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  • The Preliminary Skirmishes

    According to FIDE regulations each side was required to submit a list of fifteen acceptable playing sites, on the basis of which a suitable choice was then to be made. With the initial offers the world wide interest in the match became quite evident. Sums of anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 as prize money, exclusive of expenses, were proposed by a wide variety of locales, from Chicago to Belgrade. It was however well understood that Bobby would not play in the U.S.S.R. and that Spassky, apparently in retaliation, would not play in the U.S., even though according to all reports he liked the country. So it had to be outside these two countries.

    As anticipated, the cities chosen by Spassky were unacceptable to Fischer, and vice versa. It was up to Max Euwe, former world champion, and now the president of the FIDE. Euwe ruled in the manner of Solomon: half the match was to be played in Belgrade, which had bid $155,000 and was Fischer's first choice, and half in Iceland, which had put up $125,000 and was Spassky's first choice. Fischer now dispensed with the help of U.S. Chess Federation officials and began to negotiate either on his own or through his own lawyers; one representative of U.S. chess, Fred Cramer, a retired engineer who specialized in lighting, did however continue to function on his behalf, but he did not officially represent the U.S. Chess Federation.

    Even though there were mutterings from TASS that Euwe had exceeded his authority and had favored the American, the Soviets finally agreed to the split locale idea; the honorarium of course was totally immaterial to them. Things seemed to be all set for what everybody was now referring to as the "battle of the century."

    At this point Bobby suddenly played a new gambit, never before seen in chess: he demanded 30% of the gate receipts over and above the guaranteed prize money! Nobody knew what to do with this totally unexpected request. The Yugoslavs promptly refused, and Fischer was given a deadline by which to notify them whether he was going to play or not. If he defaulted, Petrosian would take his place. At the last minute Bobby agreed.

    Then the Yugoslavs came in with a demand of their own, which, though it seemed uncalled for at the time, later seems quite justified: they asked Bobby or his American backers to furnish a financial guarantee, either in cash or in an insurance bond, that he would appear for the match. The amount requested was said to be $35,000. When this was refused, the Yugoslavs withdrew their offer.1

    Again the match hung in thin air. After some behind the scenes negotiations the Icelanders finally decided to host the entire match and came up with an acceptable figure: $125,000, of which 62% would go to the winner, 37% to the loser. Both sides finally agreed, with the usual audible inaudible protests. The match was scheduled to begin in Reykjavik on July 2, 1972.

    Fischer retired to Grossinger's, a resort in upstate New York, where he remained more or less incommunicado for months, immersing himself in a big red book containing all of Spassky's games. Spassky, much less flamboyant, prepared in the usual manner, getting himself into the best shape both physically and mentally. He arrived in Iceland about ten days before the match was to start.

    But the new Fischer gambit had not yet run its course. Even though the purse was astronomically out of proportion to anything ever heard of before in chess,2 and he was due to receive perhaps another hundred thousand dollars or more from film and television rights, he again demanded 30% of the gate receipts.

    Fischer's representatives went to Reykjavik to dicker with the Icelanders, while Bobby remained out of sight somewhere in or near New York. For a week before the match was to start, the papers carried front page news items, generally asking: Where is Bobby? and Will he go? The Icelandic Chess Federation firmly but politely refused the request for the additional money; Fischer had agreed to play, and it was expected that he would show up.

    On July 1 a gala state dinner was held in honor of the occasion. The President and Prime Minister, as well as numerous other dignitaries, and of course Spassky and his entourage, were there, but no Bobby. Would he go or not? If he did not arrive by the next day Euwe might forfeit him. Reporters anxiously scanned every plane leaving Kennedy airport, but there was no sign of Bobby.

    On July 2 it was announced that Bobby was too ill to play, a medical certificate was rumored to be on its way (it did not exist), and a postponement was requested of and granted by Euwe. The match was now supposed to start on Tuesday July 4.

    It still looked as though Bobby was not going to appear, throwing away the chance of a lifetime, in somewhat the same manner as he had walked out of lesser tournaments before. At the last minute a "deus ex Inglaterra" arrived: the British financier James Slater3 offered to double the purse, to be used in any way the committee saw fit, to induce Bobby to play. With the purse now at $250,000 Bobby flew off to Reykjavik, without so much as an advance reservation, incidentally bumping a young man from the plane, who wrote an indignant letter of protest to The New York Times. (Icelandic Airlines said that he flew out on the next plane, about two hours later).

    Once he was in Iceland, the Russians, who had up to this point remained silent, entered the picture. They demanded an apology from him, an admission by Dr. Euwe that he had behaved incorrectly, and a forfeit of the first game. Euwe promptly admitted that he had violated the rules, stating that if he had not done so there would have been no match, and commenting that "Bobby lives in another world." Fischer also delivered an apology through his second, Lombardy. The forfeit was denied.

