Spassky v Fischer, Reykjavik, 1972

Edward Winter


Bobby Fischer (see C.N. 9812 below)

Section 1: Predictions
Section 2: James Slater
Section 3: Seconds
Section 4: Reykjavik
Section 5: Television and film footage
Section 6: 29...Bxh2 in the first match-game
Section 7: Press coverage
Section 8: Cartoons and comic strips
Section 9: Post-match comments
Section 10: Books on the match
Section 11: Memorabilia
Section 12: Works of fiction
Section 13: Junk

Section 1: Predictions

The following appeared as C.N. 2737 (see page 205 of A Chess Omnibus):

‘An uncanny prediction by Robert Byrne on page 162 of the March 1972 CHESS:

“I believe Fischer will win. Would you like the score? 12½ to 8½! They will play 21 games.”

This was spot on, although Byrne’s next sentence was spot off:

“Fischer will be the world champion for the next 15 years.”’

Alan O’Brien (Mitcham, England) now writes:

‘It sounds very good, but how much of a prediction is it? Byrne is simply saying that Fischer will win 4 games to 0, or 5-1, 6-2, 7-3 or any +4 score. The winning score of 12½ was not hard to fathom; only Botvinnik playing Tal had been ruthless enough to win the last game in a non-drawn title match since the War.’

Byrne was one of 26 respondents in the CHESS item on forecasts for the 1972 match. Many were non-committal, and the others were equally split as to whether the victor would be Spassky or Fischer. Only Byrne predicted a specific score. Three masters suggested in general terms that Fischer was certain to win: Donner, Mecking and Najdorf.


In an article ‘Masters and Experts View the Match’ by Bill Goichberg on pages 409-410 of the July 1972 Chess Life & Review several respondents (Herbert Seidman, Harry Borochow, Joseph Platz and John N. Jacobs) predicted that Fischer would defeat Spassky 12½-8½.

Reuben Fine’s prediction, Fischer by 12½-7½, was accompanied by the comment:

‘The odds are now (March) 4 to 2 that the Russians will dodge the match, using it as a political football.’

On page 15 of Bobby Fischer’s Conquest of the World’s Chess Championship (New York, 1973) Fine wrote:

‘The road was now clear for the final match with Spassky. Bobby was the favorite. I predicted that he would win 12½ to 8½. Others came up with other figures.’


Jonathan Berry (Nanaimo, BC, Canada) quotes from page 21 of the September 1972 issue of Chess Canada:

‘Chess Canada’s Spassky-Fischer Contest Winners

Thirteen correct predictions were received by Chess Canada and each of these will receive a credit for $50 worth of books. The people correctly predicting a score of 12½-8½ were H. Winston, M. Mares, R. Eberlein, I. Zalys, C. Dwyer, P. Arens, R. Joho, J. Musumeci, J. Sember, H. Brodie, W. Browne, J. Burstow and the UBC Chess Club.

The final score of 12½-8½ was predicted 13 times, as was 12½-9½. The next most common prediction was 12½-10½ with 7. Fifty-seven entrants expected a Fischer win while ten predicted Spassky and only three expected a tie.’

We wonder in passing whether an authoritative tally has been established of books on the 1972 match. Below, taken at random, is one of the many:

spassky fischer


Section 2: James Slater


For Leonard Barden’s account of the episode, see pages 26-27 of CHESS, November 1997.


Section 3: Seconds

Roy Henock (Eureka, CA, USA) notes a statement at the Huffington Post website: ‘In 1972, Kavalek was Bobby Fischer’s second in his world championship match against Boris Spassky in Reykjavik.’

In terms of presence in Iceland, is it possible to find, or compile, a comprehensive list of seconds, attendants, representatives and officials, with respect to both Fischer and Spassky?

spassky fischer

From the front cover of El match del siglo by L.Pachman (Barcelona, 1972)


From Lubomir Kavalek (Reston, VA, USA):

‘I wrote about my role during the 1972 world championship match in an article on pages 60-68 of the 6/2012 New in Chess. It includes transcripts of two interviews with Fischer.

In brief, I took over the second’s duties during the adjournment of the 13th game after Fischer sent Lombardy away. I was analysing with Fischer alone until the end of the match. We also spent time walking together, swimming and bowling. To my knowledge, there were only three other people (Bill Lombardy, Fred Cramer and Brad Darrach) who had daily contact with Fischer away from the playing hall. I was also busy reporting for the Voice of America. I know that there was a list of the invitees to the closing ceremony; since Lombardy was the official second, I was listed as “Bobby Fischer’s coach – bowling”, although I bowled only three times in my life. However, it enabled my wife and me to sit at the same table with Bobby and Boris Spassky.’

We add a brief excerpt from Lubomir Kavalek’s above-mentioned article in New in Chess (page 66):

‘It was during this game [the 13th] that I started working with Bobby on the adjournment games after he sent his official second, Bill Lombardy, away from his suite. Bobby and Bill were a great pair, but during that night they turned into two strong personalities with two different opinions. The tension was resolved by Lombardy’s sneeze. “I don’t want to get your cold, Bill”, Bobby said and added he wanted to work with me. Bill left quietly.

