do not know how many times Mr. Fischer changed his room," said the hotel manager with dignity. "Every day, I think."
Edmund Edmondson, a retired Air Force colonel and executive director of the U.S. Chess Federation, acted as Fischer's buffer against photographers, television cameramen, journalists and innocent bystanders. When a well-wisher told Edmondson that he looked forward to happier chess occasions for Fischer, the colonel said hollowly, "A draw is a happy occasion."
The fourth game was a grand master's draw, a perfunctory 20-move affair, with Fischer proposing and getting a draw after only an hour and 20 minutes of play. In the fifth game Petrosian offered a draw on the 34th move, and Fischer refused, only to turn around four moves later and offer one that Petrosian accepted. " Petrosian is making Bobby play his kind of chess," said Larry Evans, Fischer's second.
The draws seemed to increase, rather than reduce, the tensions of the crowds, which appeared, in the great mirrored lobby, to reach out into infinity. People stood shoulder to shoulder, like a crowd in a subway rush hour, remaining till the final move of each game. In addition to the fans trying to figure out each player's next move, there were those who studied something else: they were watching Fischer come down from his mountain of unbroken victories, to the plains of victory, loss and draw.
With the white pieces in game six, Petrosian was relaxed and confident. Fischer was pale, if not haggard. And yet, after half a dozen moves Fischer had calmed and begun to concentrate. About an hour into the game two stench bombs went off in the last row of the theater. All over the theater handkerchiefs were held to noses; in the back rows people headed for the exits. Referee Lothar Schmid, a West German publisher and chess master, approached Petrosian and Fischer to ask if they wanted to stop. "It's a gas bomb," he said.
"Poison gas?" Fischer asked.
Assured it wasn't, Petrosian and Fischer agreed to continue. But it turned into a sterile game for Petrosian. Fischer broke through on the queen side just before the game was adjourned at the 40th move; when it was resumed at five o'clock the following day Fischer demolished the blockades that Petrosian tried to set, and after the 66th move Petrosian resigned.
Fischer's victory in game six was simplified because Petrosian played badly, but there was no such weakness in the seventh, a classical, logical demonstration of mastery and the turning point of the match. Tradition has it that when two chess masters are of roughly equal ability the winner will usually be the one in the best physical condition—or, as chess players put it ironically, nobody has ever won a match from a healthy opponent.
Until this stage of the drama, Petrosian looked better than Fischer. But two days later, at the last possible moment before the eighth game, Petrosian requested a postponement, submitting a certificate that he was suffering from low blood pressure complicated by the hot, humid weather of the Buenos Aires spring. He spent the day wandering through the city and listening to Tchaikovsky records in a music store.
The five-day rest was precisely what Fischer needed. With a two-point advantage, 4� to 2�, and relieved of the pressure of his victory string, he relaxed visibly. He avoided the American chess experts and hung out with a young Argentine champion, Miguel Angel Quinteros, 24, who was doing commentary for local television. Fischer played a little tennis at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club, swam in the pool of the Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima, played Ping-Pong with some Argentine youngsters and hid out from reporters.