Bobby Fischer in Iceland – 45 years ago (3)

by Frederic Friedel
7/11/2017 – On July 11, 1972, the legendary Match of the Century between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer finally began. Fischer arrived late, due to heavy traffic, and was clearly distraught with the camera arrangements. 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.

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Bobby Fischer in Iceland

The drama of game one

The Match of the Century started with game one on July 11, 1972. It is wonderfully described in Frank Brady's 1974 book Bobby Fischer, which appears to be out of print. We bring you excerpts of the events on day one.

"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.

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.

The Spassky-Fischer Match of the Century was played in Laugardalshöllin, a giant sporting arena. This is how it looked before the start of the match.

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 made his first move precisely at five – and Schmid 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.

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!

End of excerpt from Brady's book. On my recent trip to Iceland Gardar Sverrisson showed me a window that had been cut into the back wall in 1972:

The window was installed so that cameras could film the action from the other side

Original film footage shot by the rear window camera (during game one in 1972)

On the cover of Ludek Pachman's book we have an image of the stage: the window is hidden in the FIDE logo banner. Fischer noticed and complained about it.

If you watch this video of game one you will see that Fischer was very uncomfortable with the setup – he is clearly preoccupied with the cameras in the hall.

Fischer goes over to the chief arbiter Lothar Schmid to vigorously protest. Lothar can't do anything about it and the games proceeds.

I hand over to Brad Darrach, journalist and film critic, who wrote one of the most influential books on Bobby Fischer – first published in 1974, and still a fascinating read. Get a copy – mine, pictured on the right, cost $2.95 a couple of decades ago. In it Darrach describes the key moment of game one (excerpts):

The game developed with curious blandness on both sides and soon arrived at a "standard position" in the Nimzo. Spassky had often reached this position before, Bobby never. Why had Bobby urged the action into this form now? When was the zinger coming?

The zinger never came. Slyly repeating, move for move, a game that Spassky and Krogius had played in 1958, Bobby brought the position dead even.

Spassky sat staring at the board for twenty minutes. He decided there was nothing to do but nudge the game gently toward one of those sleepy standoffs known as a grandmaster draw. After the twenty-eighth move, the position was so hopelessly drawn that five hundred ticket-holders went home. Another five hundred were jostling in the lobby, some picking up souvenirs, some buying commemorative stamps.



"Too bad," Thorarinsson was saying to a Yugoslav reporter. "We had hoped for an exciting game to get the match going." "I don't know what's got into him," Lombardy was mumbling to another grandmaster in the press room, where most of the Western experts were sitting. "Maybe he's just too worn out to play. Well, I better go backstage. Couple more moves, they'll call it a draw." As Lombardy rose, Bobby made his twenty-ninth move.

In a balanced position Fischer captured the pawn on h2 with his bishop...

...and calmly pressed his clock

Bishop takes Pawn!? Spassky jolted like a man hit by a bullet and stared at the board. Four seconds later, the move was flashed on the closed-circuit TV. Lombardy's jaw dropped. "What!" Byrne yelled, and went pale. At the other end of the lobby, Geller gasped and grabbed Krogius' arm. "It's a mistake!" grandmaster Gligoric told grandmaster Olafsson. "They put the wrong move on the screen!"

But it wasn't a mistake. Geller, Nei and Krogius stared at the nearest TV screen, heads together, mumbling excitedly. Byrne and Lombardy began shuffling pieces in Byrne's chess wallet. A dozen reporters clustered around them. "Jesus!" Byrne gasped. "Maybe Bobby's got something!" Down in the analysis room, an Icelandic master was moaning, "I don't get it! What does he see that I don't see?"

A roar filled the lobby. People in the restaurant were yelling so loud the noise could be heard in the playing hall. In sixty seconds every entrance to the hall was choked with people charging back in. "Bobby's attacking! Bobby took a poisoned pawn! Bobby busted the game wide open!" Thorarinsson stood in the center of the lobby, his grin spreading from wall to wall. "One move," he said blissfully, "and we hit every front page in the world!"

