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09 Mar

Remembering Fischer

“When you break his ego, is where it’s at,” once ruthlessly said Robert J. “Bobby” Fischer (1943-2008), the most brilliant and controversial player the world has ever known, who was born on this day at 2.39pm Central Time 73 years ago in a hospital - not in Brooklyn, as many wrongly believe to be the case, where his family moved to when he was 6 - on the banks of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois.

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Firebrand Fischer became the rock star of the cerebral game of chess in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was the prodigy from Brooklyn who loved mouthing off brash pronouncements - such as his opening quote, taken from his 1971 interview on The Dick Cavett Show, not long after he beat Tigran Petrosian in the Candidates Match Final to become the official challenger for the world crown - which made for great headlines across the world in the popular press.

Like a self-obsessed rocker, he would also make all kinds of outrageous and cantankerous demands before he would play - but the irony of his demands wasn’t lost on many of his fellow players of that era, as Fischer was the one who guaranteed better playing conditions in major tournaments, and was responsible for dramatically increasing the prize money in chess and making the game more professional.

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In 1972, Fischer took it on himself to topple the Soviet Union’s almost 25-year dominance in the game when he went up against world champion Boris Spassky for the title in Reykjavik.  And Fischer’s lone wolf rise through the ranks to the ultimate title and his spiralling despair into madness was the subject of the 2015 Hollywood biopic Pawn Sacrificestarring Tobey Maguire as Fischer, which recently was released on DVD and later this month will be available on Redbox and streaming on Netflix.

And with the 2016 Candidates Tournament opening ceremony being held tomorrow in Moscow’s digital hub, the historic Central Telegraph building, among the eight-players vying to become Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger is the U.S. No. 1 and 2 respectively, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura, both tipped to become the first American to challenge for the world title since Fischer.

And as we remember Fischer on the anniversary of his birth 73 years ago, today’s game had a deep impact on me as a kid, when I first read Fischer's famous tome My 60 Memorable Games. Even to this day, Fischer’s brilliant concept of 19.Rf6!! still amazes me.

Robert J. Fischer - Pal Benko
U.S. Championship, 1963/64
Pirc Defence, Austrian Attack
1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.f4 Nf6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Bd3 By the early Sixties, Fischer had started to 'flesh out' his aggressive opening repertoire with White, and the Austrian Attack became his favourite against the Pirc Defence. 6...Bg4 Nowadays, best for Black here is the alternatives of 6...Nc6 or 6...Na6. 7.h3 Bxf3 8.Qxf3 Nc6 9.Be3 e5 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.f5! Fischer isn't interested in opening the f-file, but is using 11.f5 as a means of a direct assault on the Benko's king with g4-g5 or opening up possibilities later of a Bg5 and a pin on the f6 knight. Either way, Fischer's intentions are very clear. 11...gxf5 12.Qxf5! There now comes three subtle queen moves from Fischer, that not just prevents Benko from playing the freeing ...f5, but allows a beautiful and stealthy manoeuvre that leads to the sting in the tail of an unexpected lethal blow that ends the game quickly.  And instead, if 12.exf5 e4! 13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.Bxe4 Re8 and Benko has adequate compensation with his open lines down the e-file. 12...Nd4 13.Qf2 Ne8 Benko is alert to Fischer having a good game with threats of 0-0 and Bg5 to pin and win the knight on f6. 14.0-0 Nd6 15.Qg3 Kh8 16.Qg4! c6 17.Qh5 Qe8 18.Bxd4 exd4 19.Rf6!! (See Diagram) Fischer's devastating blow of 19.Rf6!! is a zwischenzug which is intended to improve on the more direct and impatient 19.e5 we'd all be looking to play here. But after 19.e5 Black can play 19...f5! which is what Benko intended and would have saved his skin. But with one lethal blow of 19.Rf6!! it delays Black's...f5 by two moves at the cost of a tempo and a rook, which proves fatal for Benko's king. 19…Kg8 On 19...Bxf6 20.e5! and now Black lacks a vital tempo to play both 20...Bg7 and 21...f5 before Fischer mates him with 21.Qh7. 20.e5! h6 21.Ne2! Now Fischer just casually moves his knight from being attacked which leaves Benko with a hopelessly lost game, as now there's the big threat of Rxd6 winning the knight, and if it moves, there comes Qf5 with a mate on h7. Quite a brilliant attack. 1-0

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