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Bobby Fischer (IV): "What's wrong with Fischer?"

Translated from E. J. Rodríguez

Imagine a precocious talent of twenty years established in the elite of a sport. He has several seasons among the top ranked in the world and since adolescence has been recognized as gifted; indeed, at such an early age, the true limits of his talent are not yet glimpsed. Normally, this young prodigy would like to participate as frequently as possible in the high competition. They would like to take every opportunity to compete with the best, to get experience … to try to devour the world, in short. Well, in the mid-60s, the twenty-year-old Bobby Fischer did exactly the opposite. He appeared in two or three tournaments a year; sometimes, not even that. He even let pass some invaluable chances of trying to fight for the world crown. Nobody could understand the complex and unpredictable Bobby. He seemed involved in a parallel competition where not only other chess players were his rivals, but in which he also had to fight the organizers of the tournaments, the journalists … Anyway, it would be precisely that belligerent attitude and his strong personality that would help to build a unique aura around the young genius of Brooklyn. Of course, at the cost of wasting some of the best opportunities of his career. [See additional translation notes.]

Eight tournaments in four years

Remember that Fischer had an unexpectedly anodyne participation in the Candidates Tournament of 1962, held in Curaçao, where he played in an irregular manner without managing to face the powerful Soviet contingent. Recall also that the tournament itself was eclipsed by that article in which accused the Russians of rigging the path to the World Championship, an article that forced FIDE to change the format of the competition. Well, after the storm of Curaçao came a complete calm. Bobby Fischer began to appear less and less in tournaments of first magnitude. At first nobody suspected it, but that would end up becoming a period of competitive quasi-retirement that would last for years. A circumstance, however, that did not prevent him from continuing to add spectacular achievements to his growing curriculum. He participated in few events, yes, but in some of them he obtained extraordinary results, worthy of going down in history.

Bobby Fischer and his friend, GM Larry Evans, playing relaxed water chess.

During 1963, Fischer did not travel abroad to compete in major international competitions. Moreover, faithful to his exaggerated but firm principles, he refused to participate in the first Piatigorsky Cup, organized by the great patron of American chess Jacqueline Piatigorsky. Bobby, as we told in the previous chapter, had a bitter confrontation with her two years before because of the match against Samuel Reshevsky. Still resentful and considering – not without reason – that he had been unjustly treated, he declined Madame Piatigorsky's invitation and woke up a wave of gossip in a little world unaccustomed to such signs of rebellion. Although most of the observers attributed Bobby's rebellious attitude to understandable youthful fieriness, others already began to assume that Fischer simply was like that and that it was likely that he would change rather little in the future. For the rest of that year he only participated in three tournaments, the three held in his country and, although of some importance, none of them first in any international category. Of course, he showed that his dominance in American chess was practically total. First, in a tournament held in Michigan, he scored 7-1-0: seven wins and one draw. The same thing happened in another similar event where he finished with a 7-0-0, winning his seven games without even giving up a draw. Very rare results in chess, spectacular without a doubt, but that came to demonstrate what was already known: that the young Fischer was at the level of the greatest players in the world and that those “second row” tournaments had become too small for him. [See additional translation notes.]

What nobody expected, however, was to demonstrate that same kind of superiority in a tournament of greater magnitude than the National Championship, where he was going to deal with the eleven best players in the country, including names of international prestige such as Samuel Reshevsky, Pal Benko, Larry Evans or Arthur Bisguier. To the amazement of the whole world of chess, the young Fischer devastated in a way that had never been seen (and that has not been seen again) in a similar championship, achieving a perfect score: 11-0-0. That is, he won all his games in an elite competition! That was completely unheard of, since among the great chess players the most common result is the draws, as we all know. At twenty, Bobby Fischer had just left the rest of the American Masters practically at the height of amateurs. The participants themselves, with that typical sarcasm of the chess players, congratulated Larry Evans – who had been in second place – for having “won the tournament”, since Bobby Fischer had “won the exhibition”. The joke of the defeated was not exaggerated: to get an idea of the magnitude of the feat, a rolling pin had only happened a dozen times in two centuries of competition around the world. That hallucinatory 11-0-0 of a 20-year-old was an almost unprecedented feat and occupied considerable space in the press, with which Fischer continued to climb the ladder of popularity. Magazines such as Sports Illustrated and Time turned to the young prodigy, affirming praises and helping to enlarge the aura of the new American superstar. [See additional translation notes.]

