Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (14)

by David Levy
9/7/2017 – Back in 1972 it was no trivial task to produce a book very quickly. Especially not a chess book, which required special diagrams for which there were no fonts. When IM and author David Levy came up with the idea of producing a book on the Reykjavik Spassky-Fischer match, and deliver 100,000 copies in New York within 96 hours of the end of the match, that sounded quite outlandish. But he managed to pull it off. It is an interesting fact that Levy and the author Svetozar Gligoric actually knew the final move and result of the match before Fischer.

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The First “Instant Book” on a World Chess Championship

By David Levy

Shortly after Reykjavik was chosen as the location for the Fischer-Spassky match I came up with the idea of publishing an instant book of the event. This had never previously been done for a chess match, but then there had never before been a match that had aroused such worldwide interest. At the time I was in a business partnership with Tony Gillam, who owned The Chess Player publishing house, and who had all the experience necessary to organise the typesetting, printing and production of such a book.

I was living in Glasgow at the time and had developed a relationship with William Collins, the huge publisher which was already handling my book “Gligoric’s Chess Career”. The idea I presented to Jan Collins was to have the book written and typeset as the match progressed, and to publish it within days of its conclusion. The ideal author was Svetozar Gligoric, with whom I had become friendly while competing in the Praia da Rocha Zonal tournament in 1969, where I gained my IM title. “Gliga” was a very popular player, he had always been on very good terms with both Fischer and Spassky, and he wrote for the Yugoslav press, so I felt certain that he would be in Reykavik to cover the match and that his travel and hotel expenses would be provided by his media masters. When I proposed the idea to Gligoric, he confirmed that he would indeed be in Reykavik throughout the match, reporting for Yugoslav radio and newspapers.

What I proposed to Collins was that Tony Gillam would handle all of the production side, deliver all the typesetting to Collins’ printers, who would print and bind the book, and Tony would also handle the production and lamination of the cover. Jan Collins jumped at the concept. So I telephoned Gligoric and offered him a fee of £5,000, which was huge compensation at that time for the author of a chess book. He accepted the offer without a moment’s hesitation. Tony and I agreed the commercial terms with Collins, which was for UK and Commonwealth rights only, and the contracts were signed.

Now that the book project was certain, it was possible to offer translation and other foreign rights to publishers in other countries. Jan Collins introduced us to Peter Schwed, then the editorial chairman at Simon & Schuster publishers in New York. We offered Schwed the USA rights and he agreed to take 100,000 copies from the first printing, provided that the books would be landed in New York within 96 hours of the end of the match, which we were confident we could achieve. Tony Gillam was also able to negotiate translation deals with publishers in Germany, France, Spain, and, I vaguely recall, one or two other countries.

Svetozar Gligoric and Bobby Fischer were old friends. It began at the Portorož Interzonal in 1958. In the 21st (final) round the two played against each other, with the young Fischer choosing a Sicilian line he had analysed with Gligoric many years previously. The game ended in a draw, both players qualified (Gligoric second behind Tal, Fischer in fifth place).

The arrangement with Gligoric worked like clockwork. The leisurely pace of World Championship matches in those days was three games per week, each allocated to two days in order to cater for the possibility of adjournments, plus one additional rest day per week. This allowed Gigoric plenty of time to write his introduction to each game and to annotate the game. For most of the match Gligoric sent me his copy by post. I would edit it (his English was excellent but still needed some editing) and forward it to Tony, who would arrange for it to be typeset by a company in Loughborough, Leicestershire, who used a relatively new process, at the time, called photo-typesetting, which did not survive the introduction of computer typesetting. It was not possible to produce the diagrams by photo-typesetting, so they had to be handset using lead type in the old-fashioned way.

As Fischer got close to the 12½ points needed for victory, Gligoric found faster ways to get his copy to me, and for the final game he telephoned and dictated his account and annotations.

The 21st game of the match was adjourned in a winning position for Fischer. Spassky sealed a move, and during the evening Spassky spoke to Lothar Schmidt, the arbiter, and told Schmidt that he was resigning without resuming play, thereby making Fischer World Champion. Schmidt decided not to tell Fischer immediately because he knew that Fischer would then not appear before the audience to receive the accolade at the moment of the announcement. So Schmidt kept quiet – except for Gligoric. The two of them had been friends for decades and Schmidt knew about the urgency of our book, so he told Gligoric that the match was over. He opened the envelope containing Spassky’s sealed move, and gave Gligoric that final piece of information about the game. In this way all of our production responsibilities were completed before Fischer knew that Spassky had resigned the final game. With both Gligoric and Schmidt having passed away, this secret can now be revealed.

Gligoric telephoned me with his copy before the time set for the resumption of the adjourned game. I edited it instantly and Tony Gillam had it typeset, and off it went to be printed and bound by a specialist paperback production company in Manchester. The match finished in the early evening and the pages were delivered to the Manchester company, by hand, the following morning at 6 a.m., when they opened. During the printing of the book the printing press broke down and they struggled to produce the final copies. The American copies were air-freighted from Manchester Airport to New York along with a set of film positives of the pages. Simon & Schuster reprinted the book immediately and needed the film for that purpose. Their 100,000 copies duly landed in New York within the 96 hour deadline.

Collins air-freighted 1,500 copies to India which seemed a little odd in 1972 but makes a lot of sense today. Copies were also air-freighted to Australia along with a set of film pages so that the book could be reprinted there immediately.

Normally, the book would have been delivered to Collins’ warehouse and shipped out from there. In this case, because it was an “instant” book and they had thousands of orders, Collins arranged for their sales team to turn up in Manchester, load the books into the boots of their cars and deliver them to the bookshops around the country. The UK print run was about 32,000 and it sold out in three days.

We were struggling to keep the German publishers happy. They planned, not only a normal edition, but also a book club edition (28,000), and they were also in a hurry! Their biggest problem was not translating the book but producing the diagrams! They simply did not know how to produce chess diagrams, so Tony had to produce two proof copies of the diagrams in Nottingham and send them in small envelopes by air-freight to Germany from East Midlands airport. The cost each time was about £10, which seems nothing now but was very expensive in 1972. The Germans were reluctant to pay for the air freight but they did, and their editions were very successful.

The book can still be found for prices between $6 and $25 at and for £3.20 to £12.20 at Amazon UK. A German edition of Fischer Spasskij Schachmatch des Jahrhunderts can be found at Amazon Germany. For other languages you should google yourself.

Other books:


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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.

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.

Bobby Fischer in Iceland — 45 years ago (11)
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.

Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (12)
8/30/2017 – The score was 10½-7½ for the Challenger, who needed 12½ to win the title. Was Bobby Fischer content merely to sneak in by split points? "I don't believe it — it's never been his style," wrote commentator GM Robert Byrne. "I think the explanation for the draws is to be found in Spassky's improvements in his openings." In games 11 and 12 Fischer kept coasting, but he also relaxed somewhat with social encounters.

Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (13)
9/1/2017 – The score was 11½-8½ for Challenger Bobby Fischer, who needed 12½ to win the title. In game 21 he had the black pieces and he played a Sicilian variation he had never before shown any liking for. He gained a distinct advantage, but then allowed Boris Spassky to sacrifice an exchange to get a drawn position. However, the still-reigning World Champion went on to blunder and finally lose his title.

David is a British International Master of chess, a businessman noted for his involvement with computer chess and artificial intelligence, and the founder of the Computer Olympiads and the Mind Sports Olympiads. He has written more than 40 books on chess and computers.


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