The Chess Arbiter - Lothar Schmid on Fischer-Spassky, 1972
A chess arbiter's role is crucial, but goes unnoticed as he works in the background. The 1972 World Chess Championship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky was almost abandoned but for a timely intervention from German arbiter Lothar Schmid!
On the 40th anniversary of that match, Dresden-born Schmid spoke to German online newspaper 'The Local'. "Everyone spoke of a duel between east and west, and that's what it was," Dresden-born grand master Schmid remembers of the match played in Reykjavik, Iceland. "I was accepted by both players," he said.
The West German saw the delayed finally start on July 11.
"It was possible after all to bring such two very different characters together," said Schmid, who had already refereed the semi-final between Fischer and Armenian Tigran Petrosian a year earlier.
he first game, played before 2,500 spectators, was ended after a blunder from Fischer on the 29th move. "I played like a fool," he said afterwards.
The American then forfeited the second game by refusing to appear after a dispute over the TV cameras and lighting in the venue.
Schmid's decisive moment then came before the third game - played in a smaller room - when he prevented an increasingly annoyed Spassky from walking off after Fischer went round inspecting all the TV cameras.
"Both players were taller than me," he recalls. "I grabbed them by the shoulders, pushed them down, and demanded: 'Play now!' " Spassky moved his pawn and the game began.
Fischer won a brilliant game, and dominated the rest of the championship, finally winning 12.5 to 8.5 after 21 games. On September 1, he was crowned the first official US world champion since Wilhelm Steinitz in the 19th century.
"Fischer was not really evil," he concludes. "He was out of the ordinary, strange, different, and a real chess genius."
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