an Loeb McClain
Lothar Schmid,a German chess grandmaster who was the referee for three of the most contentious World Chess Championship matches ever played,including the volatile 1972 contest between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky,which he may have saved by negotiating a truce just as it seemed they were both about to quit, died Saturday in Bamberg,Germany. He was 85.
His death was confirmed on Monday by his longtime friend Helmut Pfleger,a fellow grandmaster. Schmid was one of the first grandmasters to earn the title from the World Chess Federation,the game’s governing body,doing so in 1959. He represented Germany in 11 Chess Olympiads between 1950 and 1974,winning two individual silver medals.
He was better known as the chief arbiter,or referee,of the championship matches between Fischer and Spassky in 1972,between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi in 1978 and between Karpov and Garry Kasparov in 1986.
The Fischer-Spassky showdown is often called the Match of the Century. Fischer,an American,faced Spassky,who was from the Soviet Union,against the backdrop of the cold war,and from the beginning the match was difficult to mediate. It was held in Reykjavik,Iceland,and started a week late after Fischer refused to show up unless the prize money was increased. A private sponsor doubled the fund to $250,000,and the match began on July 11,before television cameras and an audience in a large auditorium.
In the first game Fischer blundered and lost. He insisted that the cameras be removed before he would continue the match. When they were not,he forfeited Game 2,and the match seemed to be in jeopardy.
Before the third game,Fischer insisted that the game be moved to a small back room,with only a closed-circuit television feed to the audience and no camera operator in the room. Spassky agreed. But when Fischer arrived,he began to shout and make other demands,according to the 2011 book Endgame by Frank Brady. Spassky,incensed,announced he was leaving.
For a second,I didn’t know what to do, Schmid told Mr. Brady. Then I stopped Spassky’s clock,breaking the rules. But somehow I had to get that incredible situation under control. Schmid reasoned with both players. To Spassky,he said: Boris,you promised me you would play this game here. Are you breaking that promise? To Fischer: Bobby,please be kind.
It worked. Spassky sat down. Fischer apologized and went on to win the game,and eventually the match,becoming world champion. (Twenty years later,after Fischer had retired,he staged a brief comeback by playing a match against Spassky in Yugoslavia. Schmid was again the arbiter.)
The 1978 Karpov-Korchnoi match was in many ways even more difficult than the one in 1972. Karpov,a Soviet player,had become world champion after Fischer refused to defend the title in 1975.
Korchnoi had long been one of the top Soviet players,but he had defected to the Netherlands two years earlier and was considered a traitor by the Soviet authorities. Korchnoi’s wife and son had been prevented from leaving the Soviet Union,and his son was arrested and imprisoned after he refused to be conscripted into the Soviet Army. To complicate matters,the players simply did not like each other.
The match became a farce of recriminations and bad behavior. Korchnoi accused one member of Karpov’s entourage of being a parapsychologist who was trying to hypnotize him; Korchnoi even threatened to punch him before Game 17 unless he was moved farther back in the audience. To placate Korchnoi,Schmid was given the authority to ban spectators if they became disruptive.
There was such acrimony that the players stopped speaking to each other. Even draw offers had to go through Schmid or one of his deputies. The 1986 match was also tense. It was the third time in three years that Kasparov and Karpov had played for the title. The first match,which began in September 1984,lasted five months and involved 48 games before being suspended. Kasparov won the second match in 1985 to become champion. But according to the rules of that contest,Karpov was entitled to a rematch. So they met again in 1986,and by that time the two had developed a healthy dislike for each other.
Lothar Maximilian Lorenz Schmid was born on May 10,1928,in Dresden,Germany. His father,Euchar Albrecht Schmid,was a publisher. Schmid studied to be a lawyer but became involved in the family business when his father died in 1951. Although publishing took him away from playing chess,it gave him the financial means to build a chess library,by many accounts the largest private collection in the world,with an estimated 50,000 items.
Schmid,is survived by his wife of 55 years,Ingrid; two sons,Wolfgang and Bernhard; a daughter,Alexandra; and five grandchildren.