Bobby Fischer (right)

The Soviets love affair with the game was rooted deep within its ideology. Chess was a way to promote wise leadership within the country. Through chess, the country encouraged applaudable qualities for the everyday citizen as part of a cultural revolution.

Nikolay Krylenko, a Soviet government official, was instrumental in laying down the foundations for state-sponsored chess. In 1921, the first state promoted chess tournament took place in Moscow. Under Krylenko, the country opened up schools and used chess as a platform to promote international dominance.

By 1934, there were 500,000 amateur players registered under the state chess organization. The years of cultivating chess showed when Mikhail Botvinnik won the international title in 1948 for the Soviets. The country would dominate the chess scene for the following years. American, Bobby Fischer would end their winning streak.

In 1972, at the height of the Cold War, the stage was set for Bobby Fischer to challenge Boris Spassky for the World Chess Championship. Bobby’s journey to the finals was relatively easy. He won two games with a perfect score of six to nothing and one game 6 ½ to 2 ½ against Tigran Petrosian, an Armenian Soviet grandmaster.

The first match was to be played in Reykjavik, Iceland. Fischer, however, began making all sorts of demands for his participation. He asked for more prize money and a percentage of the television rights. He also made all sorts of requests covering the chairs, the lighting, and the television cameras.  

British Chess promoter, James Slater, made a $125,000 donation to be added to the prize money. Bobby Fischer needed more convincing. It took a phone call from the U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger and a pep talk from fellow American chess player, Bill Lombardy, to get Fischer on a plane to Iceland. He arrived a just a few hours before being automatically disqualified.

The Soviet Union put a whole team together at Boris’s disposal to play out several outcomes during every match. Fischer took Bill Lombardy, his last minute choice as second, as his only advisor.

Fischer seemed to be uncomfortable with the setting of the first match. He said that the cameras were too close, and that the audience was too loud. He made a mistake and lost the first match, a match that would have ended in a draw otherwise.

Fischer did not appear for the second match because his demands about removing the cameras from the playing hall were not met. He lost the match by forfeit. Spassky now had an advantageous lead of 2-0 over Fischer.

Perhaps feeling more confident, Spassky agreed to Fischer’s terms and the third match was played in a small room away from television cameras. This proved advantageous for the American because he got his first win over Spassky. The games returned to the main stage but without cameras. Bobby Fischer would also win the 5th, 6th, 8th, 10th, 13th, and 21st match. Spassky, after realizing he had been beat, stood up and clapped, acknowledging Fischer. Bobby Fischer became the 11th World Chess Champion on September 3, 1972.