Since we were quartered in the same hotel, and frequently walked to the tournament hall together, I had the opportunity to ask Petrosian some burning questions. (His wife served as translator.) He readily admitted not being satisfied with his chess ever since the title match with Spassky, in which he felt the quality of his play was considerably better than the result would indicate. He is confident of finding his form in 1968 and attributes his poor tournament showings (as opposed to his winning the gold medal on Board One at the Havana Olympic) to the cross [curse?] of the title: everyone now plays for a draw against him.
And what about a match with Fischer? He says FIDE would not permit one for the title. What about an unofficial match, say, 12 games, for a purse of $10,000, divided 60% for the winner and 40% for the loser? Here Petrosian's attitude was ambiguous. He personally would be happy to play such a match, but it's a question of what his own chess federation would say. Furthermore, who would want to put up with all of Fischer's conditions? By now the latter's eccentricities are well known. Then Petrosian said that $10,000 would not be enough. I indicated surprise, pointing out that he received less than $2,000 for winning the title match against Spassky. Donner happened to be present at this discussion, and when asked by Petrosian's wife who he thought would win such a match, Donner replied instantly: "Fischer!" Donner, further, thought that the FIDE system was strong enough to withstand unofficial matches of this nature when the title was not involved (although the winner would have a moral claim). Petrosian wondered whether Fischer's chess was not somewhat stronger five years ago, before his temporary retirement from the game. I said Bobby was playing better than ever and would undoubtedly win the Interzonal.
Then came the news of the scandal in Tunis and Fischer's withdrawal. Everyone thought that Bobby was crazy. I said we would have to have more facts, but that Bobby was generally right when it came to matters of principle. I couldn't tell whether Petrosian was pleased by the prospect of not now having to meet Fischer for the title; but again he indicated that he would play Fischer a match if the decision were his to make. His wife pointed out that Tigran had a tremendous plus score against Bobby, and I replied that it had been piled up when Bobby was just developing. I know that of all the Russians, Bobby has the greatest respect for Petrosian. If they made draw after draw in a match, which is not unlikely, Bobby might very well get impatient and suicidally try to force the issue. When I asked Petrosian how he felt about a return to the old type of match for the title -- based on who wins the first six games, for example, thus making ties impossible -- he said he was not opposed, but it could produce an endless number of games since the players are so evenly matched nowadays. Besides, this is a matter which rests solely in the hands of FIDE.
It is clear that Petrosian, whether he says so or not, considers Bobby the strongest possible challenger. But, he said, in their own games Bobby did not make a single move which he had not anticipated. Furthermore, he gave Fischer a draw (in their second round encounter at the Piatigorsky Cup 1966), even though he demonstrated to Bobby after the game that he (Petrosian) had a winning position. Why? Because he wanted to see Bobby finish second (rather than Larsen) because Bobby had played the best chess in the tournament. His wife, seeing that I took this with a grain of salt, assured me that it was true. Apart from that, he would like to play in the next Piatigorsky and give an exhibition tour in America.
Tigran Petrosian was the reigning World Champion from 1963 to 1969.