Shortly after 2 p.m. on August 8, 1972, WNET/Channel 13 in the New York metropolitan area was swamped with phone calls protesting the station’s programming. Irate viewers repeatedly asked the television producers to drop the coverage of the Democratic National Committee meeting in Washington so that they could resume watching the play-by play of a World Chess Championship game. In the midst of the presidential campaign that would see Nixon reelected, the American public preferred to watch the hours-long chess games between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.
For many American chess enthusiasts, Fischer’s time remains unparalleled. Never before or since his meteoric rise has chess managed to attract such a large audience in the United States. The 1972 PBS broadcast of the Fischer-Spassky games is still the most popular television chess show in history. After the celebrated match, the coverage of this ancient game has slowly disappeared from the country’s mainstream media. In 1972, the national edition of the New York Times, the major newspaper that most consistently deals with chess coverage, published 241 articles that dealt specifically with the game. That number decreased to 148 in 1995, the year when Garry Kasparov, arguably the best chess player in history, squared off against Viswanathan Anand, an Indian grandmaster, on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. The number fell further to 28 in 2011, the year when Hikaru Nakamura, an American grandmaster who right now is the seventh best player in the world, won the Tata Steel Chess Tournament, one of Europe’s most recognized events.