The ‘Dream Chess Match’ that never was



Three weeks from now, the country will be commemorating the 42nd Anniversary of the Muham­mad Ali-Joe Frazier world heavyweight championship popularly known worldwide “Thrilla In Manila.”

Few would probably now know that had the original plan of staging here the World Chess encounter between American Bobby Fischer and Russian Anatoly Karpov, a brainchild of then International Chess Federation (FIDE) deputy president Florencio “Campo” Campomanes, been pushed through, the Thrilla would not have been thought of in the first place.

Because of Fischer’s refusal to play the young Karpov, the man the Soviets are willing to die for, unless his terms were met, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) withdrew its sanction, thus, the project, billed as “The Mother of All Chess Matches” and “Game of Century” was aborted.

The classic story actually began in 1974 when Campo, now deceased, campaigned in earnest to all FIDE members all over the world and succeeded in bringing the “dream match” to this shore amid strong bids put up by West Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Italy, Venezuela and five other chess playing countries.

With the purse of US$5 million, which could have been the biggest in the history of the championship match, the meeting between the two finest wood pushers in the world then was, indeed, ready for take off until the American chess wizard let his three conditions known.

These were: 1) The match must be played for an unlimited number of games, draw not counted; 2) The first player to win six games will be declared champion and; 3) If the score is tied at 5-5 apiece, the defending champion (in this case Fischer) retains the crown with the prize money to be split between the two protagonists.

FIDE granted Fischer’s first two conditions but relented on the third, leading the American genius to abandon what was also dubbed “Game of the Century.”

That, likewise, led FIDE to strip Fischer of his title and awarded the world championship to Karpov.

Meanwhile, Baguio City, the country’s Summer Capital, won the bid to host the match but the subsequent no show of Fischer, just the same, benefited he country in terms of international exposure.

The prize money was there and the country was ready. This created a dilemma of sort that President Marcos consulted his men on what to do next. There came Games and Amusements chair Luis Tabuena, who suggested instead to invite Alia and Frazier to stage the third and final chapter of their trilogy here.

And as the saying goes, the rest is history as the “Super Fight III” proved to be one successful affair that earns the distinction as the biggest sporting event the country has hosted.

Unfazed by the initial failure, Campomanes, then also head of FIDE’s Commission on Assistance to Chess Developing Countries (CACDEC), pursued his dream of bringing here Karpov’s first defense of his crown and succeeded, too, this time with Swiss-based Russian Viktor Korchnoi as challenger. But that’s another story.

“Sayang, but not really,” Des Bautista, who was to become the Philippines’ delegate to FIDE later, sighed. “That could have projected our country to international, exposure had the Fischer-Karpov match materialized. Wala namang nawala because napalitan ng Ali-Frazier.”


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