From that moment on, I analysed just with Bobby till the end of the match.’


Further to C.N. 8135, Aðalsteinn Thorarensen (Reykjavik) asks why Sæmundur Pálsson was not also mentioned, and we have put the question to Lubomir Kavalek. His reply:

‘I was more concerned about the chess experts around Bobby Fischer, and I did not think of Sæmi Pálsson. He was more visible after the match. I did not see him driving with us to the US Army base in Keflavík, or during our midnight swims and walks, and he was not in Fischer’s room during our analysis. Nor was he in Fischer’s villa during our interview after the match, although this does not mean that he was not around. I did notice the Life photographer Harry Benson, who showed up regularly while he was on the island.’


Alan McGowan (Waterloo, Canada) forwards page 2 of the Icelandic Chess Federation’s Commemorative Programme (New York, 1972):



From Sean Robinson (Tacoma, WA, USA):

‘You refer to Kavalek’s role as a second, and his correspondence with you includes an important detail:

“To my knowledge, there were only three other people (Bill Lombardy, Fred Cramer and Brad Darrach) who had daily contact with Fischer away from the playing hall.”

Your article adds this excerpt from Kavalek’s article in the 6/2012 issue of  New in Chess:

“It was during this game [the 13th] that I started working with Bobby on the adjournment games after he sent his official second, Bill Lombardy, away from his suite. Bobby and Bill were a great pair, but during that night they turned into two strong personalities with two different opinions. The tension was resolved by Lombardy’s sneeze. ‘I don’t want to get your cold, Bill’, Bobby said and added he wanted to work with me. Bill left quietly.

From that moment on, I analysed just with Bobby till the end of the match.”

Compare that account with Darrach’s gossipy version on pages 219-220 of Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World:

“Bobby meanwhile was having a personnel problem. After six weeks of trying to pull as a team, Bobby and Lombardy had developed halter sores. During dinner, Lombardy sneezed a few times; Bobby made a five-act drama of the incident. ‘You got a cold, Bill! You know I can’t afford to catch a cold now!’ Half an hour later, when Lombardy arrived in Bobby’s suite to resume analysis, he found grandmaster Lubomir Kavalek across the board from Bobby.

‘Bill, you go analyze somewhere else’, Bobby said carelessly. ‘I want to work with Lubosh.’ As Lombardy left, Bobby sat looking after him. ‘You know’, he said, ‘I think Bill is a vicious person.’

Though only the inner circle was aware of it, Bobby worked with Kavalek from the 13th game forward more than he worked with Lombardy.”

Lombardy alludes to the situation on pages 219-220 of Understanding Chess (Milford, 2011):

“Suffice to say, I was the only person on the intimate inside during that Match of the Century. I chose to say very little because I do not delight in satisfying idle curiosity! As for my ‘uselessness’ on the technical side of chess at Reykjavik, let me point out that there were 14 adjourned games. Bobby and I worked together on those adjourned positions without making a single technical error! Beyond that, I bested the Soviet team psychology, even though that team had a so-called professional psychologist. For little remuneration, I dedicated my services in the Icelandic capital to guarantee that Bobby followed through and finished the match victoriously.”


Section 4: Reykjavik

Given the number of journalists present during the Spassky v Fischer world championship match, chess magazines of the time had surprisingly few photographs of the general chess scene in Reykjavik, as opposed to pictures of the champion and challenger. One was on page 5 of CHESS, October 1972:



Aðalsteinn Thorarensen has sent us a pair of Icelandic Chess Federation links (one and two) including a rich selection of photographs taken during the 1972 Spassky v Fischer match.


Ian Tregillis (Santa Fe, NM, USA) has been reviewing accounts of the contact between Bobby Fischer and Henry Kissinger in connection with the Spassky v Fischer match:

‘Kissinger himself, in the transcript of a telephone conversation with Jerry Schecter of Time on 21 July 1972, stated:

“I made only one call. I made it the day the parts [sic – departure?] for Iceland was in doubt and you know I did it as sort of being interested in chess.”

This suggests a call placed during Fischer’s stay in the Saidy household, which was approximately 30 June-3 July 1972. Kissinger’s conversation with Schecter took place roughly between games five and six of the match.

The following was the opening paragraph of an article ‘The Battle of the Brains’ by Ray Kennedy on page 32 of Time, 31 July 1972 (C.N. 5559):


From page 233 of Profile of a Prodigy by Frank Brady (New York, 1973), in connection with Fischer’s eventual decision to leave for Iceland:

“Later, it was learned that Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s presidential adviser, had called Fischer and appealed to him to play to avoid insulting the Icelandic nation.”

