They don't hand out prizes for polemics in chess, only for winning tournaments. But if there were a prize for the most explosive article ever written on the subject, it would surely go to one published 50 years ago, in the August 20, 1962 edition of Sports Illustrated. The byline was one Bobby Fischer, beneath an incendiary headline: "The Russians have fixed world chess".
It's fair to say that Sports Illustrated had never before shown interest in the purely cerebral pursuit Fischer sought to dominate; but this was at the height of the Cold War — the hair-raising climax of the Cuban missile crisis was only two months away — so a piece which accused the Soviets of concerted skulduggery against an American was of compelling fascination to a mass audience.
Fischer wrote this article almost as soon as he returned from a gruelling 28-round event designed to find an official challenger for the reigning world champion, Russia's Mikhail Botvinnik. Played over two months in the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, the International Candidates Tournament was heavily tilted towards Soviet players. Five of the eight candidates played under the hammer and sickle: Tigran Petrosian, Paul Keres, Efim Geller, Viktor Korchnoi and Mikhail Tal (who became too ill to complete the event). From the US came Fischer and the Hungarian émigré Pal Benko. The only other competitor was the Czech champion Miroslav Filip.
Although only 19 years old, Fischer regarded himself as destined to win. He declared of the Soviet champions, "They have nothing on me, those guys. They can't even touch me." So it must have been a bitter shock when Fischer lost his first two games in Curaçao. He never recovered from this and eventually finished in fourth place, fully three and a half points behind Petrosian — who the following year beat Botvinnik to become world champion.
Fischer could have blamed himself: his opening play was naive in a number of games and he also lost his first encounter against the completely unfancied Benko. This must have been especially upsetting as the two had earlier exchanged physical blows after Fischer had taken a childish pleasure at tormenting Benko by mimicking his heavy Magyar accent. (Some years later Benko confessed: "I am sorry that I beat up Bobby. He was a sick man, even then.")