Since after world war II, the interzonal tournaments are utilized to find the challengers to the chess world championship. It finds the six best players and adds two players that are pre-qualified to play. These eight players play against each other until they find the best player, who will be the official challenger to the world champion. In the three years it takes to find the challenger, the champion doesn’t need to play. He can just wait for the challenger.
Boris Spassky was the world champion back then. And before the world champion can be challenged, you have to win the qualification: You have to be among the six best players of 24 in a so called “interzonal tournament”. However, in the interzonal of 1970, the best occidental player, Bobby Fischer, wasn’t there. He had not participated in the US tournament that gave the ticket to Majorca.
But a few days before the tournament started, the Spanish organizer received a telegram: the American player, Paul Benkö, couldn’t come and gave his place away. The American federation gave his place to Robert Fischer. Everyone remembered how Fischer had scandalized and left the interzonal of Tunesia three years earlier, and few were comfortable about that. However, the US-federation had spoken. It was legal, so the FIDE accepted Fischer as one of the American challengers instead of Benkö and the tournament started. Very quickly, Fischer let his talent speak for him on the board.
Except from Fischer, all the favourite players were from USSR. Fischer hated them and kept on repeating that they were conspiring against him and banded together by not playing one against another. The ex world champion Vassili Smyslov was there, there was also Lev Polugaevsky, Mark Taimanov and, especially, the very talented Efim Geller. Geller was a great specialist in openings and had won three times over Fischer before.
When the match started, Geller was leading the tournament with half a point in front of Fischer. Fischer had surprised everyone by losing against the Dane, Bent Larsen, and had some draws against lower ranked players.
Geller started his game slowly and prudently and, from the seventh move, he proposed a draw. Bobby Fischer laughed and whispered an answer (a no) in a way that made Geller Blush.
The game went on and very quickly, the Russian had to go into a defensive game. He resisted pretty well, but, totally worn out, he lost at the eighth hour of the game. Now, Fischer was leading, and it boosted him, so he went from victory to victory. He won the tournament with 18.5 points out of 23 possible. The six challengers were:
1. Bobby Fischer (USA) – 18.5/23
2. Bent Larsen (Denmark) – Efim Geller (USSR) – Robert Hübner (FRG) – 15/23
3. Mark Taïmanov (USSR) – Wolfgang Uhlmann (GDR) – 14/23
After winning over the other challengers, Bobby Fischer became challenger to world champion Boris Spassky and ended up becoming the world champion himself.