Phantom of the chess board turns back his winning clock

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AFTER all the hype, Bobby Fischer, the ex-recluse, proved his point last night by winning the opening game of his rematch against Boris Spassky after a start remarkable only for a technical hiccup, writes William Hartston.

Satisfied that the chess board was the right size - 3mm smaller than yesterday - and his lavatory seat was the right height - one inch higher than before - Fischer, in blue suit and claret tie, stroked his beard, swivelled in his leather chair and made his first public chess move for 20 years. He advanced the white king's pawn two squares and pressed the custom-built Bobby Fischer chess clock to start the match. The clock refused to start working. It was gently coaxed into life and the Chess Revenge Match of the 20th Century was under way.

After all the controversy, the dollars 5m ( pounds 2.53m) purse and the sanctions-breaking return of Fischer, the phantom of the chess board, the opening moves were unremarkable: much the sort of thing these two used to play 20 years ago. Starry-eyed spectators in Sveti Stefan, the Yugoslav island where the match is being played, saw genius behind Fischer's every move. More sober commentators described the opening as 'bog-standard stuff'.

Meanwhile, the French Foreign Ministry made a long-awaited statement about the participation of Spassky, who is a French citizen, in a sanctions-busting extravaganza. Its spokesman, Daniel Bernard, came down firmly on the fence, saying: 'This match was organised privately and without the knowledge of the International Chess Federation or the French Chess Federation. We have no particular comment to make on this private matter . . . but as everyone knows, no one in France can ignore the law.'

After the first three hours, Spassky sacrificed a knight for two pawns, as if to remind the world that this was not just the Bobby Fischer show, but a surprising pawn thrust from Fischer seized the initiative. After 49 moves and six hours' play, Spassky resigned a hopeless position, confirming the message everyone had come to hear: Bobby is back.

Emphatic win, page 2