Following the death of David Frost, it’s clear that many will remember him for his revealing interviews with Richard Nixon, or for being the last journalist to interview Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, as well as other notable celebrities. It is interesting however, that not so many people will remember him as a man who changed chess history.
From 1948 to 1972 Soviet Union was dominating the chess world, firmly keeping the World Champion crown. Not only were the World’s great chess champions from the Soviet Union, but most candidates for the title also resided in the country. In the Soviet Union, chess was more than just a game; it was a cult. For many years it looked like nobody could successfully challenge the Soviets until Robert Fischer came on the scene.
A boy from Brooklyn patiently devoted to chess spent days and nights in famous New York chess places: Marshall and Manhattan chess clubs. Very soon, chess became his whole life, replacing everything else. His mom use to come to one of clubs after midnight to give Fischer a ride back to Brooklyn. At age 14, Fischer won the title of US champion, and one year later after becoming the world’s youngest grand master, qualified to play in the World Champion Candidate Tournament.
The issue that arose was that Robert Fischer had serious psychological problems. Raised by a single mother who worked day and night to feed her two children, he didn’t get enough parental attention. According to his own words “children grown without parent’s attention grow as wolves.”
Fischer’s actions were always unpredictable. He could simply walk out of the tournament without playing. It happened in 1967 when he left the Interzonal tournament in Sus, Tunisia, instead of winning it; or in 1968 in Lugano, Switzerland.
Fischer’s unpredictable behavior became especially critical in 1972. To understand the situation we must go back to 1971 when Fischer gave the most impressive performance in chess history.
First he crushed a very strong and experienced Soviet grand master Mark Taimanov with 6:0 score! Next – Bent Larsen with the same 6:0 score. This was totally unpredictable: just one year before they both played for the world in the match “USSR against the rest of the world” when Ben Larsen insisted on playing at the First desk convincing everybody that he was Number 1.
After defeating all candidates for the final tournament, he was ready to fight for the world crown of 1972 with the current champion, Boris Spassky.
This tournament in 1972 – the triumph for the Americans – might not have happened at all if it was not for David Frost.
There were only 12 hours left until the Tournament was scheduled to begin. Campion Spassky arrived to Reykjavik with a huge Soviet chess team supported by the whole country, but Fischer, the young American star, was not there.
His psychological problems were amplified by the pressure of being one step from the World’s number 1 chess player.
The situation was critical, and it was David Frost who saved the moment. He called Henry Kissinger and asked him to help Bobby Fischer – “America’s gift to the world of chess.”
Henry Kissinger listened to Frost and called Fischer. This call changed everything. Before the call, Fischer pursued a personal vendetta against the Russian chess machine as the lone wolf; after the call he had all the USA support one could want behind him.
Fischer arrived to Reykjavik at the last moment and eventually became 11th World chess champion and for the first time, brought the crown to American soil.
It is strange how the world politics affects everything, even chess. In 1973, Americans withdraw their troops from Vietnam. In 1974 after Watergate scandal Richard Nixon resigned from the office. Ironically it was David Frost who provided the most detailed insider view of this event.
In 1975 Robert Fischer refused to defend his World champion title against the young Russian chess star Anatoly Karpov who was heavily supported by the Soviet machine. This time David Frost was not around to help Bobby Fischer.
Written by Alsu Salakhutdinov