As a summer camper bunking with 40 other boys, only one of whom initially played chess, I explained the rules to one or two of the others. Within several days, a basic knowledge of chess had spread like wildfire. Virtually every other camper had picked up the game and was playing it.
It was strange but probably unique, I thought for many years.
But what had happened in a microcosm as a kid happened at large in 1972.
A Harris poll at the onset of the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky world title match found that only 20 percent of Americans older than 18 knew the rules of the game.
But soon it seemed everyone was playing or watching the five-hour-per-game, seven-week coverage on PBS with intense interest if not passion.
Buying a chess set or book in Manhattan was almost impossible, according to reports. Passersby lined up in front of department-store windows to watch Fischer and Spassky’s moves on television.
It was of great personal significance for many, with children and parents often watching together, I’ve frequently been told.
I encountered a similar contagion in at least a couple of school programs I inaugurated during the next decade.
To this day, I have difficulty explaining the curious phenomenon.
Sign up for my free email chess course for Beginners and Club Players. In this free course, I focus on helping beginner chess players see the entire board. You will learn how to attack your opponent from move 1 and create a new threat with every single move! I’ve created this series of lessons designed to help beginner and club level players understand the game at a deeper level so that you can start beating higher rated players immediately. Start getting free tips from me directly to your inbox!
– GM Susan Polgar