Perhaps it's not the best way to memorialize the late Mark Taimanov, but his 1971 Candidates match with Bobby Fischer was probably the defining event of his chess career, and game 3 - in particular, the 20th move of game 3 - was the defining moment of the match. So it's worthwhile to take a closer look at that moment, Taimanov's great white whale, and to see if we can get to the bottom of it.
Entries in Bobby Fischer (32)
That's Boris Spassky about his own match in 1972, with Bobby Fischer. It's not apropos of anything having to do with the just-finished Carlsen-Karjakin match, but could be of intrinsic interest to chess fans in general. It's just a two-minute clip, here. (HT: Ross Hytnen)
Most reasonably serious chess fans know about Bobby Fischer's great work My 60 Memorable Games and many more know about Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess. It's less well-known that he wrote Bobby Fisc her's Games of Chess in 1958 (in which he annotates all his games from his first U.S. Championship victory in 1957, along with the "Game of the Century" against Donald Byrne from the 1956 Rosenwald Tournament). It's harder to find copies of this book, and then if one wants to complete their collection of Fischer's chess works it's necessary to get one's paws on old issues of Boys' Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America.
In the late '60s there were typically six million Boy Scouts in any given year, and while not all subscribed to Boys' Life many did, and many more had access to it through their local scouting unit. We think a chess website or video is doing well when it gets a few tens of thousands of hits or views, but when Bobby Fischer wrote his column for Boys' Life from December of 1966 through January of 1970 he must have had at least hundreds of thousands of readers among the millions of individual poring over the pages of that monthly magazine.
The content of these columns was quite diverse. A fair chunk of the material was elementary, including answers to reader questions about en passant, the 50-move rule, whether pawns can move backward, whether one can claim a draw after being checkmated, and so on. There are also a pretty fair number of slightly more sophisticated questions seeking advice, too. At one level it's a pity to see one of the greatest players of all time taking valuable space answering trivial questions, but on the other hand it must have been inspiring to those readers whose questions were answered to interact with this legendary figure. While Fischer became a reclusive figure, his accessibility in such a forum was surely part of what led to such a boom in American chess.
There is sophisticated material as well. Fischer annotates several of his own games, in most cases with fairly serious annotations. Specifically, he annotates the following games: BF-Bednarsky, Havana Ol 1966 (light notes); BF-Gligoric, Havana Ol 1966 (moderate notes); BF-Mjagmarsuren [sic], Sousse IZT 1967 (substantial notes); Nikolich-BF, Vinkovci 1968 (substantive notes); BF-Jovanovac [name not given in the text], Vinkovci 1968 (moderate notes).
There are other games, too: Chercix-Cherepkov, Russia 1965; Kaplan-Timman, Jerusalem 1967; MacHack IV (an early computer)-Landey (no date); two readers' games; Lipman-Zolotnos, Russia [no date]; Rogoff-Spencer, US Junior Championship 1969.
There are some oddities. : About every other month the column is dedicated (wasted) on the solution to a "puzzler", a problem that was offered at the end of a normal column. These were tough positions - not basic tactics based on forks, pins, skewers and the like but mate-in-X positions bearing no resemblance to actual chess games. The first correct solutions (generally the first 10) would win a prize, typically an autographed picture of Fischer himself. (I wonder how much those autographed pictures would go for these days!) Did you know that Fischer was interested in chess problems, as opposed to merely gamelike positions? I didn't - but see below, about ghostwriting. Anyway, it's a pity for posterity that every second column was given over to solutions.
Another oddity - a fun one, really - is that many readers address him as "Bob" in their questions, and he never corrects them. Good for Fischer!
A bit weirder is that he uses the term "box" instead of "square" when referring to a particular spot on the board, like e4. As on occasional moniker for variety it might be understandable, but if one only had this book to go by they'd take "box" as the official label. Another oddity is his regular use of "castle" for "rook", at least in some earlier columns.
