Category Archives: 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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Remembering Jim Slater (13-iii-1929 18-xi-2015)

James Derrick Slater (13-iii-1929, 18-xi-2015)
James Derrick Slater (13-iii-1929, 18-xi-2015)

BCN remembers Jim Slater (13-iii-1929 18-xi-2015)

James Derrick Slater was born on Wednesday, March 13th, 1929. On the same day “Leon Trotsky gave his first interview to the foreign press in his apartment in Turkey, saying he was writing a book tracing the history of his opposition to Joseph Stalin and expressing a desire to go to Germany because he preferred the care of German physicians.”

He was born in Heswall, Cheshire (Wirral, Merseyside was the registration district) to Hubert Slater and Jessica Alexandra Barton.

He arrived (aged 31) in Southampton on board the Pretoria Castle as a first class passenger whilst resident in 16, Stafford Terrace, Kensington and his occupation was given as Company Director.

He died on 18th November 2015 in Cranleigh, Surrey aged 86. He had four children one of which is Mark Slater.

James Slater, Chairman Slater Walker Securities plcDirector, British Leyland. (Photo by Photoshot/Getty Images)
James Slater, Chairman Slater Walker Securities plcDirector, British Leyland. (Photo by Photoshot/Getty Images)

Jim wrote his chess autobiography as follows :

(This text was retrieved using the Wayback machine via https://web.archive.org/web/20110909053137/http://www.jimslater.org.uk/views/chess/)

“As a boy Jim Slater enjoyed playing Monopoly and draughts but his main indoor hobby was chess. He stopped playing chess after leaving school as he found it took too much time and concentration while studying for accountancy.

It was not until a colleague asked Jim to teach him to improve his game in the late 1960s that his interest in chess was rekindled. For a short while Jim joined a London chess club (Richard James reveals that this is West London Chess Club as mentioned in their internal magazine) but found he preferred correspondence chess which he could play much more conveniently when he returned home in the evening. Jim did quite well in his correspondence club, going up a few grades, until he reached a level at which it became hard work.

Jim had maintained a link with Leonard Barden, who was a British Champion and a chess correspondent. With his help Jim began subsidising the annual Hastings Tournament with a view to expanding it so that leading players would have a chance to qualify as international masters. Other countries would not invite British players to play in their tournaments until they became international masters so they were in an impossible situation. The small amount of help Jim was able to give to Hastings was arranged in a very low-key way and attracted very little publicity. The World Chess Championship would prove to be a very different proposition.

British accountant, investor and business writer Jim Slater (1929 - 2015) signing documents at a desk, UK, 11th May 1965. (Photo by Reg Burkett/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
British accountant, investor and business writer Jim Slater (1929 – 2015) signing documents at a desk, UK, 11th May 1965. (Photo by Reg Burkett/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

For the previous two decades the Russians had dominated world chess and then the West produced two exceptional players – Bobby Fischer of the USA and Bent Larsen of Denmark. In particular, Fischer had fantastic potential but he was handicapped by being extremely temperamental.

In the final rounds of the World Chess Championship the players were playing the best of ten games. In the quarter finals Fischer won six games to nil. In the semi-final Fischer was paired with Larsen and also beat him six games to nil. This had never happened before in world chess, and for the first time it looked as if the Russians were going to get a run for their money.

Personalities, Crime, pic: 3rd December 1976, Financier Jim Slater arriving at London's Mansion House Police Court to face fraud charges involving more than 4,000,000 (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)
Personalities, Crime, pic: 3rd December 1976, Financier Jim Slater arriving at London’s Mansion House Police Court to face fraud charges involving more than 4,000,000 (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

In the last qualifier Fischer came up against Petrosian, a brilliant defensive player. Fischer won the first game but lost the second. The next three games were drawn. It was said by some that Fischer had a bad cold and everyone wondered if he could regain his earlier momentum. After this relapse he won the next four games. This made Fischer challenger to Spassky. Spassky too was a brilliant attacking player and had been a chess genius since early childhood, so it promised to be an exceptional match.

While preparations were being made for the World Championship in Iceland, Fischer started to complain about the prize money which he thought should be doubled.
‘I was driving into London early one Monday morning in mid-July feeling disappointed that after all this build-up Fischer might not be taking on Spassky, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could easily afford the extra prize money personally. As well as providing me with a fascinating spectacle for the next few weeks it would give chess players throughout the world enormous pleasure for the match to proceed.’

Jim Slater

From The Complete Chess Addict (Faber&Faber, 1987) , Mike Fox & Richard James:

“Jim Slater, the financier and children’s author, was a strong schoolboy player. He gave up chess for finance. This turned out a very good thing for chess, since he was able to tempt Bobby Fischer (with a £50,000 increase in stake-money) into playing Boris Spassky for the world title in 1972. Here’s what the young Slater was capable of:”

Bobby Fischer Goes to War, Faber&Faber, 2004
Bobby Fischer Goes to War, Faber&Faber, 2004

From Bobby Fischer Goes to War , David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Faber & Faber,  2004 we have a fuller account as follows :

“Driving to work in London early on Monday morning, 3 July, Jim Slater was upset by a radio report on the challenger’s non-appearance in Reykjavik. Slater was a businessman who had set up his own company, Slater Walker Securities, in 1964, when he was in his mid-thirties. His partner, Peter Walker, had left the business to become a Conservative member of parliament and a government minister under Edward Heath and,later, Margaret Thatcher. At the time of the Fischer-Spassky match, the company reportedly had a controlling interest in 250 companies around the world. Supremely confident, decisive, ruthless in business, Slater had by then amassed a fortune of, in his own words,’£6 million and rising’. A gambler by nature, the one big luxury he allowed himself was to play bridge for thousands of pounds with stronger opponents.

