Bobby Fischer in Iceland — 45 years ago (11)

by Frederic Friedel
8/25/2017 – After draws in games 14 and 15, Fischer still had a three-point lead in the World Championship match, and the Spassky side was getting nervous. The Champion was fighting hard but not getting any points. Suspicion arose that Fischer might be using secret weapons: hypnosis, devices planted in the lights or the chairs, and even perhaps assistance from an "IBM" (Russian for "computer" at the time). All this was formally investigated, while Fischer continued to coast.

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Suspicion — or pure desperation

On August 18th 1972, exactly 45 years ago, the 15th game ended and Fischer had retained his three-point lead.

In Chess Life & Review December 1972, p.749, GM Svetozar Gligoric wrote: "When Spassky, as challenger, was to capture Petrosian's title in 1969, he prepared for three months. For the match with Fischer in 1972, as champion, he prepared for eight months. What was hidden in all those weeks of hard self-discipline was not fully disclosed in the beginning of the match. How did that happen? Fischer cleverly avoided all lines which might have been expected from him. There was no prepared variation which Spassky could apply. For Fischer did not employ the Gruenfeld nor the King's Indian and, with White, even stopped opening with his hitherto favorite King's Pawn. The titleholder found himself in a desert without knowing in which direction to go..."

Minute advantages

In Chess Life & Review December 1972, p. 743, Robert Byrne writes about game 16:

"Fischer chose the quiet, positional course of the Barendregt Variation of the Ruy Lopez to lead off game 16. It seemed at first as though White could count on some advantage in the endgame resulting from Black's doubled pawns, but once again Spassky came up with an interesting theoretical innovation to obtain counterplay. He achieved a plus so minute that Fischer could not be stopped from forcing a well-known drawn Rook-and-pawn ending with two pawns against one.

The game could have been given up as a draw as early as the 24th move, but Boris, perhaps annoyed that Bobby had brought him in to play the few obvious moves of the perpetual check in the previous games adjournment session, insisted on dragging out the routine all the way to the 60th move. In fact, he waited until Bobby was ready to stick the sealed move into the envelope before offering the draw."

[Event "Reykjavik World Championship (16)"] [Site "Reykjavik"] [Date "1972.08.20"] [Round "16"] [White "Fischer, Robert James"] [Black "Spassky, Boris Vasilievich"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C69"] [WhiteElo "2785"] [BlackElo "2660"] [Annotator "Byrne,Robert"] [PlyCount "120"] [EventDate "1972.07.11"] [EventType "match"] [EventRounds "21"] [EventCountry "ISL"] [SourceTitle "MainBase"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 {After all the violence of the previous game, Fischer is probably content to head for the tranquil channels of the Exchange Variation, the main theme of which is the exploitation of Black's doubled pawns in an endgame.} dxc6 5. O-O {The opening comes as no surprise to Spassky.} ({Almost a century ago, then World Champion Emanuel Lasker used to force the endgame immediately by} 5. d4 exd4 6. Qxd4 Qxd4 7. Nxd4 {In the last six years Fischer has preferred the Barendregt idea of castling first in order to give the plan potency by mobilizing a Rook.}) 5... f6 6. d4 Bg4 7. dxe5 Qxd1 8. Rxd1 fxe5 9. Rd3 {The Rook is somewhat awkwardly placed here, but White cannot work up any initiative as long as the King Knight remains pinned.} Bd6 10. Nbd2 Nf6 11. Nc4 {By this maneuver Fischer intends to exchange one of Black's strong Bishops, the chief feature of the defense.} Nxe4 12. Ncxe5 { Fischer improves on Bronstein's 12.Nfxe5, forcing Black to yield the Bishop pair at once without any repair of the doubled pawns.} Bxf3 ({Spassky Is unable to dispute the point by} 12... Bf5 $2 {since} 13. g4 $1 Be6 14. Re3 Nf6 15. Ng5 {leads to a decisive loss of material for Black.}) 13. Nxf3 O-O 14. Be3 {It looks now as though Fischer has everything that could be expected out of this type of opening. The White Kingside pawn majority is a clear advantage because the three pawns on the other wing are normally enough to blockade the Black pawn preponderance there, which are crippled by doubled pawns. And Fischer has eliminated the Queens and two sets of minor pieces, creating the simplified position in which such a structural superiority can be utilized.} b5 $1 {Striking back in an original and ingenious way, Spassky intends to throw the Queenside pawns forward, gaining space and putting on pressure to undouble the c-pawns.} 15. c4 $2 {Blocking with the c-pawn is the thematic way to counter such a plan, of course, but Spassky quickly proves it tactically unsound.} ({Best was} 15. Nd2 {for if} Nxd2 ({the retreat} 15... Nf6 {would permit a piece blockade with} 16. Nb3 {followed by either Nc5 or Bc5.}) ({ Spassky could have obtained considerable activity for his Bishop and Rooks by} 15... Nc5 16. Bxc5 ({not} 16. Rc3) 16... Bxc5 17. Ne4 Bb6 18. Re1 Rae8 19. Kf1 {and a fascinating struggle between dynamics and structure would have begun.}) 16. Rxd2 c5 17. c4 {would set up the blockade White wants.}) 15... Rab8 $1 { An unusual and strong continuation of the idea of his previous move by which White is saddled with the awkward task of finding a smooth defense for both the c and b-pawns.} 16. Rc1 {[#]Fischer's decision is to sacrifice a pawn, hoping to recover it later with positional advantage.} ({In any case, Black could not be denied effective counterplay, for if} 16. b3 Ba3 ({in order to answer} 16... bxc4 {by} 17. Rd4 $1) 17. Rd7 ({Perhaps} 17. Rad1 {is best:} bxc4 18. bxc4 Bd6 19. Rb3 Rxb3 20. axb3 Rb8 21. Rd3 a5 22. g3 {when the result will be a draw.}) 17... bxc4 18. bxc4 Bd6 $1 19. Bd4 Nf6 20. Bxf6 Rxf6 {and in the resulting position 21.c5 will free the Rook, but Black's strong Bishop gives him the endgame edge. Furthermore, the Black Rooks have such threats as R-e6-e7 and R-b4-a4 with great pressure.}) 16... bxc4 17. Rd4 ({If} 17. Rxc4 Rxb2 {and the Knight cannot be captured because of the threatening mate.}) 17... Rfe8 18. Nd2 (18. Rc2 c3 $1 19. bxc3 Rb1+ 20. Bc1 Ng5 $1 21. Rd1 Nxf3+ 22. gxf3 {gives Black the initiative and a clear advantage.}) 18... Nxd2 19. Rxd2 Re4 20. g3 {By removing backrank mate threats and preparing to bring his King strongly into play, Bobby ensures the draw.} Be5 21. Rcc2 Kf7 22. Kg2 Rxb2 $1 23. Kf3 ({The gain of a second pawn is only temporary.} 23. Rxb2 {is answered by} c3) 23... c3 24. Kxe4 cxd2 25. Rxd2 Rb5 {It is possible that White would be better after the exchange of Rooks, despite the pawn minus, because Black's extra pawn is doubled and weak. Spassky's move returns the pawn for a minute positional advantage.} 26. Rc2 Bd6 27. Rxc6 Ra5 28. Bf4 $1 { Fischer wisely sacrifices a pawn to bring about a standard drawn Rook-and-pawn ending,} ({because if} 28. Rc2 Ke6 {followed by ...Ra4+ would give White trouble.}) 28... Ra4+ 29. Kf3 Ra3+ 30. Ke4 Rxa2 31. Bxd6 cxd6 32. Rxd6 Rxf2 33. Rxa6 Rxh2 34. Kf3 {Now the game could have been given up as a draw, but since Fischer insists on playing everything out, Spassky decides to do the same today. Throughout the next 26 moves there was some tittering in the audience, which seemed amused at the spectacle of the two chess giants fooling around with an elementary position, like Frank Lloyd Wright playing in a sandbox.} Rd2 35. Ra7+ Kf6 36. Ra6+ Ke7 37. Ra7+ Rd7 38. Ra2 Ke6 39. Kg2 Re7 40. Kh3 Kf6 41. Ra6+ Re6 42. Ra5 h6 43. Ra2 Kf5 44. Rf2+ Kg5 45. Rf7 g6 46. Rf4 h5 47. Rf3 Rf6 48. Ra3 Re6 49. Rf3 Re4 50. Ra3 Kh6 51. Ra6 Re5 52. Kh4 Re4+ 53. Kh3 Re7 54. Kh4 Re5 55. Rb6 Kg7 56. Rb4 Kh6 57. Rb6 Re1 58. Kh3 Rh1+ 59. Kg2 Ra1 60. Kh3 Ra4 1/2-1/2

