07 October 2022

Roger Cohen, Foreign Correspondent

Last week's post, Fischer: 'That's my answer' (September 2022), covered the start of the 1992 Fischer - Spassky Rematch (m-w.com). At the pre-match press conference Fischer said,

"I'll start off with, umm, ah, some impudent questions from The New York Times [Roger Cohen]."

Roger Cohen wasn't some random chess journalist. His Wikipedia page Roger Cohen (wikipedia.org) starts,

Roger Cohen (born 2 August 1955) is a journalist and author. He was a reporter, editor and columnist for The New York Times, and the International Herald Tribune (later re-branded as the International New York Times). He has worked as a foreign correspondent in fifteen countries.

He was also a specialist on the Bosnian War. Another Wikipedia page Hearts Grown Brutal (ditto), informs,

Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo is a non-fiction book by New York Times reporter Roger Cohen chronicling his experiences covering the Bosnian War and the Bosnian Genocide. Random House published the book on August 25, 1998.

For a previous post in this 'Fischer Friday' series, GM Svetozar Gligoric, Player/Journalist (August 2022), I observed,

The 1972 Fischer - Spassky match was in fact two matches. The first match, which lasted from end-June 1972 through the third game, was all about whether Fischer would play. The first match had little to do with chess. The second match, which started with the fourth game, was all about chess. Starting with the score at 2-1 in Spassky's favor, the players fought some of the most interesting games ever seen at the highest level of chess. The first match caught the attention of the entire world. The second match was mainly of interest to chess players.

Copy that for the 1992 rematch. The first match in 1992, which had little to do with chess, was about Fischer's sudden return to chess after 20 years of self-imposed retirement. Was he still capable of playing at the highest level? Was Spassky?

The second match in 1992, which started with the third game, was all about chess. Yes, the two players showed in the first two games that they still knew how to play. Could they keep it up for a long match that would continue until one of them had won 10 games?

Thanks to the 'The New York Times Archives', I located a half-dozen reports filed by Roger Cohen for the NYT (nytimes.com). Here they are in chronological order:-

  • 1992-08-31: Fischer and Spassky Ready to Play Chess Not Far From a War • 'Even by his own eccentric standards, the reclusive American chess genius Bobby Fischer has come up with something seriously weird in agreeing to make a comeback against his old rival Boris Spassky at this coastal resort just 70 miles from the carnage of the Balkan war.'
  • 1992-09-01: Mystery Man Pushing the Pawns • Jezdimir Vasiljevic (pronounced vass-ill-YAY-vich according to the NYT); 'The Yugoslav economy, never the world's strongest, has collapsed during the civil war of recent months. But one pugnacious businessman has continued to wheel and deal at a furious pace, culminating with his bold financing of the scheduled comeback of the United States chess genius Bobby Fischer against his old rival Boris Spassky in this Adriatic resort not far from the fighting.'
  • 1992-09-02: Bobby Fischer Ends Silence With Rancor • 'Brooding and bitter, the American chess genius Bobby Fischer emerged today from two decades as a recluse to dismiss the world's leading chess players as "the lowest dogs around" and to spit, almost literally, in the face of the United States Government.'
  • 1992-09-03: Fischer Wins First Game of Match With Spassky • 'With verve and vigor, Bobby Fischer returned to competitive chess today after a 20-year absence as a recluse and crushed his old rival Boris Spassky in the opening game of an exhibition series.'
  • 1992-09-04: Fischer Battles to a Draw in the 2d Match Game • 'Bobby Fischer and his old rival Boris Spassky today battled to a draw in the second game of their exhibition chess series. Fortune swung both ways during the grueling, seven-hour game before Mr. Fischer offered a draw on the 59th move.'
  • 1992-09-05: Reporter's Notebook; On the Adriatic, Chess Mates and Chilled Campari • 'Things got off to an awkward start here at the exhibition chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. The cover of the glossy program prepared by the players' Yugoslav host referred to Mr. Fischer as "the world shess champion."'

Note the repeated use of the phrase 'exhibition chess' match. That last report continued, 'Now virtually nobody, apart from Mr. Fischer himself, believes the United States grandmaster is still world champion, a title currently held by Gary Kasparov of Russia.' A seventh report by Cohen was dated several months after the last game, played on 5 November.

  • 1993-03-21: Banker's Balancing Act Cuts Yugoslav Safety Net • 'Wars always have their profiteers, their smugglers and their fixers, but seldom does a single wheeler-dealer stir the national enmity directed at Jezdimir Vasiljevic, a Serbian banker whose abrupt departure this month has accentuated the economic chaos here and thrown some light on the shady deals keeping Serbia afloat despite United Nations sanctions.'

All three of Fischer's matches followed the 'first match, second match' pattern. Three matches? Three years after the 1972 match, chess history recorded 'The Match That Never Was', i.e. 1975 Fischer forfeits to Karpov (m-w.com). In that year there was no second match. Fischer simply refused to play. Chess historians have been debating Fischer's conditions ever since.

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