On page 184 of Endgame (New York, 2011) Brady wrote that Anthony Saidy himself answered the telephone when Kissinger's secretary called to set up a conversation with Fischer. Brady’s endnotes (page 358) cite a telegram from the American embassy in Reykjavik to the US Department of State, seeking White House assistance in having Fischer leave for Iceland. On page 184 Brady included the famous line allegedly spoken by Kissinger:

“This is the worst chessplayer in the world calling the best chessplayer in the world.”

In autumn 2017 I corresponded with Carla Braswell, an archivist at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, where many of Kissinger’s telephone transcripts of the period are kept. Dr Braswell searched all records for July 1972 and found no mention of Fischer. She stated that it was possible, although in her opinion unlikely, that the transcript exists in Kissinger’s donated papers at either Yale University or the Library of Congress. That remains to be verified. She also pointed out that not all of Kissinger’s calls were recorded and transcribed, but the omission strikes me as peculiar, because that call to Fischer appears to have taken place after another call by Kissinger for which a transcript does exist: a conversation with David Frost. A publicly known transcript corroborates the Kissinger/Frost call at 10.45 on 3 July 1972. In addition, the archivists at the Nixon Library provided me with an unredacted version.

In that conversation with David Frost, Kissinger said, “I’ll do it”. That was only a few hours before Fischer was due to catch an overnight flight to Reykjavik.

Later, in the wake of Fischer’s forfeiture of the second match-game, matters become even cloudier.

From page 248 of Profile of a Prodigy:

“Fischer began receiving letters and cables – thousands according to Cramer – urging him to continue the match, and presidential adviser Henry Kissinger called him from Washington [my emphasis] to appeal to his patriotic interests in playing for the United States.”

A statement by Fred Cramer dated 17 July 1972 was reported briefly on page 21 of the New York Times the following day (“Kissinger Phone Call To Fischer Disclosed”). The Times item, which had a Reykjavik byline, suggested that a call had been made by Kissinger to Fischer in the Icelandic capital:

“Fred Cramer, a spokesman for Bobby Fischer, said today that Henry L. [sic] Kissinger had telephoned the American chess star here.

Mr Cramer, a vice president of the United States Chess Federation, would give no details of the call. He would not say when it had been made or what had been said.

It is believed, however, that Mr Kissinger, President Nixon’s closest adviser on foreign policy, had urged Fischer – who had threatened to walk out on the world championship chess match with the titleholder, Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union, to continue with the match.”

Page 194 of Endgame states that in the wake of Fischer’s forfeiture of the second game of the match, and his implied threat to abandon the match, “... Henry Kissinger called him once again, this time from California [again, emphasis mine] ...”

Were there definitely two calls from Kissinger to Fischer, and what more is known for certain?’

Finally for now, in the 1972 bound volume of Chess Life & Review we note two references to Henry Kissinger:

‘Slater announced that he was personally doubling the $125,000 purse. A certain Kissinger from the White House phoned – he would call again in a later crisis.’ (Anthony Saidy, November issue, page 679.)

‘With the score 2-0 against him, nobody expected Bobby to continue the match which he had been so reluctant to enter in the first place. But a massive telegram campaign, a phone call from presidential advisor Henry Kissinger, and redoubled efforts by his friends and advisors here [in Reykjavik], made him change his mind and cancel his plane reservations home.’ (Robert Byrne, September issue, page 537.)


The exact reference for the above-mentioned transcript of the telephone conversation between Henry Kissinger and David Frost: Kissinger-Frost Telcon; July 3, 1972; folder July 3-9, 1972; box 15; National Security Council Files: Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts (Telcons); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA.

Section 5. Television and film footage

Serin Marshall (Brooklyn, NY, USA) asks whether any recordings have survived of Shelby Lyman’s television programmes on the 1972 world championship match.


Olimpiu G. Urcan (Singapore) points out a series of links to film coverage of the 1972 world championship match.

spassky fischer


Douglas Stidham (Austin, TX, USA) asks how much of the 1972 Spassky v Fischer match was filmed by Chester Fox, and where the footage is today. Such questions are often asked, but we have found no definitive answer. Can readers assist?

From page A-6 of the Record (Bergen County, NJ, USA), 18 August 1972:

fischer fox

Larger version

Lesser-known information about Chester Fox in Reykjavik is available at the Icelandic website Tí


Section 6: 29...Bxh2 in the first match-game


Black played 23...Bxa2

This position is from a game between Capablanca (Black) and Juan Corzo in Havana on 21 July 1909. It was published on page 197 of the American Chess Bulletin, September 1909 and was included on pages 37-38 of The Unknown Capablanca by David Hooper and Dale Brandreth (London, 1975). Page 199 gave as the source the Cuban newspaper Diario de la Marina, 22 July 1909.

