Cool Chess Feature: The Chess Trail from Iceland to Canada and Further!
What do 'Iceland and chess', or 'Manitoba and Chess' remind you of? Surely, of Bobby Fischer... among other things! We found this beautiful chess feature article on The Winnipeg Freepress.
Chess has linked Gimli and Reykjavik since 1880s
By: Irwin Lipnowski
For two magical months in the summer of 1972, the Earth stood still. All eyes were riveted on Reykjavik, Iceland, enthralled by the epic battle that unfolded to determine who would reign as the 11th chess champion of the world. In the land where epic battles were witnessed and chronicled almost 1,000 years earlier, two gladiators of the mind waged an uncompromising struggle involving wits and will. The irresistible force that was Bobby Fischer, the challenger, was colliding with the immovable object that was Boris Spassky, the defender. Metaphorically, a volcano versus a glacier.
Fischer was the lone American, a hero of the free world, who was obsessed with fulfilling his destiny to become the world champion. Spassky was the unflappable defender of the crown, representing the Soviet chess empire that had dominated world chess since 1948.
In the era of the Cold War, the Americans and the Soviets would regard a victory by their representative as positive proof of the superiority of their ideology and political system, as striking a blow for good over evil. American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sent a message of encouragement to Fischer before the match commenced. President Richard Nixon sent a congratulatory message to Fischer after his convincing conquest.
While Iceland occupied centre stage as it hosted the most exciting World Chess Championship ever held, one might well wonder how tiny Iceland came to enjoy this privileged historical position. Surprisingly, the answer is connected -- if only indirectly -- to Manitoba.
The linkage between Iceland and Manitoba in chess began with the mass exodus in the 1880s of 20 per cent of Iceland's population to the New Iceland on the shores of Lake Winnipeg.
Among the new arrivals was a 16-year-old orphan named Magnus Magnusson. Magnusson adopted the surname Smith. Shortly after his arrival in Manitoba in 1885, he headed to California to seek his fortune. As the California real estate bubble burst in 1887, Smith relocated to Vancouver, where he joined the local chess club. In 1895, he took up the study of chess seriously and began to play competitively. He returned to Winnipeg in 1898.
Three Canadian Chess Championships were held between 1899 and 1906 -- in 1899, 1904 and 1906. In each of these competitions, Smith secured first place. He was clearly the strongest Canadian chess player at that time.
The next important link between Manitoba and Icelandic chess involved an important chance encounter between Winnipeg lawyer and politician Abe Yanofsky, eight-time Canadian chess champion and the first chess grandmaster in the British Commonwealth, and Fridrik Olafsson, Iceland's first chess grandmaster, former president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), lawyer and Secretary of the Icelandic parliament.