I am quite the avid MUNer, and one of the most discussed topics is that of preventing or resolving conflict. War has been a constant in the history of humanity from the ancient ‘Holy Crusades’ and the ‘Hundred Years’ War’ to the relatively modern World Wars and most recently ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’. It is a devastating occurrence that we cannot seem to solve; even the United Nations has failed repeatedly to prevent or resolve conflict. This is not to say they have not succeeded occasionally, but on the whole, a permanent solution is still a dream. A dream that was dreamt very recently by a minute, bespectacled, pale St John’s College Form 2 student (Grade 8), in his preparation for an upcoming conference. He asked me a very naive but thought-provoking question, “Why don’t we just let the Olympics decide who wins a dispute? Nobody will be killed and most nations participate, so it’s a global solution”. face palm Naturally, my primary reaction was laughter. This seemed like a ridiculous notion. So I dismissed him with the promise to give him an answer after some thought, and I thought about it and come to a conclusion that is was a ridiculous idea. Which sport would be used to decide the victor? What if an uninvolved nation won the deciding contest? Most importantly, applying such procedure would remove justice from the equation and make the deciding variable athletic prowess. Yet ridiculous things happen in life and in my research to answer the youngling’s question, I came upon such a ridiculous occurrence. I learned about a brief moment in time when Chess dominated the media and Grandmasters were celebrities.
Chess, the ultimate contest of patience, strategy, intelligence and tenacity, has been played for over 1500 years. The game originated in India, spread to Persia and was carried into Southern Europe by Islamic conquerors. It was here, in Europe, that the modern version of the game began to take form and it was in London in 1834 that the first Chess Championships were held. They were won by upstart German Adolf Anderssen, who begun a long list of successive World Champions that culminated with Alexander Alekhine, who died as the World Champion in 1946. 1946 was also the beginning of the Cold War; a marathon of exhibitions of strength and intelligence between the United States of America and The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Each nation trying to out-do the other in a variety of contests. One of these was chess.
In 1972, American prodigy Bobby Fischer would challenge reigning World Champion Boris Spassky. Spassky was one of a long line of Soviet Grandmasters who had dominated the game at an International level. Yet Fischer was not intimidated by either Spassky or the USSR. He frequently and vocally criticised the Soviet Union of cheating and ‘fixing’ matches. He would even go on to publish an article titled “The Russians Have Fixed World Chess” in Sports Illustrated. Notably, Fischer had already lost to Spassky and possessed a meagre 0-3-2 (Win-Loss-Draw) record against the champion, however. Fischer was also in the middle of career renaissance as he would complete a perfect 6-0 performance in the Candidates matches, followed by defeating former World Champion Tigran Petrosian and then winning 20 consecutive matches. Thus, the battle between Spassky and Fischer was incredibly important on both a political level and a personal level, which elevated it to a level of global media coverage. Mental games were played both on and off the board. For example Fischer, in attempt to psyche out Spaasky, was exceedingly unreasonable and dogmatic in the build up, making outlandish requests such as doubling of the prize money. His antics earned him the nicknames the “Einstein” and the “Hitler” of Chess. They played for 50 days, three games per week. The international excitement in this contest cannot be overstated. Both men were famous to the degree that they would receive fan mail in the days between games; Fischer to the extent that he would answer phone calls where women declared their attraction to him. Eventually, to the chagrin of the USSR, Bobby Fischer would conquer his nemesis 12.5 points to 8.5 points (From a possible 24 points, Win = 1 point, Loss = 0 and Draw = 0.5) as Spaasky resigned on the 31st of July.
This event would carry Chess to a new dimension. Its popularity reaching unprecedented levels. Fischer vs Spassky is in the same league as Federer vs Nadal, Ali vs Fraiser, Jones vs Gustaffson and FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid. It was a rivalry for the Ages. Unfortunately, since then, interest in Chess has cooled and the population of the world has returned to its regular schedule. Perhaps, one day we shall be lucky enough to witness its resurgence (Although I’m not asking for another Cold War!) and view it being played at the highest level with national and personal pride at stake.
Headlines of Chess
Posted on Saturday, January 17th, 2015 by Abhishek Sanjay Patel