However, his portentous triumph in all its historical significance did not encourage Bobby to return to the international scene, but rather the opposite. During the following year, Fischer did not participate in any tournament at all! So he spent all 1964 engaged in his usual routine of solo training and such exhibitions for fans who gave him a good part of his income, since he was very reluctant to work in advertising. For the rest, he continued to give little or no interest in the high competition. That same 1964 was held a new Interzonal Tournament in Amsterdam and many people expected Bobby's presence, although he had announced two years earlier that because of the unsportsmanlike maneuvers of the Soviets he would not participate again. But now that FIDE had listened to his accusations and had changed the format of the Candidates to make it impossible for the chess players of the USSR, everyone expected Fischer to change his mind and appear in Amsterdam. The hopes were maintained almost until the last minute, since Bobby did not deny his participation in advance. However, a jug of cold water fell on fans and journalists when he did not appear without explanation. The world of the sixty-four squares had to resign itself to the idea that the most charismatic chess player on the planet, the best player born outside the USSR, would be left out of the race for the title. Having renounced the Interzonal meant that he would have to wait three more years to try to assault the crown, but the truth is that Fischer did not seem to regret it. Although there was much speculation about the reasons for his absence, it seems that everything was due to monetary issues. Thus, while the elite of world chess disputed a place for the Candidates Tournament, Bobby Fischer stayed in his country doing a tour of simultaneous exhibitions and lectures before an audience eager to see him up close and know more about him. Bobby was going to make more money with those tours than traveling to Europe and embarking on an expense he could not afford. As Fischer was especially refractory to what he considered “charity”, he did not even consider the possibility of traveling to Holland subsidized by a patronage that, if he had wanted it, could have been obtained with great ease. That obstinate attachment to his independence prevented him from going to the Interzonal with “borrowed money”. The wheels of world chess continued to spin without him. [See additional translation notes.]

Display of simultaneous games in 1964; those shows were one of his biggest sources of income.

Fischer, had then played only three tournaments in 1963 and none in 1964. The following year, 1965, he deigned to reappear in the competition, but it was only to participate in a couple of events. In the middle of a great expectation, the elusive Fischer played Havana's Capablanca Memorial, although he had to do it at a distance, since there was a government blockade on Cuba and Washington D.C. did not allow him to go to the island. So in the Cuban headquarters of the tournament a referee had to perform the movements that the American telegraphed from New York. That return to the international arena took place in strange circumstances, but despite everything Bobby obtained an acceptable result: he finished in fourth place (only 0.5 points behind the winner) and obtained a good balance of 12-6-3, which was a success considering that he had not competed at that level in more than two years and that he was playing by teletype. Also in 1965 he returned to dispute the Championship of the USA, where he did not repeat the amazing 11-0-0 of two years ago (this time he even lost a couple of games), but he won the tournament with ease, with a markedly more “human”, although still overwhelming, of 8-1-2.

