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.