Shelby Lyman, the PBS tv host of the great Fischer-Spassky match of 1972, passed away this past August. Only Fischer did more to popularize chess in the US. Like Fischer, he was originally from Brooklyn.
I read several tributes to his life. This one from the "Atlantic" is one of the best:
Another chess master who was central to the Fischer story also died last month: Shelby Lyman. Though not a world-class player, Lyman did more to popularize chess in America than anyone not named Bobby Fischer. He was teaching chess in New York when one of his students, a TV executive, tapped him to host a PBS show covering the Fischer-Spassky match. Lyman proved a natural showman, explaining densely complicated chess positions to TV viewers, many of whom thought of a fork only as an eating utensil. (In chess, it’s a move where a single piece makes at least two simultaneous attacks.) Like tons of other kids at the time, I’d turn to Channel 13 in New York that summer and follow Lyman’s commentary move by move, sparking a lifelong interest in the game. After becoming a journalist, I wrote about Lyman, and from time to time we’d talk about the match.
“I had no concept of TV,” he told me. “I never watched television. I had no idea how a talk show host should act.” But, he added, “chess is a dramatic event. You could hear the swords clang on the shields with every move. They went at each other. The average person is turned onto chess when it’s presented right. Trying to figure out the next move is a fascinating adventure—an adventure people can get into.”
With his bushy brown hair and endearing miscues (in that low-tech era, he’d fumble for the pieces he used to shove onto demonstration boards), Lyman became a mini-celebrity, while interest in the ancient game boomed. In the year before the match, membership in the U.S. Chess Federation was about 27,000. A year after Fischer won the title, it had more than doubled, to about 59,000. “Shelby was the face of chess in America,” Bruce Pandolfini, the coach and author who was played by the actor Ben Kingsley in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, told me.