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  • Eeeasy!

    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 the preparations.

    "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 bottom up."

    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 wishes

    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 suit.)

    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 whole tournament.

    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 first walkout.

    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

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