Game 17 ends in repetition

In Chess Life & Review Robert Byrne writes:

"Fischer surprised once more in the 17th game, defending for the first time in his career a Pire-Robatsch Defense, which he has always bruised badly himself when White. Spassky, in an adventurous mood, came on strong with a dangerous pawn sacrifice, bearing down on the enemy King's position with two powerful Bishops. Although it was not clear that the attack would succeed, Fischer chose to sacrifice the Exchange in order to simplify into a drawn ending. Because whatever chances were left belonged to White, Spassky's falling into a threefold repetition of the position right at the beginning of the second playing session seemed strange. Did he overlook the repetition or was he deliberately acquiescing to the draw? All I can say is that he looked unhappy when Chief Referee Lothar Schmid confirmed the repetition and the draw. It was certainly no great loss, for Fischer would pretty clearly have cinched the draw anyway. The score now good as 9-6 in favor of Fischer."

We bring you excerpts of Byrne's commentary:

[Event "Reykjavik World Championship (17)"] [Site "Reykjavik"] [Date "1972.08.22"] [Round "17"] [White "Spassky, Boris Vasilievich"] [Black "Fischer, Robert James"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B09"] [WhiteElo "2660"] [BlackElo "2785"] [Annotator "Byrne,Robert"] [PlyCount "89"] [EventDate "1972.07.11"] [EventType "match"] [EventRounds "21"] [EventCountry "ISL"] [SourceTitle "MainBase"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. e4 d6 2. d4 g6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. f4 {In the past Spassky has usually preferred the quieter, more positional 4.Nf3 to the ambitious text move.} Bg7 5. Nf3 c5 { This move has long been considered dubious, although the present game may challenge that opinion.} ({By far the most popular continuation here is} 5... O-O 6. Bd3 Nc6 {which has held its own despite persistant attempts at refutation.}) 6. dxc5 Qa5 (6... dxc5 $2 7. Qxd8+ Kxd8 8. e5 {give White an all but decisive endgame advantage.}) 7. Bd3 ({White cannot reply} 7. cxd6 { because of the terrific counterplay resulting from} Nxe4) 7... Qxc5 8. Qe2 O-O 9. Be3 Qa5 {[#]} ({White can win a pawn by} 9... Qb4 $6 {since} 10. O-O-O $2 ({ However} 10. O-O Qxb2 11. Nb5 Ne8 12. e5 Qb4 13. Nxa7 {gets it back with advantage.}) 10... Nxe4 $1 11. Bxe4 Bxc3 12. bxc3 Qxe4 {is a lost game for White.}) 10. O-O Bg4 {This idea of Fischer's must be the best Black has, for the Bishop would be inoperative at d7, and at e6 just asking for f5.} 11. Rad1 $5 {Spassky is already getting set for a disputable pawn sacrifice,} ({but the simple} 11. a3 Bxf3 12. Qxf3 {guarantees White a small edge.}) 11... Nc6 12. Bc4 Nh5 $1 {While running after a pqwn this way involves great risk, it really cannot be avioded, since a quiet continuation would only allow White to build up his Kingside attach at no cost at all.} 13. Bb3 Bxc3 14. bxc3 Qxc3 15. f5 Nf6 {[#]It's no secret that Spassky has dangerous attacking chances with two powerful Bishops bearing down on the Black King position and the possibility of opening the f-file for his Rooks as well.} 16. h3 Bxf3 17. Qxf3 Na5 18. Rd3 Qc7 19. Bh6 Nxb3 20. cxb3 ({All that} 20. Bxf8 $2 {would accomplish is simplification useful for Black after} Nc5 21. Bh6 Nxd3) 20... Qc5+ 21. Kh1 Qe5 $6 {[#]There is some risk of Black losing now because he gets only one pawn for the Exchange in the coming endgame.} 22. Bxf8 Rxf8 23. Re3 Rc8 24. fxg6 $2 {It was better to leave the f-pawn on the board and play Qf4 at once. Then it might be possible to operate with some threat of f6 in the endgame which comes up in five moves.} hxg6 25. Qf4 {There is no longer any reason for White to maintain a middle game situation, since his pieces are tied down to the defense of the e-pawn, while Fischer has the only open file.} Qxf4 26. Rxf4 Nd7 27. Rf2 Ne5 28. Kh2 Rc1 29. Ree2 Nc6 {It was absolutely vital to seal the c-file this way so the White Rooks are denied play.} 30. Rc2 Re1 {The exchange of Rooks would lose for Black since the Knight then becomes a totally passive file blockader which can soon be driven out of the way by P-b4-b5. If Black brought his King to d7 to hold the seventh and eighth ranks, the passed pawn White could get by h4, g4 and h5 would decide.} 31. Rfe2 Ra1 32. Kg3 Kg7 33. Rcd2 Rf1 34. Rf2 Re1 35. Rfe2 Rf1 36. Re3 a6 {Fischer rules out the idea of R-d5-b5.} 37. Rc3 Re1 38. Rc4 Rf1 39. Rdc2 Ra1 40. Rf2 Re1 41. Rfc2 g5 42. Rc1 Re2 43. R1c2 Re1 44. Rc1 Re2 45. R1c2 {Fischer claimed the threefold repeti-tion of position that comes about after 45...Re1. If the repetition was not a nervous-tension error by Spassky, why did he not at least try a3 and b4, with the plan of a break at b5? Even if the active Black Rook could thwart the idea, it was worth a try.} 1/2-1/2

In the magazine New in Chess vol 6/2012, GM Lubomir Kavalek, who was in Reykjavik for the Match of the Century, both as a journalist and, in the second half, as one of Fischer’s seconds, describes what happened during the adjournment: "In Game 17 Bobby gave up an exchange, but was able to build a fortress. Spassky’s only chance to play for win was to give back the exchange and go to a rook endgame. ‘The only way to find out is to allow it,’ Bobby said after we began our analysis. His fingers moved across the chessboard quickly and the clumsy rooks began to fly. At one point I thought the black rook should go behind the white pawns. ‘No,’ he said without hesitation, ‘the rook has to hit them from the side. I know that.’ Some players calculate endgames, others go by instinct. Bobby knew what to do."

Around this time Spassky's delegation head Nikolai Krogius though that Spassky's second Ivo Nei was behaving oddly, spending a lot of time alone with GM Robert Byrne. The book Bobby Fischer Goes to War by David Edmonds and John Eidinow (see below) describes the situation:

Nei was put under hostile interrogation. He did not deny his contacts with Byrne, that he and the American were analyzing the match and that he was passing Byrne his comments on the games for future publication in the United States. 

Both Sides of the Chessboard

His dubious listeners pressed Nei: “Why was he engaged in outside work of such a suspicious nature, and in secret, without Spassky’s permission? And in the material passed to the American, what had he said about Spassky’s condition and his own assessment of Spassky’s chess to date?” They were not satisfied with Nei’s responses. The conversation grew extremely heated. Nei was told that his services were no longer required and that he must leave.

On the following day [game seventeen, on 22 August 1972] the Estonian flew out. Nei says that many people in the chess world were surprised to see him return to Estonia; they thought he would end up in Siberia or the West. But, he asks, why? He had not behaved incorrectly. From Tallinn, he went on to send his final contributions for the book to the States, in seven parts. He must have had some trepidation about the project: he posted each of these sections to separate addresses in Canada as well as the United States.

The resulting book by Robert Byrne and Ivo Nei, Both Sides of the Chessboard, published by Harper Collins, is available from AbeBooks.

Game 18

In Chess Life & Review January 1973 GM Robert Byrne continued his series on the Match of the Century. On page 17, taking up the narrative after game 17, he wrote: "Redoubled efforts by Boris Spassky to lop a point from the challenger's lead made for brilliant, hard-fought chess in the next stage of the match, which saw Fischer inching nearer and nearer to victory with draws in games 8, 19 and 20. Was Bobby content merely to sneak in by split points? I don't believe it—it's never been his style. I think the explanation for the draws is to be found in Spassky's improvements in his openings. In games 18 and 20, Boris returned to the Sicilian Defense which worked well for him in game 4. The 18th contest was a great struggle in which Black's chances were never inferior to White's.."

In New in Chess vol 6/2012 GM Lubomir Kavalek wrote: "Bobby was obsessed with winning and was not happy until he had exhausted all possibilities. This became clear when we analysed the adjourned position of Game 18. We soon realized that every winning attempt was doomed. The chances always tilted towards Spassky, but was Boris winning? Bobby’s eyes lit up when I suggested a queen manoeuvre, forcing Spassky to repeat moves. ‘Great! We have a draw. Let’s go for the win again,’ and we spent four more hours trying to find something that wasn’t there. For a single victory, Bobby could work himself to exhaustion."