From page 38 of The Unknown Capablanca:

corzo capablanca

The Fischer game (played almost exactly 63 years after Corzo v Capablanca) did not need to be identified. The notoriety of 29...Bxh2 in the first Spassky v Fischer match-game is such that, as shown in C.N. 9762, it even inspired a cartoon:

danielsson fischer spassky

The possible play after 29...Bxh2 has been investigated in exceptional detail; see, for example, pages 75-94 of Analysing the Endgame by Jon Speelman (London, 1988). In the early comments after the match, P.H. Clarke’s on page 303 of the September 1972 BCM were among the most surprising:

spassky fischer

Although page 431 of the second edition of The Games of Robert J. Fischer by Robert G. Wade and Kevin J. O’Connell (London, 1972) stated that ‘29...BxRKP?!’ [sic] ‘is no gross blunder’, that was not the commonest view. For instance, the move received two question marks on page 114 of Reuben Fine’s book on the match, where he remarked:

‘Every beginner knows that this is a blunder, and it does lose ...’

Strange to say, it is a struggle to find pre-1972 books for beginners that warned of the specific type of poisoned-pawn trap which occurred in the Reykjavik game.


Martin Sims (Upper Hutt, New Zealand) points out a passage on page 69 of Further Chess Ideas by John Love and John Hodgkins (London, 1965), concerning Bronstein v Botvinnik, Moscow, 1951 (eighth match-game for the world championship):

bronstein botvinnik


From Steve Wrinn (Homer, NY, USA):

‘Fischer can be seen playing 29...Bxh2 at the 1’00” mark of a video from the NBC news archives. The moments of play shown are not necessarily sequential; for example, the bishop already stands on h2 at 0’42”. Some of the subsequent play (33 Kg2 hxg3 34 fxg3) can be seen at 1’10” of another video.

From the NBC item it appears that Spassky was away from the board when 29...Bxh2 was played, a circumstance which casts doubt on any descriptions of his supposedly surprised reaction to the move. For example, on page 172 of Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World (New York, 1974) Brad Darrach wrote:

“Spassky jolted like a man hit by a bullet and stared at the board.”

Page 92 of Fischer/Spassky: The New York Times Report on the Chess Match of the Century mentioned the “look of incredulity” on Spassky’s face, said to be noticed by an audience member with binoculars.

That New York Times book (by Richard Roberts, with Harold C. Schonberg, Al Horowitz and Samuel Reshevsky) is perhaps unique in its appraisal of the position after 29...Bxh2, as it claimed – without supporting analysis – that Fischer had winning chances after the loss of the bishop: Page 121 stated:

“But two pawns often defeat a bishop in an endgame, and Fischer’s seizing of the “poisoned” king rook pawn, after the exchanges that followed, left him with five pawns to Spassky’s three. This would have meant obtaining winning chances if he had continued the game properly and precisely.”

Pages 122-123 added:

“In one sense, the first game began with Black’s 29th move. And it is still difficult to say whether Fischer’s judgment was correct. He could have won. He certainly could have drawn. But he did neither. He lost. [*]

What followed that 29th move was inaccurate play on Black’s part that made the capture of the king rook pawn, in retrospect, look like a blunder. It was not. Fischer did, however, blunder away his chances in the play that followed, first missing a win and then a draw. His technique failed.”

I see nothing in the book to indicate which of the four co-authors was responsible for that opinion.’

We note that page 113 of the French translation of the New York Times book, published under the title Fischer Spassky. Le super-match du siècle (Montreal, 1972), added a translator’s note to the passage that we have marked above with [*]:

‘Seule une admiration aveugle pour Fischer peut justifier ce passage. N’importe quel amateur sait qu’il faut généralement non pas deux, mais trois pions pour tenir tête à un fou en fin de partie. Il est vrai que Fischer a commis, à son 40e coup, une erreur qui lui a coûté la nulle, mais l’auteur ne mentionne pas que ses chances d’annuler n’apparurent que grâce à une erreur de Spassky au 36e coup. En effet, si celui-ci avait mis son roi en marche tout de suite par 36 Rg4!, au lieu de perdre un tempo avec 36 a4?, Fischer n’aurait pas pu, malgré la meilleure technique du monde, sauver la partie, et encore moins la gagner!’

The imprint page stated that the book had been translated and adapted by Yves and Camille Coudari. The latter was also named on the title page as a contributor.

Reshevsky’s role in the New York Times volume is unknown, but his own book on the match (New York and Edinburgh, 1972) described ‘29...BxKRP??’ as ‘the worst blunder Fischer ever made’. See pages 5 and 9.


Dan Scoones (Port Coquitlam, BC, Canada) has sent us a PDF file of Botvinnik’s annotations to the first match-game, on pages 8-9 of the 28/1972 issue of 64, as well as an analytical article on the ending (by Anatoly Mikhailovich Kremenetsky on pages 39-41 of the 2/1973 issue of Shakhmatny Bulletin).

A comment by Fischer on 29...Bxh2, 20 years later, is noted by Sean Robinson (Tacoma, WA, USA). Page 15 of No Regrets by Yasser Seirawan and George Stefanovic (Seattle, 1992) reproduced a question from Ivan Solotaroff of Esquire in the transcript of the first press conference, on 1 September 1992:

‘Why did you take on h2 in the game against Spassky in 1972? Were you trying to create winning chances by complicating a drawn position?’