The year 1966 continued in the same vein, although by then the world of chess had already assumed that Fischer was practically a hermit, so that each of his appearances was an event. Press and fans felt a morbid curiosity to check out what state the semi-retired prodigy was in, who was then twenty-three years of age. The first surprising news was that Bobby agreed to play in the second Piatigorsky Cup. Of course, to convince him, Mrs. Piatigorsky had agreed to pay him the sum of money that Fischer considered was owed to him since 1961. That Piatigorsky Cup ended up having a spectacular poster that included names such as the Soviets Tigran Petrosian – a world champion – and Boris Spassky – current runner-up – the Hungarian Lajos Portisch, the Polish-Argentinian Miguel Najdorf, Samuel Reshevsky or the Danish Bent Larsen, that had already been uncovered as the new great valor of Western chess when winning the Interzonal of Amsterdam, the same that Fischer had not wanted to attend. It was a truly stellar cast and a tough test for a young player who barely measured himself in big tournaments. But Bobby, despite minimal competition behind him, scratched at high altitude and was in second place with a 7-8-3 record, one point below the winner Boris Spassky. He lost one of his games against Bent Larsen: the Dane was one of the few who could still face him. And above all he lost again against Boris Spassky, who was still resisting him. After that, the personal accountant between the two was four games: two wins for Spassky, two draws and no win for Fischer. Of course, there is something that must be highlighted: that was the last individual tournament in Fischer's professional career in which he did not finish in the first position. Although it is also true that he did not meet Spassky again in such tournaments, but even so, the data is impressive.

Also in 1966, Fischer attended the Chess Olympiad, the most important team tournament. Naturally, Bobby was the first board of the US national team and had an outstanding performance with 14 wins, two draws and a single defeat, quite unexpected, against Romanian Florin Gheorghiu: the only occasion in his career in which Bobby Fischer lost to a player younger than him. Bobby's fantastic individual performance in that Olympiad was second only to that of the world champion, Petrosian. Bobby's fantastic individual performance in the Olympiad was second only to that of the world champion, Petrosian. Thanks to this, the USA team came in second behind the hegemonic USSR, which since World War II had won all editions of the Olympiad and would continue to do so well into the 70s. By the way: Fischer again faced Spassky and came to face him with a singularly energetic game, but he let the victory slip by choosing a conservative move at a crucial moment in the game. Finally he had to settle for signing some draws. To round out the year, Bobby returned to sweep in the USA Championship, which was already a tradition, and he did it without losing any game: 8-3-0.

“What's wrong with Fischer?”

Thus, it was the year 1967, the new Interzonal, with Bobby Fischer serving at a very high level in spite of his scarce baggage of tournaments. On the way to turning 25, but having spent a decade already installed in the elite, his chess seemed much more solid and competitive than during his time as a teenage Grand Master. In fact, it was precisely this progression that was a surprising aspect of Fischer. During his long periods of isolation he was able to improve a lot without just competing, something truly unusual. Without computers, without a court of trainers and advisers, almost without appearing on the professional circuit to measure himself against the international elite, Fischer was improving year after year with the sole help of his books and dedication, studying alone in his Manhattan apartment. When he reappeared in a tournament after one of those long absences, he used to show some “numbness” during the first games, but then he warmed up and got back into the rhythm of competition. He used to amaze everyone by showing that not only had he not lost his conditioning during his retirement but he had become an even better chess player. The young American, who, as his acquaintances reported, trained by chewing gum and drinking Coca-Cola, was enough by itself to compensate for the absence of outside support; that support that the Soviet machinery of making champions gave to theirs. [See additional translation notes.]

That year, as usual, he only entered a couple of tournaments: Monte Carlo (where we already mentioned that his demands got rid of the organizers and Prince Rainier) and Skopje, in Yugoslavia. He won both, but also in both lost traction against the Soviet Efim Geller, who was then the player with a more favorable record against Bobby, 4-2-2 (yes, his ability to twist the nose to the American was not to last forever). However, the big event of the year was going to be the Interzonal Tournament of Sousse, in Tunisia. Fischer was not seen in an Interzonal since 1962, but to the relief of all fans this time he decided to participate. The news triggered the expectation again: Fischer was going to play the Interzonal! The organizers of the Tunisian federation were delighted and were rubbing their hands, because the mere presence of Bobby meant that there would be a lot more media interest towards a sport that was usually of minority following (except, of course, in the USSR and some of its satellites). Of course, the Tunisians promise was too happy, too soon. At the beginning of the event, they could not imagine how the American star would mount a new brawl.