[Event "Reykjavik World Championship (18)"] [Site "Reykjavik"] [Date "1972.08.24"] [Round "18"] [White "Fischer, Robert James"] [Black "Spassky, Boris Vasilievich"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B69"] [WhiteElo "2785"] [BlackElo "2660"] [Annotator "Byrne,Robert"] [PlyCount "94"] [EventDate "1972.07.11"] [EventType "match"] [EventRounds "21"] [EventCountry "ISL"] [SourceTitle "MainBase"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. e4 {From game 14 on to the end of the match Bobby sticks to 1.e4, perhaps feeling that 1.d4 has used up its surprise value.} c5 {Boris has never liked the aggressive Sicilian, but in this and the other two games of this match in which he played it, he does so well that it may become the defense of his future.} 2. Nf3 d6 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Nf6 6. Bg5 {Outside of 6.Bc4, which Spassky countered strongly in game 4, this is the most ambitious move to put Black under pressure.} ({After the tame} 6. Be2 e5 {Black has little trouble getting an acceptable game.}) 6... e6 7. Qd2 a6 8. O-O-O Bd7 9. f4 Be7 10. Nf3 {Some may has to be sought to breach Black's solid position; this move threatens e5. In game 20, Fischer tries 10.Be2, but without success.} b5 { The only good reply.} 11. Bxf6 {Having come so far, this is the only alternative to create sharp play, since the immediate 11.Bd3 has never proven to yield White anything.} ({The move 10...b5 intends} 11. e5 b4 12. exf6 bxc3 13. Qxc3 gxf6 14. Bh4 {reaching a position in which Black relies on his preponderance in the center to make up for his slighly uncomfortable King situation. Boris's heading for it and Bobby's avoidance of it by his next move indicate they are unanimous in the judgment that Black's chances are fully adequate.}) 11... gxf6 ({Had Fischer been expecting Spassky to venture Simagin's gambit,} 11... Bxf6 $6 12. Qxd6 Be7 13. Qd2 b4 14. Na4 Ra7 {–? While there is a considerable amount of play in it, its soundness is still questionable. By his recapture, Spassky enters into an old line of the defense which has long been considered inferior, but which may get a new lease on life as a result of this game.}) 12. Bd3 {This move has little force. White's only correct idea must be to aim at exploiting the doubled pawns by g3, Bh3, f5, etc., with the intention of forcing ...e5, so that the d5 square can be occupied. Mikhail Tal won a fine game from me in that manner in the Varna Olympiad, 1962.} Qa5 13. Kb1 b4 14. Ne2 Qc5 {Spassky makes room for the advance of his a-pawn to break open a file for attack on the enemy King, a far better plan than 0-0-0, which constricts Black's own counterplay.} 15. f5 { Such a pawn sacrifice is routine in proceeding against the doubled pawns,} a5 ( {Acceptance by} 15... exf5 $2 16. exf5 Bxf5 17. Bxf5 Qxf5 18. Nf4 {followed by Nd5, fatally wrecks both Black's pawn position and the defense of his King.}) 16. Nf4 a4 17. Rc1 {Measures must be taken against ...b3, while Fischer looks toward using the QB his for his own benefit. It is difficult to suggest an alternative.} Rb8 18. c3 {While Spassky was not yet threatening ...b3, it is impossible for White to go ahead with any plans without securing his King position first.} b3 ({Fridrik Olafsson criticized the blocking of the Queenside, recommending instead} 18... Ne5 {However, after} 19. Nd4 bxc3 20. Qxc3 Qxc3 21. Rxc3 Nxd3 22. Nxd3 {tha game is about even. The more ambitious text move confines the White King to the first rank and, later on. gives Black dangerous opportunities to work with mate threats when only Rooks and Queens remain.}) 19. a3 Ne5 20. Rhf1 ({The attempt to go all out against Black's weak e6 square would not succeed, for} 20. fxe6 fxe6 21. Nd4 Kf7 ({The sacrifice line} 21... Nc4 22. Qe2 Nxa3+ {is not sound:} 23. bxa3 Qxa3 24. Nfxe6 { threatening Qh5 mate} Bxe6 25. Nxe6 b2 26. Bb5+ Kf7 27. Qh5+ $1 Kg8 (27... Kxe6 28. Qd5#) 28. Rcf1 Qa1+ 29. Kc2 Qa2 30. Kd3 {and White wins since} ({Actually} 30. Qg4+ {forces mate:} Kf7 31. Qg7+ Kxe6 32. Rxf6+ Bxf6 33. Qd7+ Ke5 34. Qf5# {–ed.