Fischer’s reply:

‘Basically, that's right. Yes.’

C.N. 10264 discussed the position after 27...Bb5-c4 in the 30th match-game (also described as the fifth exhibition game) between Alekhine and Euwe, Rotterdam, 16 December 1937, in which Alekhine played 28 Bxh7.


Section 7: Press coverage

C.N. 6081 gave a photograph of Clement Freud presenting a cheque to Robert Bellin, the winner of the London Chess Congress in Islington in December 1972.

Earlier that year, as mentioned on page 222 of Profile of a Prodigy by Frank Brady (New York, 1973), Clement Freud went to Reykjavik for the Spassky v Fischer world championship match. We note that an article by him, ‘A week of waiting for P-Q4’, was published in the Financial Times of 8 July 1972 and reproduced on pages 161-166 of the posthumous anthology A feast of Freud (London, 2009). Some snippets:

If you consider that in the course of seven days God created the universe, it is pretty shameful that in 80% of that time the World Chess Federation, though urged on by a fair section of the world, was unable to bring two men around one chess board. Yet such was the case.’

fischer spassky

We had expected Fischer to come loping out of a corner on all fours, frothing at the mouth, bandages hiding the wounds from which surgeons had extracted his horns. He turned out to be a lean, gangling, engaging man wearing an uncontroversial green suit and matching tie.’

We have seen no references to chess in Clement Freud’s autobiography Freud Ego (London, 2001).

clement freud

Clement Freud’s signature in our copy of Freud Ego.


The final paragraph of the Introduction on page 16 of Fischer vs. Spassky by S. Gligorić (New York, 1972):

‘The challenger was, perhaps, right when he claimed: “It will probably be the greatest sports event in history. Bigger even than the Frazier-Ali fight ...”’

It has been affirmed (see, for instance, page 18 of the November 1999 Chess Life) that Fischer made that remark ‘on the eve’ of the Reykjavik match, but we have traced it back to a syndicated newspaper article by Ira Berkow published in January 1972. One of many outlets available on-line is the Lompoc Record, 17 January 1972, page 7.

The interview by Berkow (‘New York, January 1972’) was included on pages 79-82 of his anthology Beyond the Dream (New York, 1975), under the title ‘Bobby Fischer: Sportin’ Champ’. From page 79:


berkow fischer


Page 1 of the Los Angeles Times, 1 September 1972:



A curious item from page 204 of the 16-22 August 1972 issue of Punch:

wood golombek

Can any reader take the matter further?


Below, from our archives, is a report in the Daily Mirror (London), 12 July 1972:

daily mirror

The same page had a two-mover by, we believe, Guy W. Chandler:


No record has been found of the Daily Mirror setting a problem-solving competition in 2014 for its readers to win a ringside seat in Sochi.


From Michael McDowell (Westcliff-on-sea, England):

‘The two-mover from the Daily Mirror was indeed by Guy Chandler. Comins Mansfield quoted it in his Selected Two-Movers column in the September 1972 issue of The Problemist (page 252), although he gave the date of publication as 13 July, and not 12 July as indicated in C.N. 9141.

Mansfield wrote:

“It must be a rare, if not unique, experience for a composer to have one of his problems fetched by a special car from a distance of 12 miles. This happened to our esteemed secretary in July, when he had an urgent telephone call from a national newspaper. It proposed to offer a free holiday in Reykjavik to four readers who would solve a chess problem and answer in not more than 15 words a question such as ‘What makes chess worthwhile?’. The newspaper wanted immediately a ‘tough and entirely original problem’, but all that could be offered on the spot was an original two-mover. They gladly accepted this and sent a car down to Sutton to fetch it. This resulted in the publication of A on 13 July. With its nine variations and clear-cut theme it was just the sort of problem to stimulate popular interest.”

The date discrepancy referred to by Mr McDowell is explained by the fact that the problem appeared in the Daily Mirror on both 12 and 13 July, the latter time on a page entirely devoted to chess. The problem was on page 9 on both days.

We have found the solution to the competition and the winners’ names on page 2 of the 4 August 1972 edition of the Daily Mirror:

daily mirror


A rummage through boxes of newspaper cuttings on the 1972 world championship match suggests that the sharpest criticism of Fischer was written by Mary Kenny in the London Evening Standard. With no chess knowledge (she mixed up the words game, match and tournament and described Harry Golombek as a grandmaster) she concentrated on human aspects in her reports and wrote good prose. Below is an excerpt from her article ‘Genius maybe – but is he human?’ on page 17 of the 28 July 1972 edition. At that time she had been watching Fischer in Reykjavik for ten days:

‘Fischer, as is widely known, is not merely a megalomaniac but also a monomaniac; all the kilowattage of that 187-IQ brain has been channelled into the game, leaving aside almost everything else in the spectrum of life’s experiences.

