ArticleA Troubled Genius
While sportsfans are passionate about their athletes and teams, sports events as such can hardly be seen as wonders - not unless they can transcend the relatively narrow realm of sport by creating a unique human story of their own. Olympic Games as a concept of the biggest festival on Earth stand out, and some individual Games can occasionally rise to prominence and become a symbol - like it happened to the London 1948 Games widely seen as a new beginning of the human civilization torn apart by Second World War. Regular competitions, including world championships, can rarely achieve that, because there are just too many of them. Exceptions are few and far between but they do exist, and one of them owes its existence to Iceland.
The 1972 Chess World Championship match happened to feature two players who personified the definition of “opposites”: Boris Spassky - a perfect gentleman ironically representing the totalitarian Red Machine - and Robert Fischer, a quirky American rebel threatening to break that machine for decades to come. The countries the players came from at permanent loggerheads, the stakes of the match went through the roof long before the match itself even started - so, the two parties would agree about literally nothing. Even the tiniest match-related detail was contested and countered, and choosing a host city for the match was anything but a small issue. Unsurprisingly, whatever city was named by one side, was immediately rejected by the other - and it started to look like the match would take place on the Moon, or not at all. That was when Iceland, in shape and form of its capital, came forward - and turned out to be the only country in the world the bitter antagonists could accept.
The rest is, of course, history but…not only history of chess. Traditionally, there were two main sources inspiring artists, writers, musicians and such - Ancient Mythology and the Bible. The Spassky-Fischer match joined that exclusive club, even if on a much smaller scale. A musical aptly named “Chess” was loosely based on the events of the match (minus the love story); a painting was created by a local artist
Even more strikingly, as if to eliminate the distinction between the above-mentioned musical and reality, a love-story was added to the plot by life itself. It was the American protagonist rather than the Russian one - and he fell in love not with a woman but with…the country itself. In other words, Iceland became Fischer's “home away from home” - and then, his only home. The love was anything but unrequited, too: Iceland adopted the chess genius and embraced him as much as it would any of its own sons, if not more. A not-so-small token of that love was created, as the building hosting the match in 1972 was repurposed to become
The Center offers tours guided by the former Head of the Organizing Committee of the 1972 match. The exhibition consists of a few memorabilia but mostly pictures and paintings featuring the American-turned-Icelander in both typical and rather unusual situations, as well as at different stages of his life
There is even a copy of an email that reads like a love poem
The exhibition is small but rather intense, and one can spend quite some time contemplating that great and strange man.
The last stop of the tour is a short drive away