The Danish Bent Larsen (left) plays with Bobby before the watchful eye of the Pyatigorskys.

At first, and once again despite a long absence of the competitive vanguard, Fischer responded to the expectation by playing his first rounds incontestably, placing himself in first position without adding any defeat and producing the feeling that he would win the tournament easily. But soon problems arose. Increasingly dissatisfied with the conditions of play, Bobby began to protest because of the lighting of the venue, the furniture, the location of photographers and viewers, etc. He even changed the game table in the middle of a game. In fact, those complaints did not surprise anyone, because it was well known that Fischer used to be extraordinarily demanding about the environment in which he played. The worst came when the most tricky of all issues arose: the tournament calendar. The once non-religious Bobby was now subscribed to a Saturday sabbath-keeping cult. His new religious affiliation had led him to put a condition to participate in the Interzonal: not working between Friday sunset and Saturday sunset, fulfilling the Biblical precept of sabbatical rest. That demand was not new in the world of chess: we already know that Samuel Reshevsky, an orthodox Jew, had received the same deference in a few tournaments. So, before the competition began, the Tunisian organizers had fixed the agenda so that both Americans could avoid breaking the sabbath. That implied that there would be fewer days of rest –especially for the two of them–, but the planning of the event was sent in advance to all the participants and nobody opposed the calendar. Even Fischer gave his approval, or at least did not protest, which is the same. However, once the tournament started, the march of events complicated the agenda enough. When some of Fischer's games were postponed and he found that he had to finish them in his already scarce days of rest, he demanded an extension of the calendar in order to receive more days off. That was a very unreasonable request, because it would force players, organizers, referees, press correspondents and others involved in the tournament to unnecessarily prolong their stay in Sousse. The organizers, with all reason, refused. And of course, that opened the Pandora's box. [See additional translation notes.]

Bobby responded to the refusal in his best style: in the next round, when he had to face the Soviet Alvars Gipslis, he refrained from appearing. The first 60 minutes of his clock passed without him sitting down before the board to play, so the rules were applied and he lost the game by default. At that time, the American was already on his way to the capital, Tunisia, ready to get on a plane to go home. The organizers panicked: the abandonment of Bobby would make the Interzonal run out of its biggest media attraction. A charismatic chess player who by himself guaranteed wide international attention was the biggest and most valuable asset of the tournament, and everyone involved was aware of it. Professor Belkadi, president of the Tunisian federation, went to the capital to talk with Fischer. Promising him an extra day of rest, he convinced him to come back and continue playing the tournament. They climbed into a car and started back to Sousse in a hurry, since the game of the next round was about to begin.

Just that day, Bobby had to face his compatriot Samuel Reshevsky. When Reshevsky sat at the board, on the other side there was an empty chair. Bobby's clock went on as instructed by the regulation. The needles spun, waiting uselessly for Fischer, who was hurrying back from Tunis, deigned to appear. The minutes began to pass: 10, 20, 30, 40 … and there was no sign of Fischer. Given that, according to the rules, once the first 60 minutes had been passed Bobby would lose by default, Reshevsky relaxed thinking that his mercurial opponent had been scared away forever. When 54 minutes had passed, Reshevsky must have been looking at his nails confidently, but suddenly he looked up and saw in astonishment how Bobby Fischer appeared from behind the scenes and was heading towards his chair. Bobby sat down and made his first move … with almost an hour less than a clock to calculate his moves!

Samuel Reshevsky in calm, which means that Bobby should not be close.

