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Spassky vs. Fischer

Icelandic Chess Championship Featured on London Stage

Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky are the main characters of a new London play that tells the story of their World Chess Championship match, held in Iceland in 1972. Occuring at the height of the Cold War, the match became known as the Match of the Century when the American Fischer broke the Soviet’s 24-year winning streak. Vísir reported first.

The play Ravens: Spassky vs. Fischer, written by Tom Morton-Smith, premiered at London’s Hampstead Theatre at the end of November. The character of Spassky is played by Roman Raftery, while Fischer is played by Robert Emms, whom readers may recognise from films such as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) and War Horse (2011).

Two Icelandic characters, based on real people, are also written into the play. The first is Guðmundur G. Þórarinsson, president of the Icelandic Chess Federation at the time the match took place. Guðmundur is played by English-Icelandic actor Gunnar Cauthery. The other Icelandic character is Fischer’s former bodyguard Sæmundur Pálsson, also known as Sæmi rokk, played by Gary Shelford.

Vísir tracked down the real-life Guðmundur to ask him whether he knew about his feature in the play. “Yes, someone called me. I thought it was a joke. But I doubt that I’m an important character in it.” Guðmundur says he wasn’t invited to the play, but that it “shows how this duel inspires people endlessly. Now it’s almost been 50 years. Fischer dies in 2008. And still people are coming and television networks getting interviews about him and the duel of course.”

Bobby Fischer became a target of the US government after he participated in a match in Yugoslavia in 1992, then under a United Nations embargo. He was eventually granted Icelandic citizenship by a special act of Alþingi, and he lived out his last years in the country. The South Iceland town of Selfoss, near which he is buried, has a museum dedicated to Fischer.

Guðmundur says the Ministry of Culture is working to put up a monument to commemorate the match between Spassky and Fischer near Laugardalshöll, where it took place.

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