25 Nov

Fischer and the Financier


Chess-loving financier Jim Slater, who died aged 86 in London last week, made his fortune with his company Slater Walker Securities, that became an icon of the British financial scene of the 1960s and 70s. He was a brilliant and ruthless financier who devised the concept of The Zulu Principle (the idea of becoming an expert in a narrow niche being useful in many different fields) that became a best-selling book - but alas, his fortunes tragically came to grief during the stock market collapse of the mid-1970s; where he suddenly found himself to be a ‘minus millionaire’.

But before the grief, Slater made a significant contribution to the game’s history when he saved the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match. With the match in serious doubt, Leonard Barden, the legendary chess columnist for the Guardian and Financial Times, persuaded City hot-shot Slater to intervene. By offering $125,000 (a vast fortune in 1972) of his own wealth, he promptly doubled the prize fund, and challenged Fischer to come out and play. ‘If you aren’t afraid of Spassky, then I have removed the element of money,’ he said in a press statement.

The rest, as they say, is history.  But what many will not know about Slater is that, in the worldwide chess boom created in the aftermath of Fischer-Spassky, he also opened his wallet again to offer £5,000 to find the first Briton to become a grandmaster.  First was Tony Miles in 1976, and he was quickly followed by Ray Keene, and then Michael Stean. More followed, and Slater could well be said to have unwittingly fired the starting pistol for England’s rapid rise up the world chess rankings, as within a decade they became the number two chess nation behind the USSR. 

So in tribute to Jim Slater, and following the recent European Team Championships being held in the same venue as the Fischer-Spassky match he saved, today’s game is considered to be Fischer’s best game from that epic 1972 match.

Bobby Fischer - Boris Spassky
World Championship Match 1972, (6)
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Tartakower Variation
1.c4 Not Fischer's usual 'best by test' 1.e4. Although Fischer spent nearly his entire chess career playing 1.e4, playing a world title match is different from a normal tournament (where you are playing many opponents) and you have to vary your repertoire to keep your opponent (and his team) continually thinking about what will be played. And despite this being the only game on record where Fischer plays a Queen's Gambit Declined, he plays it so well and so fluently that GM Larry Evans described it as 'a game of placid beauty'. 1...e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 0-0 6.e3 h6 7.Bh4 b6 The Tartakower variation went on to become a big favourite of Fischer's Russian successor, Anatoly Karpov, who won the crown by default in 1975 when the American declined to defend his title. 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.Nxd5 exd5 11.Rc1 Be6 12.Qa4 c5 13.Qa3 The reason for 12.Qa4 - White wants to hold-up Black's queenside pawns by pinning the queen on e7. 13...Rc8 14.Bb5 Timed to stop Black completing his development with ...Nd7. 14...a6 15.dxc5 bxc5 These are what are known in chess as 'hanging pawns' - two pawns on adjacent files, separated by open or half-open files. White's task here is to prevent them from successfully advancing; Black's task is to prevent them from becoming weak and put under constant attack. 16.0-0 Ra7 17.Be2 Nd7 Black's gone from one pin to another, as Fischer again forces Spassky into compromises brought on by his hanging pawns. Also note that with the hanging pawns, Spassky also has to be very careful about losing his very weak and isolated a6 pawn. It all begins to mount for Spassky, as Fischer brilliantly exploits all the weaknesses to the full. 18.Nd4! Qf8 19.Nxe6 fxe6 20.e4 Timing is everything. Fischer annoyingly continues to chip away at Spassky's pawn center, never giving him a chance to organise his pieces to get into the game. 20...d4? Ultimately the move that loses the game. However, Black is in a bit of a bind: If 20...c4 21.Bg4! was awkward to defend against; and if 20...dxe4 21.Rfd1 and Black may well be a pawn up, but he will have four weak and isolated pawns that will be easy pickings for White. 21.f4! Gaining some space and preventing Black from strengthening his pawn unit with ...e5. Now Fischer demonstrates just how good his bishop is, as he ruthlessly exploits the white-square weakness in Spassky's position. 21...Qe7 22.e5! Fixing Spassky's pawns and also depriving him of squares for his knight - Fischer gives Spassky a masterclass on positional power-play. 22...Rb8 As pointed out by several after the game, Spassky's only realistic chance now of staying in the game was going for 22...Nb6!? to complicate matters. He will likely lose a pawn, but he'll have some life and the chance to create counterplay with a good knight outpost and possibly advancing his pawns. Any or all of the above had to be better than what now comes for Spassky. 23.Bc4 Kh8 24.Qh3! Suddenly switching the direction of the attack - now Fischer hones in on the very weak e6-pawn and also exploits the lack of defence for Spassky's king. The pressure becomes too much, that Spassky cracks. 24...Nf8 25.b3 a5 26.f5! (See Diagram) The speed of Fischer's attack is what is so impressive, as he effortlessly switches gear from positional squeeze to all-out attack. 26...exf5 27.Rxf5 Nh7 28.Rcf1 Qd8 29.Qg3 Re7 30.h4 Depriving the knight of an outpost on g5; this is Fischer at his very best now. 30...Rbb7 31.e6 Rbc7 32.Qe5 Now Fischer's queen comes into the heart of the attack; the end is nigh. 32...Qe8 33.a4 Rather than pushing home his advantage, Fischer calmly snuff's out any little hint of activity for Spassky by preventing ...a4 being played - and it leaves Black running out of moves to play. 33...Qd8 34.R1f2 Qe8 35.R2f3 Qd8 36.Bd3 The killer blow is going to come on the white-squares around Spassky's king, most notably d3-h7. 36...Qe8 37.Qe4 Nf6 38.Rxf6 gxf6 39.Rxf6 Kg8 Spassky is totally paralysed - however the alternative was just as bad: 39...Rh7 40.Qf4 Qe7 41.Rf8+ Kg7 42.Ra8! and Black is getting mated. 40.Bc4 Kh8 41.Qf4 1-0 A wonderful game that witnessed Spassky even standing up and applauding Fischer's play.

0 Comments November 25, 2015

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