The World Chess Championship 1972 match between challenger Bobby Fischer and defending champion Boris Spassky in Laugardalshöll, Reykjavík, Iceland, has been dubbed the Match of the Century. Fischer won the match 12½-8½.
Fischer failed to arrive in Iceland for the opening ceremony. For the next several days, it looked doubtful that the match would be played at all, for it was proving impossible for FIDE to accommodate Fischer's myriad demands, such as banning television cameras and a 30 percent share of the revenue from spectators. Fischer's behavior was full of self-contradictions, as it had been throughout his chess career. Finally, after a surprise doubling of the prize fund and much persuasion, including a phone call from Henry Kissinger, Fischer did fly to Iceland. Many commentators, particularly from the USSR, have suggested that all this (and his continuing demands and unreasonableness) was part of Fischer's plan to "psych out" Spassky. Fischer's supporters say that winning the World Championship was the mission of his life, that he simply wanted the setting to be perfect for it when he took the stage, and that his behavior was not different from what it had been in the past ten or fifteen years.
Spassky's seconds for the match were Efim Geller, Nikolai Krogius and Iivo Nei. Fischer's second was William Lombardy. His entourage also consisted of lawyer Paul Marshall, whose role in the events of the following months would not be insignificant, and USCF representative Fred Cramer. The match referee was Lothar Schmid.
Before the match, Fischer had played five games against Spassky, with two draws and Spassky winning the other three. However, in the Candidates matches en route to becoming the challenger, Fischer had demolished such stalwarts as Mark Taimanov and Bent Larsen 6-0 (with no draws), and had won four games in a row in his match against former world champion Tigran Petrosian. He was, therefore, considered the pre-match favorite. But many top Grandmasters noted at the time that Fischer had never won a game from Spassky.
World-class match play (i.e., a series of games between the same two opponents) often involves one or both players preparing one or two openings very deeply, and playing them often during the match. Preparation for such a match also usually involves analysis of those opening lines known to be played by the upcoming opponent. Fischer surprised Spassky by never repeating an opening line throughout the match, and often playing opening lines that he had never played before in his chess career. During the last half of the match, Spassky abandoned his prepared lines and attempted to outplay Fischer in lines that presumably neither of them had prepared, but this also proved fruitless for the defending champion.
Remarkably, Fischer blundered with 29... Bxh2??, a move that few players above the level of rank beginner would have played in light of the obvious 30.g3, trapping the bishop. According to Garry Kasparov, Fischer probably planned 30...h5 31.Ke2 h4 32.Kf3 h3 33. Kg4 Bg1, but overlooked that 34. Kxh3 Bxf2 keeps the bishop trapped . Anatoly Karpov has suggested that the reason was overconfidence. Due to unusual features in the position, Fischer had good drawing chances despite only having two pawns for the Bishop. But the position became hopeless after he blundered twice more before the adjournment (moves 37 and 40). He resigned on move 56.
Following his loss Fischer made further demands on the organizers, including demands that all cameras be removed. When his demands were not met, he refused to appear for game two, giving a default win to Spassky. His appeal was rejected. Karpov, writing in his book Karpov on Karpov, speculates that this forfeited game was actually a master stroke on Fischer's part, a move designed specifically to upset Spassky's equanimity.
With the score now 2-0 in favor of Spassky, most observers believed that the match was over and Fischer would leave Iceland. He did not, a decision that some attribute to another phone call from Henry Kissinger and a deluge of telegrams in his support. Due to his sporting spirit and respect and sympathy for Fischer, Spassky agreed to play the third game in a small room backstage, out of sight of the spectators. Pál Benkő has called this a psychological blunder by Spassky.
In Lombardy's words:
It would be the turning point of the match.
After (Spassky with White) 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 c5 4. d5 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. Nc3 g6 (Benoni Defense, ECO code A61) 7. Nd2 Nbd7 8. e4 Bg7 9. Be2 O-O 10. O-O Re8 11. Qc2, Fischer demonstrated his acute intuitive feel for the position with 11... Nh5! Allowing White to shatter Black's kingside pawn structure looks antipositional, but Fischer's assessment that his kingside attack created significant counterplay was correct.
Spassky continued in the passive style that he had employed in game 1. He lost after
12. Bxh5 gxh5 13. Nc4 Ne5 14. Ne3 Qh4 15. Bd2 Ng4 16. Nxg4 hxg4 17. Bf4 Qf6 18. g3 Bd7 19. a4 b6 20. Rfe1 a6 21. Re2 b5 22. Rae1 Qg6 23. b3 Re7 24. Qd3 Rb8 25. axb5 axb5 26. b4 c4 27. Qd2 Rbe8 28. Re3 h5 29. R3e2 Kh7 30. Re3 Kg8 31. R3e2 Bxc3 32. Qxc3 Rxe4 33. Rxe4 Rxe4 34. Rxe4 Qxe4 35. Bh6 Qg6 36. Bc1 Qb1 37. Kf1 Bf5 38. Ke2 Qe4+ 39. Qe3 Qc2+ 40. Qd2 Qb3 41. Qd4 Bd3+ 0-1.
