keypusher: Hi, Mark, sorry I am only just now responding to this. I don’t check my forum very often, and I wanted to wait until I had some time to think about my response. There is a lot to think about.
As an American, I have very conflicted feelings about Fischer. He was the first chess player I really learned about, and he’s still the one whose games I know best. Either him or Lasker. But eventually a contra-Fischer reaction set in, as it always does. There’s a great quote by someone about the Rolling Stones: “when I was young, I thought they were the best band ever, and every one of their songs was better than any songs by any other band. Later I realized that this wasn’t strictly true.” That’s how I was about Fischer. The disenchantment grew in my early years on this website, when I got into huge battles with Fischer fans. It wasn’t that they thought he was a great player; it’s that they thought he was unquestionably the best ever, and no one else even seemed worth mentioning in the same breath.
What I particularly didn’t like was that they gave him so much credit for courage, but they never acknowledged that he walked away from the game after winning the title. There is one player and only one who never played a single serious game of chess as world champion. There is one player and one player only who never defended his title. If you’re going to talk about what a he-man and a fighter he was, it seems to me, you have to acknowledge that. You can’t ignore it, you can’t pretend that it was somehow FIDE’s fault or Karpov’s fault or the USCF’s fault or whatever. It was Fischer’s fault. It’s part of the picture, and if you’re going to compare him with other players and talk about how aggressive and tough he is, you also have to acknowledge that he is the biggest quitter in the history of the game.
That said…it is a fact that he played games out, in his time, much more than anyone else. In his prime, he almost never played quick draws, and he fought to win with both White and Black. The only other player who did that at the time was Larsen (Korchnoi, to a lesser extent), and of course Larsen just wasn’t the player Fischer was. Those guys aside, if you look at tournament collections from the 60s you’ll see a lot of dull, short draws. In the 70s, after Fischer quit, I think it got even worse. It’s instructive to look at Karpov’s games from one of his many tournament first prizes. With White, he generally tries to win, and you see a lot of very interesting games. With Black, you get a lot of 15-move draws. He’s making no effort to win, and very few people are trying to beat him. It’s funny to look at Karpov’s games with Miles. When Karpov has White, he has a ton of wins, and Miles has a couple (including the famous 1….a6 game). Very interesting stuff. When Miles has White…well, it couldn’t be duller. Almost all short draws.
Draws are common nowadays, but it’s my impression that short dull draws are much less common now than in the 70s. They are certainly rare in Carlsen’s games. I evidently have a much more positive view of his style than you do, but that’s for another day.
I think there was a fair amount of low grade corruption in Fischer’s time. Games being bought and sold. Supposedly he wouldn’t stand for that, so it tended not to happen in tournaments he played in (but what about this game??). Anyway, that is in his favor.
Re the Soviets, I honestly don’t think Fischer ever had anything to complain about. They clearly saw the world title as “theirs” and they definitely wanted to keep Fischer from winning it. But I don’t think they did anything underhanded to keep him from taking the title. It seems pretty clear that there was an entente of sorts among Geller, Petrosian, and Keres at Curacao, but I don’t think it was aimed at Fischer. And after that…FIDE put in candidate matches just like Fischer wanted, and what did he do? He skipped the 1964 Interzonal, and dropped out in 1967. They obviously didn’t do anything ’70-’72…Spassky could have demanded an extra forfeit at the beginning of the match, or gone home after Fischer forfeited game 2, but he didn’t. In 1974-75, they rightly opposed Fischer’s attempt to impose a “win-by-two” condition on the challenger. If they’d lost on that point and Fischer had actually showed up to play (which, IMO, he was never going to do) Karpov would have knuckled under and played him.