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A Fischer Prank

After the collapse of the Soviet Union many of their stars settled in other countries. Edward Gufeld, now 66, is a colorful Russian grandmaster who gives lessons and exhibitions at his chess club in Los Angeles.

In the bad old days Gufeld was a loyal spokesman for the USSR in FIDE. He also served as an aide to Anatoly Karpov, the darling of the Kremlin.

In an interview when Gufeld first arrived in America, I asked him: "Karpov was widely criticized for playing two title matches against Viktor Korchnoi while the defector's family was held hostage inside the Soviet Union. Yet Karpov made no attempt to get them out. As a sportsman, should Karpov not have insisted that his government release Korchnoi's family before play began?"

"What Karpov could do, I do not know. But for me it is a surprise that you talk like this," replied Gufeld.

"Why? It's a question of sportsmanship. Korchnoi's son is beaten in a gulag on the eve of their second match in Merano to send his father a message -- lose or else! Did you ever discuss this matter with Karpov?"

"Never. But I do not see what Karpov did wrong," he said.

Gufeld, who penned over 50 books on chess, has a seemingly endless stock of anecdotes. One involves a prank that he and four other Russians played on Bobby Fischer while they all relaxed on the beach at the 1967 Sousse Interzonal in Tunisia.

Alas, this was the tournament where Fischer withdrew after a scheduling dispute. He was far in the lead with only four games to go before becoming the next challenger to Tigran Petrosian. Political officials, fearful that the brat from Brooklyn would wrest the title, framed mischievous ploys to stop him from getting to the top. It took Fischer five more years to become world champion by dethroning Boris Spassky to end the Soviet domination of chess.

Gufeld wrote: "Geller, Gipslis, Korchnoi, Stein and I were showing one another various problems when Fischer joined us. While he studied this rather complicated position (see diagram) I decided to play a joke on him and told the others to say it was a simple one and that they had quickly found the solution, which was by no means obvious.

"'Do you want some prompting?' teased the Russian grandmasters.

"'No, no!' the American shouted in reply. 'I'll find it myself!'"

"Imagine: a chess genius could not find a solution that was obvious to everyone around him. There was horror on his features, horror that his reputation was at that moment being shattered! And when a minute later he found the solution, his face lit up by a beaming smile of such infinite happiness that it seemed to me I was looking at Archimedes' face as he exclaimed Eureka!"

-- By Larry Evans


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