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 Rischer 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.
Spassky, 35, will receive about $100,000. He won only three games, one on a forfeit. Fischer won seven games, and there were 11 draws. With a win counting one point, and a draw a half point, the final score was 12 ½ for Fischer and 8 ½ for Spassky.
Spassky phones his resignation to match referee Lothar Schmid at 12:50 p.m. Reykjavik time (8:50 a.m., New York time), and Schmid announced it in the crowded playing hall nearly two hours later, a little after the 21st game was to resume.
Schmid turned, took Bobby’s elbow and tried to lead him to the front stage to acknowledge the cheers and applause of the crowd. But Fischer shyly ducked back to the playing table and leaned over to sign his score sheet. A few minutes later he left the hall as quickly as he had entered.
So ended the match of the century. Many were disappointed that Spassky did not show up to resign in person. However, referee Schmid pointed out that the Russian’s telephoned resignation was proper and sanctioned by international chess custom.
Frank Skoff, newly elected president of the United States Chess Federation, said, “I wish Boris had played it out. He still had some chance and I wanted to see how it would go.”
The opinion of the grandmasters fluctuated until game time. Max Euwe, former world champion, had insisted at lunch today, “Spassky can draw if he sealed 41.K-R3. Otherwise he will lose.”
Actually Boris had made things easier for Bobby last night, though only the Russian camp was on the secret. Instead of 41.K-R3, Spassky’s sealed move had been the weaker .41. B-Q7, which allows Fischer to play… K-N5, followed by … P-R5. Then the winning plan would be to force the bishop to take the KR1-QR8 diagonal, so that B-B3cb becomes possible to drive the black king from N5, from which it could otherwise escort the pawn to R6. That costs Spassky his pawn on KB5, whereupon Fischer would systematically advance his own bishop’s pawn, sacrifice the rook’s pawn to obtain the white bishop’s pawn in return, and end up queening his last pawn for the win.
In the session last night, Fischer used another opening new for his match, the Taimanov variation of the Sicilian defense. The greatest surprise of the game was his 7… P-Q4, since after the exchange on the next move, he was obliged to play with an isolated queen’s pawn, a formation he has always avoided. But Spassky could not discover a way to proceed except to exchange knights at move 10, repairing the black structure.
The piece play he sought resulted only in a doubled king’s bishop pawn for Fisher, who more than made up for that weakness by his powerful bishops. By move 19 it was evident that Spassky’s strategy had failed, for the American bishops and rooks exerted such tremendous force against the queen’s wing that it was about to collapse.
The best way out was the exchange sacrifice at the 19th move, but, if that was to save the day, it needed foolproof execution Spassky’s 41st did not measure up.
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