That disadvantage of time seemed decisive and Reshevsky could have taken advantage of it if he had planned a game in which Bobby had to spend more minutes thinking about. But Reshevsky was so surprised that he did not know how to take advantage of the situation; in fact, the game started with a Spanish opening, which, as was well known, was one of the best-studied openings by Fischer, to the point that he was considered a great specialist. For his part, Bobby began to think about his plays even more quickly than usual (and that was known for his quick calculations), so, in a few words, he played as if the disadvantage in the clock was not against him. He suppressed Reshevsky who barely took charge of the situation, until he managed to take the game to the point of postponement. By the time the game was postponed, Fischer's position was already practically winning.

Samuel Reshevsky went into a rage: he climbed into a chair and began to call for a French translator to address the audience, warning that he would not appear at the resumption of the game: “Is there a translator here? I will not play with Fischer! Can you hear me? I will not play with Fischer!!” Reshevsky was enraged by what happened and, in fact, the next day it was he who did not appear. But his anger, though humanly understandable, had little foundation, at least on that occasion. Fischer had not done anything illegal. Moreover, presenting himself so late was something that hurt him, having wasted half of the precious time on his watch to play with such a disadvantage. It was impressive that Fischer beat his rival with such speed and confidence in himself. In any case, although he would have considered it a discourtesy, Reshevsky expressed his complaints after playing and when he had visibly lost the game, not before. [See additional translation notes.]

The situation, then, seemed saved. Bobby was still in the Interzonal. He also won his next game and everything seemed to be going well … but he kept demanding that he be allowed to recover that point he had lost by default to the Soviet Glipsis. He insisted that the game should be played. It was an impossible request to grant: the point was granted, everything had been done according to the rules and Fischer could not ask the Soviet to grant him the whim of playing an extra game extemporaneously. Moreover, Fischer was not even going to need that lost point: because to qualify for the Candidates he only had to be among the first six of the Interzonal; Even with that defeat by default in his pigeonhole, it was something he could easily achieve. Seeing his level of play it was clear that he was going to get it. By then, at twenty-four years of age, he was already visibly superior to the vast majority of the Grand Masters of the world and only a few privileged Soviets could be considered equal or superior to him. Why complicate your life and endanger your place in the Candidates fighting with the organization? Why not ignore that single defeat by default and focus on getting your classification?

But no; as soon as he knew that he would not be allowed to play against Glipsis, he left Sousse again for Tunis. Thus, by not appearing in the game against the Czechoslovak Vlastimil Hort, added a second defeat by default. His presence in the Interzonal was once again hanging by a thread and he did it just when he had to face one of the most fit players on the planet, the Danish Bent Larsen. A match at the top that the spectators were going to miss if Fischer left.

Professor Belkadi – who, as we see, was a man more than busy during that Interzonal – had to return to the capital in a hurry, in search of Fischer who was once again determined to get on a plane and leave. The Tunisian must have put into practice an admirable exercise of persuasion, since in extremis he got the American to agree to return to the tournament again. However, they were still in Tunisia when the game against Larsen was about to begin, so Belkadi turned to the authorities so that Bobby could arrive on time: a police escort cleared the roads for the vehicle where the chess player was traveling, which went full speed to Sousse. But not even with such a spectacular police deployment helped to serve arriving on time. According to the regulation, he had lost the game, which meant the third defeat by default for Fischer that, at the start of the Interzonal, seemed to be shooting towards the first place. Now he had three zeros in his pigeonhole; the three for not having appeared. Of course, even in that way he still had options to qualify if he kept winning … but that was too much for him. He returned to leave the Interzonal and this time he definitely did. He could no longer be persuaded to return.

That meant that Bobby Fischer lost the chance to play a new Candidates Tournament. No one could understand what had happened. Fischer seemed to be reaching the fullness of his game and yet he had just managed to turn the Interzonal into a vaudeville show where the main victim had been none other than himself. Larsen narrated what happened in an article and concluded this (from the book Bobby Fischer, his life and games, by Pablo Morán):

A player of Fischer's strength belongs in the Candidate Tournament, but he must obey the same rules as the others. I do not want to psychoanalyze Fischer, as several commentators have done, but his nerves must be in very bad condition. Too strange seemed his calm to leave the tournament.

