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1972, Bobby Fischer defeats Boris Spassky to become the first American world chess champion

“What happened to Robert J. “Bobby” Fischer was tragic, Shakespearean in scope. Raised in a New York apartment by a single mother, he rose to take on and vanquish single-handedly the Russian chess behemoth. At age 13, Fischer defeated Donald Byrne in a game now dubbed “The Game of the Century.” Fischer deserved honor, respect and glory for his great chess achievements, not ridicule, exile and shame.
—Gerry Christmas of Carrboro, North Carolina
“When I returned home from Vietnam, the game between Bobby Fischer and Spassky had just started. I did not play the game that well, but watching Bobby play was a welcome home for me. He inspired me to learn more about the game, and in so doing, I was able to recover from the war. I will always remember that game and what Bobby has done for me through the game of chess.”
—Gregory Campbell of Lewisville, Texas

Bobby Fischer defeats Boris Spassky to become the first American world chess champion in 1972
Originally published by the Daily News on Sept. 2, 1972. This story was written by Robert Byrne.
REYKJAVIK, ICELAND, Sept. 1 - Bobby Fischer of Brooklyn is world chess champion, the first American to hold that title since it was established 1866.
This morning when it was announced that Russian Boris Spassky had resigned the 21st game, adjourned since last night, the world chess championship title passed out of Russian hands for the first time in 25 years.
The 29-year-old Fischer is to receive $156,000 in prize money for taking the match, and can count on many thousands more from book royalties, endorsements, personal appearances and the like.

“In spite of his obvious flaws, he will be remembered as “The King of Chess,” a genius on the board and the man who broke through the Iron Curtain. I mostly admired him as a chess player and what he did for chess. He put chess on the map in the U.S. and changed the economic opportunities for chess players. If it weren't for him, demanding reparation and prizes in the '60s and '70s, players wouldn't be making the money they are today.
He was fanatic about chess; he was working on chess most of his life, even years and years after he retired. His dedication, passion and love for the game, it was his life. It was his profession. It was how he expressed himself. It's symbolic that he died at age 64, for the 64 squares of the chessboard.”

—Susan Polgar of Lubbock, Texas

Closeup portrait of Bobby Fischer before match vs Boris Spassky, Reykjavik, ISL 6/30/1972

Closeup portrait of American Bobby Fischer won the title by beating Boris Spassky, who formerly held the title., Keystone Pictures USA / Alamy Stock Photo 9/09/1972

The match of the Century

Translated from “Bobby Fischer, a hero in the middle of the Cold War”
The 1972 World Chess Championship was a meeting between challenger Bobby Fischer of the United States and defending champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. The match was played in Reykjavik, Iceland, and is commonly known as the Match of the Century. Fischer became the first American to be a World Chess Champion since Steinitz, the first official champion, was nationalized in 1888. Fischer's victory also ended the Soviet Union's 24-year reign.

The first game began on July 11, 1972. The final game began on August 31 and was postponed after 40 plays. Spassky surrendered on the phone the next day without continuing the game. Fischer won the match 12½-8½, becoming the official champion number 11.

In July 1972, the Soviet Union and the United States found enough reason to discharge so much contained tension. The Cold War confronted the two superpowers, struggling to establish a planetary model, under the constant threat of intercontinental missiles. In that context of imminent outbreak a game of chess was disputed that faced to two figures of the sport identified with opposite signs. Boris Spassky vs. Robert James Bobby Fischer. The first, Soviet and world champion; The second, American and title challenger. They put on a board something much more than a crown or their egos of prodigious minds. The so-called Match of the Century was one of the most symbolic battles of the obsessive and persecutory dispute that marked the second half of the twentieth century. The chronicle of that struggle in which capitalism preannounced its triumph over socialism.

