Chess isn’t all about winning games as if proving mathematical theorems. It isn’t all about obtaining an advantage through superior preparation and then using technique to coast to victory. A big part of chess strength is craftiness in the heat of battle, and – often – saving inferior or lost games by setting the biggest possible obstacles in front of the opponent. No matter how strong a player, he can never see everything, and even the best can fall into an inferior or even lost position. Additionally, there is a chance that you may fall into a prepared line and be left with a worse – or even lost – position.
If there were no chances for the side with the disadvantage to come back, then our beloved game would be nothing but arithmetic. Chess is a battle, as Emanuel Lasker saw it; the players are human and always will be. No matter how great is your preparation with Houdini or Rybka or whatever, provided your opponent did not commit a major blunder, it will never give you more than a comfortable advantage. Then you are on your own.
This week I will show a game between Bobby Fischer and Tigran Petrosian. This game was a huge and complicated fight. The game could be called a “theoretical battle” if you will, because earlier in the tournament the same two players had played the same opening up to move thirteen. That said, it was a very toothless variation Fischer chose in which to make his stand – however, it is interesting to see how the players evaluated differently this basic position. After a couple inaccuracies, Fischer gets the worse of it. But then Petrosian begins to play badly, overestimating his position in the heat of the battle. By the time control at move forty, there are four queens on the board and Petrosian’s position is lost...
I originally was going to title this article "Petrosian's Fighting Defense", but then I realized that it didn't make sense, since Fischer spent at least the same amount of time in this game with a lost position! After the opening and early middlegame clearly went in Petrosian's favor, it appears he became quite careless, which was somewhat out of character. Winning in the same variation with black twice maybe made Petrosian a little self-satisfied, as if he was teaching his young opponent a lesson.
Whatever the reason, with a lot of help from Petrosian, Fischer managed to climb back in the game, and even obtain a won position. Then Petrosian dug in and found the only chances to hold on, with his crafty king march and the further maneuvers to create counterplay. Just when the pendulum had swung the opposite direction, the game was truncated. Most likely it would have ended in a draw anyway, after it was Fischer's turn for dour defense. I get the sense neither player was destined to win this game.