He is a chess phenomenon, it is true; but he is also a social illiterate, a political simpleton, a cultural ignoramus and an emotional baby. There are no vibrations of humanity from him; when you look at him, his eyes are blank and unstaring, since he only has eyes for chess. He is a machine.

The article ended on a low note:

‘He will go on to be the undisputed chess king of the world, and destroy all challengers for some time to come. And then what?

Unlike old boxers, for old chess champions there is nothing else. Gligoric, the Yugoslav Grand Master who is writing a book about this very tournament, says that the end for chess geniuses is a towering solitude. They die in their 40s and early 50s. They fall into depression or paranoia, like Nimzowitch and Rubinstein; die alone of drink in foreign hotels like the great Alekhine, or sink into bewildering madness in a hospital straitjacket, like Fischer’s only comparably outstanding compatriot, Paul Morphy.

The way that the game possesses, spends and finally exhausts the minds that become engaged and committed to it is, in one sense, a tribute to its extraordinary magic, its brain-burning bewitchment.’

A curiosity is that the exact phrase about Fischer ‘also a social illiterate, a political simpleton, a cultural ignoramus and an emotional baby’ is in a recent work of fiction, The Sinking of the Basil Hall by James Street. [The link no longer works.]


spassky fischer

C.N. 9146 referred to Mary Kenny’s breezy despatches from Reykjavik in the London Evening Standard during the 1972 Spassky v Fischer world championship match. In addition to her yellow, or yellowish, journalism, the newspaper welcomed comment of the same hue on its correspondence pages. It is doubtful whether any previous chess event offered so many people an opportunity to ‘have their say’ despite being even less well informed than most of the journalists.

On 1 August 1972 A. Hawson (London) felt the need to respond in the Evening Standard (‘Via-Dictate-A-Letter’) to what a correspondent had said on 27 July and, in particular, ‘to take issue with the suggestion that the £50,000 donated by Mr Slater ... should have been given to the British Olympics Appeal. The publicity now being given in the British Press to the great game of chess is long overdue and I, for only one, am very glad ...’, etc., etc. On the same page, Ewart Milne (Bedford) recalled Mary Kelly’s description of Fischer as ‘a social illiterate, a political simpleton, a cultural ignoramus and an emotional baby’ and proffered this rejoinder: ‘So was Napoleon Bonaparte, but he changed what is called the art of war forever.’ Mr Milne’s contribution ended: ‘Personally I cannot see anything abnormal or even objectionable about Bobby’s tantrums. How about Nastase? Or is it only Americans who are hated when they show off?’ That red rag elicited a letter in the 4 August 1972 edition from Teresa Malik (London). Her analysis of the Match of the Century seamlessly incorporated a description of her credentials for the task:

spassky fischer
spassky fischer

From Iceland, meanwhile, Mary Kenny continued to chew over almost every aspect of the chess match except the chess, and the eventual cessation of her reports was itself a topic for comment. The following was published on 16 August 1972:

spassky fischer

Letter-writers know that submissions in colourful language (‘despatch her to Terra [sic] del Fuego’) are more likely to reach the presses. To that end, ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ and ‘hanging is too good for them’ have always been serviceable entreaties. Then as now, a measured analysis of pros and cons is less likely to attract an editor’s eye than a spree of fustian ignorance. Now but not then, the Internet allows anyone to by-pass whatever barriers, however low, editors put in place for participation in a discussion. There are pros and cons there too.

Chess magazines in 1972 were relatively restrained in their strictures on Fischer’s conduct and, with so much chess play to cover, little space was available for disquisitions by the unknown. As the Reykjavik frenzy receded, however, so-called debates came back into fashion. Criticizing ‘free speech in action’ may not be regarded as good form, but Wolfgang Heidenfeld had no such inhibitions on page 257 of CHESS, June 1973, in a letter headed ‘Rabbits and Nonsense’:

‘Your correspondence about simultaneous display etiquette is becoming boring, especially as most of the views represented are those of rabbits who do not even know the rules.’

Heidenfeld died long before the Internet age. What he would have written about vox populi today is neither difficult nor unpleasant to imagine.


Another typical letter (‘Bobbie Fischer is awful, but ...’), from the Evening Standard, 3 August 1972:


To write about the 2016 ‘Karjakin-Carlsen’ match would be odd and, even, discourteous to the defending champion, yet most of us have, at least occasionally, referred to the ‘Fischer-Spassky’ match of 1972. Alphabetical order and the identity of the winner cannot explain this, because the 1927 world title match is usually, and properly, termed ‘Capablanca-Alekhine’. Fischer’s profile in 1972 was so high, often for woeful reasons, that it is tempting to name him first even though he was the challenger, but a linguistic point also arises. From pages 39-40 of The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth (London, 2013), in the chapter on hyperbaton:

‘Have you ever heard that patter-pitter of tiny feet? Or the dong-ding of a bell? Or hop-hip music? That’s because, when you repeat a word with a different vowel, the order is always I A O. Bish bash bosh. So politicians may flip-flop, but they can never flop-flip. It’s tit-for-tat, never tat-for-tit. This is called ablaut reduplication, and if you do things any other way, they sound very, very odd indeed.’