The New York Times summarized the matter with more conciseness, through a very expressive headline: “What's wrong with Fischer?”

And Bobby Fischer responded again in his own way. That is, not playing again in 1967. He did not even appear at the USA Championship that year. [See additional translation notes, (2).]

On the verge of a new debacle

As Larsen said, many people tried (and are still trying) to interpret the behavior of Bobby Fischer at the Sousse Interzonal. Not a few players and analysts have been tempted to offer their own reading of the facts, although contradictory hypotheses arise in this regard. Garry Kasparov, for example, has popularized the idea that Fischer was afraid of Boris Spassky, whom he would have to meet in the subsequent Candidates. Spassky was at that time playing at a fantastic level, certainly, but it is a lot to say that Fischer forced his exit from Sousse for that reason. In fact, Bobby's aversion did not need to be attributed to the fear of any rival because, in truth, it was quite consistent with his usual way of behaving. As we all know, similar rudeness and conflicts – what we might call "fischeradas" - had already occurred in other tournaments and competitions. That was something Bobby had done before, since his childhood, and what he would do next. Something very typical of him, which would always be.

Listening to the radio: the young Fischer had simple habits.

The following year, 1968, he traveled to Europe to play a pair of tournaments that he won easily, without losing a single game. Then he went with the US team to the Chess Olympiad in Lugano, but he soon returned to become the protagonist of the controversy. He insisted that cameras should not film him without paying him in exchange for an amount in concept of image rights. Since his demands were not met, he left the Olympiad before starting, leaving his team in the lurch. The USA, which in the previous edition had been second with Fischer, did not pass the fourth place without him (with everything considered, it was still a result much more than worthy). In any case, that new shock marked the beginning of a new and prolonged retreat. Throughout the year 1969 he abstained from competition once again. The most detrimental was his absence in the US Championship, which in 1969 had Zonal category. That is to say, the three first classified of the American championship would win the right to attend the next Interzonal Tournament, to be held in Palma de Mallorca. Fischer had dominated the championship since he was 14 years old and logically he had never had any problem getting a place. But now he was facing (too!) the organizers of the American championship: he had asked the federation for a change in the format of the tournament, arguing that it should be played in a double round, since it was too short. He saw his request rejected and, consequently, declined to participate again. That brought with it serious consequences: the absence of Fischer deprived him of a place in the new Interzonal. It was clear that his enormous sporting ambition clashed head-on with a strange sense of justice that no one but him seemed to fully understand.

The worst thing was to think that such a player could miss another opportunity to measure himself against the best. At that time, if one went over Fischer's career, he realized that he had been wasting his best opportunities to fight for the world title. Let's review:

  • 1958-1959: Fischer qualifies for the Candidates, but at only 16 he is too green to face the Soviets and aim for the title.
  • 1962: At 19 years is classified again for the candidates, but plays erratically, showing that he is still inexperienced.

So far, so good. But…

  • 1964: Has not even presented himself in Amsterdam Interzonal and no one knew why.
  • 1967: When he goes in first position, leaving the Interzonal in Sousse due to disputes with the organization of the tournament.
  • 1970: You can not go to the Interzonal for having been absent from the USA championship after having a dispute with the organization.

In short … The more he improved his game and the more prepared he seemed to qualify for the world crown, the more obstacles he put in his own way. The discouragement spread in the American federation. The disappointment gripped the fans and journalists of his country, and of the entire West, before the evident disinterest of the only individual on the planet who could, by himself, try to strike a weak spot in Soviet pride. In the United States they did not know what to do with Bobby. It was the year 1969 but things being so, was given the painful fact that Fischer could no longer claim the world title… until 1975! And that, assuming that then he would not surprise everyone with any of his unpredictable reactions (as, anyway, would end up happening).

