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Brady’s Moment of “Grateness” Print E-mail
By Al Lawrence   
May 1, 2012
Endgame200.jpgThe May 2012 Chess Life will be in mailboxes soon. In addition to our cover story about the Reykjavik Chess Festival, we feature the US Amateur Team events. The following story about the founding Chess Life editor will whet your appetite for the rest of Al Lawrence's coverage of the USAT East. 

How Frank Brady became the only in-person spectator to see the celebrated third game of Fischer-Spassky, 1972. 


The USATE is also a forum for informative seminars. This year’s event celebrated the 40th anniversary of Bobby Fischer’s winning the world championship by bringing together a panel of eyewitnesses to look back on the “world’s most famous chess match.” Team organizer E. Steven Doyle emceed a presentation by Dr. Leroy Dubeck, USCF president during the period leading up to and including most of the match; Dr. Frank Brady, Fischer biographer and on-location reporter; and Art Bisguier, Fischer’s frequent opponent and second. (For transcription of the panel’s complete discussion, go to www.chesswithlev.com.)

Picture yourself a journalist covering the biggest chess story of all time. You’ve traveled to a remote North Sea nation to report on a match that’s become a Cold War sensation as an arrogant and demanding Bobby Fischer appears to be imploding in the public spotlight. Major news outlets are panting for your updates. But suddenly what was supposed to be a public event goes covert, the game and its participants locked away in a private backstage room. Such was Frank Brady’s dilemma at Reykjavik in 1972.

“I arrived in Reykjavik a week before the big match was to begin,” Brady told the early-morning audience in the ballroom of the Somerset, New Jersey, Hilton gathered before Sunday morning’s round. “I was hired by PBS to supply ‘color commentary’ for Shelby Lyman’s show,” Brady said. “I was also working for ABC’s Wide World of Sports. I was writing articles. I had a radio show coming directly from Iceland.” 

And he was but one of many at the intensely covered USA-USSR showdown. “At one point I counted over 200 accredited journalists! People came from all over the world to cover this match. Top writers, journalists, photographers … It was the most famous chess moment in history. 

Despite the legion of top reporters and the intense worldwide interest, no nonparticipant was supposed to see the famous and pivotal third game—what turned out to be Fischer’s first win—in the flesh. The press and spectators, even the players’ coaches, had to sit in the auditorium of the Laugardalshöll Sports Exhibition Palace and watch a projection on an empty stage. 

That was because Fischer, after his infamous 29. … Bh2, which resulted in a trapped bishop and a loss in game one, blamed the camera and the crowd noise for his blunder. He insisted that the filming be stopped (despite the fact that Chester Fox had paid six figures for the rights) and that the first seven rows of spectator seats be removed. Surprisingly, all this was ultimately conceded, but not in time to keep him from forfeiting game two. So, with his score 0-2 against a world champion he had lost to three times and never beaten, Fischer doubled-down with another ultimatum:  he would play only in an isolated back room without spectators.
As everyone on the panel agreed, Spassky could have rejected Bobby’s demands and simply walked away with his title—and he was under pressure from the Soviet regime to do just that. But he had reasons to continue. He was a sportsman and a gentleman, of course, and a lot has been made of that. But the panel put Spassky’s decision in another context as well: the issue of his 2-0 lead in light of the $250,000 prize fund—by far the largest up to that time. “If Spassky left, the match would end and no one would get a penny—neither he nor Fischer,” Brady said. “Well, if you feel you’re going to win anyway, why would you give up on five-eighths of $250,000 dollars?” Spassky’s share would be nearly $860,000 in today’s money. 

So Spassky agreed, putting himself in the crucible with Fischer. Later writers were to call this decision his key mistake. “There was this burley Icelandic guard standing in front of the door,” Brady told the crowd. The two top chess players in the world faced each other in a backstage room used for ping pong. “No one was allowed in except Spassky, Fischer, arbiter GM Lothar Schmid, and a runner who took the moves to the stage.”

“Well, I was determined to see that game, and so I found an air-conditioning duct.” Brady laughed as he remembered. “I got on a chair and squeezed down the duct. … it was really almost the length of this room! I got to the end so that I could look through this grate and see the game being played.” 

Fischer was two points behind. “If Bobby didn’t win this game, he would have probably walked out of the match,” Brady said. “His face was ashen, absolutely ashen, and he was nervous. There was a dispute at one point. ... But Schmidt, an extremely elegant and diplomatic arbiter, got the two of them to sit down and play.” Brady lay prone in the duct and pressed his eye to the vent until he could see that Fischer had a winning advantage. Then he needed to leave.

“But then … how do I get out of here? I’m a big guy. I realized I couldn’t turn around. And so I had to sort of squirm back. Nobody knew I was in that air conditioning duct. I saw myself dying there and no one would ever find me: ‘Frank Brady was once in Iceland and now he’s gone. Whatever happened to him?’”

It’s appropriate that Dr. Frank Brady, the two-time biographer of Bobby Fischer, was the only journalist to see the legendary and history-changing game in person. And the crowd at the USATE applauded the risks he took to get that inside view.


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