Thursday, 12 November 2009

Chess Reviews: 117

Bobby Fischer

The Career and Complete Games of the American World Chess Champion

By GM Karsten Müller

408 pages

Russell Enterprises

I have been looking forward to this book. Having read a huge number of books about the 11th World Champion I was intrigued to see what this new volume had to offer. Dr Müller is an excellent author, noted primarily for his excellent work in the field of endgames.

The book starts strongly, with a nine-page Foreword by GM Larry Evans. Evans knew Fischer very well and spent a considerable amount of time with him, so he is very well qualified to provide a set of personal reminiscences.

‘I miss him, and somehow the world seems dimmer without him.’

The Introduction by Karsten Müller (9 pages) gives an overview of important episodes from Fischer’s career.

‘It is fair to ask, ‘‘Where is Fischer’s place in history?’’ ‘‘Is the American genius the greatest chess player ever?’’ I personally believe that he is.’ He goes on to give the reasoning behind his conclusion.

Opening survey by Andy Soltis (11 pages)

GM Soltis gives an overview of Fischer’s contributions to the theory of his favourite openings, such as the Ruy Lopez, the King’s Indian and the Sicilian Defence. His struggles with the French and Caro-Kann defences are detailed too.

In pre-internet days, when preparation couldn’t be done with a couple of mouse clicks, Fischer’s work involved digging up variations from obscure magazines and his relentless search for improvements in published analysis bore substantial fruit.

There then follows a full set of all the available games Fischer played in serious events, in chronological order, from 1955 onwards. There are gaps for the years 1964 and 1969 and then (sadly) from 1972 - 1992.

It should go without saying that an anthology of Fischer’s games is a collection of some of the finest games ever played. There was something different in his approach to chess; something which produced a ruthless efficiency and forced opponents to try and match his efforts and concentration in every phase of the game. He had very few short draws and saw no reason not to play for a win with both colours.

A couple of examples should whet the appetite.

Unzicker - Fischer

Varna 1962

26...Rxc3! 0-1

Fischer - Myagmasuren

Sousse Interzonal 1967

31 Qxh7+!! 1-0

It is worth noting that Fischer very rarely made sacrifices of a speculative nature. These two finishes were merely the most efficient methods of concluding matters.

Fischer’s games from the 1970 Herceg Novi ‘5-minute’ tournament are surprisingly omitted from this volume, yet his famous skittles trinket against Fine is included.

Every one of the 735 has some sort of new comment and or annotation. Typically, these are brief but usually enough to provide an insight into the action on the board.

Given the author’s endgame expertise, it is no surprise to find that there are numerous improvements noted when there is very little material left on the board.

Here’s an example:

Fischer - Bisguier

US Championship 1959-69

55...b6? (1-0, 60) ‘Fatigued by the long defense, Bisguier finally commits a mistake. His pawn is now too close. After 55...Kd2! It is drawn, e.g., 56 c5 Kd3 57 Kb4 Kd4 58 Kb5 Kd3 59 Ka5 Kd4 60 b4 (60 Kb6 Kc4 = ) 60...Kc4 61 Ka4 Kd4 62 Kb3 Kd5 63 Kc3 b6 64 cxb6 Kc6 =

Reading the book chronologically and following Fischer’s inexorable rise to the top of the chess world, one is stuck by the rapidly decreasing number of pages as he finally approaches his one and only World Championship match. A photo shows a smiling Fischer looking at his new medal, on the stage with Max Euwe. The very next page has fast-forwarded 20 years to the odd rematch with Spassky in 1992. The tragedy of the two missing decades is so evident that it doesn’t require commentary Indeed, throughout the book, mentions of Fischers non-chess problems and personality disorders are mercifully kept to an absolute minimum.

How did he manage to play at such at a consistently high level? In his own words:

I give 98% of my mental energy to chess. Others give only 2%.

This is emphasised by his posture in the photos taken during games, in which he is invariably a picture of total concentration, fully absorbed in another world.

There are even some photos of him away from the chess board, such as one showing young Fischer enjoying feeding pigeons, and another posing with host Gary Moore on the 1950s TV show ‘What’s My Line?’.

Some of the background details were new to me.

There is a copy of a contract, written in 1964, between Fischer and businessman Alex Bisno. This was to try and arrange a match with a top Soviet player. It never happened but it’s historically interesting.

One of the conditions states: ‘Draws are not to be counted and the winner of the first eight or ten games - whatever is agreed upon - shall be declared the winner of the match’. Such a condition was to have serious consequences over a decade later.

The money required is specific: ‘The purse is to be $8,500.00, the winner of the match to get 80 percent and the loser to get 20 percent’.

There’s note from Fischer to Bernard Zuckerman, written on his way home from the Varna Olympiad, starting, ‘Here are a few tidbits from Varna’.

He shows the first 15 moves of his game against Ciocaltea (which he spells as ‘Chocltea’) at which point the won the Queen

Fischer - Ciocaltea

Varna Olympiad 1962

15 Bg5 (1-0, 26)

Fischer goes on to confesses, ‘Believe it or not I lost to this ‘‘player’’ in the finals!!’

Varna was the scene of Fischer’s famous game with Botvinnik. ‘He looked like he was dying all through the game. He was gasping, turning colors and looked like he was ready to [be] carried out on a stretcher’.

The book concludes with a look at Fischer’s career results, a list of tournament and match results, a summary of career highlights, index of openings and index of opponents names.

There are a couple of mistakes in the tournament tables. The one for the 1962 Interzonal misses out the first row, leaving the results askew.

There is a slight typo in the table for the Second Piatigorsky Cup, with a ‘b’ instead of an ‘x’ appearing in Petrosian’s row of results.

Elsewhere, the dates for the Skopje International and the Sousse Interzonal are both given as 'August 6 - September 30 1967'

I only mention them here to make them fixable for a second edition.

After Bobby, the game was simply not the same

Unfortunately, after the game, Bobby was not the same either. He somehow managed to turn his milestones into personal millstones.

This is an excellent book and one which I can heartily recommend. Collectors may like to know that it is available in two editions: a standard paperback version and a deluxe hardback (limited to 500, individually numbered copies).

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

few times here, but nice review. Keep it up!