Fischer and Spassky: Friends Forever!

After Fischer’s premature death 16 years later in Iceland, Spassky stood, eyes filled with tears, at his graveside. “Do you think,” he asked, “the spot next to him is available?”

Shelby Lyman on Chess: Friends Forever
Sunday, May 11, 2014
(Published in print: Sunday, May 11, 2014)

Friendships among competitors in sports are not unusual.

The most notable in modern chess is the relationship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. Their seven-week match in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1972 is a landmark in chess history.

A major factor in their friendship was Spassky’s respect and affection for his American rival, whose directness and honesty he admired as much as his chess.

After the Russian’s defeat in 1972, Fischer and Spassky retained intermittent contact despite the barrier of the Cold War. Their continued relationship laid the foundation for a second but unofficial match in Sveti Stefan, Yugoslavia in 1992 although both were well past their prime.

Often referred to as the “revenge match,” their second meeting — also won by Fischer — was more exhibition than serious chess.

Curiously, Spassky seemed more concerned about the negative effects of a loss on his vulnerable friend than about winning the encounter for his own sake.

After Fischer’s premature death 16 years later in Iceland, Spassky stood, eyes filled with tears, at his graveside. “Do you think,” he asked, “the spot next to him is available?”

This writer’s favorite recollection of Fischer and Spassky is the moment after Spassky had conceded defeat in the sixth game in Reykjavik. Despite the painful loss, Spassky rose to his feet on stage to join the audience in thunderous applause for his rival.

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