}) 30... Qxe6 {is answered by} 31. Bc4) 22. Be2 Ng6 $1 {keeps everything well defended.}) 20... Nc4 21. Bxc4 Qxc4 22. Rce1 Kd8 {Removing the King from the center is a good idea and the destination c7 is the safest on the board.} 23. Ka1 $6 {It is dangerous to take the King so far into the corner, because in the event of simplification and a heavy-piece ending, Black could operate with back-rank mate threats.} ({The alternative would be} 23. g4 {when White could plan Nh5 to put pressure directly on the doubled pawns.}) 23... Rb5 {The fourth rank is a good place for the Rook since it may be convenient to defend the e-pawn by ...Re5 if the Queens are exchanged.} 24. Nd4 Ra5 25. Nd3 Kc7 26. Nb4 h5 {Q-h6-g7 was an annoying threat.} 27. g3 Re5 (27... h4 {can be answered by} 28. g4 {It is very difficult for either side to make progress in this involved position.}) 28. Nd3 Rb8 $5 {It is not entirely clear that this Exchange sacrifice is sound.} 29. Qe2 {Now as long as White can get rid of the Queens too, grabbing the Exchange bceomes a serious possibility.} ({ White would have his hands full of problems after} 29. fxe6 fxe6 30. Nxe5 dxe5 31. Nf3 {The King pawn is vulnerable, the central Black pawn mass controls a great number of important squares, making it hard for White to maneuver his pieces, and White must be on guard every moment against the possible sacrifice, ...Bxa3 ...b2+, etc. The main trouble is that Fischer cannot be compelled to take the Rook.}) 29... Ra5 30. fxe6 $6 {Something had to be done about the threat, 30...e5 31.Nf3, d5, but undoubling the pawns gets White into trouble.} ({Correct was} 30. Nb4 {and if} Qxe2 31. Nxe2 $1 {and White menaces Nf4.}) 30... fxe6 31. Rf2 $2 {Fischer is letting himself in for more than either player realizes; Nb4 or Nf4 had to be played.} e5 $1 32. Nf5 Bxf5 33. Rxf5 d5 $1 34. exd5 {[#]} Qxd5 $2 {Spassky has just engineered a fine break in the center and now muffs it!} ({After} 34... Rd8 {White is hard put for a defense:} 35. Nf4 Qxe2 36. Rxe2 Kd6 37. Nxh5 Rxd5 38. Rf1 Kc7 39. Ree1 Rd2 40. h4 { gives Black a draw by} Bxa3 41. bxa3 Ra2+ 42. Kb1 Rdd2 {but he should decline it and play for a win, since White is all tied up guarding against back-rank mates. Readying the advance of the e-pawn to the queening square is the idea.}) 35. Nb4 Qd7 36. Rxh5 $2 {Now it's Fischer's turn to blow his chance!} (36. Qc4+ $1 Kb6 37. Rxh5 Rd8 38. Rb1 Bxb4 39. Qxb4+ Rb5 40. Qh4 $1 Qd3 41. Qxf6+ Ka5 42. Qg5 {while fraught with dangers at every turn, could well be tried by a player hot after the point.}) 36... Bxb4 {Naturally the terrifically strong Knight cannot be permitted to remain on the board, and besides, Bobby was threatening Rh7, with a decisive pin.} 37. cxb4 Rd5 {The back-rank mate threats give Black the edge in this position, although Fischer demonstrates that White can just hold on.} 38. Rc1+ Kb7 39. Qe4 Rc8 $1 {Spassky wants to give his Queen in return for mate.} 40. Rb1 (40. Rxc8 Kxc8 41. Rh8+ Kc7 42. Rh7 Rd1+) ({Quite useless is the pin} 40. Rd1 {since the Black King can simply step out of it and nothing can be won.}) 40... Kb6 41. Rh7 Rd4 $1 {Even though he is a pawn down the Rook ending following the exchange of Queens is in Spassky's favor, once again because of the abysmal position of the White King. That holds true regardless of whether there are two or four Rooks remaining.} 42. Qg6 Qc6 43. Rf7 Rd6 44. Qh6 $1 {Now Spassky is tied down to the defense of the f-pawn and cannot shake free to do any mating.} Qf3 ({He also has to be on guard against} 44... -- 45. Qe3+ Rd4 46. Qf2 {winning.}) 45. Qh7 Qc6 ({Of course} 45... Rd1 { fails against} 46. Rxf6+) 46. Qh6 Qf3 47. Qh7 Qc6 1/2-1/2