But the American Federation were not willing to give up so soon, so they began to rack their brains to find a solution that would allow Fischer to go to Interzonal. Examining the current regulations, they discovered that if one of the three classified in the USA Championship was absent from the Interzonal, the federation could choose a substitute at their discretion … and, what better substitute than Bobby Fischer? They consulted with FIDE and verified that the move was completely legal. Of course, they had to convince one of the three qualified US masters to voluntarily resign from his position, and that was not easy at all. It was like asking a soccer player to give his place in a World Cup voluntarily, only much worse than that! However, it was finally the Master Pal Benko who, in exchange for a sum of money, agreed to cede his place to Fischer. Like everyone else, Benko knew that few American options were available to Bobby, so he sacrificed his place. A sporting gesture that saved the roles of the federation, Western chess and Fischer's own career. To the relief of everyone, the wayward Bobby would be present in Palma de Mallorca … although, of course, you could never be completely certain until the last moment.

The year 1970 began with a great exhibition tournament for teams, a multiple match “USSR against the rest of the world”, which would be followed by the international press. All the commentators took for granted that Fischer would occupy the first board of the “rest of the world” selection, being the best non-Soviet player. But the Danish Bent Larsen — who also was not particularly short of ego — had his own ideas about it. He noted that he had won more tournaments in recent times, since the American had played very little in 1968 and not once in all of 1969. He noted that he had won more tournaments in recent times, as the American had played very little in 1968 and never once throughout 1969. So, being about to start the match, Larsen claimed to be the first board of the “rest of the world” team. The truth is that his claim was not crazy: no matter how much Bobby was considered a better player than Larsen, unanimous opinion was the American returned from one of his long semi-retirements, while the Dane had been reaping some important victories on the international scene. He also deserved the first board. And so, the organizers of the exhibition attended to Larsen's request, although they had the bitter pill to swallow of letting Bobby properly know about it.

An envoy of the organization fearfully approached the hotel room of Bobby to suggest to him that he had to yield that first position. He was convinced that Fischer would get angry when he met Larsen's demands and would leave the match if he was not allowed to figure as headliner. Nice ballot. But he found Fischer very relaxed, lying on the bed with his hands under the nape of his neck and surrounded by some fans. The envoy explained that Bent Larsen deserved to be the head of the team due to his recent record, so Bobby would have to occupy the second board. To the surprise of the messenger (and the whole world), Fischer did not alter the least and only wanted to know if he would charge the same. When he learned he would receive the same amount of money, simply said, “Good.” Against all odds Fischer had accepted. In the end, the Soviet team won as predicted, although Larsen defended the first board with dignity (in fact, was matched with the first Russian board, Spassky) and Fischer, in the second board, was far superior to his rival, the recent former world champion, Tigran Petrosian. Although obviously was the “deep bench” of the USSR it was impossible to match and guaranteed victory over the selection of the rest of the world.Although obviously was the “deep bench” of the USSR it was impossible to match and guaranteed victory over the selection of the rest of the world. Still, it was clear that the “bench depth” of the USSR was impossible to match in the rest of the boards and guaranteed the victory over the selection of the rest of the world.