Soviet chess players reigned uninterruptedly since 1948. Twenty-five years had passed since the last time a champion born outside the lands of Lenin had been crowned. Boris Spassky inherited the post in 1969, after winning in the end of the world to his compatriot Tigran Petrosian. The Soviet Union openly supported the practice of chess, granting scholarships and grants, funding the career of the regime's main projects. Fischer, an Illinois native who caught the game by chance, had been perfected through a self-taught and exclusive plan. He devoted his entire adolescence to learning the secrecy and efficiency of the plays. When he was 15 years old he left school because he considered it useless to fulfill his only purpose: to be world champion. In 57 he took the first step: he was crowned champion of the United States and obtained the title of Grand Master. It was accumulating fame and prestige by means of some triumphs against opponents of reputation. From 1962 until the final with Spaasky only in two tournaments he had not been proclaimed champion. His quick play made him the ultimate exponent of lightning chess. Two years before the meeting with the Russian, he added more brilliance to his name by being crowned in the Interzonal Tournament of Palma de Mallorca.

Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, was the stage chosen for the final, which was played to the best of 24 matches. Players could score points by winning (1 point) and drawing (0.5 points). The first to reach the 12 and a half would be crowned winner. The defending champion had a sporting advantage, the tie in 12 allowed him to retain the title. When all was agreed, Fischer demanded an improvement in the offered bag. The applicant did not make up the $ 125,000 that the organizers had put. The conflict was solved by the intervention of a British financier who redoubled the bet.

The American started the game long before moving the first piece. Through a collection of capricious claims he psychologically cornered his opponent, who fell into the trap as the puppet of a sarcastic game . How could Spassky know that with every consent of his rival's request he nurtured his trust? Bobby demanded a change in the lighting, protested by the quality of the pieces, he reproached the organizers with the disposition of the public and the television cameras, he was displeased by how small the room was. On July 11 at five in the afternoon, day and time set for the start of the first game , the champion was sitting at the table but the challenger had not appeared in the room. Spassky moved the first card in front of Fischer's empty chair, which burst into the room seven minutes later than planned. The delay hurt him, an improper error of his talent led to the initial advantage of the Soviet. The following day, in complaint for the location of the television cameras that according to him was obstructing his thoughts, Fischer did not appear; They gave for lost the second party. Journalism and the public speculated at the end of the match. However, that episode would mark the beginning of the legend.

The world champion, with a 2 to 0 advantage in his favor, agreed to change rooms so that his opponent did not abandon the contest. The change officiated in Fischer as a sweeping stimulus that gave impulse to reverse the situation. He won the third game and became the absolute master of the psychological battle. When the last game was to be resumed, Spassky, resigned and powerless to have allowed the beast to grow, left the series on the telephone. The final ended 12/5 to 8/5 in favor of the American.

The match of the century consolidated a new way of conceiving the chess strategy. Fischer had given a lesson to the world of this sport through his dynamic-positional game of fast movements without appealing to the large calculations of the great Soviet masters. Unlike his predecessors, the American deepened much more in the system of openings, elaborated a picture of game based on the first movements but trying to stretch to the maximum the usefulness of those initial chips in search of a considerable expansive power. Fischer was obsessively combative, identifying the tie as a miscalculation and not as an inevitable exit when the game was balanced. The parties worked to prohibit that balance.

Spassky was received with suspicion by the public and the authorities of his country. The ex-world champion had already let go of his hand. Six years after losing the crown with Fischer was nationalized French, although it continued competing under the Soviet flag. In 1974 he fell in the semifinals against future champion Anatoli Karpov, and in 78 he lost the final against Víctor Korchnoir.

Fischer did not play again during his reign. In 1975 he demanded to his challenger Karpov a system of points that the International Federation of Chess, directed by the Soviets, considered an abuse. They removed the crown and proclaimed champion to the aspirant.

Twenty years later, they saw each other again. The game was disputed in Yugoslavia, then a country banned by the United States, which issued an arrest warrant against Fischer for violating the UN sanction. The American, like in 72, again beat his Russian counterpart and won the $ 4 million pot.