Fischer had been holed up in his room for
three days. The curtains were drawn all over the house, the surroundings were
dank and musty and the floors were cluttered. Fischer had burrowed his head
into his blanket and he had shrouded himself with his sheets. He wedged his
fingers into ears to protect himself from the non-existent noise, but the
entire house was eerily silent.
Chess moves permeated his mind. He thought of
the myriad, labyrinthine movements that he could make with his pawns, knights,
castles, rooks and bishops. He thought about the diagonal and vertical moves
that eviscerated all of his opponents. He had stored thousands of games in his
own mind, but Fischer had also created his own stratagems. The endless
permutations went through his head again and again and he always fixated on how
he could seize the king.
The previous week had been hectic, as the
championship final was due at Reykjavik on Saturday, against Spassky and
several television stations had broadcasting rights. It would be no
understatement to call it the most important chess championship final in
history, since Fischer and Spassky were in top form and were about to face each
other. Fischer, the temperamental icon of the free west, was about to face
Spassky, the affable icon of tyranny.
This was how the match had been framed and
promoted. Spassky was the beneficiary of an evil empire, which used its statist
resources to prop up chess championships. Spassky was a uniquely talented
individual, but he was the product of an evil oligarchy. Meanwhile, Fischer was
a rugged individual who had achieved his status single-handedly. There had been
no grants and no nanny states Fischer had achieved all of this by
Meanwhile, Spassky was a nationalist who rued
the halcyon days of the Russian empire. He was a devout Christian and
monarchist, a free thinker who could not toe the party line that was prescribed
by lifeless Soviet bureaucrats. He was also a nice man. Fischer was an unlikely
icon for the free world his behaviour was strange and erratic but
he supported Nixon and Americas misadventures abroad.
And it all took place during the apex of
détente. America and other western powers sought to compromise with the
Soviet Union whilst the Soviets had jettisoned the idea of promoting communist
revolutions across Europe. However, this match was now a fight between the free
west and the repressive USSR and it was taking place on a chess
But it was now doubtful if the match would
ever take place. Fischer had fled the airport just as his flight to Reykjavik
due to depart. He had been spooked by the gaggle of journalists and
photographers who had huddled around him. The piercing flashes and endless
questions unnerved him and he stormed out of the airport. He caught a taxi,
which drove him to his house. He subsequently burrowed himself in a corner of
his room and shrouded himself with his sheets.
The phone kept ringing. It rung for the tenth
time, but Fischer continued to ignore it. Ten more minutes of silence ensued
and Fischer assumed that organisers of the tournament the most likely
callers had given up. Millions of dollars were at stake here, as several
television broadcasters and advertisers had pooled their resources. A vast
fortune would be lost thanks to Fischers impetuous petulance.
Fischer extricated himself from his sheets and
leapt up. The sunlight pierced his eyes as soon as he opened the blinds. His
back ached, as he had been crouching for hours. He looked at his disassembled
bed and the profusion of clothes scattered across them. Fischer had by now
grown accustomed to the light.
The phone rang yet again. Fischer opened the
door of his room and clung to the banister as he walked down the stairs. He
looked at his phone, which had a wired cord. Fischer gazed at it intently for
four minutes and it finally rung. He retrieved the hand set.
there? The voice was strange but familiar. It had a low pitch, it was
throaty and it had a drawl. It had a strong Eastern European, Jewish accent.
This is Henry Kissinger.
Fischer remained silent.
I am calling from the Pentagon, he
continued. We need you to play this match. You must play this
Fischer replied, But the
I cannot abide loud noises. The conditions
must match my specifications. No loud cameras. No flashing lights. No annoying
journalists. No annoying questions.
Bobby, well make concessions.
Well fly you over in a private jet. Noise will be kept at a
But Henry, those journalists terrified
Fischer might have been a masterful chess
player, but he was an awkward communicator. He was also exceedingly stubborn
and inflexible, but Kissinger a true negotiator would not let
this faze him. This game is extremely important to our international
reputation. It is extremely important to the international liberal order. You
Fischers narcissism would not relent.
I dont want to!
You must play this game and defeat the
Russians, Kissinger insisted.
Why dont you nuke them instead,
Henry! Fischer roared.
That would be irresponsible, Bobby
You know that. Instead, nuke them on the chess board, Kissinger
perorated. He hung up the phone.
Fischer dropped the phone. He showered and
plucked at the muck that had been festering in his fingertips. He tidied his
room and threw away food that had decomposed. He brushed his yellow teeth. He
boiled some eggs. He read about himself in a newspaper.
Then, Fischer left his house. He walked