Shelby Lyman, 82, Dies; Famed for Fischer-Spassky Chess Broadcast


So many people called to praise the broadcast, Mr. Lyman told The New York Times in 2008, that “we pre-empted ‘Sesame Street,’ and we became a five-hour, move-by-move show.”

“And we did that for the next 21 games,” he said.

Though he was an accomplished player — he had been ranked as high as No. 18 in the country — the 35-year-old Mr. Lyman was an unlikely choice for television, a frizzy-haired, doughy-faced guide who had come to the show with zero TV experience. Yet he soon attracted a following, not least because of his unpolished manner — charmingly insouciant and sometimes bumbling.

During the broadcasts, Mr. Lyman, wearing a black suit in a hot studio, would run back and forth between the two boards with large cutouts of chess pieces stuffed into his pockets. Often as not, the pieces would tumble to the floor, and Mr. Lyman would stoop to retrieve them, all the while trying to maintain eye contact with the camera.

In the meantime, he would be receiving instructions from Mr. Chase, the impresario, through an earphone. Sometimes Mr. Lyman would look up, startled, as if he were searching for the disembodied voice, and bark out, “What’s that, Mike?”

Within a week the show was regularly drawing a million viewers in New York City and another million or more from around the country. At one point, The New York Post did an informal survey of bars around New York City to see what they were watching. All but one were tuned to chess.

And much to the satisfaction of New Yorkers, if not Americans everywhere, Fischer won the match and, from Mayor John V. Lindsay, received the key to the city.

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