Thus in British politics in the late 1970s, the term ‘Lib-Lab pact’ was used despite the Liberal Party being far smaller than the governing Labour Party. Even when the consonants in the two elements are different, it may seem more natural for I to precede A. ‘Fischer-Spassky’ is certainly more euphonious than ‘Spassky-Fischer’, but ‘Fischer-Spassky’ may best be reserved for their 1992 match.


Regarding the many references in the press to Fischer’s red book on Spassky (including confusion over the Wildhagen volume on Spassky and Robert Wade’s research for Fischer) see C.N.s 8962, 9167, 10677, 10682, 10686 and 10808.

Section 8: Cartoons and comic strips

Juan Carlos Sanz Menéndez (Alcorcón, Spain) submits the following:

fischer spassky

fischer spassky

‘La Batalla Fischer-Spassky/El maravilloso Mundo del Ajedrez’ in Estrellas del Deporte (Mexico, 1973), page 31.


The immense popularity of chess in 1972 is demonstrated by a double-page spread of cartoons (‘There’s No Business Like Chess Business’) by Mahood on pages 118-119 of the 26 July-1 August 1972 issue of Punch:


One example:



spassky fischer punch

Punch, 16-22 August 1972, page 220


spassky fischer

Evening Standard, 5 July 1972




Of all the books on the 1972 Spassky v Fischer match, the one in our collection with the most cartoons is Skákeinvígi aldarinnar by Guðmundur Daníelsson (Reykjavik, 1972). A small sample (from pages 16-17, 103 and 163):




Although mainly a prose account of the Reykjavik match, the book concludes with annotations to the games (pages 291-345).


An Icelandic webpage presents a set of 19 cartoons on the 1972 world championship match.


A cartoon by Giles on page 6 of the Daily Express, 6 July 1972:

fischer giles

Larger version


Section 9: Post-match comments


Pages 4-7 of the January 1973 Chess Life & Review transcribed interviews (originally published in the Icelandic magazine Skák) by Gligorić with Fischer, Spassky and Thorarinsson for a radio audience. A compilation of some remarks by Fischer is given below:


General reference works customarily avoid hyperbolic editorialization, but the nine-line entry on Spassky on page 1376 of the Chambers Biographical Dictionary edited by Magnus Magnusson (Edinburgh, 1990) has this statement in connection with the 1972 world championship match:

‘His defeat before the full glare of international attention gave him the unfortunate legacy of the most famous loser in sporting history.’


From the back cover of Tutte le partite di Bobby Fischer by Karsten Müller (Rome, 2011):


Whether Shelby Lyman ever made that specific assertion is unclear, but after about an hour of Liz Garbus’ 2011 documentary film Bobby Fischer Against the World (C.N. 7345) he did say to camera:

‘One of Fischer’s problems was that, after the match, he was supposedly better known by the population of the world than anyone except for Jesus Christ. And he was a guy who treasured his privacy. He had a problem.’


C.N. 10497 presented extracts from the article ‘Reflections after Reykjavik’ by Gerald Abrahams on pages 84-90 of Encounter, March 1973.

Have recordings survived of the ‘first post-match interviews’ with Fischer and Spassky conducted by Gligorić for Radio Belgrade?

A report by Dragoslav Andrić on pages 2-3 of CHESS, October 1972 had transcripts, including these exchanges:

Gligorić: ‘Will you be making propositions concerning possible changes in the procedure of the world championship?’

Fischer: ‘I would not like to say anything definite just yet. For the time being, I want to play a few matches. Money is there and I want to make it.’

Gligorić: ‘Perhaps you would like to play Spassky again.’

Fischer: ‘Sure. If the purse is big enough, we will certainly play a return match.’


An article by Frank Draper on page 11 of the Evening Standard, 8 March 1973:


Section 10: Books on the match

Among the ploys available to a chess writer eager to be quoted is recourse to inapposite, exaggerated comparisons, similes and metaphors which offer the apparent thrill of mentioning names not normally seen in chess literature. The stratagem is not new, and even a fine author may succumb to the temptation. From page 25 of Fischer v. Spassky Reykjavik 1972 by C.H.O’D. Alexander (Harmondsworth, 1972):

‘However, while the conditions of the match are simple, the two-month match itself is a gladiatorial contest compared with which Joe Frazier v Muhammed Ali is just a friendly little chat.’

The line has indeed been cited elsewhere, and notably by Alexander himself on page 44 of A Book of Chess (London, 1973).

Other short-cuts to being quoted include bogus epigrams, extravagant historical comparisons, and hyperbolic praise or criticism of a given master’s play. For some reason, a foray into zoology can be particularly useful. The writer managing to work, say, ‘cobra’ into any description of a player or game may well find the phrase picked up by others.


