In 1956 Bobby
Fischer, 13, proclaimed to a less-than-enthralled chess world, "I'm gonna
win the world championship, hold it a couple of years, then take up something
else and make a lot of money." Last Friday morning in Reykjavik, the
mercurial American grand master fulfilled the first part of his 16-year-old
prophecy by crushing Boris Spassky, the Russian titleholder, in the 21st and
deciding game of their championship series.
The final score
of 12�-8� gave only scant indication of the real dimension of the match.
Setting aside the game Fischer let go by forfeit and petulance and the 11 games
that were drawn, the match ended with the remarkable score of Fischer 7,
Spassky 2. It was, after an initial flurry of temperament and uneven chess on
Fischer's part, no contest.
The match ended
not with a bang but a whimper. Some 2,500 spectators at Exhibition Hall were
deprived of the satisfaction of watching Spassky resign his adjourned game. He
might have been able to offer long resistance with the proper defense, but he
sealed the wrong move and then realized his plight was hopeless.
Fischer, who had
no way of knowing this, studied the position all night, barely glancing away
from his pocket chess set at dinner. He was skeptical when told an hour before
the game that Spassky had resigned by phone, and demanded to see it in writing.
When he arrived at the hall, the American sat at the board for several minutes
before the referee, Lothar Schmid of West Germany, made the official
announcement. Fischer signed his score sheet and bounded up and out at the
first roar of applause. Backstage he said three words to network TV crews:
"Great. Later. Later." Spassky went for a walk alone by the
In his room at
the Hotel Loftleidir, Fischer received visitors and reporters. He indicated
that he wanted to give the Russian a return match. He also said he was feeling
sufficiently fresh to play first board for the U.S. at the Chess Olympiad at
Skopje, Yugoslavia starting on Sept. 18. Ironically, the U.S. is plagued by
money problems in providing a team of grand masters on the other five boards,
without which there is no chance of wresting the team title from Russia. While
Fischer will probably receive $100,000 for attending, the other five grand
masters have been offered only $2,000 by the U.S. Chess Federation.
The outcome of
the Reykjavik series had been predicted for weeks, but the tang when it finally
came was particularly acute for the American chess community, which stands to
benefit mightily from the result. Already there is talk about a U.S. Chess
League consisting of six teams, each headed by a grand master, playing once a
week with a fast time limit on cable TV. "We've lined up New York, Chicago
and Los Angeles," says Paul Marshall, a Fischer attorney, who envisions a
chess world series. "Three multimillionaire sports impresarios have
committed themselves. Within two years we expect to turn a profit."
The seven active
U.S. grand masters—Fischer, Arthur Bisguier, Robert Byrne, Lubomir Kavalek,
William Lombardy, Samuel Reshevsky and this writer—will be the greatest
beneficiaries of Fischer's victory. Up to now their services commanded an
average of perhaps $6,000 a year from prize money, exhibitions and articles.
Fischer's previous best year was probably $30,000. All that has changed in the
last two months of TV coverage, front-page headlines and almost daily suspense
over the games Fischer played.
Chess should have
a lasting impact on American leisure time. "Bobby is an authentic
phenomenon, and chess is an enduring passion," says Frank Brady, Fischer's
biographer, who was in Reykjavik for a San Francisco radio station. "Chess
does not require expensive equipment or a special room like Ping-Pong or
billiards. All it needs is a quiet, sedate atmosphere, and I would hate to see
it vulgarized. I'd rather see chess masters in tuxedos than blazers."
Whether chess can
withstand this media embrace remains to be seen. In a way, Bobby's
well-chronicled donnybrooks reflect his instinctive, nonverbal revulsion
against the vulgarization of chess. "Chess is like playing a concert,"
he once said. He considers it a private affair and wants to copyright his
But he also
realizes that chess is show biz: "That's where it's at. Someday I'm gonna
dress for a show—I mean, a game—like Tom Jones or Liberace," he said last
year in Buenos Aires during the Tigran Petrosian match. The new maroon and
purple corduroy suits for which he was fitted in Reykjavik are but a glimmer of
things to come.