One Day in Reykjavik

by admin on September 2, 2022

My diary, 9/1/1972

Sadly, I was rooting for the wrong guy.

This month’s Chess Life has an interesting 50-year retrospective on the Fischer-Spassky match. I thought that the most insightful article was a short interview with IM Anthony Saidy, who hosted Fischer at his house before Fischer left for Iceland. Here is one thing I did not know. Chess Life asked, “To what extend [sic] do you think he was aware of how his demands affected Spassky psychologically?” Saidy: “He did develop a bit of empathy, which made him write Spassky an abject apology.” I would love to see that letter!

Also, Chess Life asked Saidy whether he thinks the 1975 match with Karpov would have been played if the Soviets had agreed to his conditions for that match. Saidy says, “The 1972 match was a near-miracle, because every one of 20 factors broke the right way. Flip a coin 20 times and try to get 20 heads. … My answer is no.”

I think that you can take the word “near” out of that sentence. The 1972 match was a stone cold miracle. In what sport, in what world and what universe does a benefactor (James Slater) materialize out of thin air just days before the event and double the prize fund? Also, in what sport, in what world and what universe does a competitor (Pal Benko) voluntarily give up his last chance at the world championship so that his countryman (Bobby Fischer) will get a shot? Both of those events were legit miracles.

Also, a semi-miracle was the fact that Spassky continued the match after Fischer’s forfeit in game two, when he could have easily done gone back to Russia as the Soviet chess federation wanted him to do. In a sense, this was not luck — Spassky cared about the match being played and winning it (or losing it) the right way. But a different player would have gone home in a second and won the championship by default.

Besides the miracle of Slater and the miraculous sportsmanship of Benko and Spassky, I’m sure that there were 17 other coin flips that all came up heads. But in 1975, one thing was hugely different: Karpov was not Spassky. For that reason, the match could not happen.

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