Russians versus Fischer
396 Seiten, gebunden, Chess World, 1. Auflage 1994
In lieu of a foreword - Yuri Averbakh:
Bobby Fischer has probably attracted more attention and aroused keener interest than has any other world chess champion. His pictures have appeared on the covers of the most prestigious magazines, and hundreds of articles and books have been written about him. In the United States there has even been a novel about him, Master Prime, and in Hungary a feature film was made, where Fischer's role was played by the famous Russian actor Kaidansky.
Indeed, the American is a unique phenomenon in the history of chess. Nevertheless, the heightened interest of the general public in Fischer is due not only to his outstanding talent and phenomenal successes, but also to the fact that he managed, in the apt words of grandmaster Bisguier, 'to beat the Russians at their own game.' And Anatoly Karpov is correct, when he writes: 'Chess is indebted to Fischer for the fact that he generated interest in it throughout the world. Chess was popular in the Soviet Union and in several other countries, but it didn't enjoy world-wide popularity, because there was a lack of competition. To the world it was all the same who gained the chess crown - Spassky or Petrosian, who won the Candidates Tournament - Tal or Keres, Bronstein or Korchnoi. But when Fischer began his triumphal ascent to the chess summit, the Sport took on a political aspect - who would win, the lone Fischer, or the serried ranks of Soviet grandmasters? The favourite scenario of the man in the street: one against many! This generated so much interest, that for a time chess become the no.l Sport in the world.'
In the context of the cold war between East and West, Soviet ideology sought to turn the chess battles with Fischer into political battles, a struggle of two worlds, two Systems.
The motive behind such an attitude to chess in the communist countries is admirably explained by the well-known Soviet 'non-returner' grandmaster Lev Alburt:
'The discovery of a political meaning in chess is something we owe to the Great October Revolution. However, Soviet chess players appeared in the international arena en masse only after the Second World War. The USSR became part of the United Nations, Soviet athletes joined the Olympic movement, and chess players joined the International Chess Federation (FIDE). It became possible to conduct propaganda in favour of the Soviet way of life not from one occasion to another, but ubiquitously, along what might be called a broad front. To be sure, chess is a specific sphere, a local theatre of war, but in the ideological struggle there are no trifles. The USSR Chess Federation is subordinate to the USSR Sports Committee, and the Committee comes within the province of the Sports sector of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party's Central Committee.
'The tasks set before Soviet chess players were clearly defined. First, to win the world championship. Second, to rule the roost in FIDE. There is no need to point out that these two tasks were interrelated. The American grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky, who took part in the 1948 Match-Tournament for the world title and in subsequent Candidates Tournaments, once discretly remarked that the Russians always played 'as a team'. How could it be otherwise when the team is always headed, on board one, by the authorities?'
The tasks formulated were successfully accomplished. Recall the names of the champions: Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky ... It seemed that this was how it would be to the end of the century ... Then suddenly Fischer appeared on the scene.
On sensing the threat, the Soviet ideological machine went into top gear. The things that were written about the American, once he became a real candidate to win the world crown! He was portrayed as a money-grabber, a mentally-retarded youth, who in educational and intellectual Standards - if not in his curriculum vitae - was unfit to be a world champion...
Alas, this had the sole result that Fischer, while on fairly good terms with several of our grandmasters individually, began to experience strong ill-feelings towards representatives of our country in general. And, it turns out, he continues to do so.
This book is the story of how this American solitary genius purposefully, step by step and year after year, forced his way through the serried ranks of Soviet grandmasters to the chess crown, how he dethroned Boris Spassky and became the 11th world champion, breaking the many years of the Soviet Chess School's hegemony. What makes this book unique is the fact that for the first time it provides a picture of Fischer as seen through the eyes of representatives of that school; as for the documents cited in it, they were not known either in Russia or in the West.
...As far as I can remember, I first heard of Fischer in 1953. There was a report in the press at the time that a chess prodigy by the name of Bobby Fischer had appeared in the United States. Then, at the end of 1956, an American chess Journal printed a brilliant game, in which the 13-year-old Bobby had routed the strong master Donald Byrne with a spectacular queen sacrifice. After examining the game, I became convinced that the boy was indeed remarkably talented.
