Bobby Fischer: Chess’s beguiling, eccentric genius
4 July 2011 Last updated at 07:16 ET

Three years after his death, interest in chess genius Bobby Fischer shows no sign of waning, with a new documentary film about to have its UK premiere. So what is it about the controversial and eccentric chess star that fascinates, asks David Edmonds, co-author of Bobby Fischer Goes To War.

It’s difficult, now, to imagine the excitement generated by the 1972 world chess title match in Iceland between the Russian champion, Boris Spassky, and the American challenger, Bobby Fischer.

There were other big stories jostling for newspaper column inches at the time. It was the beginning of the Watergate scandal that would eventually compel President Nixon to resign. Henry Kissinger was shuttling around continents seeking a truce in Vietnam. There were riots in Northern Ireland. Idi Amin expelled Asians from Uganda. The Munich Olympics were about to take place.

But much of the world was gripped by a chess match – the so-called Match of the Century – a match that Fischer eventually, and dramatically, won. The match made stars of TV presenters. It was covered by both broadsheets and tabloids. The Daily Mirror trumpeted one of Fischer’s victories with the headline, Spassky Smashki.

When one reporter went from bar to bar in New York to see what their television sets were tuned to, he discovered that 18 of the 21 were showing the chess, and only three to the baseball game that the punters would normally have demanded.

What can explain this phenomenon? Why did a cerebral board game suddenly become all the rage? And why, half a century after first coming to prominence, does Bobby Fischer still exert such a hold on the public imagination?

The political context of his greatest triumph still resonates. The match happened at the height of detente. But the media portrayed Fischer v Spassky as a Cold War clash.

This was understandable. The Soviets had dominated chess since World War II. They used chess as a propaganda tool, as proof of the superiority of communism over capitalism. They had a highly efficient chess structure that identified talented players young, and trained them intensively. They believed that the world championship title was rightfully theirs.

The set-up in America, by contrast, was amateurish. There was negligible state support or business sponsorship of the game and the prize money in tournaments was meagre. Fischer was seen as a lone individual taking on the power of the Soviet machine.

More here.

Special thanks to Ken Tait for sending us this article.

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