    It looked as though the match would really begin. But the Russians rejected the apology from Fischer, stating that he had not signed it, and had not delivered it in person. Spassky felt insulted, both personally and as representative of the Soviets. It was noted that under much milder provocation in the past the Soviets had simply packed up their bags and gone home; this time they were obviously prepared to be conciliatory.

    By this time the match had all the earmarks of international diplomacy, almost on a par with other negotiations going on between the Americans and the Russians. It was stated that Brezhnev was personally directing Spassky's moves, while Kissinger was said to have been in touch with Bobby.

    As so often when pushed to the wall Bobby pulled the game out of the fire. He penned a personal apology to Spassky, which was carried in the press: He said that "I have offended you and your country, the Soviet Union, where chess has a prestigious position." He also apologized to Euwe, the Icelanders and the thousands of fans he had in the world, and especially to the millions in the United States.

    Rejecting the request for a forfeit, which he said he knew Spassky did not want, he said: "I know you to be a sportsman and a gentleman, and I am looking forward to some exciting chess games with you."

    According to the papers, Bobby delivered the personal apology to Spassky at 4 in the morning, placing it on the table next to the sleeping Russian's bed. Finally the match was all set for July 11.

    Newsweek, describing what it called the "Iceland caper," opined that Fischer, who was widely viewed as an eccentric and ascetic genius, had by his machinations had an. enormous impact on the game. Many felt that he had altered the economic structure of the sport as much as Arnold Palmer had done in golf, making it into big business.

    The opening gambit had now run its course, and play did start July 11. But the high drama of the preliminary negotiations had heightened the interest of an already excited world. No chess event in history had ever received such extensive publicity. In New York City the Times, News and Post all carried daily stories. The AP and other wire services covered it nationally. Several hundred papers must have reported the results of every game, with extensive technical comments. The witty music critic Harold Schonberg paired up with Al Horowitz and later Samuel Reshevsky to cover for the Times; Larry Evans wrote for the Post and Robert Byrne for the News. Kashdan reported for the AP. Bisguier commented for cable TV, while Shelby Lyman held forth for five hours on Channel 13 TV during every game played. In fact, at one time when the Democratic Convention nosed Lyman out of his TV coverage, so many protests were received from listeners that the Democrats were bounced off the air. IBM financed the last part of Lyman's broadcasts with a donation reported to be $10,000 per week.

    In spite of the peace that finally prevailed, throughout the match Fischer kept up a barrage of sensational and odd demands. He had to have a special chair flown in from New York, the lighting had to be just so, the room had to be very dark with only the stage lit up, the first nine rows of the auditorium should be emptied, the cameras and TV should be removed, he should have the swimming pool in the hotel to himself, the pieces should be smaller (or larger), the board should be different, and so on. After a certain point the Icelanders, who remained extremely polite throughout, simply ignored his demands. Fischer's refusal to let the cameras film the event, even after tests had revealed that they made no noise, led to a lawsuit by the film company who alleged that he had breached his contract with them.

    The Polish master David Janowski had settled in New York after World War I. At the Manhattan Chess Club he was famous for his complaints, all of which served as alibis when he lost. Finally one tournament committee complied with every one of his requests, sensible or senseless; for the first time Janowski had nothing to complain about. He lost. "You have deprived me of any alibi," he cried. "How did you expect me to play good chess?"

    But Fischer, despite his incessant barrage of complaints and possible alibis, played excellent chess and won the title.


    Footnotes

     

    1 The Yugoslavs had made the same demand of Spassky, whose federation did furnish a bond.

    2 I might register some reason for my own astonishment here by comparing these figures with what I was used to before World War II. In the AVRO tournament in 1938, probably the strongest tournament ever held, first prize was about $550. In 1939, when the U.S. team was scheduled to go to Buenos Aires to defend its title in the international team tournament, I was asked to be first board. The Argentines had sent a ship to New York for the American players, and all expenses in Buenos Aires would be taken care of by them. I requested a retainer of $500 from the American committee, which was headed by George Emlen Roosevelt a wealthy investment banker, part of the "Oyster Bay" Roosevelts. When he turned down the request I declined to go. The American team accordingly did not take part in the tournament.

    3 What motivated Slater is not known. He, like Bobby, started with nothing and worked his way to wealth and fame; no doubt there was some identification. Later the newspapers reported that Slater did not have the permission of the British government to transfer such a large sum into dollars. It appears that eventually permission was granted.

    By Dr. Ruben Fine
    International Chess Champion
    Bobby Fischer's Conquest of the World's Chess Championship
    (The Psychology and Tactics of the Title Match) - (C) 1973


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