Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Shelby Lyman (1936–2019)

Shelby Lyman, the chess master who hosted PBS’s real-time coverage of the 1972 Bobby Fischer–Boris Spassky world championship chess match, has died at the age of eighty-two. The New York Times has an obituary.

PBS’s coverage of the Fischer-Spassky match was a wonder. The actress Chris Chase introduced each broadcast. The moves came by teletype. The game unfolded on a large horizontal board whose squares were pockets holding flat cutout chess pieces. A small number of guest experts sat around a table with a chessboard, offering move-by-move commentary and analysis, with Shelby moving pieces on the large board to follow proposed lines of play before restoring the game in progress. I remember commentary from Edmar Mednis and the ultra-geeky Eugene Meyer (now — gasp — president of the Federalist Society). I remember working myself into a state of high anxiety watching the games.

[A photograph accompanying the Times obituary shows a different kind of display board. I remember a board with pockets, something like the pockets that hold circulation cards in library books. But I think I also remember pieces sliding down to the studio floor. Perhaps PBS switched boards at some point.]

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