Bobby Fischer

Many readers still wonder why Bobby Fischer wouldn't defend his title against Anatoly Karpov in 1975 despite a $5 million purse offered in the Philippines. Some fans blame Fischer's refusal to compromise; others accuse a Soviet-dominated FIDE of coddling its Russian challenger at all costs. Whatever the truth, here is an excerpt from Fischer's letter to the world chess body in 1974 giving his side of the story.


The first player to win ten games, draws not counting, with unlimited number of games wins the match. If the score is nine wins to nine wins, draws not counting, the champion retains title and the match is declared drawn with the money split equally. Versus the old system of the best of 24 games wins the match (12 points) and if 12-12 the match is drawn with the champion retaining the title and prize fund is split equally. Draws do count in this system.

The unlimited match favors the better player. This is the most important point -- because in the limited game system the match outcome can turn on a very low number of wins, giving the weaker player a chance to "luck out." Also, in the limited game system the player who takes a game or two lead has an advantage out of all proportion. This creates an added element of chance. The player who wins the match should be the player who plays best over the long run -- not the player who jumps off to an early lead. The player that is behind must give his opponent "draw odds" every game until he catches up (if he is the champion) or takes the lead if he is the challenger. Giving "draw odds" to a Grandmaster is a great handicap and the player who must do so must eventually (because time is "running out") take serious risks, possibly causing further defeats and getting "deeper in the hole" from which there will probably be no escape. On the other hand, should the player who falls behind manage to "pull out of it" and take the lead or tie the score, his opponent may be put at the same unfair disadvantage. How do you explain Smyslov's 1957 victory over Botvinnik in seemingly convincing style with his disastrous defeat in the following year? Could it be just the situation explained -- because in the 1958 match Smyslov lost the first three games! And he never caught up.

As explained, losing a game is a very serious event in the limited game match and this explains the string of draws in the Karpov-Korchnoi match, the Petrosian-Korchnoi match in 1971, and the Petrosian-Huebner match in 1971. The percentage of draws in this type match is increasing -- sometimes dramatically. In the 24-game title match, you must realize, it was always to the advantage of one of the two players to play for a draw! Is it therefore any wonder there are many draws? Spectators hate draws -- spectators bring in the money -- no money. In the unlimited system there will be draws but there must also be many wins (at least ten in total); draws benefit neither player -- it is reasonable to expect a lower percentage of draws in the unlimited match, and overall this has proven to be the case.

Comparing the first player to win ten games system with the limited 24-game system. Question: Which system gives the champion a greater statistical advantage? Answer: The old 24-game system gives the champion a greater advantage....It was grossly unfair to the challenger.

"The match could drag on forever." Theoretically true -- practically untrue. For example, a chess game itself could theoretically drag on forever; every 50 moves or so one player moves a pawn or exchanges something -- the game could drag on for thousands of moves!....But practically this is ridiculous -- in the same way an endless match is ridiculous -- and if one player has "had enough" he can always resign the match. There is precedent for this in the Capablanca-Lasker match [1921]. But if the match takes a long time, so what? It takes place only once in three years and the point is to determine who is the best player. But past experience has shown that the unlimited match does not drag on endlessly.

"Giving in will destroy FIDE." The question should be decided on its merits. If FIDE feels the match system proposed by Fischer is the best system, they should accept it. If not, they should reject it -- period. "What people think or say" should not enter into it.

A player should not be allowed to "back into" retaining or winning the title by drawing the last game, the way he could in the old odious limited 24-game system. In the unlimited system, the champion must keep or take the title like a man by winning the last game.

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