Category Archives: Bobby Fischer

The Unstoppable American: Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik

The Unstoppable American : Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik, Jan Timman, New in Chess, 17th May 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919788
The Unstoppable American : Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik, Jan Timman, New in Chess, 17th May 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919788

From the publisher:

“Initially things looked gloomy for Bobby Fischer. Because he had refused to participate in the 1969 US Championship, he had missed his chance to qualify for the 1970 Interzonal Tournament in Palma de Mallorca. Only when another American, Pal Benko, withdrew in his favour, and after the officials were willing to bend the rules, could Bobby enter the contest and begin his phenomenal run that would end with the Match of the Century in Reykjavik against World Champion Boris Spassky.

Fischer started out by sweeping the field at the 23-round Palma Interzonal to qualify for the next stage of the cycle. In the Candidates Matches he first faced Mark Taimanov, in Vancouver. Fischer trounced the Soviet ace, effectively ending Taimanov’s career. Then, a few months later in Denver, he was up against Bent Larsen, the Great Dane. Fischer annihilated him, too. The surreal score in those two matches, twice 6-0, flabbergasted chess fans all over the world. In the ensuing Candidates Final in Buenos Aires, Fischer also made short shrift of former World Champion Tigran Petrosian, beating the hyper-solid “Armenian Tiger” 6½-2½.

Altogether, Fischer had scored an incredible 36 points from 43 games against many of the world’s best players, including a streak of 19 consecutive wins. Bobby Fischer had become not just a national hero in the US, but a household name with pop-star status all over the world. Jan Timman chronicles the full story of Fischer’s sensational run and takes a fresh look at the games. The annotations are in the author’s trademark lucid style, that happy mix of colourful background information and sharp, crystal-clear explanations.”

GM Jan Timman
GM Jan Timman

Where does history start? I’ve always thought history is what happened before you were born. For those of us, like Jan Timman and myself, who learnt our chess in the 1960s, perhaps chess history is what happened before World War 2. The events of the late forties were full of names familiar to us from tournaments of our time.

This book covers Bobby Fischer’s career in the years 1970 and 1971. More like current affairs than history for our generation. We all remember it well: we were around at the time and some of us will be familiar with many of the games. But, for younger readers, Fischer’s games from half a century ago will be ancient history. If we turn the clock back another five decades we reach 1921 and the Lasker – Capablanca World Championship match. Now that really does feel like ancient history, even to me.

Fifty years on, it seems like a good time to revisit the games with the aid of today’s powerful engines and greater knowledge. Jan Timman is ideally qualified to do just that.

Readers of Timman’s other recent books will know what to expect: clear annotations based on explanations rather than variations, along with entertaining anecdotes and background colour to put the games into context.

We have all 43 games (44 if you include a win by default) from the 1970 Interzonal and 1971 candidates matches, along with a selection of 19 games from earlier in 1970.

After withdrawing from the 1967 Interzonal, Fischer played in two relatively minor tournaments the following year, and, in 1969, played only one serious game, in a New York league match. The chess world was uncertain whether or not he’d ever play again, let alone fulfil what appeared to be his destiny and become world champion. Exciting, but also worrying times.

After an 18 month absence, Bobby agreed to take part in the 1970 match between the USSR and the Rest of the World, even ceding top board to Larsen. Chapter 1 takes us from this event, via Rovinj/Zagreb, the Herceg Novi blitz and Buenos Aires, to the Siegen Olympiad.

In round 7 of Rovinj-Zagreb, Fischer was black against one of the tournament’s lesser lights, the Romanian master Ghitescu.

Timman informs us: It has never been brought up before, but Fischer was demonstrably lost in this game, after having taken too much risk.

Here’s the critical position with Ghitescu to play his 23rd move. Where would you move your rook?

The exchange sacrifice 23. Rf4! would have been very strong. Black cannot accept the sacrifice, because he would have been strategically losing. Also after 23… Rg8 24. Re4 Rae8 25. Rf1, White is winning.

I may be wrong but I would have thought Rf4 would be automatic for master strength players today. Wouldn’t it also have been automatic for, say, Petrosian, back in 1970?

Instead, the game continued 23. Rd3 Rad8 24. Ng3 (24. b3 would have maintained the advantage) 24… Ba6, when Fischer took control of the game, eventually bringing home the full point. If he’d lost that game, perhaps chess history would have been very different.

Here’s the complete game.

