April 3, 1975, was the day of "the match that never was", when American Grand Master Bobby Fischer refused to play his Soviet challenger Anatoly Karpov after the World Chess Federation rejected his demands, and subsequently forfeited the title to Karpov. In the 1970s, when the popularity of the chess was at its highest, and big events often made headlines of major newspapers, this event caused a scandal.
In 1972, genius chess player Bobby Fischer became the first and, to date, the only American World Chess Champion, defeating Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. This victory had all the more significance in the midst of the Cold War. The quarter-century Soviet domination in chess shattered, and so did its prestige. The Soviet Union was determined to bring it back.
The match between Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov was scheduled to take place in the Philippines in April of 1975, with the prize money expected to be some five million dollars. Anatoly Karpov, a young emerging star at the time, was thrilled at the chance to play such a renowned opponent.
Bobby Fischer, however, presented a list of his requirements for the upcoming match. Many of these requirements contradicted traditional chess rules, which made analysts suggest Fischer didn’t want the match to happen. The proposal was rejected by FIDE (the World Chess Federation). On finding that out, an outraged Fischer responded to FIDE in a telegram:
“The rules were rejected by the FIDE delegates. By so doing FIDE has decided against my participating in the 1975 World Chess Championship. I therefore resign my FIDE World Chess Champion title”.
Since FIDE recorded no violation in the ruling, upon Fischer’s refusal to participate, the title was passed on to Karpov.
Other attempts to negotiate the match between the two Grandmasters outside the Association failed. Fischer kept laying down conditions, unrealistic for Karpov to meet. For instance, Fischer insisted that their match be qualified as professional, while the policy of the Soviet Sport Committee prohibited any professional sport activity within the Soviet Union, as all athletes had a status of amateurs.
What’s more, the KGB filed a suit against Karpov, accusing him of trying to ‘secretly sell’ the chess crown off to Fischer outside the Championship. Even when Karpov got official permission to play Fischer in 1976, the picky American again found ways to get round the game.
In Karpov's memoirs, he recounts how disappointed he was to never get to play Fischer:
“I consider it a huge loss that he and I never played our match. I felt like the child who has been promised a wonderful toy and has it offered to him but then, at the last moment, it's taken away”.
In 2001, the international chess publication "Chess Informant" named Robert James Fischer ‘the best chess player of the XX century’.