12 April 2016

'They Got Spies on the Line!'

I last discussed Brad Darrach in The Real Bobby Fischer? (February 2016), and last discussed Frank Brady in Brady on VOR America (July 2014). In their respective accounts of the 1972 Fischer - Spassky match,

  • 'Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World' by Brad Darrach (Stein and Day, 1975)
  • 'Bobby Fischer : Profile of a Prodigy' by Frank Brady (Dover Publications, 1989)
they offer different views of the same Fischer story.


Brady (p.228) Darrach (p.12)

Saidy suggested that there was an actual plot to keep Fischer from becoming World Champion, and this involved the wire-tapping of his parents' phone. "At one point, when Bobby was talking to Davis who was in Iceland," Saidy told me later, "Bobby made a reference to one of the ICF officials as being 'stupid.' Suddenly, he heard a woman's voice cutting through the line, saying: 'He said "he's stupid."' The line was obviously tapped."

Anything is possible, of course, and Saidy added that Fischer believed, too, that the line was tapped. Such reasoning depends not only on one's political views or psychological state but on one's philosophical Weltanschauung, as well. There was a theory prevalent among a number of Americans that the Icelanders were underhandedly working with the Russians to overthrow Fischer's assault on the Soviet hegemony of chess. Aside from the personal dislike for Fischer that a number of the Icelandic chess officials openly had, I never found, during my entire three month stay in Iceland (and I had constant occasion to peep into much "classified" material), one single instance that they did anything to hinder Fischer's world championship bid. It was just the opposite. Indeed, some of the Icelandic officials were convinced that Spassky was the better player and that he was going to defeat Fischer rather easily. They were privately expecting, hoping, to see Fischer humiliated on the board.

Monday, June 26, I called Bobby myself.

"Hi, Brad! How ya doin'?" The words were Bobby but the voice, was startlingly confident. I had expected what I usually heard when Bobby picked up the phone, a faint suspicious uuuuh? that might mean hello or might just be electric clutter on the line. But this voice rolled out of the receiver like an orange bulging with California sunshine. I thought: "He's coming. He feels great. God help Spassky."

Bobby wanted to know everything about Reykjavik. Did I like the playing hall? What was the chess table like? How about the weather? "Sixty degrees! Wow! That's coooold! But the air's great, huh?" Then he wanted to know how Spassky looked. "Nervous," I told him, and he guffawed. "And Geller—" I intended to say something about Yefim Geller, Spassky's second.

"Geller," Bobby cut in, "is stupid!"

Then it happened. "Geller," we both heard the voice of a young woman (I assumed she was an operator) say in an Icelandic attempt to mimic Bobby's Brooklyn accent, "is stupid!"

Bobby gasped. "They're listening in on my calls!" he yelled. "I knew it! They got spies on the line!" His voice, so full a second before, jangled like an alarm clock. "That rotten little country! Call the head of the telephone company, Brad! I want that person found and fired!"


Brady gives the same story in his 2011 book about Fischer, titled 'Endgame'. The differences in the two accounts are striking. Brady's account is third person, Darrach's is first person. Brady identifies the object of Fischer's judgement as an Icelandic Chess Federation (ICF) official; Darrach identifies him as GM Geller of Spassky's team. Brady delves into the psychological underpinnings of the anecdote; Darrach reports it with emphasis on Fischer's behavior.

Darrach's account includes a literary device that he uses throughout his book.

[Bobby's] voice rolled out of the receiver like an orange bulging with California sunshine.

He was calling Fischer in Southern California, a day before he flew back to the East coast. There are dozens of such colorful similes in Darrach's book, some of which might give the impression that he didn't like Fischer or his entourage. I'll discuss these in a future post.

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