The strategic insights Timman brings to positions like this are, for me, what makes this book so instructive. Here’s another example: Gligoric – Fischer from Siegen, with Gligoric to make his 39th move.

It’s not dissimilar to the previous example, and indeed both positions arose from King’s Indian Defences. Here, a white knight is fighting against a dark-squared bishop outside the pawn chain.

White could have obtained a winning position with 39. Nb1!. The strategic plan is simple: White is going to bring his knight to c4 and install his king on g4. Black has nothing to offer in exchange; his doubled c-pawn will be blocked, and his pieces are barely able to display any activity.

Again, the complete game:

Chapter 2 covers the 1970 Interzonal at Palma, Mallorca. You won’t find very many brilliant miniatures in this book, but Fischer’s win against Rubinetti is an exception.

Chapters 3-5 offer Fischer’s 6-0 shutouts against Taimanov and Larsen, and the final match against former champion Tigran Petrosian.

This position interested me. Any well-read player from my generation will recognise this as coming from the 7th Fischer – Petrosian game, where Bobby played 22. Nxd7+, a move garlanded with various numbers of exclamation marks by many commentators both at the time and later.

Here’s what Timman has to say.

The praise with which this move has been showered is unbelievable. Byrne commented: ‘This exchange, which wins the game, was completely overlooked by the press room group of grandmaster analysis. Najdorf, in fact, criticized it(!), suggesting the incomparably weaker 22. a4.’

Kasparov, too, was full of praise. ‘A brilliant decision, masterfully transforming one advantage into another (…) Petrosian was obviously hoping for the “obvious” 22. a4 Bc6 23. Rc1 Nd7 24. Nxd7+ Bxd7 with possibilities of a defence.

In Chess Informant 12, Petrosian himself and Suetin give two ‘!’s to the text move.

True, not all commentators were so pronounced in their praise. Spassky and Polugaevsky limited themselves to the conclusion that White exchanged one advantage for another and didn’t give an ‘!’ to the move.

However, the general drift was that Fischer had done something highly instructive, adding a new facet to strategic thinking in chess. I was very impressed at the time, but I also had doubts. There were no computers yet, and young players looked to the great players on the world stage as their examples. So, Fischer must have understood it better than I did.

Yet, I am almost certain that in this position, or a similar one, I would have opted for Najdorf’s move. And almost half a century after the event, it turned out that the Argentinian had simply been right!

Timman goes on to demonstrate that, indeed, 22. a4 is clearly winning, whereas Fischer’s 22. Nxd7+ Rxd7 23. Rc1 would have given Petrosian defensive chances if he’d chosen 23… d4 rather than the passive Rd6.

See for yourself:

What comes across from this book is the remorseless power and logic of Fischer’s play in this period, as well as his determination to play for a win in every game. Short draws were never on his agenda.

In the past, there was a tendency to annotate by result or reputation, and this seems to have been what happened here. These days, we can all switch on Stockfish and annotate by computer, while neglecting the human, the practical element.

Timman’s annotations, both here and in his previous books, strike me as getting the balance just about right. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather have verbal explanations than long engine-generated variations.

Older readers will enjoy reliving memories of the golden days of the Fischer era, while younger readers will learn a lot of chess history. Players of all levels will benefit from the annotations, which, because of their lucidity, are accessible to anyone from, say, 1500 upwards.

The many anecdotes add much to the book, although serious historians might feel frustrated that they’re not always sourced. There are also several pages of photographs: while their quality, as they’re printed on matt paper, isn’t perfect, they’re still more than welcome.

There are a few typos and mistakes regarding match scores and tournament crosstables which more careful proofing might have picked up, and the English, in one or two places (you may have noticed this from the extracts I quoted), might have been more idiomatic. Slightly annoying, perhaps,  but this won’t really impede your enjoyment of the book.

In spite of these slight reservations, this is an excellent book which is warmly recommended for players of all strengths. Next year will see the 50th anniversary of Fischer – Spassky. Might we hope that Timman will cover this match in a future volume?

One last thought: I wrote at the beginning of this review about how people of different ages have different perspectives of history. If Capablanca and Alekhine had been granted long lives, they would have lived to see these games. What would they have made of them? What would they have made of Bobby Fischer?

