Dubbed the Match of the Century and played in 1972 in the then-obscure Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, it made Fischer famous
- and vice versa.
It was in that same city that he died Thursday at age 64 - one year for each square on the board
- an outcast from the chess world and estranged from the United States.
Fischer called the match nothing less than "the free world against the lying, cheating hypocritical Russians." The affable Spassky, backed by an all-powerful, state-sponsored chess machine, just wanted to play.
The Soviet Union had held the chess crown since the end of World War II, Spassky since 1969. It was clear the freewheeling Fischer
- U.S. champion since 14, grand master since 15 - was the most serious threat to their dominance.
The obnoxious but brilliant boy from Brooklyn, N.Y., relished humiliating Soviet players, in part, he said, because they agreed to quick draws in qualifying games between themselves, then forced him to play long, tactical and physically exhausting matches.
Fischer's confidence rose as he vanquished a succession of world-class players with trademark attacks that employed offensive tactics to crush opponents, not just simply defeat them.
The Spassky match almost didn't come off. Fischer threatened to boycott the Reykjavik match after complaining about the small prize money.
London financier Jim Slater stepped in, matching the $125,000 put up by the organizers in Iceland, who also gave the players a share of the money from television and movie rights. The winner would get more than $231,000, the loser more than $168,000.
Fischer finally flew in at the last minute and was met by relieved Icelandic chess officials.
But there were more problems. Fischer complained about the lighting, the room temperature, the size of the chess board and the size of the table. Compromises were reached between the players on the lights and temperatures, the mahogany table was shortened, and the board was redone four times.
At one point, even Henry Kissinger intervened. "This is the worst player in the world calling the best player," the then-national security adviser is said to have told Fischer in a telephone call while taking a break from peace negotiations to end the Vietnam War.
Retired Associated Press correspondent Andrew Torchia, who covered the Reykjavik match for the AP, recalled the difficulty in dealing with Fischer's demeanor when the young chessmaster was asked questions by reporters at the tournament.
"Sometimes you'd get a question, and Fischer would just look at you
- and go somewhere else," Torchia said.
The match was front-page news around the world. Chess was watched in bars across the United States.
Fischer lost the first game with a basic mistake, falling to the temptation to take a side pawn with his bishop, which was then trapped by Spassky's other pawns.
The American then complained about the TV cameras being too close to the players. For the second game, he refused to leave his hotel room.
Spassky sat by himself on stage for five minutes before leaving. Organizers waited an hour, according to international rules, before giving the win to Spassky by default.