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Chess pieces of history: Board in 1972 battle up for auction

Associated Press Associated Press 12/11/2016 By ULA ILNYTZKY, Associated Press
This undated photo provided by Heritage Auctions shows the chess board used by American Bobby Fischer and Soviet champ Boris Spassky during their historic 1972 "Match of the Century," a tournament that sealed Fischer's fate as the world chess champion. The board, used in games 7 through 21 at the Reykjavik, Iceland, championship is slated to be auctioned in New York City on Nov. 18 by Heritage Auctions, which has set an opening bid of $75,000. (Heritage Auctions via AP) © The Associated Press This undated photo provided by Heritage Auctions shows the chess board used by American Bobby Fischer and Soviet champ Boris Spassky during their historic 1972 "Match of the Century," a tournament that sealed Fischer's fate as the world chess champion. The board, used in games 7 through 21 at the Reykjavik, Iceland, championship is slated to be auctioned in New York City on Nov. 18 by Heritage Auctions, which has set an opening bid of $75,000. (Heritage Auctions via AP)

NEW YORK — The historic 1972 title chess match between American Bobby Fischer and the defending Soviet champ, Boris Spassky, was as much about Cold War politics as it was about pawns and bishops.

Now, a chess board used in the "Match of the Century" is slated to be auctioned off in New York City on Friday, in a memorabilia sale timed to coincide with the FIDE World Chess Championship, which began in the city this past Friday.

Fischer and Spassky used the board in games 7 through 21 at the world championship in Reykjavik, Iceland. It replaced a stone board — likely substituted because of Fischer's unpredictable and demanding demeanor — that had been used in the earlier games and now resides in the National Museum of Iceland.

Heritage Auctions has set an opening bid of $75,000 for the board, now owned by an unidentified New York collector.

Chris Ivy, Heritage's director of sports auctions, said the Spassky-Fischer match remains revered both for the level of play, and the geopolitical climate of the time.

After World War II, the Soviets had dominated the world championships, regarding their success as evidence of the superiority of the socialist system.

Fischer portrayed the match as nothing less than "the free world against the lying, cheating, hypocritical Russians. ... They always suggest that the world's leaders should fight it out hand to hand. And that is the kind of thing we are doing ... over the board."

The match made Fischer the first American chess champion, and a national hero. His win came the same year that the Soviets beat the U.S. men's basketball team for an Olympic gold medal.

Fischer died in 2008 in Iceland, where he went to live in 2005 when offered citizenship. He had been on the run from U.S. authorities since a 1992 rematch with Spassky in Yugoslavia violated economic sanctions against Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian government.

When Fischer made anti-American statements after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, the U.S. revoked his passport and unsuccessfully sought his return.

The chess board, which both players signed in black marker after the legendary match, is on view at Heritage's New York offices. It is being offered with the table and two matching chairs that the players used during the match.

Also in the sale is a set of 1959-1960 Bobby Fischer handwritten U.S. Chess Championship score sheets.

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