Just after, the unofficial Flash Chess World Championship was held, in which the best Masters in the world were going to play a fast match tournament, played with only five minutes on the clock. The big favorite for the final victory was the Soviet Mikhail Tal, who had problems competing in classic chess because his poor health which prevented him from enduring long games, but he was still a fearsome player in the fast games, where his incomparable genius and his huge ability to improvise were still very fruitful. However, Bobby Fischer surprised by overwhelming everyone present, obtaining 19 points out of 22 possible points (against the main staff of world chess!) And prevailing by an overwhelming difference of 4.5 points over the second classified (of course, Mikhail Tal) and 5 points on the third (Victor Korchnoi, the only one who could win a game against Bobby). That display brought about an admirable reaction from Tal, stunned by the ability of the American to play impeccably even in such a fast way: “In the rapid games, the other players have made mistakes that have made us lose horses and bishops, but Fischer has not even left behind a pawn in the whole championship!” Arguably this overwhelming victory in the flash competition had no great importance, being considered as a mere diversion. But the exclamation of Tal, Fischer's most enthusiastic supporter within the USSR, contained a clear warning: Bobby's chess comprehension and his ability to quickly read what was happening on the board, as well as to develop his game harmoniously, they could be reaching a new level. Perhaps Bobby did not show the tactical flexibility of the new King Boris Spassky, but there were already reasons for the Soviets – who, in general, tended to underestimate the American's possibilities – to begin to look at him with more caution.

For the rest, and already returning to conventional chess, Fischer won with authority and without losing any games in a tournament in Buenos Aires. He also won another tournament, even stronger, in Zagreb. Although he did lose a game there, the aura of being almost unbeatable was solidifying around his celebrity. He then returned to the US team to play the new Chess Olympiad in Siegen, Germany. This time he did not leave with a messy cage before he started and, to everyone's relief, he played until the end. Of course, once again had to deal with Boris Spassky. The game between both aroused a huge expectation, as he faced the current world champion (Spassky had recently dethroned the weathered Petrosian) against the man best placed to try to dispute the title. Perhaps a single game is little to judge the state of their rivalry at that time, but the truth is that there was still perceived a clear superiority of Spassky over Bobby. Taking the black, Fischer raised the game to win, but the Russian responded with skill and firmness. Fischer's positional superiority was neutralized by Spassky's greatest tactical inventiveness. In the end, the world champion finished the game with a play to which Bobby had to surrender and that caused a standing ovation in the venue. The total score between both, collectively as they had faced a few times, was clearly unfavorable to Fischer: 0-2-3. All he had achieved against Spassky were two draws. Although he did not show his displeasure in a visible way, Fischer avoided signing the board of the game, which was to be delivered as a souvenir to the Soviet ambassador in the Federal Republic of Germany. That inadvertent gesture hinted that the new defeat against Spassky, in fact, had hurt.

Be that as it may, the tactical skill with which Spassky had resolved that game and the fact that his most recent victory over Fischer was the brightest, served to reaffirm the Soviets in his generalized (though not unanimous) view that Fischer played chess that was too “simple” to cope successfully with the powerful and versatile world champion. In a way, that victory was a mirage that both Spassky and the Soviet propaganda seized to convince themselves that their superiority over Bobby Fischer would be unbreakable. In 1969, Spassky would remain practically the only chess player whom Fischer could still revere, but the truth is that in the USSR they could not read between the lines. They did not realize that Bobby's game was progressing at a forced pace, even more than it had progressed in previous years. He was becoming a new type of player; a dominant player up to limits hard to imagine. Teachers from other parts of the world were already eulogizing him, noticing that Fischer was touching the state of chess grace. The Russians (except Tal, who preaching in the desert and anticipating that Bobby was going to become the best) still did not believe that such praise was completely justified.

Fischer and Spassky would not meet again until 1972, but many things were going to change in the meantime. In what remained of 1970 and 1971, Bobby Fischer was going to show that he had indeed reached a new level. If in 1969 the USSR still looked at him with some condescension, his impending exploits were about to cause panic in Moscow and an unprecedented state of excitement in the Western realm. His achievements during those months would make him the symbol of the West and the unexpected protagonist of the Cold War. The period 1970-71 was going to be a period of brief, yes, but absolute domination. A domination of such intensity that has never been seen before nor has it been seen afterwards. That period was going to transform the American into one of the greatest celebrities on the planet and would make many people see him as Albert Einstein's successor. After years of comings and goings, conflicts and rudeness, the Fischer Era was definitely to begin.