In his book Brady writes:

29...BxKRP? An incredible blunder caused by Fischer's overenthusiastic attempt to win an obviously drawn game. He overlooked that after 30 P-N3 P-KR4 31 K-K2 P-R5 32 K-B3 P-R6 33 K-N4 B-N8 34 KxP BxP White cuts off the escape of Black's Bishop by playing 35 B-Q2." We have full analysis of the critical moment below.

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.

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."

The game was continued the next day, and Fischer left the playing table for half an hour to protest the presence of the television cameras. Then he resigned on move 56. He told his second Lombardy that he had played too quickly "because the cameras distracted me."

Here's how the decisive moves of the game were reconstructed in the movie Pawn Sacrifice.

Twenty years later he was asked by a journalist whether he had been trying to create winning chances in the game by complicating a drawn position.”Basically that's right. Yes,” he replied.

Analysis of Spassky-Fischer game one

The following will be replaced by analysis Sagar is providing.

[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 "111"] [EventDate "1972.??.??"] 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 {Byrne/Smith} (29... Ke7 30. h3 (30. Ke4 f5+ 31. Kd4 $2 Bxh2 $19) 30... e5 {/\ 31... Ke6= Botvinnik}) 30. g3 h5 31. Ke2 h4 (31... g5 32. Kf3 g4+ 33. Kg2 h4 34. Kxh2 h3 35. f3 f5 36. e4 Ke7 37. Be3 a6 38. bxa6 bxa6 39. exf5 exf5 40. fxg4 fxg4 41. Kg1 Ke6 42. Kf1 Kd5 43. Bg1 Kc4 (43... Ke4 44. Ke2 $18) 44. Ke2 Kb3 45. Ke3 Kxa3 46. Kf4 $18 {Timman}) 32. Kf3 (32. gxh4 Bd6 $15 {Byrne }) 32... Ke7 (32... h3 33. Kg4 Bg1 34. Kxh3 Bxf2 35. Bd2 $1 $18 {Byrne}) (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 {/\ Ba3 Byrne} (36. e4 Kc5 37. Be3+ Kxb5 38. Bxa7 g6 {/\ 39... f5 = Pachmann} (38... Kc4 39. Kf3 Kd3 {/\ e5, g7-g5-g4 = Gligoric})) (36. Kg4 g6 37. Bb2 e5 $10 {Gligoric}) 36... Kd5 (36... Kc5 37. Ba3+ Kc4 38. Bf8 g6 39. Be7 $18 {Smith} f5 40. Kf4 $18 {Pachmann}) 37. Ba3 Ke4 {?? Pachmann} (37... e5 $142 {Smith} 38. Kg4 g6 39. Be7 f5+ 40. Kg5 (40. Kf3 