Lights and chairs – suspicion of tampering

The book Bobby Fischer Goes to War by David Edmonds and John Eidinow, first edition 2004 by Harper Collins, describes the mood of the Soviet side at this stage of the match:

In Moscow, at the end of July, apprehension over Spassky’s performance was running at a high level... There is a proposal to send the champion Kogitum—a medicine against nervous tension—and some exasperation at his refusal to take it. One report to have reached the KGB was that Fischer was being assisted by a computer (in Russian called an IBM—a Soviet tribute to American big business) and a device in his chair. There have already been reports in the Western press of Fischer being computer aided, reports derisively dismissed in Reykjavik by Spassky, Geller, and Krogius. Back in Moscow, the KGB does not believe silicon-based shenanigans are any more practical. A Comrade Lvov, a KGB technical officer, explains to the deputy minister that Fischer would have needed a full year to develop the requisite computer program and would have to have a portable receiver and a membrane in his ear to receive the signals.

Lvov is also the bearer of other shadowy news: he reports the possibility that Spassky has had a letter threatening his family if he returns to Moscow a winner. This is investigated, and no proof of its existence is found. The provenance of this letter is unclear; today, Spassky says he had no knowledge of it.

Other means of defending Spassky are afoot. As July turns into August, an unnamed forensic psychiatrist takes part in a meeting with Lvov and Gostiev. Lvov is all set to organize a check for radiation from radio waves and X-rays “on the spot” — presumably in the hall.

Throughout this period, the possibility of Spassky’s being the target of hypnosis and telepathy is being discussed. There is a hint that sending a psychiatrist to Reykjavik... Then there is the alarm over Spassky’s refreshments—that on 15 August he drank some juice and was overcome with lethargy... A sample is sent to Moscow. KGB scientists check the sample — nothing untoward was found.

However, the KGB is not content to play a purely reactive role. The organization’s idea of a helping hand also involves taking the initiative, instigating its own rumor that Fischer is cheating through a device hidden in his chair—a device, so the rumor goes, that is impairing Spassky’s performance and/or benefiting Fischer.

In his August 25 report for the New York Times — filed on Aug. 24, when game 18 was still in adjournment — Harold Schonberg wrote:

Earlier today, two Icelandic scientists were brought into Exhibition Hall to investigate the charges of electronic and chemical trickery made yesterday by Efim Geller of the Soviet delegation... Sigmundur Gudbjarnason, a professor of chemistry, and Dadi Augustin, an electronics engineer, were asked to survey the hall. Mr. Augustin made a visual and technical inspection of the lighting, about which Geller was suspicious, and the only thing he discovered were two dead flies. He concluded that there had been no tampering with the lights.

