Match of the Century begins in Reykjavik

7/11/2012 – That could have been the headline of our newspage, exactly forty years ago this afternoon, when after some harrowing manoeuvring the US Challenger Bobby Fischer sat down to the first game of the World Championship match against Boris Spassky in Iceland. It was a very tense encounter and has been beautifully recreated by Frank Brady, who was an eye-witness at the scene.

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Match of the Century begins in Reykjavik

From Frank Brady's book Bobby Fischer, Batsford 1974

When Fischer awoke on the afternoon of the first game, July 11, 1972, and it slowly began to permeate his consciousness that he was actually in Iceland playing for the championship of the world, he was nervous. After years and years of tribulations and controversy, and the recent brouhaha about the match, Fischer had arrived at the threshold of his lifelong goal. Laugersdalhöll was to be his universe for the next two months.

Bobby Fischer's arrival at Reykjavik Airport on July 4th – Gudmundur Thórarinsson
greets him with the words: "Bobby, welcome to Iceland!" Bobby replies: "Yeah".

All details had been checked and double-checked in the playing hall to ensure maximum comfort for the players. Laugersdalhöll is a cavernous, dome-shaped stadium (someone described it as a large Icelandic mushroom), with huge, white-covered sound baffles on the ceiling that resemble mammoth albino bats. The entire first floor was covered with carpeting to muffle the sound of entering and exiting spectators, and the folding seats were replaced with upholstered and consequently "soundless" chairs. The two film towers were pushed back, on Fischer’s request, and the lighting intensity on stage was increased. A handsome, Eames-designed executive swivel chair, an exact duplicate of the one he sat in while playing Petrosian in Buenos Aires, was flown in from the U.S.

Bobby was driven to the Stadium by Lombardy, and due to heavy traffic they arrived shortly after five o'clock, the scheduled starting time. Fischer rushed through the backstage corridor on to the horticultured stage, and was greeted by the polite applause of an audience of 2,300 spectators. Spassky had made his first move precisely at five – it was 1 P-Q4 – and Schmid had started Fischer's clock. Fischer, dressed in a white shirt and blue conservative business suit, sped to the table; the two men shook hands while Fischer kept his eyes on the board. Then he sat down in his black leather chair, considered his move for ninety-five seconds, and played his Knight to his King Bishop's third square.

A rare colour picture from the first game of the Match of the Century – oops, no, not
from game one, as Dan Scoones of Port Coquitlam, Canana, explained: "Spassky
did not get a black leather chair like Fischer's until game seven."

Lombardy stood on the sidelines and watched. Later, he said: “When I finally saw Bobby up there on the stage playing for the Championship of the World, I was filled with emotion. Tears almost came to my eyes.” Many American players and spectators felt the same way. One of their finest players, after a decade of hope, had finally come into his own: the first American ever to seriously challenge the Soviet hegemony of nearly a half century.

It was a unique moment in the life of a dynamic prodigy in that he had somehow overcome the irrationality of his character to arrive where he was. Everyone knew it, not only in Laugersdalhöll, but all over the world. As Isaac Kashdan said: "It was the single most important chess event in the history of the game."

Fischer had been known for his predilection in recent years for the Gruenfeld Defense and the King's Indian, so it was somewhat surprising that he played the Nimzo-Indian, his first attempt with it in over two years. The first game developed along uninspired lines.

Fischer left the stage twice during the game (pre-adjournment), once complaining that the orange juice left in his dressing room back-stage was not cold enough. Ice cubes were provided. He also asked for a bottle of cold water and a dish of skyr, an Icelandic yogurt-type dessert. This last request caused quite some confusion in the stadium's cafeteria, as they were unable to supply the skyr themselves. Fortunately, a local restaurant could.

As moves were made on the board, they were simultaneously shown on forty closed-circuit television monitors in all points of the stadium. In the cafeteria, where spectators wolfed down the local variety of lamb-based hot-dogs and gurgled bottles of two-percent Icelandic beer, the action on the stage was discussed vociferously. In the basement, Icelandic masters more quietly explained and analyzed the moves on a large demonstration board, while in the press rooms, a condescension of grandmasters surveyed the television screens and analyzed in their heads, to the confusion and awe of most of the journalists. In the playing hall itself, decorum and quiet reigned. But when it did not, Lothar Schmid or the Assistant Arbiter, Gudmundur Arnlaugsson, would activate a large white electrical sign that insisted, in both English and Icelandic, upon immediate attention: Silence! Thögn!

As the first game progressed, most experts were beginning to predict a draw. And then, on the twenty-ninth move, with the position equal, Fischer engaged in one of the most dangerous gambles of his career. Without consuming much time on his clock (he had equalized on the seventeenth move and was now ahead of Spassky on time) Fischer sacrificed his Bishop for two Pawns in a move that thoroughly electrified the audience, and literally sent Spassky's eyebrows arching.

We would love to tell you that this is the moment when Fischer played the ominous
29...Bxh2, but it is on the wrong side of the board and probably the move 18...Bxb3

The real thing: Fischer capturing the pawn on h2 with his bishop...

