Even the Russians, once his sternest critics, have thawed. Bobby Fischer, conceded Komsomolskaya Pravda last week, "has turned into a real fighter." By comparison, said the Soviet journal, the listless series of championship chess matches going on in Russia between grand masters Tigran Petrosian and Viktor Korchnoi was "bloodless."
Russian confirmation was hardly necessary. Following his six-game sweep over Denmark's Bent Larsen in Denver last week, Fischer is favored to be the challenger for Boris Spassky's world title next year. But that distinction is beginning to pale beside the chunk of chess immortality he has already carved out by winning his last 19 games.
Chess experts groping for a parallel to make Fischer's feat intelligible to nonplayers speak vaguely of pitching 19 consecutive no-hitters, or getting 19 home runs in 19 at bats. But the analogies, while apt in the scale of accomplishment, are inexact because, as a rule, more top-level chess games are drawn than are won or lost. A hard-pressed grand master can usually force a draw. Fischer's streak started last December, when he won seven games in a row in the qualifying tournament; then came six over Mark Taimanov of the Soviet Union (SI, June 21), and then the astounding climax of six straight over Larsen.
Looking toward Fischer's next match in September, against the winner of the Korchnoi-Petrosian series, and his probable meeting with Spassky, the impression is that Fischer is unbeatable. "He is in a class by himself," says former U.S. champion Larry Evans. Max Euwe, former world champion who figured the odds against Fischer's winning 12 in a row were about 1,000 to 1, now feels he must be picked over Spassky. Fischer himself had little to say after beating Larsen. He praised the Dane and added, "I played pretty well."
A moot question is how advantageous the playing conditions at the Temple Buell College auditorium were for Fischer. The absolute silence, the separation of the players from the audience and the other-worldly lighting had been long sought by Fischer as a chess-playing ideal. No expert would assert that, even given the right conditions, Fischer might never lose another game. But then, no expert ever expected him to win 19 in a row, either.
Cool and affable Larsen often found himself running out of time for moves against the nervous but always precise Fischer. Only at the finish of the last match in Denver's Temple Buell auditorium (right) were spectators allowed to approach the stage for photographs. Fischer (top right) stalked into the wings between moves.