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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fischer Matches That Never Happened

The way Arnold Denker tells it is that after he retired to Florida in the early 1970’s from a successful business career, he decided to get back into chess.  He began sending Bobby Fischer opening analysis and advice that he thought would help Fischer in his upcoming candidate matches for the world championship.  It’s not clear why Denker thought Fischer would even want his analysis, but apparently he sent it anyway. 

Then at one of the Lone Pine tournaments, Fischer’s friend, Dr. Anthony Saidy, suggested to Denker, also an old friend, that he call Fischer.  Acting on Saidy’s advice Denker called Fischer and asked why he wasn’t playing at Lone Pine; Fischer cut their conversation short.  Denker added that the previous evening he had been talking to the sponsor of the Lone Pine tournaments, Louis Statham, who had complained about Fischer’s lack of cooperation when approached about playing.  Denker had told Statham he had to make allowances for genius whereupon Statham shut Denker up by commenting, “I too am a genius, an inventor, and do not want anyone to make allowances for me!” 

(You can download my 422 page pdf booklet containing all the games from these events HERE.  If you want, you can copy and paste them into an engine for analysis.)
After the tournament Denker received a call from Fischer at home. Fischer wanted Denker’s son, an attorney, to give him some free advice about copyrighting his chess games.  Wisely, Denker’s son didn’t want any part of dealing with Fischer.  Fischer continued to call Denker, usually in the middle of the night and much to the displeasure of Denker’s wife, and would then ask Denker to call him right back.  The reason for the callbacks was that according to Fischer, Denker had more money and could more easily afford the long distance phone bills. 
As a result of these calls Denker felt Fischer was getting ready for a comeback and in 1975 Edward Lasker visited Denker to celebrate his (Lasker’s) ninetieth birthday.  During the party Fischer called Denker.  As it happened a German company, Deuteches Telefunken, had contacted Lasker and asked him to see if he could get Fischer to play a one move a week match against German television viewers, but Fischer had never bothered to return Lasker’s calls.  In 1974 Deuteches Telefunken had paid Anatoly Karpov $10,000 to for a game and were offering Fischer the same amount.
The next time Fischer called, Denker advised him of the offer and Fischer told him to see if they’d offer little more.  Denker then spent the next few months negotiating with Deuteches Telefunken on Fischer’s behalf and got them up to $40,000.  When Denker communicated the new offer to Fischer, he asked Denker if he thought they would pay a million dollars!  That’s when Denker gave up and quit calling or returning Fischer’s phone calls.
Several months later Viktor Korchnoi was in Fort Lauderdale (Denker’s home town) for a simultaneous exhibition and expressed his desire to play a match against Fischer. Denker discouraged him from even trying but several months later Denker and Korchnoi were visiting Edward Lasker in New York City when the subject of a Korchnoi-Fischer match came up again.  Lasker convinced Denker to put Korchnoi and Fischer in touch with each other and let them hammer out an agreement.
Korchnoi and Fischer agreed to meet in Pasadena, California.  Korchnoi later described the meeting.  He ended up standing on a deserted street corner in Pasadena waiting for Fischer to show up.  Eventually a car passed by several times and finally stopped.  Fischer was in the backseat crouched down on the floor and motioned for Korchnoi to get in the car.  Of course nothing ever came of the meeting.
Svetozar Gligorich, Florencio Compomanes, Miquel Quinteros and Rafael Tudela all had tried to arrange various Fischer matches and all failed.  According to Robert Byrne, Fischer dodged the match with Karpov because his fear was that if he lost, his ego would have been crushed.  After all, that’s what Fischer wanted to do to his opponents and the thought that he might suffer the same fate was more than he could bear.  Rightly or wrongly, Byrne, himself a world champion candidate, thought that Fischer would have crushed Karpov.
Ultimately Fischer did play a “return match” against Spassky in 1992 but Fischer was 49 years old and Spassky was 55, ranked 101st in the world, and had a paltry 2560 rating. The prize fund was $5 million with the first player to win 10 games getting $3.65 million.  The match turned out to be the beginning of Fischer’s troubles with the US government but besides that, nobody took the match seriously as a “world championship” match and it was more of a curiosity than anything else…couple of has beens playing for a lot of money put up by somebody with more money than they knew what to do with.

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