He was also a chess fan and supporter of the game, subsidizing the annual Hastings tournament. In the years following Fischer-Spassky, he would, alongside the former British champion and journalist Leonard Barden (who provided the vision and organization), transform the state of British chess by channelling funds into junior competition. Now he decided that he could easily afford the money to send Fischer to Reykjavik – or expose the American as a coward. He would double the prize, putting an additional £50,000 ($125,000) into the pot. Arriving at his office that Monday morning, he passed on his offer through Barden, who then spoke to Marshall, giving the US attorney some background details about this championship angel. Marshall then talked to Fischer. Slater says he also telephoned his friend David Frost, who in turn rang his friend Henry Kissinger’ Kissinger then contacted Fischer. What motivated Slater?’As well as providing me with a fascinating spectacle for the next few weeks, I could give chess players throughout the world enormous pleasure’

Slater’s offer made headlines in London’s Evening Standard and his house was soon swarming with reporters. When he returned from work, he told his astonished wife,’I had a good idea on the way to the office.’The good idea was couched in challenging terms: ‘If he isn’t afraid of Spassky, then I have removed the element of money’

Here is the famous headline from the July 3rd, 1972, London edition of the Evening Standard retrieved from Edward  Wintershttps://chesshistory.com/winter/extra/spasskyfischer.html

London Edition of the Evening Standard, July 3rd, 1972. Retrieved from https://chesshistory.com/winter/extra/spasskyfischer.html
London Edition of the Evening Standard, July 3rd, 1972. Retrieved from https://chesshistory.com/winter/extra/spasskyfischer.html

It is not altogether clear how the British offer finally persuaded Fischer. Paul Marshall certainly had a hand, initially pushing it as the answer to all Fischer’s financial demands.’But he wouldn’t accept it; he says.’His experiences with people promising things had taught him not to believe them, particularly with money. And he wanted proof. And he said no.’Marshall tried to change his mind. Phoning Barden, the attorney took his place in the gallery of callers that saved the match.’I said if I were them I would rephrase the offer. Slater should say he didn’t think his money was at risk, because Fischer was just making excuses. He should say that deep down Fischer was frightened. I said Bobby might be piqued by that challenge – and he was. I knew Bobby was very very competitive and combative and would not like to be thought of as a chicken.’ Slater denies this version of events. He maintains it was always his idea to express his offer as a taunt. He never spoke to Fischer and never received a word of gratitude from him.’Fischer is known to be rude, graceless, possibly insane,’he says.’I didn’t do it to be thanked. I did it because it would be good for chess.'”

The match between Fischer and Spassky was a most exciting one and fully up to everyone’s expectations. Fischer won the match.

A few months later, in an endeavour to help our young players, Jim Slater offered on behalf of The Slater Foundation to give a prize of £5,000 (about £75,000 in today’s money) to the first British grand master and £2,500 to the next four. Over the next few years Great Britain went from having no grand masters to twenty and became one of the strongest teams of young chess players in the world.”

Here is an obituary written by Stewart Reuben

and here is an obituary from Liberal England

Here is an item from the Slater Foundation

and here is his entry from chessgames.com which lists one game from 1947 : “James Derrick Slater, better known as Jim Slater, was an English accountant, investor and business writer. Slater became a well-known chess patron in the 1970s, when he stepped in to double the prize fund of the Fischer-Spassky world championship match at a time when Fischer was threatening not to play, thereby enabling the match to go forward. Afterwards he provided significant financial backing for the development of young British players, many of whom later contributed to Britain becoming one of the world’s strongest chess countries in the 1980s.”

From The Oxford Companion to Chess (OUP, 1984) by Hooper and Whyld :

“British chess patron, financier, children’s author, Slater achieved wide fame in the chess world on the occasion of the Spassky-Fischer world championship match of 1972. Fischer showed reluctance to play and apparently decided to do so when Slater added £50,000 to the prize fund. Slater has also made contributions to many other chess causes and in 1973 set-up the Slater Foundation, a charitable trust which, among other activities, pays for the coaching of young players and provides help for their families if needed. Leonard Barden advises the trust on chess matters. In the 1970s, partly owing to this patronage, junior players in Britain became as strong as those in any other country.”

From The Encyclopedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977) by Harry Golombek:

“An English financier, a great patron and benefactor of chess, both on a national and world level. Passionately devoted to chess from schooldays. He said that on leaving school he hesitated between the alternatives of become a chess master and of going into business, opting for the latter on the grounds that he was not sure of his chess-playing prowess.

It is perhaps a fortunate thing for chess that he did not become a chess-master, since he offer of a £50,000 increase to the stake at the match at Reykjavik in Iceland in 1972 may well have swayed Fischer into consenting to play. He established a Slater Foundation Fund which helps young English players to go and play abroad.”

Here is his Wikipedia entry

Here is a small item from Dennis Monokroussos

The Zulu Principle, Jim Slater
The Zulu Principle, Jim Slater
Investment Made Easy, Jim Slater
Investment Made Easy, Jim Slater
Return to Go, Jim Slater
Return to Go, Jim Slater
The Tricky Troggle, James and Christopher Slater
The Tricky Troggle, James and Christopher Slater
The Great Gulper, James and Christopher Slater
The Great Gulper, James and Christopher Slater
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