In 1957, on the eve of the World Youth and Student Festival in Moscow, Fischer's mother (who, by the way, had graduated from Moscow's Second Medical Institute before the war) wrote a letter addressed to Khrushchev himself, if I'm not mistaken. In it she asked that her son be invited to the Festival. The wheels of our bureaucracy turned slowly, and while the matter was being considered, the Festival ended. Nevertheless, an invitation was sent to the American to visit the Soviet Union the following year, in 1958.
Fischer, accompanied by bis older sister Joan, arrived in Moscow as the US adult champion. At the Sports Committee he was welcomed 'according to protocol: given a hotel, a car with a chauffeur, even an Interpreter and pocket money; an attempt was made to show him the sights of Moscow, and he was invited to visit the Bolshoi Theatre. But Bobby had come to Moscow for something quite different: he dreamed of playing the 'greats' of our chess, even the world champion Botvinnik himself...
At the Central Chess Club he managed to play some lightning chess with several young masters, notably, with Nikitin and Vasyukov. He also played a few friendly games with Petrosian (Tigran afterwards recalled, 'I was the person summoned to the Club to "cope" with a youth who was beating the Moscow masters at lightning chess'). However, Bobby did not achieve the main purpose of bis trip - playing the world champion and the challengers (except for Petrosian). It was perhaps for this reason that he was rude to his interpreter. She complained to the leadership of the Committee, and Fischer left Moscow earlier than planned, bearing a grudge against our country and our grandrnasters.
Recently Lev Abramov, who at that time headed the Chess Section of the USSR Sports Committee, shared his memories of Fischer's visit to Moscow: 'A few days before Bobby and Joan's planned departure, they turned up at my office and said that they wanted to prolong their stay and play a few serious games. I was ready for this and I gave my agreement. A couple of days later the following incident occurred. In a restaurant, while awaiting the main course, Bobby was rocking about on this chair. Joan warned him, but he carried on doing it and fell over. When he got up, he immediately went to his room, growling "I'm fed up with these Russian pigs." This is what the Interpreter passed on to her superiors, but I think it should have been "I'm fed up with this Russian pork". In short, I received a directive for them to leave Moscow. Unexpectedly, I received Support from Bobby, who came into my room and asked: "What payment will I receive for these games?" I breathed a sigh of relief and replied: "None. You are our guest, and we don't pay fees to guests."
'Apparently, that's what it was all about. And it is unlikely that the Interpreter could have muddled up Fischer's remark: it is very hard to mix up the words "pork" and "pig"...'
A couple of months later the Interzonal Tournament began in the Yugoslav city of Portoroz. That was where I first saw Fischer, a lanky lad in a sweater and Jeans, something of a 'savage' in communicating with people. He gazed without the slightest interest at the beautiful scenery of the Adriatic Cote d'Azur, never once went to the beach, never once took a swim in the sea. It was obvious that all of his thoughts centred on chess. Chess was his life. Bobby spent nearly all his time at a chess board - either in the tournament hall playing or else in his room analysing games.
Naturally, at Portoroz the 'boy-wonder' constantly attracted a great deal of journalistic attention. Bobby was shy of this heightened interest, tried to avoid the most persistent of the journalists, and seldom ventured to say anything to them. It was only in response to a question from the Yugoslav newsman Radojcic, as to how he viewed his chances, that Fischer said blundy that he hoped to make it into the top six and become a Candidate for the world title. Since there were 13 grandmasters competing in the tournament, a somewhat surprised Radojcic exclaimed:
'How do you hope to be among the top six with the competition so strong? Surely, it would be a fine thing for you to collect 50 per cent!'
In reply Bobby declared that he would be able to draw his games with the grandrnasters and beat the half-dozen Outsiders in the tournament.
His forecast was so self-confident and, indeed, cocksure that it was hardly taken seriously by anyone. But the crosstable of the tournament proved him to have been astonishingly right: he beat practically everyone considered an Outsider! No other competitor had been able to do this - not even the tournament winner Tal. In this way, by sharing fifth and sixth places, Fischer became the youngest grandmaster in the history of chess and the youngest Candidate for the world title!
