Match of the Century chessboard up for sale on Thursday

by ChessBase
6/12/2012 – We reported on some very special items that were up for sale by the auction house Bruun Rasmussen in Copenhagen: the board, chess pieces, table and clock used in parts of the 1972 Reyjkavik match between Spassky and Fischer. Even the Shah of Iran was originally interested. Bidding starts on Thursday, June 14th, at 5:00 p.m. Einar Einarsson fills us in on the background of the auction.

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Exceptional chess memorabilia

To mark the 40th anniversary of the greatest chess match in history, Bruun Rasmussen will be offering the chessboard etc. used during the match between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer in Iceland in 1972. Please note, that the documentary ”Bobby Fischer against the world” will be shown in the auction room on the day of the sale, June 14th, from 1 pm to 2.30 pm. The chess memorabilia will be at auction at 5 pm as the first lot on the evening sale.

40th anniversary of the chess match of the 20th century

The greatest chess match in history took place in the summer of 1972, when the reigning Russian World Champion Boris Spassky (1937-) was challenged by the American Bobby Fischer (1943-2008). The venue was Arena Laugardalshöll in Reykjavik, Iceland, midway between Moscow and Washington, at the peak of the Cold War. Thus the match became a symbol of the political confrontation between the two superpowers. Bobby Fischer won the dramatic, hyper-exposed showdown in Reykjavik, making him the first American to win this prestigious title after W. Steinitz in 1886 (The 1st World Chess Champion).

Auction of the fabled chessboard

To mark the 40th anniversary of the world famous chess match, Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers in Copenhagen will be offering the chessboard used during the legendary chess match in Iceland in 1972.

In addition, the original contemporary Staunton pieces from the match equipment and Garde chess clock (same brand as used in the match), are also up for auction. The chess table itself, with its two matching side tables, was designed by Icelandic furniture designer Gunnar Magnússon and made by cabinetmaker Ragnar Haraldsson, and its design and beautiful execution caused quite a stir. Two extra tables were made after the famous chess match. They are identical to the table used during the actual tournament. The chess table up for auction is one of the two, and has since been used, among other things, at the World Championships candidate match between Boris Spassky and Vlastimil Hort in Reykjavik in 1977.

The chess lot up for auction

The lot up for auction consists of board, table, chess pieces and clock:

  • Chessboard: This wooden chessboard was the very one chosen by the representatives of the two competitors and accepted by the players themselves to be the one replacing the initial stone board. The change of the chessboard took place early in the match and hence it became the battlefield from the 7th game and onwards until the 21st game. After the match it was signed by Fischer and Spassky.

  • Chess table: Designed by Icelandic furniture designer Gunnar Magnússon and produced by cabinetmaker Ragnar Haraldsson. Two extra and identical tables were made after the famous chess match. The chess table up for auction is one of the two, and has been used at the World Championships candidate match between Boris Spassky and Vlastimil Hort in Reykjavik in 1977.

  • Chess pieces: Original contemporary set of Staunton pieces, a reserve set from the 1972 Match.

  • Chess clock: Original Garde chess clock. Same brand as used in the match.

For further information, please visit the Bruun Rasmussen web site, or contact Peter Christmas-Møller
director of sales and estimates: Tel: +45 6035 1004, Email:

Those were the days – when chess made international headlines

A little background on the auction at Bruun Rasmussen in Copenhagen

By Einar S. Einarsson

Never in the history of chess has the royal game received as much international media coverage as it did in 1972, when the “Match of the Century”, the world championship match between challenger Bobby Fischer of the United States and defending champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union took place in Reykjavík, Iceland, in the cold war era. At first the name given to it sounded overambitious, but now, 40 years later, this great encounter is publicly recognized as “The Match of All Time”.

Memorabilia from Reykjavik 1972 on display at Bruun Rasmussen

The Icelandic Chess Federation (ICF), as chief organizer of the match, endeavoured in many ways to finance the project both via sponsorship, filming rights (which came to nothing), but mostly by the producing and selling various artefacts and all kind of memorabilia – medals, drawings, postmarks and souvenirs – to cover the organizing expenses apart from gate fees.

During the match a total of 15 wooden chess boards were made, in addition to four stone boards. Most of those chess boards were made for sale, but many of them were handed out to the energetic board members and other volunteers who had work tirelessly to accomplish the match, as a recognition for their contribution.