Finally, there's a little speculation in GM Andy Soltis's Foreword that the columns might have been ghostwritten, at least in part. I won't add to the speculation, but I wouldn't be surprised if Fischer supplied the chess content and gave spoken answers while someone else put everything into publishable form. Given Fischer's fastidiousness about his intellectual content it would be surprising if he didn't at least take veto power over what was published in his name.
In sum, it's an entertaining book with nostalgic value, and some of the chess content will be of interest to club players (and up) as well. If you're a Fischer fan, you'll probably want to get it; if your chess interests are more utilitarian, than probably not.
The Second Piatigorsky Cup took place 50 years ago this month, and was at the time the strongest tournament on U.S. soil since New York 1924. World Champion Tigran Petrosian participated, as did his recently vanquished challenger (and later conquerer) Boris Spassky, and Bobby Fischer too. I take a look back at the event, complete with lots of annotated games, here.
It's a very interesting idea: trying to figure out what a player's worst win was at a point when they were already a reasonably mature player. Brian Karen offers this horrid game as Fischer's worst, played when Fischer was already a grandmaster, and it certainly looks like a good candidate. To take just two very obvious points, Fischer could have forced instant resignation after White's 21.Rc1?? by playing 21...Qxe3. After missing this, he lost an exchange a few moves later, and even as late as move 39 White in turn could have forced instant resignation with 39.Qd4+. Instead, he resigned two moves later after blundering into mate.
Can you think of alternative candidates for Fischer's worst win, or extend the conversation to include other players' worst losses?
From Brian Karen: First, a Chicago Tribune article on Bobby Fischer as he trained (on the heavy bag) in the Catskills; next, a very long look back by Nikolai Krogius (in translation) as he attempted without much success to get Boris Spassky to train diligently for the match. The latter in particular is highly recommended, even to those who have read plenty on the '72 match already.
Emphasis on mild. The background to the little video is this: Bobby Fischer repeatedly played the Two Knights Variation against the Caro-Kann in the 1959 Candidates Tournament, with a serious lack of success. It got so bad that people who seldom or never played the Caro-Kann did so, as his results and the positions he received with the Two Knights were harmless at best. Fischer lost with it against Tigran Petrosian in round 2, drew with Vassily Smyslov in round 7 and then lost to Paul Keres - not a Caro-Kann practitioner - in round 8 (and then again in round 22).
So by the time of round 13, when Fischer faced Mikhail Tal with white for the first time in the tournament, this happened:
Tal fakes the move 1...c6 before giving the pawn a shove to c5, then offers a priceless smile to Fischer, who remains impassive. Fischer's non-reaction is a pity. Could he not take a joke (very possible), or was his poker face a matter of competitive strategy? As for the joke itself, it almost wasn't one. According to Tibor Karolyi (page 413 of his excellent Mikhail Tal's Best Games 1: The Magic of Youth) Tal seriously considered playing the Caro-Kann in that game. Fortunately for everyone but Fischer, he didn't, enabling us to enjoy his joke, his infectious grin, and the very nice game he went on to win.
(HT: Brian Karen)
Ken Rogoff is a long-retired American grandmaster and famous economist, while "Pawn Sacrifice" is a movie on Bobby Fischer (focusing on his 1972 match with Boris Spassky) starring Tobey Maguire that's coming out in selected theaters now and in wider U.S. distribution next week. Here is his review, or maybe more precisely, here are some of his reflections on Fischer and the 1972 match as occasioned by the film.
HT: John Cole
I'm guessing that upwards of 90% of my readers are familiar with Paul Morphy's "Opera Game" vs. the Count Isouard and the Duke of Brunswick (who may be one person with two titles). If not, you're in for a treat, but even if you know the game by heart you may still enjoy Bobby Fischer's presentation of the game on Yugoslav television. It's not just that it's Fischer doing the presenting, but that there's material you might not have seen before. (His discussion of Steinitz's suggested 5.gxf3 was new to me, and may be new to many of you as well.)