Mr. Augustin also brought X-ray equipment to the stage and took pictures of the chairs, especially Fischer's. Geller had wondered why Fischer always insisted on his own chair. After the X-ray report, Mr. Augustin was able to testify that Fischer's chair was identical in every respect with Spassky's. There was nothing unusual inside either chair.

After subjecting scrapings of both chairs to chemical analysis and gas chromography, Mr. Gudbjarnason decided that no alien or toxic chemicals were present in any body residue of either player. No Russians were present while the chemical and electronic analyses were being made, but Donald Schultz of the United States delegation was on hand.

Advert in Chess Life and Review. This book is still available, used, for less than $2.

In Bobby Fischer Goes to War, David Edmonds and John Eidinow write:

It remains an open question whether a KGB operative planted something in Fischer’s chair for the X-rays to pick up, part of an inept attempt to rescue the champion’s reputation, perhaps even to have Fischer disgraced and disqualified. Strikingly, even the American Don Schultz, an IBM engineer by profession and president of the USCF from 1996 to 1999, is suspicious. During the X-ray process, Fischer’s team sent Schultz along to act as an observer. He still has the contemporaneous notes he took, including a sketch of the object with the loop that he saw in the first X-ray.

Don Schultz, former USCF President, was in Reykjavik at the time and filed the note shown on the left. It is hard to decipher reliably, but this is what it appears to say:

"Aug 25 Fri 3:10: Following adjournment game, I received a call from Gudmundur Thrarin(sson) ICF Pres. to come to hall to review the results large group of people there. Told that X-Rays showed ??? in chairs. Other tests were reviewed and were ok."

A commendation for anyone who can do a better job of deciphering this note.

Addendum: Lubomir Kavalek's wife Irena, who was with him the whole time in Reykjavik in 1972, pointed out that it says "Told that x-rays showed differences in chairs." She and mdamien in our feedback section below deserve the special commendation.

At the time, in public, he laughed off the Soviet allegations. But later he too admitted to doubts: “Everything wasn’t fully explained.” What puzzled him was the discrepancy between the two X-rays. He was there as the second set of X-rays was developed and saw that the looplike object, the “anomaly,” as he calls it, had disappeared.

I’ve thought long about this. The only plausible thing—and it really sounds radical, and I didn’t want to mention it at the time, as I thought nobody would believe me—but I think there is a slight chance that some crackpot Russian agent—and this is really wild—some crackpot Russian agent had a plan to try to embarrass the U.S. by planting something in the chair and then making a complaint and having it found. And their security forces found out what he did and thought it was a crackpot idea, and somehow they got it out.

Move times and adjournments

Here are the times for games 16–18, as recorded by Lawrence Stevens, who visited the match in Reykjavik and jotted them down from the video screens:

Game 16, August 20th, 1972

Fischer Spassky
White Black
(ar) (0:09) (ar) (-:01)
1. e4 (0:09)
(Spassky appeared a minute before play was to begin. When Fischer arrived and played his move, Spassky had gone. He returned two minutes later.)
(ar) (0:02)
1. e5 (0:03)
2. Nf3 (0:09) Nc6 (0:03)
3. Bb5 (0:09) a6 (0:03)
4. Bxc6 (0:10) dxc6 (0:03)
5. 0-0 (0:10) f6 (0:04)
6. d4 (0:10) Bg4 (0:06)
7. dxe5 (0:10) Qxd1 (0:06)
8. Rxd1 (0:10) fxe5 (0:06)
9. Rd3 (0:16) Bd6 (0:06)
10. Nbd2 (0:20) Nf6 (0:07)
11. Nc4 (0:27) Nxe4 (0:11)
12. Ncxe5 (0:29) Bxf3 (0:25)
13. Nxf3 (0:31) 0-0 (0:26)
14. Be3 (0:32) b5 (0:31)
15. c4 (0:55) Rab8 (0:33)
16. Rc1 (1:06) bxc4 (0:43)
17. Rd4 (1:10) Rfe8 (0:46)
18. Nd2 (1:14) Nxd2 (0:49)
19. Rxd2 (1:14) Re4 (1:12)
20. g3 (1:25) Be5 (1:20)
21. Rcc2 (1:26) Kf7 (1:21)
22. Kg2 (1:27) Rxb2 (1:26)
23. Kf3 (1:36) c3 (1:28)
24. Kxe4 (1:36) cxd2 (1:29)
25. Rxd2 (1:36) Rb5 (1:32)
26. Rc2 (1:39) Bd6 (1:33)
27. Rxc6 (1:41) Ra5 (1:33)
28. Bf4 (1:45) Ra4+ (1:40)
29. Kf3 (1:46) Ra3+ (1:46)
30. Ke4 (1:47) Rxa2 (1:47)
31. Bxd6 (1:47) cxd6 (1:47)
32. Rxd6 (1:47) Rxf2 (1:47)
33. Rxa6 (1:47) Rxh2 (1:47)
34. Kf3 (1:51) Rd2 (1:47)
35. Ra7+ (1:58) Kf6 (1:48)
36. Ra6+ (1:58) Ke7 (1:49)
37. Ra7+ (1:58) Rd7 (1:49)
38. Ra2 (1:59) Ke6 (1:49)
39. Kg2 (2:00) Re7 (1:52)
40. Kh3 (2:02) Kf6 (1:52)
41. Ra6+ (2:05) Re6 (1:52)
42. Ra5 (2:05) h6 (1:54)
43. Ra2 (2:07) Kf5 (1:55)
44. Rf2+ (2:08) Kg5 (1:55)
45. Rf7 (2:09) g6 (1:55)
46. Rf4 (2:11) h5 (1:56)
47. Rf3 (2:13) Rf6 (1:57)
48. Ra3 (2:13) Re6 (1:59)
49. Rf3 (2:18) Re4 (1:59)
50. Ra3 (2:19) Kh6 (2:02)
51. Ra6 (2:20) Re5 (2:05)
52. Kh4 (2:25) Re4+ (2:10)
53. Kh3 (2:25) Re7 (2:10)
54. Kh4 (2:30) Re5 (2:15)
55. Rb6 (2:32) Kg7 (2:15)
56. Rb4 (2:35) Kh6 (2:16)
57. Rb6 (2:35) Re1 (2:16)
58. Kh3 (2:35) Rh1+ (2:23)
59. Kg2 (2:35) Ra1 (2:23)
60. Kh3 (2:36) Ra4 (2:23)
½-½ (2:37)

