By Paul Langdon
1972 Fischer/Spassky: The Match, Its Origin, and Influence is the new exhibit at the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF) honoring the 50th anniversary of the monumental 1972 World Chess Championship in which the United States’ most recognized chess player, Bobby Fischer, defeated the reigning champion, Boris Spassky, ending 24 years of Soviet dominance.
“The 1972 World Chess Championship is unique partly because of these political tensions that existed between the U.S. and the Soviet Union,” reflects WCHOF Curator Emily Allred. “Bobby and Boris weren’t just moving chess pieces on the board; they were symbols of their respective countries.”
Throughout its three floors, filled with over 500 artifacts, visitors to the World Chess Hall of Fame will be able to learn about the lifelong careers of these legendary players, see the actual pieces that were used in (what’s often called) the “Match of the Century” and feel the rippling effects this showdown had on the competitors and the world at large.
“This was really important for American chess fans because it gave them a hero, somebody to help bring them into the game,” Allred explains. “The 1972 World Chess Championship brought chess to new audiences in the United States. Before that, it was kind of more of a niche interest. But Bobby Fisher became an international sports star, and he inspired a lot of kids to take up the game.”
One particularly interesting element of this exhibit, that can be seen in letters on display between the two competitors, is the relationship these rivals shared. “They were great friends; Fischer and Spassky had such a mutual respect for each other. They were pinned against each other because of the cold war, but that was really the countries fighting each other,” says WCHOF Chief Curator Shannon Bailey.
The comradery they shared would continue even through their infamous 1992 rematch, which is explored in the third and final floor of the exhibit.
Fischer, who had effectively retired from the game, made a much-anticipated return to play his old friend and rival in an unsanctioned match in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was under sanctions by the United Nations at the time. “Bobby was warned that if he played, he would be in trouble in the United States,” says Allred. “But he decided to play anyway. And after that he wasn’t able to return to the U.S. under fear of arrest. He lived in various places, ultimately settling back in Iceland, where he had played the famous World Chess Championship match in 1972.”
1972 Fischer/Spassky: The Match, Its Origin, and Influence continues at the World Chess Hall of Fame through April 30, 2023. To learn more visit www.worldchesshof.org.