40 Years Ago Today: Chess Rivals Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky Meet in the ‘Match of the Century’

They called it the “Match of the Century.” The eccentric American chess master Bobby Fischer and the reigning world champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union faced off against one another 40 years ago today in Reykjavik, Iceland. As the world looked on, the Cold War struggle between two superpowers was played out in proxy, on a chess board.

The tense atmosphere and enormous fanfare surrounding the event are captured in this excerpt from the 2006 GSN documentary Anything to Win: The Mad Genius of Bobby Fischer. Spassky won the first game, on July 11, 1972, when Fischer made a surprising blunder. Game two went to Spassky when Fischer refused to play because the television cameras were bothering him. Before the start of game three, Fischer went around the room inspecting TV equipment for sources of noise. The entire sequence of events was perhaps an elaborate game of psychological warfare. When Fischer finally sat down to play, Spassky’s equanimity was shattered: The third game went to Fischer, and the tide had turned. When the match finally concluded on September 1, the score was Fischer 12½, Spassky 8½. To learn more about the match, and Fischer’s extraordinary life, you can watch the entire one-hour GSN documentary here.

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  • sebastian

    Great post – I thought I might mention that for all those years that everyone was “searching” for Bobby Fischer – he was living in a converted garage at his sister’s house in Palo Alto – she taught chess to local school kids. A close friend bought the house in the early 80′s – when I walked in I asked why there were skylights in the garage and access hallway and she told me the story from Bobby Fischer’s sister who sold her the place. Pretty cool bit of lore for your readers.

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