Oh, go find something
else to do - at your age
Fischer had been out of chess for five years already.
Dateline Sousse, 1967,
Interzonal Tournament for the World Chess Championship: Fischer is
out; Fischer continues playing; Fisher is definitely leaving; Fischer
is back; Fischer is packing; the judge is packing, too; Reshevsky is
packing; the Russians are packing to go...
When one day Grandmaster
Kavalek strolled into the hotel lounge in the company of an
attractive blonde, this is how he explained his conquest to his
inquisitive colleagues: "You have to go here and go there. Here in
this hotel, there is no one but Fischer."
I had come to Tunisia
together with Grandmaster Larsen, direct from a tournament in Canada.
We were met at the airport by professor Belkadi, president of the
Tunisian Chess Federation.
We were driven in his car
to Sousse, a Mediterranean summer resort about a hundred kilometers
south of the capital city. Happily oblivious of the troublesome days
ahead, the most memorable of which will no doubt be the one when he
delivered to Fischer a written warning and the latter tore it to
pieces and flung them into his face - the professor was pleased with
"A difficulty does crop up
now and then, but everything will come right. Fischer, a very nice
fellow otherwise, has changed his room three times already. He's got
peculiar demands. For instance he says that those players who write
down their moves first and play them afterwards should not be allowed
to do so. It irritates him, he says..."
"Does it now!" a visibly
ruffled Larsen joined the conversation. "Well, in that case, if I so
feel like it, I'll not only jot down my move first and then make the
move, but I'll write it backwards: from right to left, and from the
Before arriving in Sousse,
Fischer and Reshevsky received assurances from the organizers that
their religious feelings would be respected, and that the times of
their playing on Fridays and Saturdays would be adjusted to their
As the tournament was
about to begin, Fischer came up with the additional demand that
others should conform to their schedules: whenever Fischer and
Reshevsky start play on a Saturday after the sunset, all others, and
not just the opponents of these two, should also play. And the same
would go for Fridays. (If they had let him have his way, Fischer
might next have shaved his head and expected everyone else to follow
At a tense point during
his game with Kavalek, Fischer became aware of the clicking of a
shutter even though the offending camera was some ten paces away. He
jumped up, stopped the clock and pointed at the culprit: "Either this
man is out, or Fischer stops playing!"
A stalemate ensued. The
man knew absolutely nothing about the organizers' promise to Fischer
that he wouldn't be photographed, and the delicate situation was,
further complicated because he was a Soviet Embassy official.
Supremely self confident,
Fischer pursued a clear objective that betokened reverence for the
game of chess - or possibly doubts in his own powers. Having
outclassed Stein, until then the most successful Soviet Grandmaster,
Fischer was beset with questions from an astonished crowd: "How did
you manage to pull it off?" "Eeeasy!" - he drawled nonchalantly.
After that victory, and being far ahead in the lead, he was quite
entitled to say, and indeed did say, that he was the best in the
Hardly was the half-way
point reached than he hastened to tell the world and himself that he
was the best, albeit tormented whether he would in fact succeed. And
then, as the eleventh round was about to begin, Fischer staged his
The eleventh round
eventually did start. Stein, leading with white pieces, was paired
off with the inexperienced Tunisian Bouazis. He would most probably
win the game; his loss against Fischer would be deleted and his way
to the top would again be opened to him.
The play had been in
progress for 55 minutes.
Reshevsky, scheduled to
play black against Fischer, comfortably seated facing the latter's
empty chair, was killing time evaluating the other players' moves on
the demonstration boards. Another five minutes and the judge would
declare Fischer to have lost by default.
And then suddenly, like a
Jack-in-the-box, Fischer burst in, instantly filling the hall with
his presence. It was a coup de theatre that laid prostrate two
players: a dumbfounded Stein cut his game short by offering a draw
and staggered out of the hall, while Reshevsky played like a beginner
and got himself into a hopeless position after barely one hour of
play. It was not the end of the uproar which during the next two days
was to escalate to a climactic point.
One side's exhortations
and the other side's blandishments, including good offices from the
U.S. Embassy officials in Tunis ("You represent the United States
here.:." - "I only represent myself here!" followed by the slamming
of a door), failed to bring about an agreement. As if after a
thunderstorm, a bright and serene day dawned on Sousse: many a
tournament player suddenly discovered that there was more than one
beautiful blonde in the place.
Fischer withdrew from the
tournament, and Stein's (and Reshevsky's) lost games were struck off
the score sheet. The score was scratched out, but the game lived on.
This game was judged by our panel to have been the best in the second
half of 1967.
By A. Matanovic