Game 17, August 22th, 1972

Spassky Fischer
White Black
(ar) (0:05)
1. e4 (0:00) d6 (0:05)
2. d4 (0:02) g6 (0:05)
3. Nc3 (0:06) Nf6 (0:09)
4. f4 (0:07) Bg7 (0:09)
5. Nf3 (0:07) c5 (0:24)
6. dxc5 (0:12) Qa5 (0:24)
7. Bd3 (0:13) Qxc5 (0:25)
8. Qe2 (0:13) 0-0 (0:30)
9. Be3 (0:14) Qa5 (0:32)
10. 0-0 (0:16) Bg4 (0:34)
11. Rad1 (0:50) Nc6 (0:35)
12. Bc4 (0:56) Nh5 (0:53)
13. Bb3 (1:12) Bxc3 (0:54)
14. bxc3 (1:12) Qxc3 (0:54)
15. f5 (1:17) Nf6 (1:07)
16. h3 (1:39) Bxf3 (1:17)
17. Qxf3 (1:39) Na5 (1:21)
18. Rd3 (1:42) Qc7 (1:31)
19. Bh6 (1:48) Nxb3 (1:32)
20. cxb3 (1:48) Qc5+ (1:38)
21. Kh1 (1:49) Qe5 (1:38)
22. Bxf8 (1:52) Rxf8 (1:38)
23. Re3 (2:01) Rc8 (1:39)
24. fxg6 (2:03) hxg6 (1:39)
25. Qf4 (2:04) Qxf4 (1:49)
26. Rxf4 (2:04) Nd7 (1:50)
27. Rf2 (2:04) Ne5 (1:54)
28. Kh2 (2:04) Rc1 (1:57)
29. Ree2 (2:04) Nc6 (1:58)
30. Rc2 (2:05) Re1 (2:00)
31. Rfe2 (2:06) Ra1 (2:01)
32. Kg3 (2:09) Kg7 (2:01)
33. Rcd2 (2:12) Rf1 (2:05)
34. Rf2 (2:14) Re1 (2:06)
35. Rfe2 (2:15) Rf1 (2:06)
36. Re3 (2:15) a6 (2:11)
37. Rc3 (2:18) Re1 (2:13)
38. Rc4 (2:18) Rf1 (2:16)
39. Rdc2 (2:19) Ra1 (2:17)
40. Rf2 (2:23) Re1 (2:20)
41. Rfc2(s) (2:44)
(Both players arrived a minute before the resumption of the game.)
41. ... g5 (2:21)
42. Rc1 (2:49) Re2 (2:23)
43. R1c2 (2:49) Re1 (2:23)
44. Rc1 (2:59) Re2 (2:24)
45. R1c2 (2:59) Re1 (2:24)

Spassky spent 15 minutes on the position after Fischer’s 41st move. That is, 5 minutes making his 42nd move, and 10 more minutes making his 44th when the same position occurred again. Perhaps he was surprised at Fischer’s 41st move.

Game 18, August 24-25, 1972

Fischer Spassky
White Black
(ar) (0:08)
1. e4 (0:08) c5 (0:02)
2. Nf3 (0:09) d6 (0:02)
3. Nc3 (0:09) Nc6 (0:03)
4. d4 (0:09) cxd4 (0:03)
5. Nxd4 (0:09) Nf6 (0:03)
6. Bg5 (0:10) e6 (0:04)
7. Qd2 (0:10) a6 (0:04)
8. 0-0-0 (0:10) Bd7 (0:05)
9. f4 (0:10) Be7 (0:06)
10. Nf3 (0:12) b5 (0:06)
11. Bxf6 (0:13) gxf6 (0:07)
12. Bd3 (0:18) Qa5 (0:30)
13. Kb1 (0:18) b4 (0:31)
14. Ne2 (0:19) Qc5 (0:31)
15. f5 (0:33) a5 (0:42)
16. Nf4 (0:42) a4 (0:51)
17. Rc1 (0:43) Rb8 (1:04)
18. c3 (0:54) b3 (1:17)
19. a3 (0:56) Ne5 (1:18)
20. Rhf1 (1:22) Nc4 (1:25)
21. Bxc4 (1:24) Qxc4 (1:25)
22. Rce1 (1:29) Kd8 (1:34)
23. Ka1 (1:34) Rb5 (1:35)
24. Nd4 (1:37) Ra5 (1:38)
25. Nd3 (1:40) Kc7 (1:43)
26. Nb4 (1:40) h5 (1:45)
27. g3 (1:43) Re5 (1:50)
28. Nd3 (1:44) Rb8 (1:52)
29. Qe2 (1:47) Ra5 (1:54)
30. fxe6 (1:56) fxe6 (1:54)
31. Rf2 (1:58) e5 (1:58)
32. Nf5 (2:00) Bxf5 (1:59)
33. Rxf5 (2:00) d5 (2:00)
34. exd5 (2:01) Qxd5 (2:09)
35. Nb4 (2:02) Qd7 (2:12)
36. Rxh5 (2:05) Bxb4 (2:17)
37. cxb4 (2:05) Rd5 (2:17)
38. Rc1+ (2:10) Kb7 (2:17)
39. Qe4 (2:11) Rc8 (2:18)
40. Rb1 (2:13) Kb6 (2:24)
41. Rh7 (2:14) Rd4 (2:30)
42. Qg6 (2:16) Qc6(s) (2:44)
(ar) (2:27)
(Fischer arrived 11 minutes late for the adjournment.)
43. Rf7 (2:28) Rd6
44. Qh6 Qf3
45. Qh7 (2:29) Qc6 (2:44)
46. Qh6 (2:40) Qf3 (2:44)
47. Qh7 (2:41) Qc6

(ar) indicates the player’s arrival.
(s) indicates a sealed move.