Richard James, Twickenham 10th August 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: New In chess (17 May 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919784
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919788
  • Product Dimensions: ‎ 17.27 x 2.54 x 23.62 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

The Unstoppable American : Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik, Jan Timman, New in Chess, 17th May 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919788
The Unstoppable American : Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik, Jan Timman, New in Chess, 17th May 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919788
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Bobby Fischer Rediscovered : Revised and Updated Edition

Bobby Fischer Rediscovered: Revised and Updated Edition, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
Bobby Fischer Rediscovered: Revised and Updated Edition, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020

“International Grandmaster Andrew Soltis is chess correspondent for the New York Post and a very popular chess writer. He is the author of many books including What it Takes to Become a Chess Master, Studying Chess Made Easy and David vs Goliath Chess.”

GM Andrew Soltis
GM Andrew Soltis

From the Batsford web site :

“Nearly 30 years since his last chess game, Bobby Fischer’s fame continues to grow. Appearing in Hollywood movies, documentaries and best-selling books, his life and career are as fascinating as they ever were and his games continue to generate discussion. Indeed, with each new generation of computer, stunning discoveries are made about moves that have been debated by grandmasters for decades.

International Grandmaster Andrew Soltis played Fischer and also reported, as a journalist, on the American’s legendary career. He is the author of many books, including Pawn Structure Chess, 365 Chess Master Lessons and What it Takes to Become a Chess Master.”

 

 

No chess library is complete without a copy of Bobby Fischer’s My  60 Memorable Games. If you’re interested in Fischer, and you certainly should be, you’ll also want a games collection looking at the whole of his career through 21st century eyes.

There are several to choose from and, I guess, you’d find a comparative review useful, but I’m not in a position to do that. All I can do at the moment is comment on the book in front of me.

This is a new edition of a book first published in 2003. I don’t have the original to hand to make a comparison. Seven games have been added, making a total of 107: mostly Fischer wins but a few draws are also included.

Here’s Soltis, from his Author’s Note:

Thirty years later (in 2002), I looked at Fischer’s games for the first time since they were played. What struck me is that they fell into two categories. Some were, in fact, overrated. But many more were underrated – if known at all. And his originality, so striking at the time, had been lost with time. It seemed to me Fischer deserved an entirely new look.

Soltis identifies several recurring themes in Fischer’s games. By emphasizing these themes in his annotations he provides instructive lessons for his readers.

“To get squares you gotta give squares”, as Fischer himself said.

Ugly moves aren’t bad.

Material matters. Soltis adds here that Fischer was a materialist: most of his great sacrificial games were played before he was 21.

Technique has many faces. Fischer was equally good at both obtaining and realizing an advantage – two different skills – often by converting one type of advantage to another.

Soltis concludes his note as follows:

Since the first edition of this book, Fischer’s games have been re-analyzed by many others, including Garry Kasparov, with the help of computers. Everyone finds something new – hidden resources, nuances and errors in earlier annotations. This is almost certain to go on with each new generation of stronger analytic engines. I have made extensive revisions since I tackled these games in 2003. But I suspect Fischer’s moves, like his life, will remain a source of fascination – if not mystery – well into this century.

One of the big plusses of this book is that the author was there at the time: he knew Fischer and all his contemporaries. Each game is preceded by a brief introduction putting it in context, often with the inclusion of a timely anecdote revealing an aspect of Fischer’s complex and contradictory personality.

If you’re familiar with Soltis’s style of annotation you’ll know what to expect: detailed annotations, using words to tell a story and only including variations where necessary: no reams of unexplained computer-generated analysis here.

Have a look at how Soltis deals with a game you might not have seen before: the lightweight encounter Fischer – Naranja, played in the Philippines in 1967. (MegaBase thinks this is from a simul, whereas Soltis describes it as one of a series of clocked games.) Note that these are just the more pertinent of his annotations.

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nge2 e5

The principled reply, as the Russians would say. It was unfairly criticized at the time for surrendering d5.

4. Nd5 Nf6 5. Nec3 Be7 6. Bc4 O-O 7. d3 h6?

Black wanted to avoid 8. Nxe7+ and 9. Bg5 but this puts his king on the endangered species list. Today’s grandmasters get close to equality with 7… Nxd5 8. Bxd5 d6 and a trade of bishops after Bg5.

8. f4! d6?

Black must exchange on f4.

9. f5!

This strategically decides the game. White stops …Be6 and sets the stage for a decisive advance of the g-pawn.

9… b6

It was too late for 9… Nxd5 10. Nxd5 Bg5 because 11. Qh5! Bxc1 12. Rxc1 threatens 13. f6 with a quick mate. … But Black should at least eliminate the bishop with 9… Na5.

10. h4!