In this tournament the American demonstrated shrewd calculation and a by no means childish stamina in striving to achieve his goal. His playing was bold and enter-prising, he displayed no awe of authorities, and feit entirely at home in tactical compli-cations. What surprised me particularly was that Bobby not only knew the fine points of his favourite openings, not only knew everything that had gone into the book before him, but also sought to blaze new trails of his own.
However, for all its originality, Fischer's playing still abounded in faults, as became clearly evident at the Candidates Tournament held in 1959 in Bled, Zagreb and Beigrade. Here Bobby was pitted against top-notch grandmasters, who had a subtle and profound understanding of chess. These were battle-hardened tournament fighters, ready to pounce on the slightest error and make the most of it. To win such a competition, it was not enough to be able to draw with grandmasters - one had to be able to defeat them. And this, of course, was more than could be expected of a 16-year-old youth. Although, on the whole, his final score was excellent: only Tal, Keres, Petrosian, and Smyslov finished ahead of him.
But Fischer himself was displeased with his results. Four losses against the tournament winner Tal and two (with two games drawn) against Petrosian were a severe blow to his ego. There were tears in his eyes when he had to resign in those games...
It seems to me that it was this tournament that shaped Fischer's life in the years that followed. The youth, nursing a sense of deep injury, conceived a plan of 'revenge'. Since he had been defeated, since he had ended up behind four Soviet grandmasters, it was his duty to surpass them and become the number one player in the world! With a relentless fanaticism, Bobby began to brush aside everything that, in his view, could hamper him in attaining the goal he had set himself. He left College and parted with his mother. His time was now devoted to chess and chess alone!
In the next world championship series Fischer brilliantly demonstrated the extent to which he had improved. At the beginning of 1962 he won the Interzonal Tournament in Stockholm, leaving behind his principal rivals: Petrosian, Geller, Korchnoi, and Stein. This victory produced a real Sensation in the world. As one newspaper put it, at last there had appeared a chess player in the West who had pierced the magic ring of Russian grandmasters and won a major international tournament. It was then the USSR Chess Federation took note of Fischer: a special trainers' group was set up to study his games!
The next Candidates Tournament took place far from Europe, on the island of Curacao. It was there that I saw Fischer once again. The change in his appearance was striking. What I saw was a tall, elegant young man who knew his worth. The sweater and jeans had been scrapped in favour of a fashionable, well-tailored suit.
Before the tournament Fischer was self-confidently saying that his immediate plans included writing a book about his match with Botvinnik and, as world champion, making a world tour. He did not doubt either his success at Curacao or his victory over Botvinnik. But things took a different turn. Bobby got off to a poor start, dropped far behind the leaders, and ended up only fourth, after Petrosian, Keres, and Geller.
The Western press did not conceal its disappointment. Fischer too was in low spirits: his cherished goal, which he had worked so hard to achieve, had suddenly turned out to be beyond bis reach...
Incidentally, the tournament in Curacao revealed a substantial flaw in bis playing: carelessness in simple positions, a fault due to a purely human failing - self-assurance and a tendency to overestimate his own powers. Fischer, however, began to seek the cause of his setback elsewhere: in the System adopted for the world championship, in a 'pact' among the Soviel players, who united to prevent him from winning the title. This led him to declare publicly that he would never again take part in such competitions.
In 1963 Petrosian defeated Botvinnik and became the next world champion. At the FIDE Congress the marathon Candidates Tournament was replaced with individual matches. This was what Fischer had been pressing for, but, alas, the next world championship series took place without him. The right to challenge the champion was won by Spassky, but in 1966 Petrosian successfully defended his title.
'Petrosian's next challenger can be only a Soviet player,' declared the chief arbiter of the world championship match, grandmaster O'Kelly. 'Neither Fischer nor Larsen has any chance of succeeding. Only the "chess atmosphere" of the Soviet Union is capable of building up a player of such practical strength as Petrosian. The present champion has been reared by a formidable force of Soviet grandmasters. What chance against him has Fischer or - still less - Larsen, talented loners left to their own devices?'
But a new world championship series began. Fischer, who had again won the USA Championship, became eligible to play in the Interzonal Tournament in Sousse (Tunisia). For the first time in five years he appeared in Europe, winning two international tournaments. Then he was one of the first to arrive in Sousse, where he cordially greeted the Soviet grandmasters and later often spent time with them, playing dominoes, a game to which he took a liking.