Kc4 41. Bd6 Kd5 42. Bb8 a6 43. b6 g5 $10) 40... Ke4 41. Bc5 (41. Kxg6 f4 $10) (41. Bd8 Kd5 42. Bc7 Ke4 43. Kxg6 f4 44. exf4 exf4 45. Kf6 f3 46. Bg3 Kd5 47. Bf2 b6 48. Ke7 Kc4 49. Kd7 Kb4 50. Kc6 Kxa4 51. Be1 Kb3 52. Kb7 (52. Kd5 Ka4 53. Kc4 Ka3 $10) 52... Kc4 $10) 41... b6 $2 42. Bxb6 $1 axb6 43. a5 $1 $18 {Purdy}) (37... a6 $1 $10 38. b6 ( 38. bxa6 bxa6 $10) (38. Bf8 axb5 39. axb5 Ke4 40. Bxg7 (40. Kf2 f5 41. Bxg7 e5 {/\ f4 =}) (40. Bc5 e5 $10 {Purdy}) 40... Kxe3 41. Bxf6 b6 42. Bd8 Kd3 43. Bxb6 Kc4 $10) (38. Kf4 g5+ 39. Kf3 axb5 40. axb5 g4+ $1 41. Kxg4 Ke4 42. Bc5 e5 43. Kh5 f5 44. Kg6 f4 45. exf4 exf4 46. Kf6 Kd5 47. Bf2 b6 $1 $10 {Purdy}) 38... Kc6 39. a5 (39. Bf8 Kxb6 40. Bxg7 Ka5 41. Bxf6 Kxa4 42. Kf4 b5 43. Ke5 b4 44. Kxe6 b3 45. Kd5 Kb4 $1 (45... Ka3 $2) 46. e4 a5 $10 {Purdy}) 39... Kd5) (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 (38. Kf2 {Byrne}) 38... a6 (38... b6 $2 39. Bxb6 $18 axb6 40. a5 bxa5 (40... Kd5 41. a6 $18) 41. b6 $18 {Byrne}) 39. b6 $1 f5 (39... e5 40. Kg4 (40. Bf8 Kxe3 (40... g6 41. Bh6 f5 42. Kh4 f4 43. exf4 exf4 44. Kg4 f3 45. Kg3 $18 {Purdy}) 41. Bxg7 Kd4 $1 42. Bxf6 Kc5 43. Bd8 $1 Kb4 44. Kf3 Kxa4 45. Ke4 Kb5 46. Kd5 $1 a5 $1 $10 {Prins} (46... e4 {Botvinnik} 47. Kd6 a5 48. Kc7 Ka6 49. Bg5 a4 50. Bc1 $1 $18 {Purdy})) 40... g6 (40... Kd5 41. Bf8 g6 42. Be7 Ke6 43. Bd8 $1 $18 {/\ e4, Kc4 nebst Zugzwang Timman}) 41. a5 (41. Kg3 $1 f5 42. Kh4 f4 43. exf4 Kxf4 (43... exf4 44. Kg5 $18) 44. Be7 $1 e4 45. Bg5+ Kf3 (45... Kf5 46. Bd2 $18) 46. Bc1 $1 e3 47. Kg5 e2 48. Bd2 Kf2 49. Kxg6 $18 {Pachmann}) (41. Be7 Kxe3 42. Bxf6 e4 (42... Kd4 $10 {Timman}) 43. Kg5 Kd3 44. Kxg6 Kc4 45. Kf5 {Vergleiche Partie. Gligoric}) 41... Kd5 42. Be7 f5+ 43. Kg5 f4 {/\ Kc8/Ka8} 44. exf4 exf4 45. Kxf4 Ke6 {/\ Kc8, Ka8 Byrne}) ( 39... Kd5 40. Bf8 g6 41. Be7 f5 42. Kf4 $18 {Pachmann}) 40. Kh4 {/\ Kg5-g6-c7 +-} f4 $2 {Byrne} (40... Kd5 41. Bd4 (41. Bb4 $1 Kc6 (41... Ke4 42. Bd2 Kd3 43. Bc1 Kc2 44. Ba3 Kb3 45. Bf8 Kxa4 46. Bxg7 Kb5 47. Kg5 $18) 42. Ba5 $1 Kc5 43. Kg5 Kc4 44. Kg6 Kd3 45. Kxg7 Kxe3 46. Kf6 $18 {Pachmann}) (41. Ba3 $2 Kc6 42. Bb2 Kxb6 43. Bxg7 Kc5 