On August 25th 1972, exactly 45 years ago, the adjournment of the 18th game ended, and Fischer still had his three-point lead. Things were getting alarming close for World Champion Spassky.

Previous articles

Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (1)
In the final week of June 1972 the chess world was in turmoil. The match between World Champion Boris Spassky and his challenger Bobby Fischer was scheduled to begin, in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, on July 1st. But there was no sign of Fischer. The opening ceremony took place without him, and the first game, scheduled for July 2nd, was postponed. Then finally, in the early hours of July 4th, Fischer arrived. Frederic Friedel narrates.

Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (2)
The legendary Match of the Century between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer was staged in the Laugardalshöllin in Reykjavik. This is Iceland’s largest sporting arena, seating 5,500, but also the site for concerts – Led Zeppelin, Leonard Cohen and David Bowie all played there. 45 years after the Spassky-Fischer spectacle Frederic Friedel visited Laugardalshöllin and discovered some treasures there.

Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (3)
On July 11, 1992 the legendary Match of the Century between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer finally began. Fischer arrived late, due to heavy traffic. To everybody's surprise he played a Nimzo instead of his normal Gruenfeld or King's Indian. The game developed along uninspired lines and most experts were predicting a draw. And then, on move twenty-nine, Fischer engaged in one of the most dangerous gambles of his career. "One move, and we hit every front page in the world!" said a blissful organiser.

Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (4)
7/16/2017 – The challenger, tormented by the cameras installed in the playing hall, traumatically lost the first game of his match against World Champion Boris Spassky. He continued his vigorous protest, and when his demands were not met Fischer did not turn up for game two. He was forfeited and the score was 0-2. Bobby booked a flight back to New York, but practically at the very last moment decided to play game three – in an isolated ping-pong room!

Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (5)
7/21/2017 – After three games in the Match of the Century the score was 2:1 for the reigning World Champion. In game four Spassky played a well-prepared Sicilian and obtained a raging attack. Fischer defended tenaciously and the game was drawn. Then came a key game, about which the 1972 US Champion and New York Times and Chess Life correspondent GM Robert Byrne filed reports. In Reykjavik chess fan Lawrence Stevens from California did something extraordinary: he manually recorded the times both players had spent on each move.

Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (6)
7/26/2017 – In the sixth installment of our series we offer readers a glimpse of what had been happening behind the scenes of “The Match of The Century”, especially in the Russian camp. A tense Boris Spassky, cajoled by seconds Efim Geller and Nikolai Krogius, nevertheless failed to perform to the dismay of his friends and admirers. It’s also the story of a gamble that could have hurtled Bobby down the precipice in that fateful Game 6 of the match. A cautionary tale and object lesson for aspiring players.

Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (7)
8/4/2017 – After the first two traumatic games World Champion Boris Spassky was leading 2-0 in the Match of the Century. But then Fischer started to play and struck back: in the next eight games he scored 6½ points, chalking up a 6.5-3.5 lead. Games 8, 9 and 10 were quite spectacular, and are the subject of today's report. Younger players will also learn about "adjournments" and how exactly "sealed moves" were handled. Some were born after these practices were abandoned.

Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (8)
8/9/2017 – After ten games in the World Championship match in Reykjavik, 1972, the score was 6½-3½ for Challenger Bobby Fischer. The match seemed virtually over – in the last eight games Boris Spassky had only managed to score 1½ points. "If it had been the best of 12 games, as in the Candidates matches, Spassky would already have been on his way home..." wrote Garry Kasparov in his Great Predessors book. In game 11 Boris took on the Poisoned Pawn variation of the Najdorf Sicilian, even though he had obtained a lost position in game seven. Take a look at what happened.

Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (9)
8/11/2017 – In game eleven of the World Championship match in Reykjavik, 1972, Boris Spassky had comprehensively outplayed the challenger in his favourite poisoned pawn variation of the Sicilian Defence. In game 12 he made a confident draw with black and Fischer realized his opponent was gaining ground. In the 13th game he abandoned the Sicilian and, to the chagrin of Spassky, played, for the first time in a top-level game – the Alekhine Defence. It turned into one of the most exciting battles of the match, and is beautifully annotated by GM Robert Byrne.

Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (10)
8/18/2017 – The Match of the Century was coming to a head, with Spassky, but despite all his efforts, unable to reduce the deficit. "I felt that Fischer was like a large fish in my hands," he lamented, "one that was slippery and hard to hold on to. At certain moments I let him slip. And then again the psychological torment would begin. Everything had to be begun again from the start ..." Spassky was beginning to feel despondent.

Master Class Vol.1: Bobby Fischer

No other World Champion was more infamous both inside and outside the chess world than Bobby Fischer. On this DVD, a team of experts shows you the winning techniques and strategies employed by the 11th World Champion.

Grandmaster Dorian Rogozenco delves into Fischer’s openings, and retraces the development of his repertoire. What variations did Fischer play, and what sources did he use to arm himself against the best Soviet players? Mihail Marin explains Fischer’s particular style and his special strategic talent in annotated games against Spassky, Taimanov and other greats. Karsten Müller is not just a leading international endgame expert, but also a true Fischer connoisseur.

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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