Fischer set for action replay after 20 years: William Hartston on whether the reclusive former world chess champion can recapture his glory days

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The Independent Online
TODAY, if everything goes according to plan, Bobby Fischer, the reclusive former world chess champion, will give his first press conference since 1972. Tomorrow, he will start play in his rematch with Boris Spassky, on the island of Sveti Stefan in Montenegro. It will be Fischer's first public game since he took the title from Spassky - 20 years ago today.

With Fischer surrounded by bodyguards and insulated from journalists, as specified in one of the clauses in his highly detailed contract, news from the World Chess Revenge Match of the Twentieth Century, as the Yugoslav organisers modestly describe it, has so far been limited to details of what Fischer had for breakfast (seven eggs and two watermelons) and speculation on his reasons for returning to battle after such a long absence.

The prize fund of dollars 5m ( pounds 2.6m; dollars 3.35m to the winner, dollars 1.65m to the loser) must have played a part in luring Fischer back to the board, but cannot have been the decisive factor, since he had turned down offers of similar purses several times in the past.

However, one thing is very different this time. 'She's small and quite roundish,' said one of the match organisers. 'I do believe it's love,' said another Fischer- watcher.

The object of their and Fischer's fascination is an 18-year- old (19 according to some sources) Hungarian girl called Zita Rajcsanyi who, according to the match director, Janos Kubat, was responsible for convincing Fischer that 49 was not old, and that he ought to return to the chessboard.

Miss Rajcsanyi, who has already spent some time in Sveti Stefan, is expected to return there for the start of the match. She is the current United States girls' junior chess champion.

With the United States Treasury Department accusing Fischer of breaking sanctions against Yugoslavia, cautious observers have expressed doubts about whether the match will take place, but Mr Kubat is confident: 'The girl is here. The money is here. And Boris Spassky is here,' he said.

The Yugoslav Prime Minister, Milan Panic, has defended Fischer's decision to compete. 'Just think how it would be if the sanctions forbade a potential Mozart to write music,' he said. 'What if one of these games was to be the greatest in chess?'

Mr Panic has inspected the match venue, but regrets that he may miss the opening, owing to the Peace Conference in Geneva.

After such a long absence from competition, Fischer's form is an unknown quantity. Twenty years ago, he was the greatest the world had seen, but even in his best years he showed signs of rustiness when returning after self-imposed breaks of a year or two.

So far, there are few clues. On the plus side, Fischer's meticulously eccentric demands suggest that he has not changed much: he rejected six or seven chessboards before the organisers found something acceptable; he demanded an open-ended match with draws not counting; he insisted on using his own, patented, Bobby Fischer chess clock, which provides for a radically different time allocation to anything previously used; he has had mirrors installed above the players' rest areas on stage, to ensure that Spassky will never be out of his sight; and he has ordered six new suits. Bobby Fischer was always fond of new suits.

On the darker side, the once immaculate and clean-shaven Fischer, who used to perform strenuous exercises to ensure perfect physical fitness for his gruelling chess bouts, now appears overweight, bearded, balding and, according to several sources, walks with a waddle.

By the end of the week, we shall have a good idea if the new Bobby Fischer is the bald eagle of the chessboard, or whether the sponsor, Jezdimir Vasiljevic, has bought himself a turkey.