Fischer’s ‘no-name’ Gold Medal
FIDE too cheap to engrave medal!
On the evening of September 3rd, 1972 the closing ceremony of the Fischer-Spassky match for the world championship was held. Fortunately for posterity, the ceremony was filmed. The NYTimes wrote (September 3, 1972) :
The ceremony was filmed. Chester Fox, who had exclusive rights for filming the match —and who has filed suit for $1.75‐million because Fischer kept him from filming it—allowed other camera groups to enter the hall “for a small fee.”
The curious part of the above footage – for me – is when Fischer realizes that the gold medal that FIDE president Max Euwe had just handed to him did NOT have his name on it. You can see Bobby fumbling the medal in his hand, looking for his name, and we can overhear Fischer saying to Euwe ‘It has no name. It should have my name.‘
An embarrassed Euwe tried to make light of it by joking that FIDE did not know whose name to put on it (!) and both gentlemen then chuckled and got on with the ceremony. It is the little tid-bits like this that add a more human dimension to history…
I found the above footage in Fridrik Gudmundsson’s 2009 film Me and Bobby Fischer starring Saemundur Palsson. I saw this film for the first time just a few months ago. (It turns out that most of this ceremony filming had already appeared on YouTube in 2018, but I had not noticed it). Gudmundsson’s film is really excellent!
The closing ceremony had more than 1,000 guests, including Fischer’s sister Joan and her two children who came over just for the occasion. The guests had to play $22 – there was a dinner offered – and true to form, Fischer arrived late!
Here is the NYTimes article that I mentioned above:
REYKJAVIK, Iceland, Sept. 3 —Bobby Fischer, following his normal routine, showed up almost an hour late tonight for the ceremony at which he was crowned chess champion of the world. Just before the ceremony, he and Boris Spassky, the man he dethroned, played over the final position of the final game of their match.
Dr. Max Euwe, president of the International Chess Federation, draped a laurel wreath over Fischer’s shoulders and gave him a certificate and gold medal. From a table in the hall, Spassky watched the proceedings. Then he went onstage to receive a silver medal and an ovation that dwarfed Fischer.’s.
Playing over the 21st game—the one that gave Fischer the championship — Spassky said that he had sealed the wrong move; that he should have sealed K‐R3 instead of Q‐B7.
Fischer laughed and said it made no difference; the position was lost whatever Spassky played. The new champion pulled out his pocket set and set up the adjourned position.
Efim Geller, Spassky’s second, was an interested kibitzer. So was an American grandmaster, Robert Byrne, who watched the variations that Fischer and Spassky went through.
“It’s too bad Spassky didn’t come out and play it through,” Byrne later said. ‘fit was not so easy for Fischer. There were all kinds of beautiful ‘finesses.”
Spassky arrived for the ceremony in Exhibition Hall, for which 1,050 people paid $22 for a ticket, at 7:15. The 29‐year‐old champion arrived at 7:55, dressed in his new blue corduroy suit. Not until then could anybody line up for food.
Fischer walked in while the anthem of the International Chess Federation was being played, and went directly to his table, not waiting until the anthem was over. At first he did not speak to Spassky, who was seated two seats away, next to Dr. Euwe.
Later, Fischer reached over and shook hands with Spassky. When Dr. Euwe left, Fischer moved into his seat and started talking to Spassky.
Dr. Euwe, who then returned to the dais for a formal speech after the championship proclamation, wryly pointed out that new rules would have to be introduced into the International Chess Federation “to avoid inconveniences and difficulties in matches to come.” He hailed Fischer’s inventiveness as a chess player and said he had given new life to the game.
Spassky Is Hailed
Dr. Euwe, also hailed Spassky’s “high standard and sportsmanship.” He suggested that there should be a rematch “between the two great heroes.”
During Dr. Euwe’s speech, Fischer seemed bored. He pulled out his pocket set and moved the pieces around.
An introductory speech was also made by Gudmundur Thorarinsson, president of the Icelandic Chess Federation. Mr. Thorarinsson later returned to present Fischer with his check for $76,125—the winner’s share of the $125,000 purse put up by the Icelandic federation—along with a copy of Paul Guimard’s book about Iceland and a new game called Viking Chess. Spassky received the same gifts and his check for $46,825. The $125,000 put up by a British millionaire will be shared in the same way.
Neither Fischer nor Spassky made a speech.
For the occasion, Exhibition Hall, where 21 games of the match were played, was changed. Tabels were put in, and art orchestra was on stage playing potpourris from “La Traviata” and “Sales of HoffMann.”
In front of the stand were lambs and suckling pigs, turning cm spits over charcoal braziers. Waiters were dressed in black tie, but they had to wear plastic Viking helmets.
The menu, in addition to wild Icelandic mountain lamb and barbecued suckling pig, consisted of potato salad, mixed green salad and a drink called Viking’s Blood. This turned out to be a mixture of red wine, cognac, orange juice and 7‐Up. It tasted like sangria.
At Fischer’s table were, in addition to Spassky and Dr. Euwe, members of the Soviet and American delegations, and the grandmasters who were still present in Reykjavik. These included Svetozar Gligoric of Yugoslavia, Fridrik Olafsson of Iceland and Byrne and Lubomir Kavalek of the United States.
The ceremony was filmed. Chester Fox, who had exclusive rights for filming the match —and who has filed suit for $1.75‐million because Fischer kept him from filming it—allowed other camera groups to enter the hall “for a small fee.” Mr. Fox covered the event for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Closed‐circuit transmission on the big screen that had carried the championship games brought close‐ups of the ceremony and the two principals to everybody in the hall.
In the audience was F’ischer’s sister, Mrs. Joan Targ, who came from California with her two children.
Later, Dr. Euwe and Fischer talked about the possibility of a rematch. “Why not?” Fischer said. “Let me think about it.”
Speeches also were made by the referee, Lothar Schmid, and by the Icelandic Minister of Finance, Halldor E. Sigurdsson. The ceremony concluded with dancing until 1 A.M.