... in Liz Garbus documentary "Die Legende Bobby Fischer" in Arte TV

At first impression, it appeared that Fischer, overly eager to gain the psychological momentum of winning the first game, had over-extended himself and simply blundered. But on closer inspection, the game still looked like a draw. Next, Fischer complained to Schmid that the camera poking through a hole in the blue-and-white FIDE sign located at the back of the stage, was disturbing him. No change was made, however, in the camera's position.

On his forty-first move, Spassky, to take advantage of overnight analysis, decided to adjourn the game. Since five hours, the official adjournment time, had not yet been reached, he took a loss of thirty-five minutes on his clock. Spassky had a Bishop and three Pawns against Fischer's five Pawns. He sealed his move and handed the large brown envelope to Schmid.

[Event "World Championship 28th"] [Site "Reykjavik"] [Date "1972.07.11"] [Round "1"] [White "Spassky, Boris V"] [Black "Fischer, Robert James"] [Result "*"] [ECO "E56"] [WhiteElo "2660"] [BlackElo "2785"] [Annotator "ChessBase"] [PlyCount "80"] [EventDate "1972.07.11"] [EventRounds "21"] [EventCountry "ISL"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Bb4 (4... c5 {Petrosjan-Fischer, Buenos Aires 1971, 0-1/40.} 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 cxd4 8. cxd4 Bb4+ { Spassky-Petrosjan, Moskau wm (5), 1-0/31.}) 5. e3 (5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 { Thorbergsson-Fischer, Rykjavik 1960, 1/2/26.}) 5... O-O 6. Bd3 c5 (6... Nc6 7. a3 Bxc3+ 8. bxc3 Na5 9. Nd2 c5 10. O-O $16 {Reshevsky-Fischer, Los Angeles 1961, 1-0/28.}) 7. O-O Nc6 {This position was never played before by Fischer.} 8. a3 Ba5 9. Ne2 dxc4 10. Bxc4 Bb6 11. dxc5 Qxd1 12. Rxd1 Bxc5 13. b4 Be7 14. Bb2 $14 {Byrne} Bd7 $1 15. Rac1 Rfd8 16. Ned4 Nxd4 17. Nxd4 Ba4 (17... Rac8 { Byrne}) 18. Bb3 Bxb3 19. Nxb3 Rxd1+ 20. Rxd1 Rc8 21. Kf1 Kf8 22. Ke2 Ne4 23. Rc1 Rxc1 24. Bxc1 f6 25. Na5 Nd6 26. Kd3 Bd8 27. Nc4 Bc7 28. Nxd6 Bxd6 29. b5 { [#]} Bxh2 $6 (29... Ke7 30. h3 (30. Ke4 f5+ 31. Kd4 $2 Bxh2 $19) 30... e5 {/\ 31... Ke6= Botvinnik}) 30. g3 h5 31. Ke2 h4 32. Kf3 Ke7 (32... g5 $6 33. Kg2 ( 33. e4 $2 h3 $10 34. Be3 Bg1 {/\ 35... g4 -+} 35. g4 $8 a6 {-/+/-+ Purdy}) 33... g4 34. Kxh2 h3 35. e4 {/\ 36.f3 +- Byrne} (35. f3 f5 36. e4 Ke7 37. e5 $3 $18 {/\ Kf1-.., Bg1 Purdy})) 33. Kg2 hxg3 34. fxg3 Bxg3 35. Kxg3 Kd6 36. a4 Kd5 (36... Kc5 37. Ba3+ Kc4 38. Bf8 g6 39. Be7 $18 f5 40. Kf4 $18) 37. Ba3 Ke4 ( 37... Kc4 38. Bf8 Kb3 (38... g6 39. Be7 f5 40. Kf4 Kb3 41. a5 Kc4 42. Kg5 $1 Kxb5 43. Kxg6 Kxa5 44. Kf6 $18) 39. Bxg7 (39. a5 Ka4 40. a6 b6 41. Bxg7 Kxb5 42. Bxf6 Kxa6 43. Kf4 Kb5 44. Bd4 $18 {Purdy}) 39... Kxa4 40. Bxf6 Kxb5 41. Kf4 Kc4 42. Bd4 {/\ 43.Ke5 +- Timman}) 38. Bc5 $1 a6 (38... b6 $2 39. Bxb6 $18 axb6 40. a5 bxa5 (40... Kd5 41. a6 $18) 41. b6 $18 {Byrne}) 39. b6 $1 f5 40. Kh4 { /\ Kg5-g6-c7 +-} f4 *

As the crowds began to file out, Fischer drove back to the Loftleider to analyze the position with Lombardy, discussing it in the car without sight of the board. Byrne said: "Fischer is playing desperately for a draw." Larry Evans felt Fischer had drawing chances, "perhaps." Gligoric thought Fischer's chances were "slim." But Krogius said it was ". . . probably a draw."

– Will Bobby Fischer be able to save the game? Tune in tomorrow to find out. –

The above text was taken from the Batsford edition of Frank Brady's 1974 book, of which we possess (and treasure) a rare copy. There appears to be one available at AbeBooks, but probably our readers will find more.

Copyright Brady/ChessBase

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