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1972 Fischer/Spassky: The Match, Its Origin, and Influence
1972 Fischer/Spassky: The Match, its Origin, and Influence celebrates the 50th anniversary of the American Robert “Bobby” Fischer’s historic win over the Russian Boris Spassky in the legendary 1972 World Chess Championship, ending 24 years of Soviet dominance in the sport. The show features more than 500 artifacts, including chess pieces used in pivotal game three of the “Match of the Century,” a replica of the tournament table created by the makers of the original and never-before-exhibited books from the personal library of Bobby Fischer. The exhibition also highlights pieces from the World Chess Hall of Fame collection, loans from the Fischer Library of U.S. Chess Hall of Fame Inductees Dr. Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield & Rex Sinquefield and from photojournalist and Fischer confidant Harry Benson CBE and recently-donated artwork by the LeRoy Neiman & Janet Byrne Neiman Foundation.
The 1972 World Chess Championship, with Fischer facing off against Soviet world chess champion Boris Spassky, embodied the Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. In addition, the tales of the World Chess Championship in Reykjavík, Iceland, in the summer of 1972 are numerous and fantastic. Fischer arrived late to the first game, forfeited game two, inspected television cameras and lights, insisting that they were making too much noise or contained devices that were intended to distract him, and had special chessboards created for the match. It was debated if this was “normal” Fischer conduct or if he was intentionally attempting to cause a psychological breakdown of his opponent.
The match was organized as the best of 24 games. Fischer won the match 12 ½-8 ½, becoming the 11th World Chess Champion and the first American-born player to do so—ending 24 years of Soviet domination of the World Chess Championship. Fischer was welcomed back home in New York City as an American hero. He would not go on to defend his title in 1975.
Though Fischer’s later years were marred by controversy and involved little chess play, his legacy on American chess is indelible. His thrilling rise to the top of the world of chess and his landmark victory in what became known as the “Match of the Century” greatly increased the popularity of chess in the United States. In 1972, the year that he clinched the world chess championship title, membership in US Chess was 30,844. In just one year, that total nearly doubled, rising to 59,250 members. Many of these new chess players would go on to become future U.S. Champions, authors, inductees into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, and major supporters of the game. Films such as Searching for Bobby Fischer, Bobby Fischer Against the World, Pawn Sacrifice, and the Broadway Play Chess the Musical would continue to bring Bobby and his accomplishments into the mainstream even past his death in 2008.
Fischer’s victory in the 1972 World Chess Championship inspired Saint Louis Chess Campus co-founder Rex Sinquefield’s love of chess. He and his wife Dr. Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield founded the Saint Louis Chess Club in 2008. Additionally, Dr. Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield launched the Scouts BSA chess merit badge in 2011, which has now been awarded to 250,000 Scouts. Their prestigious named international tournaments the Sinquefield Cup and the Cairns Cup have brought numerous top international players to the U.S. and their efforts have made the United States a global chess capital, attracting more grandmasters to the United States and encouraging many people to take up the game in what is now known as the “Sinquefield Effect.”