In the fourth game, Spassky employed the Sicilian Defence as Black. He sacrificed a pawn in the opening and backed by some impressive home analysis, gained a strong attack, but failed to convert it into a win. The game ended in a draw.
The fifth game was another Nimzo-Indian, and Spassky continued his passive style of play. After some aimless play, he faced the position in the diagram on the right. Perhaps his game was lost anyway, but he gifted it to Fischer on a platter with 27. Qc2?? Bxa4 0-1 (e.g., 28. Qd2 (or 28. Qb1; not 28. Qxa4 Qxe4 and mates) Bxd1 29. Qxd1 Qxe4 30. Qd2 a4).
Fischer had drawn level (the score was now 2½ to 2½), and although FIDE rules stipulated that the champion retained the title if the match ended in a tie (after 24 games), the effect of the first two games had been wiped out.
The game continued 26... exf5 27. Rxf5 Nh7 28. Rcf1 Qd8 29. Qg3 Re7 30. h4 Rbb7 31. e6 Rbc7 32. Qe5 Qe8 33. a4 Qd8 34. R1f2 Qe8 35. R2f3 Qd8 36. Bd3 Qe8 37. Qe4 Nf6 (diagram) 38. Rxf6 gxf6 39. Rxf6 Kg8 40. Bc4 Kh8 41. Qf4 1-0
After this game, Spassky joined the audience in applauding Fischer's win. He would later refer to this game as the best of the match.
Game 7 was drawn, despite Fischer being two pawns ahead. In game 8, Fischer again played 1. c4, this time an English opening. Spassky gave up an exchange for little compensation, and it is unclear whether it was a sacrifice or a blunder. Fischer won, and he was ahead 5-3.
Game 9 was delayed when Spassky took time off (pleading illness). The ninth game ended in a draw in only 29 moves. The players' behavior, however, provided for much entertainment, with Fischer rocking back and forth in his chair and Spassky imitating him, which one spectator described as "two dead men dancing". At this point the Soviet establishment asked Spassky to return to Moscow and claim the match by default. At considerable risk, Spassky refused. Fischer won the tenth game, in a sharp Ruy Lopez opening, a favorite of his. Spassky pulled one back in the next game with an opening novelty in the Poisoned Pawn variation of the Sicilian Najdorf. The twelfth was drawn.
The thirteenth game swung one way, then another, and was finally adjourned with Fischer having an edge in a sharp position but no clear win. The Soviet team's analysis convinced them that the position was clearly drawn. Fischer stayed up until 8 am the following morning analyzing it (the resumption being at 2.30 pm). He hadn't found a win either. Amazingly, he managed to set traps for Spassky, who fell into them and lost. Spassky's seconds were stunned, and Spassky himself refused to leave the board for a long time after the game was over, unable to believe the result.
Spassky-Fischer 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. Nf3 (Alekhine's Defence, Modern Variation, B04) g6 5. Bc4 Nb6 6. Bb3 Bg7 7. Nbd2 O-O 8. h3 a5 9. a4 dxe5 10. dxe5 Na6 11. O-O Nc5 12. Qe2 Qe8 13. Ne4 Nbxa4 14. Bxa4 Nxa4 15. Re1 Nb6 16. Bd2 a4 17. Bg5 h6 18. Bh4 Bf5 19. g4 Be6 20. Nd4 Bc4 21. Qd2 Qd7 22. Rad1 Rfd8 23. f4 Bd5 24. Nc5 Qc8 25. Qc3 e6 26. Kh2 Nd7 27. Nd3 c5 28. Nb5 Qc6 29. Nd6 Qxd6 30. exd6 Bxc3 31. bxc3 f6 32. g5 hxg5 33. fxg5 f5 34. Bg3 Kf7 35. Ne5+ Nxe5 36. Bxe5 b5 37. Rf1 Rh8 38. Bf6 a3 39. Rf4 a2 40. c4 Bxc4 41. d7 Bd5 42. Kg3 Ra3+ 43. c3 Rha8 44. Rh4 e5 45. Rh7+ Ke6 46. Re7+ Kd6 47. Rxe5 Rxc3+ 48. Kf2 Rc2+ 49. Ke1 Kxd7 50. Rexd5+ Kc6 51. Rd6+ Kb7 52. Rd7+ Ka6 53. R7d2 Rxd2 54. Kxd2 b4 55. h4 Kb5 56. h5 c4 57. Ra1 gxh5 58. g6 h4 59. g7 h3 60. Be7 Rg8 61. Bf8 (diagram) h2 62. Kc2 Kc6 63. Rd1 b3+ 64. Kc3 h1=Q 65. Rxh1 Kd5 66. Kb2 f4 67. Rd1+ Ke4 68. Rc1 Kd3 69. Rd1+ Ke2 70. Rc1 f3 71. Bc5 Rxg7 72. Rxc4 Rd7 73. Re4+ Kf1 74. Bd4 f2 0-1
The final score was 12½ - 8½ in favor of Fischer.