Chess

As a boy Jim Slater enjoyed playing Monopoly and draughts but his main indoor hobby was chess.  He stopped playing chess after leaving school as he found it took too much time and concentration while studying for accountancy.

It was not until a colleague asked Jim to teach him to improve his game in the late 1960s that his interest in chess was rekindled.  For a short while Jim joined a London chess club but found he preferred correspondence chess which he could play much more conveniently when he returned home in the evening.  Jim did quite well in his correspondence club, going up a few grades, until he reached a level at which it became hard work.

Jim had maintained a link with Leonard Barden, who was a British Champion and a chess correspondent.  With his help Jim began subsidising the annual Hastings Tournament with a view to expanding it so that leading players would have a chance to qualify as international masters.  Other countries would not invite British players to play in their tournaments until they became international masters so they were in an impossible situation.  The small amount of help Jim was able to give to Hastings was arranged in a very low-key way and attracted very little publicity.  The 1972 World Chess Championship would prove to be a very different proposition.

For the previous two decades the Russians had dominated world chess and then the West produced two exceptional players – Bobby Fischer of the USA and Bent Larsen of Denmark.  In particular, Fischer had fanatastic potential but he was handicapped by being extremely temperamental.

In the final rounds of the World Chess Championship the players were playing the best of ten games.  In the quarter finals Fischer won six games to nil.  In the semi-final Fischer was paired with Larsen and also beat him six games to nil.  This had never happened before in world chess, and for the first time it looked as if the Russians were going to get a run for their money.

In the last qualifier Fischer came up against Petrosian, a brilliant defensive player.  Fischer won the first game but lost the second.  The next three games were drawn.  It was said by some that Fischer had a bad cold and everyone wondered if he could regain his earlier momentum.  After this relapse he won the next four games.  This made Fischer challenger to Spassky.  Spassky too was a brilliant attacking player and had been a chess genius since early childhood, so it promised to be an exceptional match.

While preparations were being made for the World Championship in Iceland, Fischer began complaining about the prize money which he thought should be doubled.

“I was driving into London early one Monday morning in mid-July feeling disappointed that after all this build-up Fischer might not be taking on Spassky, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could easily afford the extra prize money personally.  As well as providing me with a fascinating spectacle for the next few weeks it would give chess players throughout the world enormous pleasure for the match to proceed.”

Jim Slater

This BBC news link explains the situation.

The match between Fischer and Spassky was a most exciting one and fully up to everyone’s expectations.  Fischer won convincingly.

A few months later, in an endeavour to help our young players, Jim Slater offered on behalf of The Slater Foundation to give a prize of £5,000 (over £50,000 in today’s money) to the first British Grandmaster and £2,500 to each of the next four.  Over the next few years Great Britain progressed from having no Grandmasters to twenty with one of the strongest teams of young chess players in the world.