On view August 18, 2022-April 30, 2023
1972 Fischer/Spassky: The Match, its Origin, and Influence celebrates the 50th anniversary of the American Robert "Bobby" Fischer's historic win over the Russian Boris Spassky in the legendary 1972 World Chess Championship, ending 24 years of Soviet dominance in the sport. The show features more than 500 artifacts, including chess pieces used in pivotal game three of the "Match of the Century," a replica of the tournament table created by the makers of the original and never-before-exhibited books from the personal library of Bobby Fischer. The exhibition also highlights pieces from the World Chess Hall of Fame collection, loans from the Fischer Library of U.S. Chess Hall of Fame Inductees Dr. Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield & Rex Sinquefield and from photojournalist and Fischer confidant Harry Benson CBE and recently-donated artwork by the LeRoy Neiman & Janet Byrne Neiman Foundation.
A chess prodigy, Fischer began playing the game of chess at the age of 6 and by the age of 16 was the youngest player ever to win a U.S. Junior Championship; win a U.S. Championship (record still stands today); become a grandmaster ever at the time; become an international player at that time, and qualify for the Candidates Tournament. In addition, he won the U.S. Open in 1958, was the first non-Sovet to win an Interzonal in 1962, and authored My 60 Memorable Games in 1969, which is widely considered to be one of the greatest pieces of chess literature. Fischer won all eight of the U.S. Chess Championships that he participated in and won all 11 games in the 1964 U.S. Championship—a record that still stands today. He appeared on the pages of LIFE Magazine and Sports Illustrated and on numerous television programs, bringing the game of chess to a wider audience in the United States. Prior to qualifying for the World Championship match, Fischer won 20 consecutive games in 1970-71 against the world’s top players.
The 1972 World Chess Championship, with Fischer facing off against Soviet world chess champion Boris Spassky, embodied the Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. In addition, the tales of the World Chess Championship in Reykjavík, Iceland, in the summer of 1972 are numerous and fantastic. Fischer arrived late to the first game, forfeited game two, inspected television cameras and lights, insisting that they were making too much noise or contained devices that were intended to distract him, and had special chessboards created for the match. It was debated if this was “normal” Fischer conduct or if he was intentionally attempting to cause a psychological breakdown of his opponent.
The match was organized as the best of 24 games. Fischer won the match 12 ½-8 ½, becoming the 11th World Chess Champion and the first American-born player to do so—ending 24 years of Soviet domination of the World Chess Championship. Fischer was welcomed back home in New York City as an American hero. He would not go on to defend his title in 1975.
Though Fischer’s later years were marred by controversy and involved little chess play, his legacy on American chess is indelible. His thrilling rise to the top of the world of chess and his landmark victory in what became known as the “Match of the Century” greatly increased the popularity of chess in the United States. In 1972, the year that he clinched the world chess championship title, membership in US Chess was 30,844. In just one year, that total nearly doubled, rising to 59,250 members. Many of these new chess players would go on to become future U.S. Champions, authors, inductees into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, and major supporters of the game. Films such as Searching for Bobby Fischer, Bobby Fischer Against the World, Pawn Sacrifice, and the Broadway Play Chess the Musical would continue to bring Bobby and his accomplishments into the mainstream even past his death in 2008.
Fischer’s victory in the 1972 World Chess Championship inspired Saint Louis Chess Campus co-founder Rex Sinquefield’s love of chess. He and his wife Dr. Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield founded the Saint Louis Chess Club in 2008. Additionally, Dr. Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield launched the Scouts BSA chess merit badge in 2011, which has now been awarded to 250,000 Scouts. Their prestigious named international tournaments the Sinquefield Cup and the Cairns Cup have brought numerous top international players to the U.S. and their efforts have made the United States a global chess capital, attracting more grandmasters to the United States and encouraging many people to take up the game in what is now known as the “Sinquefield Effect.”
A table and accessories designed by Icelandic furniture designer Gunnar Magnússon and produced by cabinetmaker Ragnar Haraldsson. In addition to making the actual table that Fischer and Spassky played the WCC Tournament on, two extra and identical tables were made after the famous chess match as gifts to Iceland. One of the replica tables will be exhibited. The original remains on permanent display in Iceland.
The show will also include materials once owned by Bobby Fischer, from his study materials for the 1971 Candidates Matches to the “red book” of games by Boris Spassky that was his constant companion as he prepared for the 1972 World Chess Championship, on loan from the Fischer Library of Dr. Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield and Rex Sinquefield.
1972 Fischer/Spassky will also include intimate photography by renowned photojournalist Harry Benson CBE, who became a close confidant of Fischer. These photos tell the intimate story of Fischer both as a chess player and as sympathetic person as they show him interacting with children and animals and enjoying time at a carnival. They also show him prepping for the game at Grossingers Resort in upstate New York both studying the games of Spassky but training athletically.
The exhibition will also include the actual chess pieces used in game three of the World Chess Championship, the first game in which Fischer defeated Spassky in his entire career.
Additionally, sketches of the 1972 World Chess Championship created by noted artist LeRoy Neiman donated by the LeRoy Neiman & Janet Byrne Neiman Foundation show the exciting events of the 1972 match from an artistic perspective.
Newly-donated materials from Irena Kavalek, wife of Grandmaster Lubomir Kavalek, and International Master and author John Donaldson offer insight into important events from Fischer’s life.
The show also includes artifacts related to Bobby Fischer’s early training and achievements, including the furniture from the Hawthorne Chess Club, where Fischer spent his formative years.
Programming for the Fischer exhibition includes historical talks about Fischer and his influence with the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame inductee Frank Brady, IM John Donaldson, and more; a commissioned musical performance by our music director, Brian Owens, film screenings of Searching for Bobby Fischer, Pawn Sacrifice, and additional Fischer video content in a fun mini-movie theater atmosphere; morning movement sessions on our patio to explore the mind and body connection, figure drawing classes inspired by works in the exhibit, cocktail hours celebrating the music and culture of 1972, lessons on Fischer Random by Grandmasters, and curator tours. We will also have a Bobby Fischer and 1972 inspired playlist to be used throughout the exhibition. For children and families we will provide a monthly scavenger hunt to be completed throughout the galleries, coloring sheets inspired by the exhibition, and a 1972 words search. We will periodically offer the attic space to families who wish to complete these activities in the museum.
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