Bobby Fischer’s greatest shot

Bobby Fischer has played hundreds of great shots in his career, so it is very difficult to say who is the best. We can estimate that his famous 19.Rf6!! against GM Pal Benko is the best, because it’s the same depicted in a cake.

However, there is no doubt that his most stunning blow, the one that brought the American genius the title of world champion, happened from the chessboard. I think you guessed that I am referring to the famous second half of the 1972 “Match of the Century” between Fischer and Boris Spassky.

To fully understand what happened on that momentous day when Fischer failed to appear on the chessboard, let’s look at the hard facts. Before their World Championship match, Spassky and Fischer played five matches: three Spassky wins and two draws. However, it wasn’t so much his poor score that let Fischer down but Spassky’s absolute dominance in all areas of the game.

If you want to progress through difficult game environments and sharpen your tactical eye, look no further than the next part. The last little combination has been featured in hundreds of tactic books. I am sure this is an easy problem to solve for you.

If you want to improve your endgame skills, I recommend you to analyze the next part. Note the school move 35.h4!! which fixes Black’s weak pawn on g6:

Spassky played all kinds of openings: from the classic and solid Ruy Lopez to the crazy Gambit Roi!

There was another big problem for Fischer. It was only psychological: Spassky was not afraid of him! Some people might argue that this is not very effective, but professional chess players know that is not the case!

I will never forget a lecture given in 1984 by one of the most famous chess coaches in the world, IM Mark Dvoretsky addressing the best young Soviet players. Future GMs Boris Gelfand, Vasyl Ivanchuk, Aleksey Dreev, Evgeny Bareev and other future chess superstars were in attendance. Of course, at one point Dvoretsky raised Garry Kasparov, who would challenge Anatoly Karpov for the world title.

Garry Kasparov
Kasparov in 1985. Photo: Rob Bogaerts/Dutch National Archives, CC.

Dvoretsky explained that in many games Kasparov’s opponents were so afraid of him that they could not play their best chess. I noted his conclusion in my notebook during the recording of the lecture: the best thing that can happen to a chess player is that his opponents fear him. It was many years later that I really appreciated Dvoretsky’s wisdom. Let’s examine this aspect of professional chess from Fischer’s perspective. In fact, most of the best players in the world are afraid of him.

See the matches Fischer played against Tigran Petrosian. Psychologically, it​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​1 one​​ ​​ It’s like a lifeline. Whenever Fischer felt that things were getting worse, he could make an offer that Petrosian couldn’t refuse. In many games where they agreed to a draw, Petrosian enjoyed a more dominant position. Here is an example:

Fischer believed himself to be the winner for a long time before suddenly realizing that his position was deteriorating rapidly. What did he do? Yes, he has zero to offer! This is what Fischer says in his book: “I offered a draw, afraid he wouldn’t accept. Black definitely has the advantage now.” The computers agreed with Fischer’s assessment of the final position they estimated to be -1.25! However, Petrosian was content to share the point.

Another piece of evidence was provided by GM Mark Taimanov’s eloquent comment on one of their Candidates games in 1971:

And there, I was invaded by a state of helplessness, of despair: “Is this Fischer incorruptible, is he somehow magical? But time passed and trouble began to approach… I thought about it position for 72 minutes! In half a century that I’ve been playing, I’ve never spent so much time on one shot! And psychologically, I just collapsed. My energy dried up, apathy settled in, everything in my surroundings lost meaning, and I took the first step that came to my mind, which turned out to be a losing step…

Mark Taimanov Bobby Fischer
Taimanov in 1970. Photo: Joost Evers/Dutch National Archives, CC.

With Spassky, however, things were very different. In every game, whether leading the white or black pieces, the Soviet Grand Master plays to win! In the next match he used his trademark the
Attack on Marshall.

As you can understand, Fischer went into the World Championship match against Spassky with negative psychological baggage. His childhood gaffe in the first half of the match didn’t help matters:

Fischer’s condition is critical. In his career, he has never beaten Spassky but now he has lost four times. With his back against the wall, Fischer came up with an unexpected solution: he didn’t show up for the second match. Karpov called this shot “brilliant”. Tal said it was “conceived and planned by a master psychologist, although it is very dangerous”.

To some people, Fischer’s decision may seem completely illogical. He offers a free point in a World Championship game. How does this improve or worsen his opponent’s situation? So let’s see how this unusual move affected Spassky.

As I mentioned before, Spassky was not afraid of Fischer. In fact, he likes the confrontation: “Before a game with Fischer, I felt this particular motivation without which it is not possible to achieve great achievements. It is possible that Fischer himself unintentionally that contributed to it: he was always good for me to play against him.”

Boris Spassky Bobby Fischer
Spassky and Fischer during one of their duels before the World Championship. Photo:, used with permission.

While it is an overstatement to call Spassky and Fischer friends, they had such a relationship that many years later, in 1992, saw Fischer return to chess for another match against Spassky. Besides their unconditional love for the game, these giants shared similar opinions on many non-chess topics, including conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism.

Therefore, Spassky viewed the upcoming match with Fischer as a chess party. He said before kick-off:

“I have great respect for Fischer, he is a wonderful player. Without him, the world of chess would be more boring… If I had to choose an opponent for the match, I would have chosen him, because he is my goal. greatest opponent… I don’t know how the match will end, but it will be interesting from a chess point of view.”

Bobby Fischer
Fischer signs autographs. Photo:, used with permission.

When Fischer did not show up in the second half, Spassky was clearly uncomfortable, expressing regret. This is the beginning of the downfall of the world champion in this game. Here’s how GM Bent Larsen describes the situation: “Many consider Fischer to be a ‘big boy’, and to a certain extent he is. Wisely managing to impose their will on others.. . After Denver, and Petrosian after Buenos Aires, I warned that in any case concessions must be made to Fischer, and yet, in Reykjavik, Spassky repeatedly respected his will”.

The third game was played in a closed back room that was previously used for table tennis. Fischer played a relatively new idea at the start, but although Spassky knew the idea and was even ready for it, his game was extremely poor and he almost lost without a fight.

The natural question is what Spassky should have done to avert disaster. Here is the opinion of Spassky himself: “There was only one way I could have won this match: before the third match, when Bobby started making difficulties, I could have stopped cold! I thought about doing it , but I am the king of chess and I cannot go back on my word. I promised to play this game. As a result, I lost my fighting spirit, and festival , the game became a test.”

Boris Spassky
Spassky in 1970, was visibly upset. Photo: Rob Mieremet/Dutch National Archives, CC.

With all due respect, I completely disagree with Spassky’s opinion. In his own words, the chess festival became a test. How did giving up the third part allow him to regain a better state of mind? If Johnny Depp and Amber Heard settled for good, could they be in love again?

I experienced a situation similar to Spassky’s a few times, but obviously at a lower level. The first time it happened I was only 12 years old. I was playing against an adult late in the game. After about 30 minutes of waiting, one of the men from the chess club told me that he saw my opponent completely drunk the other day, and he concluded that it is likely that he will never present in front of the chessboard. So I started to wonder if the game would play. When 55 minutes had passed and I was sure that this was not going to happen, my opponent finally appeared. Needless to say I could barely play and lose without a fight.

Ironically, Spassky found himself in a similar situation. Several reports circulated before Part 3 claiming that Fischer had booked a flight to Reykjavik. So, as in my case, Spassky’s mind was filled with a question: will there be a third part?

You cannot play quality chess under such conditions. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Spassky’s only chance was not to give in to any of Fischer’s demands, in which case the game would have effectively ended prematurely.

Through his gentle demeanor, Spassky won the respect of the whole world, but paid a high price for it.

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