by Stewart Reuben, photos by Zeljka Malobabic of Monroi
People often say to me, “Grandmasters are very stand-offish.” My response is usually, “Have you ever approached one?” “Oh, no I couldn’t do that.” “Well,” I respond, “Is it not you who is being hard to talk to?” One of the glories of the Gibraltar Chess Festival is that not only play takes place in the Caleta Hotel, but also that is where most of the players stay. Thus you can meet socially players from all over the world from many different backgrounds. This year Boris Spassky, World Champion 1969-72, was a guest of the hotel for three days. It was his defence of the title against the American, Bobby Fischer, which caught the interest of the general public more than any other in the 1500 year history of chess. It is true that Bobby won their epic clash, but that in no way detracts from the status of Boris as one of the great icons of the game.
Boris Spassky and Stewart Reuben
I think it was about the fifth time of being introduced to Boris that he finally realised he had met this young man before. But since then I have organised several events in which he participated and we have come to know each other quite well. Thus I was delighted when I learnt he was coming to Gibraltar.
Boris Spassky in Gibraltar
The first day of any chess congress is fraught with problems. Thus it fell to me to accompany Boris on a tour of the Rock arranged by the Tourist Board. I was quite surprised to learn how knowledgeable he was about the history of Gibraltar. Most of us, had we lived through the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War, would have had other matters on our mind. I had been to most of the sights before, of course, but this was my first time in the siege tunnels. Until recently that trip was rather arduous and long. Now I discovered there was a conducted tour lasting about 30 minutes virtually all on the flat. Boris quickly came to realise that the ancient chess aphorism, ‘The threat is stronger than its execution’, applied during the war. Germany never tried to take Gibraltar and thus was never able to take control of shipping in the area. The strategic importance of The Rock remains just as valid today.
Boris Spassky and a Gibraltar resident
Boris didn’t want to pose for the usual tourist photos with the apes and in St Michael’s Caves. Even so, I hope you enjoy a photographic montage of our two hour trip.