Autumn 2017 edition - page 12-13

According to the online English Oxford
Dictionary, a game is defined as 'a form of competi-
tive activity or sport played according to the rules'-a
definition which brushes over term by giving the
term a minor status, implying that a 'game' holds
little significance-'an activity that one engages in
for amusement'.Yet throughout history, games
have been created and played by people, some
games 'worth' more than others. But can a game be
more than 'just a game'? TheWorld Championship
Chess Match held between Robert 'Bobby' Fischer
and Boris Spassky in 1972 was arguably far more
significant than 'just a game'.
The Berlin Olympic games of 1936 dem-
onstrate a game's ability to become more than a
leisure activity. These games were a statement of
power, political superiority and propaganda to ma-
nipulate the psychology of the people. The Olym-
pics, being the world's most watched set of games,
have always been capable of establishing this influ-
ence and the games held during the ColdWar dem-
onstrate this. Not only did the two largest world
powers-the USA and the USSR-both boycott each
other's games to make themselves appear more
powerful, but the USSR in particular is also remem-
bered for its vast number of top-level athletes-at
the time virtually unbeatable-who dominated the
games. These athletes, produced on an almost in-
dustrial scale by the strict Soviet regime, were seen
by many as the soldiers of the war which could not
be fought. But the USSR fought on multiple fronts,
and its ideological weapons to prove its intellectual
superiority were its chess players, who dominated
theWorld Championships from 1948 to 1972.
A cold war is a state of political tension between
countries, a war which cannot be fought with real
weapons but is instead fought through threats,
propaganda and other means which demonstrate
one country's superiority over another. The Space
Race of the '60s is an example of the symbolic
conflict which went on. In The Right Stuff by Tom
Wolfe, the competition between the two superpow-
ers to land a man on the moon is described-‘the
men chosen for this historic mission took on the
archaic mantles of the single-combat warriors of
a long-since-forgotten time’. This illustrates the
astronauts as like soldiers themselves- men per-
forming the roles of soldiers without taking part in
physical combat. In the same way, the players in
theWorld Championship Chess Match were their
countries' soldiers in an ideological battle to prove
intellectual superiority. Bobby Fischer, the new kid
on the block and self-taught prodigy was see as the
typical American player who represented the indi-
vidual, the self-made man. Boris Spassky, on the
other hand, was the Soviet solder, trained by the
ranks of coaches who had placed so many Russians
on the top spot. Each man represented the ideals
of his country, making them a perfect match in the
public eye.
From the perspective of the players, the
match was a part of the cold war, increasing pres-
sure on each opponent-both men knew that a
victory would go beyond the chessboard; they were
fighting for an ideological victory which would have
a larger impact on the world and the war itself.
Fischer is remembered in particular for his erratic,
paranoid behaviour leading up to and during the
match, which was a series of 21 games lasting from
July 11th to August 31st 1972. The match which Fis-
cher had dreamed of playing since he first set eyes
on a chessboard had suddenly become something
terrifying, something which held far more signifi-
cance than he had foreseen. Indeed there was initial
uncertainty as to whether the match would happen
at all, with Fischer failing to turn up to the opening
ceremony on July 1st after purposely missing his
flight to Iceland, where the match would be held
and demanding that the prize money be increased.
In Endgame by Frank Brady, Fischer’s actions be-
fore the match are described, illustrating his deep
rooted paranoia of the Soviets. It is said that ‘he
thought that the two cameras hidden in burlap-cov-
ered towers’ could be ‘disconcerting’ with their ap-
pearance likened to ‘medieval battering rams’. This
is one among many of the complaints issued by
the American before he eventually agreed to play
the match. This anxiety which preceded the match
holds parallels with the ColdWar itself-Fischer
was afraid to play in the same way that the USA
and USSR were afraid to fight. In contrast Spassky
was less concerned with the political significance
of the match and was forced to tolerate Fischer's
unsportsmanlike behaviour-he wanted to play the
match, not fight the war.
What contributed to the emotions of the
players and the significance of the match was the
press, which succeeded in transforming an issue
as unpopular as a chess match into a mainstream
event. For the first time in history, ordinary people
on the streets, who had had no previous interest in
the game and likely had no desire to start playing,
knew about the match. This sudden rise in aware-
ness of the event changed people's perceptions of
chess itself and its relationship with the real world.
In theWest, Fischer became a hero after he re-
turned to the States with theWorld Championship
title under his belt. As the first non-RussianWorld
Chess Champion in 24 years he was not merely a
great chess player, but a war hero in the eyes of
the Americans, a victorious warrior who had under-
mined the prestige of the Soviet ranks.
Today the match, which has been dubbed
'Match of the Century' is still, without competition,
the most publicized chess match in history, but
what makes its legacy so significant is neither the
players involved nor the games themselves. Fis-
cher and Spassky are not widely recognised as the
greatest players to have ever lived and the games
played were not the most exciting or revolutionary
in the world of chess. What made this match more
famous than any other was its political significance,
the fact that it was this match which opened the
eyes of the public to a new battleground. It was
this match which, in the eyes of theWest, contrib-
uted to the end of the USSR's image of intellectual
supremacy. Ultimately, the match had no impact
on the outcome of the ColdWar, which ended years
later as a result of a far greater range of issues. De-
spite this, the match plays such an important role in
the history of games as it is symbolic of a war which
could only be fought through pretence, through
astronauts in space and through plastic pieces on a
checked board. This was a game which was defi-
nitely more than 'just a game'.
Jo Neame 12K
Pawns in the Big Game - The Cold War
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