The American immediately became the leader of the tournament, but what happened in Sousse and how he dropped out of the tournament is described in detail in this book. Even chess writers favourably inclined toward Fischer were unable to justify his demands. 'Like the Bourbons,' wrote one of them, 'Fischer has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. This time he was being led right to the wellspring, but FIDE was unable to make him drink more than a few gulps...'
Nursing a grudge against the entire world, Fischer again retired from international chess. He appeared to seek solace in religion: a few years before Sousse he had become a Seventh-Day Adventist.
In the meantime the battles on the chess boards continued. Spassky again won the preliminary competitions and then defeated Petrosian to capture the world crown.
In 1970 Fischer decided once again to join in the struggle for the world championship. Evidently, he had at last realised that there was only one way of proving that he was strongest in the world: by going through the series of FIDE preliminary contests and then winning a match with the champion.
This was when his finest hour arrived! Fischer won the Interzonal Tournament in Mallorca, leaving his rivals far behind, 'whitewashed' Taimanov and Larsen (6-0!), and then convincingly defeated Petrosian. Finally, in 1972, he won his match with Spassky to be crowned world champion.
Bobby Fischer thus achieved the goal he had been pursuing for 14 long years: he became the world's No.l chess player. But, alas, he never did fulfil a single one of his earlier promises: he did not write a book about the world championship match, he did not play in a single tournament or match as champion, and he did not make the world tour he had dreamed about in his youth...
Three years later Fischer became embroiled in a dispute with FIDE over the rules of the world championship match and refused to play the new challenger, Karpov. A representative of the Soviet Union was again proclaimed champion. And the American, undefeated, became a recluse, who for many years fenced himself off from the chess world. His retirement lasted for a full 20 years until the sensational 'Return Match of the 20th Century' with Spassky, which is the subject of the closing chapter of this book.
The struggle between Fischer and the Soviet grandmasters is now a matter of history. This makes it possible to view those events 'without rancour or prejudice.'
The idea of this unusual book occurred to us some ten years ago, when we chanced upon some confidential documents of the USSR Chess Federation and the Sports Committee, dating back to the early 1970s. All of the documents concerned Bobby Fischer, the most dangerous rival of Soviet chess players in the entire post-war period, who in 1972 managed to wrest the world title from them.
The existence of such documents was known (in particular, from Korchnoi's book Anti-Chess, a translation of which was published in Russia in 1992), but they had never appeared in the press. These were 'official' letters by leading Soviet grandmasters, documents of special-purpose methodological meetings, and also minutes of meetings of the country's chess leadership devoted to the 'Fischer problem'. At that time a de-tailed study of Fischer's games and personality was made, involving the participation of almost the entire elite of Soviet chess: Spassky, Tal, Petrosian, Smyslov, Botvinnik, Keres, Taimanov, Korchnoi, Bondarevsky, Boleslavsky, Polugayevsky, Kotov, Vasyukov, Balashov, Shamkovich... And quite recently there also surfaced secret documents of the USSR Communist Party Central Committee, which have thrown light on the role played in the struggle for the world chess crown by - party function-aries!
It would of course have been possible simply to publish all these documents, but it seemed to us that the subject of 'Russians versus Fischer' was much broader, for it covers not only political intrigues but also a wealth of chess material: over 150 of Fischer's games with the leaders of the Soviet school of chess. The unique feature of the book is that for the first time it shows Fischer through the eyes of the representatives of that school, and most of the evidence and documents presented was previously unknown either in Russia, or in the West.
During the ten years since the publication of the first edition of the book we have made many new finds and discoveries. We are pleased finally to complete this wideranging work about the eleventh world champion Robert James Fischer, the living legend of modern chess.
In conclusion, we would like to express our thanks to the USSR Honoured Trainer Alexander Nikitin and to the well-known chess historian Isaak Linder, who made a number of valuable documents available to us.
Dmitry Plisetsky and Sergey Voronkov
003 To The Reader
004 In Lieu of a Foreword - Yuri Averbakh
013 The upstart from Brooklyn (1958 - 62)
113 Between Heaven and Earth (1963 - 69)
157 Two years that shook the world (1970 - 71)
283 The road to cavalry (1972)
351 The match that never was (1975 - 77)
369 Twenty years later (1992)