A striking move which prepares g4-g5, with or without Nxe7+ and Qh5. The key variation is 10… Nxd5 11. Bxd5! Bxh4+ and now 12. g3! Bxg3+ 13. Kf1, à la King’s Gambit, gives an overwhelming attack. 

10… Bb7 11. a3!

Another exact move, preserving the bishop against 11… Na5 and stopping … Nb4. The significance of this is shown by 11. Nxf6+ Bxf6 12. Qh5? when Black has 12… Nb4! with good chances, e.g. 13. Bb3 d5 14. g4 c4!.  

11… Rc8 12. Nxf6+! Bxf6 13. Qh5

13… Ne7

Black had to do something about 14. g4 and 15. g5, and this enables him to shoot back with 14. g4 d5.

14. Bg5!

Another terrific move, threatening Bxf6. Of course, 14… hxg5 15. hxg5 is taboo because of mate on the h-file.

14… d5 15. Bxf6 dxc4 16. Qg4 g6 17. dxc4!

There must have been a huge temptation to try to finish the game off in style – particularly after White saw 17. Qg5 hxg5?? 18. hxg5 and Rh8#…. But again … Nxf5 bursts the bubble: 17. Qg5? Nxf5! and now 18. Bxd8 hxg5 19. Bxg5 Nd4 is a roughly equal ending, or 18. exf5 hxg5 19. hxg5 Qxf6.

17… Qd6

This acknowledges defeat but 17… Kh7 would have breathed life into 18. Qg5!!:

(a) 18… Re8 19. h5! hxg5 20. hxg6+ and Rh8#

(b) 18… Rc6 19. h5! (the fastest) Nxf5 20. hxg6+ Kg8 21. Nd5! and

(c) 18… Ng8 19. Bxd8 hxg5 20. hxg5+ Kg7 21. f6+ and mates

18. Bxe7!

Black’s last move was designed to meet 18. Qg5 with 18… hxg5 19. hxg5 Qxf6!. So Fischer decides to cash in.

18… Qxe7 19. fxg6 fxg6 20. Qxg6+ Qg7 21. Qxg7+ Kxg7 22. Rd1 Rcd8 23. Rxd8 Rxd8 24. Nd5 b5 25. cxb5 Bxd5 26. exd5 c4 27. a4 Rxd5 28. Ke2 Rd4 29. Rd1 Re4+ 30. Kf3 Rf4+ 31. Ke3 c3 32. b3 1-0

Nice tactics, to be sure, but Fischer was winning from move 9, and, so Stockfish 13 tells me, had many other ways to bring home the point. Was it really one of his greatest games, then? Or is this not the point of the book?

The third, tenth and thirteenth games from the 1972 Fischer – Spassky match are included, but not, to my surprise, the sixth, one of my favourite Fischer games. Most of the old favourites, though, are included, but all except his most devoted fans will find a few unfamiliar games.

As you would expect, this is a solid book which serves its purpose well. If you want the best of Bobby on your bookshelves you’re unlikely to be disappointed, but you might perhaps prefer to consider his games from a 2020 rather than an updated 2000 perspective. You’ll probably want to look around and decide which of several on the market best suits your requirements.

My main problem is a lack of references: although sources are sometimes given, all too often we read that ‘Botvinnik wrote’ or ‘Boleslavsky said’ without being told where. There are several blank pages at the end of the book which might usefully have been filled by a bibliography.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book, which gave me a new insight into Fischer’s games, along with some valuable background information.

Richard James, Twickenham 8th March 2021

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Batsford Ltd; 2nd revised edition (5th March 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:184994606X
  • ISBN-13:978-1849946063
  • Product Dimensions: 15.57 x 2.29 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Batsford

Bobby Fischer Rediscovered: Revised and Updated Edition, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
Bobby Fischer Rediscovered: Revised and Updated Edition, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
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Happy Birthday IM James Sherwin (25-x-1933)

IM James Terry Sherwin, image by John Upham Photography
IM James Terry Sherwin, image by John Upham Photography

We send best wishes to IM James Sherwin, a welcome long term visitor from “over the pond”

James Terry Sherwin was born on Wednesday, October 25th 1933 in New York. and attended The University of Columbia.

The Columbia College chess team of 1949–1952 after a radio match with Yale. Right to left: James Sherwin, Eliot Hearst, Carl Burger, Francis Mechner (Courtesy of the Columbia University Archives).
The Columbia College chess team of 1949–1952 after a radio match with Yale. Right to left: James Sherwin, Eliot Hearst, Carl Burger, Francis Mechner (Courtesy of the Columbia University Archives).