Arthur Barlas (Chelmsford, MA, USA) asks which book on the 1972 Spassky v Fischer match may be regarded as the best (in terms of quality of writing, accurate background information, interesting descriptive material and, in particular, thorough, reliable game annotations).

Two frontrunners suggest themselves: Fischer gegn Spassky by Freysteinn Jóhannsson and Friðrik Ólafsson (Reykjavik, 1973) and Fischer World Champion! by Max Euwe and Jan Timman (Alkmaar, 2002).

spassky fischer

spassky fischer


The inside front cover of the October 1972 CHESS stated that three books on the Spassky v Fischer match, by Alexander, Gligorić and Horowitz/Reshevsky, ‘were on sale in Britain within a fortnight of the close of play’. Alexander’s was considered the best: ‘There is ten times as much really original analysis as in the other two books put together.’

A letter from C.J.S. Purdy dated 22 October on pages 45-46 of the November 1972 CHESS commented:

‘I question your remark that there are three books in English on the Reykjavik match. There is a fourth, How Fischer Won, by me (echo of my 1935 book How Euwe Won). Fantastically, it was already out of print (a 14,000 edition) when your October number appeared. It went out of print in one week. The only batch sent to Europe was 100 copies airfreighted to Skopje. They did not arrive and have not yet been traced. A much revised and augmented version will have been printed when you receive this, re-titled Genius Crowned.’

We are aware of no publication by Purdy of that name.


Purdy brought out an eight-page supplement, Post-Mortem 1976 to Fischer-Spassky 1972. A sample page:



An addition to Gaffes by Chess Publishers and Authors has been submitted by Javier Asturiano Molina (Murcia, Spain):


This translation of Steiner’s well-known book was published in Madrid in 2004.


See too Brad Darrach and the Dark Side of Bobby Fischer.

Section 11: Memorabilia

Concerning these two items in his possession, Ríkharður Sveinsson (Reykjavik) wonders how many signatures it is possible to identify.



Larger version


Two rare Icelandic postcards in our collection:

spassky fischer

spassky fischer


Section 12: Works of fiction

Claus Montonen (Helsinki) is seeking information about literary works which take real chess events as their subject, his request being prompted by the play Reikiavik by Juan Mayorga (Segovia, 2015). Below are the front and back covers, as well as two sample pages:





Another work is Einvígid by Arnaldur Indriðason (Reykjavik, 2011). We also have the translations of the novel from Icelandic into German and French, Duell (Cologne, 2014) and Le duel (Paris, 2014).








Noting another novel featuring the 1972 world championship match, Åttenderaden by Arne Danielsen (Oslo, 2002 and 2014), Aðalsteinn Thorarensen comments:

‘The main character is Herold, who grows up in Oslo, and there is a great deal of chess content (at school and in junior tournaments). Herold follows Bobby Fischer’s career and by chance is in Iceland for a club event during the Spassky v Fischer world title match.’


The original hardback edition (2002)

Danielsen is also the author of Mesteren Magnus Carlsen og sjakkspillet (Oslo, 2010). From the dust-jacket:



Section 13: Junk

In addition to its many factual errors, Carlsen v Caruana: FIDE World Chess Championship, London 2018 by Raymond Keene and Byron Jacobs (London, 2018) has much copying from other works by Mr Keene. A note at the end of the review mentioned in C.N. 11126 observes:

‘About 90% of the biographies of Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine is a direct copy from Keene’s book on the 2000 world championship.’

Another example is the biographical section on Spassky, where even the misspelling ‘he gave full reign’ is repeated. From that section (pages 27-28) we highlight one sentence, concerning the 1972 world championship match:

In reverse chronological order:

Page 35 of The Brain Games World Chess Championship by Raymond Keene and Don Morris (London, 2000).

Page 178 of Samurai Chess by Michael Gelb and Raymond Keene (London, 1997).

Page 21 of part 5 of Raymond Keene’s Men of War publication for The Times during the 1993 Kasparov-Short match.

Page 72 of Chess for Absolute Beginners by Raymond Keene (London, 1993).

Page 10 of Fischer-Spassky II by Raymond Keene (London, 1992).

Page 96 of Chess An Illustrated History by Raymond Keene (London, 1990).

Page 223 of Warriors of the Mind by Raymond Keene and Nathan Divinsky (Brighton, 1989).

A sub-variation:

Page 107 of Carlsen-Anand Match for the World Chess Championship by Raymond Keene (New York, 2013).

Page 25 of Battle of Bonn by Raymond Keene and Eric Schiller (2008).

Page 50 of Vishy’s Victory by Raymond Keene (2007).

Page 58 of World Chess Championship Kramnik vs. Leko by Raymond Keene (Aylesbeare, 2004).


Latest update: 29 February 2020.

To the Chess Notes main page.

To the Archives for other feature articles.

Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.