Lothar Schmid, now an 84-year-old publisher living in Bamberg, Germany, was invited in 1972 to be the referee of the World Chess Championship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. “Everyone spoke of a duel between east and west, and that’s what it was,” he said.
The beginning of the first game was postponed two days due to Fischer’s eccentricities, “The delay was lucky for me, It meant I could fly home. My son had fallen off his bicycle and was lying in hospital.” he added. The first game, played before 2,500 spectators, was ended after a blunder from Fischer. 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 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. 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.”