When Chess Was King of the City

In the summer of 1972, one of the city’s newspapers did an informal survey to see what patrons in local bars were watching on TV. It was a time before sports bars existed, yet it seemed reasonable to assume that most would be tuned in to watch the New York Mets, who were still in the pennant race, though they would eventually slump to third in their division. But the Mets were an afterthought. Barely anyone was watching them.

Instead, most of the TV’s were tuned to PBS Channel 13, where a man named Shelby Lyman, a 35-year-old sociology professor with a cocker-spaniel face, stood in a dark studio in front of a large demonstration chessboard, pieces for the board spilling out of his pockets, talking about a match taking place in the tiny country of Iceland, 2,700 miles away.

The match was for the world championship and pitted the American Bobby Fischer against the reigning champion, the Russian Boris Spassky. Called the Match of the Century, the contest had all the elements that made for great theater….


Reblogged from: When Chess Was King of the City

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