The chess table that was used in the Spassky-Fischer match in 1972

Although the ICF managed miraculously to make ends meet, soon after the match there were speculations to order for export as many as 1000 replicas of the picturesque and skilfully made chess table, exactly like the one the contestants had played on. But Gunnar Magnússon, the interior designer and maker of the table, was not in favour of this business idea. He did, however, agree in 1974 to have two original replicas custom built, exactly of the same design, wood and quality as the original one, under his supervision. At the same time an agreement was made between the ICF and him that there would never be any more tables of this specific design produced. In the History of the ICL 70 years (1995) by. T. Gudmundsson, page 136-137 it says:

“It was decided to have two chess tables constructed after G. Magnússon's design of the famous Match table, which the ICF had presented to the National Museum. The plan was to sell the tables off to the highest bidder for a huge amount of money for fund raising. This had been suggested by Mr. S. Kristinsson, real estate manager, who financed the project. He endeavoured enthusiastically to market the tables, and the ICF was to provide a certificate confirming that Fischer and Spassky had played on one of the chess boards inlaid in the tables, which is correct and a matter of fact.

I recollect that the tables were offered for sale to Mr. Campomanes, Mr. Slater in England and the chief arbiter Mr. Lother Schmid. But the most likely buyer was perhaps the Emperor of Iran who, however, was dethroned before the deal was concluded.“

Neither those in the ICF's leadership or any others realised in fact at that time, almost four decades ago, that the match they had just witnessed would become such a historic event. People believed that history would repeat itself and that soon there would be another similar world chess championship match with a new challenger. Perhaps those replicas of the fabled chess table could be sold off for a fortune to the Emperor of Iran, or even to the Philippines, which had already offered five million dollars as a prize fund for the potential next match between the new contender Anatoly Karpov, who would challenge Bobby Fischer for the chess crown. But it didn’t happen, the match never took place.

Opening ceremony for the chess memorabilia sale at Bruun Rasmussen in Copenhagen

It is quite clear from my point of view, after reading the history of the ICF and seeing other documents and contracts, that the items which are now on auction at Bruun Rasmussen in Copenhagen, were the same that were offered for sale in 1974 by the ICF to many parties abroad – like his Imperial Majesty, the Shah-in-Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Emperor of Iran, to F. Campomanes, then very close to President Marco of the Philippeans, Mr. Slater of England, GM Lother Schmid, and many famous museums, like the Metropolitan Museum, the British Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian and more.

Offer to the Shah (click to enlarge), who was considering staging the next World Championship in Iran

A original copy of the letter to the Emperor of Iran has now been published with its remarkable content and sales description as the ultimate proof of what went on 38 years ago, and proof that the wooden chess board on which the majority of the games were played on was in fact included in the sale. But this big potential enterprise came to nothing.

The original board and the offer made to the Shah of Iran

Detail of the letter to the Shah-in-Shah (click to enlarge)

Later Pall G. Jónsson, an Icelandic businessman, stepped in to help the ICF financially and bought both the sets for a reasonable high price. The first was the one with the precious chess board on which games 7-21 had been played, from Mr. Kristinsson, estate manager, who had financed the project. The other was purchased directly from the ICF. That set had in the mean time been presented as a main lottery prize in the ICF’s 50 year anniversary lottery 1975, but happily for the ICF it was not drawn. The undersigned was its treasurer that year.

It is well known that Pal Jónsson has repeatedly tried to sell these items domestically for decades. He met with some serious interest from many companies, but nothing more. Now, in his late eighties, he has decided to auction them off internationally. This is a slightly delicate matter and has created some controversy in Iceland, as many would like this memorabilia items to be preserved as a national treasure.

But it has to be remembered that right after the closing of the 1972 historic match Gudmundur Thorarinsson, who was the chairman of the OC, presented the National Museum of Iceland on behalf of the ICF the original chess table with the stone chessboard, on which games 1, (2), 4-6 were played, plus the original chess pieces and clock. This items were surprisingly stored away as nothing remarkable for years, but are now happily on show again as part of the 40th Anniversary celebration of the Match.

IA Einar S. Einarsson is a retired Icelandic banker and entrepreneur. He has been most active in the Icelandic, Nordic and International chess for almost four decades, as a leader and organizer of several tournaments and matches. He has received several honors for his contribution to the good of chess and is Honorary Member of FIDE and the ICF.

Copyright Einarsson/ChessBase

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