44. Kg5 Kd5 45. Kf4 b5 46. a5 b4 47. Bb2 Kc4 48. Ke5 Kd3 49. Kxe6 Kxe3 50. Kxf5 $10 {Pachmann}) (41. Be7 Kc4 (41... Ke4 42. Bg5 g6 43. Kg3 e5 44. Bh6 Kd5 $1 $10 {Wade}) 42. Bg5 e5 {/\ f4 = Gligoric}) (41. Bf8 g6 42. Kg5 Ke4 43. Kf6 $1 Kxe3 44. Kxe6 Kd4 45. Kd7 f4 46. Bd6 f3 47. Bg3 $18) 41... e5 42. Bc3 f4 $1 (42... Ke4 43. Kg5 f4 44. exf4 $10 {Gligoric}) 43. exf4 exf4 44. Kg4 Kc5 45. a5 (45. Ba5 g5 46. Kxg5 Kd6 47. Kxf4 Kd7 48. Kf5 Kc8) (45. Ba5 g5) 45... g5 46. Kxg5 Kd6 47. Kxf4 Kd7 48. Kf5 Kc8 {/\ Kb8, Ka8 Byrne} 49. Be5 Kd8 50. Ke6 Kc8 51. Bd6 Kd8 52. Bc7+ Kc8 $10) 41. exf4 Kxf4 42. Kh5 $1 Kf5 (42... g5 43. Kg6 $1 g4 (43... Kg4 44. Kf6 e5 45. Bd6 $18 {Gligoric}) 44. Bd6+ e5 45. Kf6 g3 46. Bxe5+ Kf3 47. Ke7 g2 48. Bd4 $18 {/\ Kb7 Byrne}) (42... e5 43. Kg6 e4 44. Kxg7 e3 45. Bxe3+ Kxe3 46. Kf6 Kd4 47. Ke6 Kc4 48. a5 $18 {Purdy }) 43. Be3 (43. Bf2 $143 g5 44. Be3 g4 45. Kh4 Ke4 {Timman}) (43. Be7 $18 { Timman}) 43... Ke4 (43... g6+ 44. Kh6 Kf6 45. Bd2 Kf5 46. Bg5 e5 47. Bd2 Kf6 48. Be3 Kf5 49. Bg5 $18 {Zugzwang. Pachmann}) 44. Bf2 (44. Bc1 $18 {Botvinnik} Kf5 (44... Kd3 $2 45. Kg6 Kc2 46. Kxg7 $1 Kxc1 47. Kf6 $18) (44... Kd5 45. Kg6 Kc5 46. Be3+ Kb4 47. Kf7 (47. Kxg7 $2 Kxa4 48. Kf6 Kb5 49. Kxe6 Kc6 $10 {Wade}) 47... Kxa4 48. Kxe6 Kb5 49. Kd7 a5 50. Kc7 Ka6 51. Bd4 g5 52. Bf6 g4 53. Be5 a4 54. Bd6 $18 {Purdy}) 45. Bg5 e5 46. Bc1 e4 47. Be3 {Vgl. Partie}) 44... Kf5 45. Bh4 e5 (45... g6+ 46. Kh6 e5 47. Bg5 e4 48. Bd2 Kf6 49. Be3 Kf5 50. Bg5 { Zugzwang +- Byrne}) 46. Bg5 e4 47. Be3 {Vgl. Partie} Kf6 (47... g6+ 48. Kh4 Kf6 49. Kg4 $18 {Byrne}) 48. Kg4 Ke5 49. Kg5 Kd5 50. Kf5 a5 (50... Kc4 51. Kxe4 Kb4 52. Kd5 Kxa4 53. Kd6 {/\ 54... Kc7 Byrne}) 51. Bf2 {Zugzwang} (51. Bd2 $2 Kc5 52. Bxa5 e3 $10 {Timman}) 51... g5 52. Kxg5 Kc4 53. Kf5 Kb4 54. Kxe4 Kxa4 55. Kd5 Kb5 56. Kd6 {1-0 (28) Spassky,B (2660)-Fischer,R (2785) Reykjavik 1972 MainBase [ChessBase]} (56. Kd6 a4 57. Kc7 Ka6 58. Bc5 Kb5 59. Bf8 Ka6 60. Be7 $18) *

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.

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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