Icelandic Chess Federation/Courtesy of Ecco/HarperCollins
Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer, mid-match.
'Bobby Fischer Goes to War' cover (detail).
The Cold War was raging during the summer of 1972 when reigning world chess champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union met American challenger Bobby Fischer in Iceland. In Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How the Soviets Lost the Most Extraordinary Chess Match of All Time, BBC journalists David Edmonds and John Eidinow detail the match and its high-stakes geopolitical context.
The authors tell NPR's Liane Hansen how the Fischer-Spassky contest was custom-made for the modern world media. What it lacked in excitement, the match easily made up for in Cold War hype as a cerebral battle of superpower talent. Extensive television and newspaper coverage ensured that citizens of both nations tuned in and read up on every game.
Then there was the dysfunctional genius of Bobby Fischer. Obsessed with chess since age 6, the challenger's idiosyncratic behavior seemed to increase as the match approached. On several occasions, his desire to control nearly every detail of the event threatened to force its cancellation.
Fischer's opponent Spassky was a mystery to most of the world, shielded by the Soviet monolith and portrayed as the finest product of his country's "chess machine."
In 1992 there was a $5-million rematch held in Yugoslavia — but because it was in violation of an international embargo on cultural exchanges to the war-torn region, Fischer faces arrest and possible prison time if he returns to the United States.
Spassky currently lives in a Paris suburb. It's unsure where Fischer is now — though from a recent exchange of e-mails between the Japanese Chess Association and a person that Edmonds and Eidinow believe is Fischer, they speculate the reclusive chess master now lives in Tokyo.
With a cast of behind-the-scenes characters worthy of a U.S.-Soviet summit, the Fischer-Spassky match is revealed in the book as one of the defining moments in Cold War history.