He became an International Master in 1958 at the age of 25 and, according to Felice, his peak FIDE rating was 2400 in 1969.

IM James Sherwin, Photograph copyright © 2001 Helen Milligan of New Zealand Chess
IM James Sherwin, Photograph copyright © 2001 Helen Milligan of New Zealand Chess

Much to his chagrin (we recommend you do not ask him about this!) James is famous for the “Sherwin slid the rook here with his pinky, as if to emphasize the cunning of this mysterious move” annotation in Game 1, “Too Little, Too Late” of My Sixty Memorable Games by Robert James Fischer (and game introductions by Larry Evans).

Since 1999 James has been a frequent entrant to English Rapidplay tournaments at Richmond and Golders Green and, in August 2019 in Torquay, aged 86, tied for first place in the Rapidplay event at the British Championships.

IM James Sherwin
IM James Sherwin

James is registered with the Wiltshire County Chess Association and since 2015 has played only rapidplay games rated by the ECF. He currently has a rating of 204D.

With the white pieces James plays 1.d4, 1.Nf3 and 1.e4 in that order of preference.

As the second player he essays the Sicilian Najdorf and the Grünfeld Defence.

He has plus scores against Donald Byrne, Robert Byrne, Herbert Seidman, Sidney Bernstein, George Kramer and Raymond Weinstein (amongst others). His score with Fischer was 1.5/8 (but don’t mention it!).

Here is his win over Bobby from 1957:

 

Here is an article by Hamish Olson

From Chessgames.com :

“James Terry Sherwin, born in New York, became an International Master in 1958. In 1961, he was Chairman of the USCF Rules Committee. He was the Executive Vice President of GAF Corporation who was the American Chess Foundation (ACF) President from 1979 to 1990. He took 5th place in the 1953 World Junior Championship. He tied for 1st place with Alexander Kevitz in the 1954-55 Manhattan Chess club championship. He took 17th place in the Portoroz Interzonal (1958). Sherwin finished in 3rd place twice in US chess championships (1957-58 and 1958-59). He won the first Eastern Open Chess Championship, held in Washington DC, in 1960.”

Here is an article featuring JTS from The Wiltshire Times

Mr Sherwin, 80, met and played against the new members of Bradford & Avon Valley Youth Chess Club on their opening night at St Nicholas Hall on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of The Wiltshire Times
Mr Sherwin, 80, met and played against the new members of Bradford & Avon Valley Youth Chess Club on their opening night at St Nicholas Hall on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of The Wiltshire Times

From Wikipedia :

“James Terry Sherwin (born October 25, 1933)[1] is an American corporate executive and International Master in chess.

Born in New York City[1] in 1933, Sherwin attended Stuyvesant High School, Columbia College (Phi Beta Kappa) and Columbia Law School. He graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Officer Candidate School in 1956 and later became a Lieutenant Commander. He is an attorney admitted to the New York and Supreme Court Bars. He joined GAF Corporation in 1960 serving in various legal and operational roles and eventually becoming its Chief Financial Officer. He was CFO at Triangle Industries from 1983 to 1984, rejoining GAF Corporation as Vice Chairman from 1985 to 1990.

IM James T Sherwin
IM James T Sherwin

While at GAF, in 1988, he was indicted by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, for stock manipulation in connection with the 1986 sale of stock owned by GAF.[2] He was convicted after three trials, but the conviction was reversed on appeal[3] and dismissed with prejudice.[4] In 1991 he was appointed Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Hunter Douglas N.V., a Dutch multinational company, in which capacity he served until 1999. Since then he has been a Director and an adviser to Hunter Douglas.

IM James T Sherwin
IM James T Sherwin

He is an Overseer of the International Rescue Committee and member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. He received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Bath in December, 2007.”

“In chess, Sherwin finished third and tied for third in the US Chess Championship four times and tied for fourth three times.[5] He was Intercollegiate Champion and New York State Champion in 1951 and US Speed Champion in 1956–57 and 1959–60. He earned the International Master title in 1958.[1] He played in the Portorož Interzonal in 1958, which was part of the 1960 World Championship cycle. While he finished only 17th out of 21 players, he scored (+2–2=2) against the six players who qualified from the tournament to the Candidates tournament at Bled 1959. He is a previous President of the American Chess Foundation.

Sherwin resides with his wife, Hiroko, near Bath, United Kingdom.”

James Sherwin, middle row, third from right
James Sherwin, middle row, third from right
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