Aleksei Suetin analyzes Bobby Fischer's games prior to the Spassky match. Part 1 - Openings

Aleksei Suetin analyzes Bobby Fischer's games prior to the Spassky match. Part 1 - Openings

Mar 8, 2019, 1:02 AM |

Continued from Suetin's afterword for My 60 Memorable Games.


Main repertoire

Fischer scores a roughly equal amount of points both by Black and White. The reason is that his opening repertoire for Black is very carfeully prepared, very active and is best-suited for playing for a win until the last practical chance.

Fischer's opening strategy is very "colour-dependent". With White, he plays in a very strict and classical way; on the other hand, with Black (and we'll begin our review with his Black repertoire), he's striving for a tactical, sharp game.

However, there are some strange contradictions. Fischer plays many variants with classical simplicity. For instance, in the English, 1.c4, he usually plays the symmetrical system with 1... c5. But in reply to 1. e4 or 1. d4, Fischer plays either Sicilian or Modern Benoni (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6), where, unlike the English, Black are trying to avoid symmetry at all costs. The thing here, I think, is that Fischer is just used to the Symmetrical English - even in chess, habits are like second nature. Or else, we'd have to speculate that 1... c5 is Fischer's favourite move for Black in general!

Here's an example of classical approach: Fischer's opening against Petrosian in the last round of the Match of the Century. In a popular variant of the Gruenfeld, Fischer used a new (for this variant), but classical in essence method of equalizing.

Still, as Black, Fischer is often trying to drag White into a sharp game. And there, his peculiar manner of risk taking shines through. Fischer rarely takes tactical risks, but strategically, especially with Black, he often takes very serious risks, believing in his strength and home preparation. Practice shows that it's very hard to punish him for this risk, and it's impossible not to take it.

Let's look at Fischer's favourite Sicilian Najdorf variant: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4. Fischer studied this system extensively and finds more and more resources in it. Here are some examples of his latest analyses.

Fischer slowly, but surely expands his opening repertoire. He's been using the Alekhine against 1. e4 lately. At the finish of the Interzonal, Fischer used it almost constantly (against Minic, Üitümen and Suttles), getting good results.

Against 1. d4, Fischer usually employs three openings: King's Indian, Modern Benoni or Gruenfeld.

Lately, he seems to have been working on a sharp variant of the King's Indian: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. O-O Nc6 8. d5 Ne7, which occurred three times in his games against Taimanov and Larsen.

In the Taimanov games, Fischer didn't exactly have a good position after the opening. But this didn't stop him from playing middlegames in style and outplay his opponent in a difficult struggle. It seems that in the home analysis of such structures, he pays less attention to opening peculiarities, focusing more on the middlegame, where he really showed his strength.

You could think that theoretical difficulties in the Taimanov match would cool down Fischer's interest towards this system or, at least, make him more wary. Nothing of the sort! Fischer is pretty consistent in his opening tastes, so he used this system against Larsen as soon as the opportunity arose.

The Gruenfeld defence is a rarer guest in Fischer's repertoire. The most principial in the last period, of course, was the game against Spassky (Siegen 1970), but we'll get back to it later.

We have already looked at another important game, against Petrosian. Fischer's play there was very classical, he easily equalized, but in a game against Taimanov (5th game of the match), he took a very serious strategical risk - probably out of psychological considerations.

Of course, one of Fischer's most beloved openings is Modern Benoni. However, Fischer tries not to overuse it and plays it only when he has a solid points advantage.

Two examples from the Palma de Mallorca 1970 Interzonal are very telling.

So, in Fischer's Black repertoire, there are almost no classical structures, he prefers taking serious strategical risks. This is explained by his desire to win: you just can't play to win with Black without taking strategical risks. Of course, such tactics require great mental strain, and so they are the privilege of young players. We can't exclude the possibility of Fischer turning to more classical approach some years later.

With White, Fischer almost always plays the openings very strictly, in positional "tones", even though he is always ready to run straight into a fierce tactical battle. However, even there, he has a couple of double-edged systems up his sleeve. For instance, he'd liked the Sozin attack in Sicilian ever since his youth, and he tends to play early f2-f4 and g2-g4 in the Pirc.

Fischer almost always plays 1. e4 with White. He has 2-3 systems to use against the most frequent replies, 1... e5 and 1... c5.

In addition to fashionable systems, Fischer readily employs unfashionable or even forgotten ones. However, all these systems are positionally solid, and his interpretation is usually very modern. In the Ruy Lopez, for instance, in addition to the main line, he tends to use Adolf Anderssen's old line, 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. O-O, giving it a modern twist.

In the Caro-Kann, his main variant is 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. c3, where he finds interesting subtleties and "details" that are almost always dangerous for Black. Let's remember his game against Petrosian in the first round of the Match of the Century:

In the Sicilian, as already noted, Fischer rather likes the Sozin attack (6. Bc4), which he uses both after 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 and 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6.

One of his new interesting ideas in this opening is his pawn sacrifice offered in the 5th game of the Larsen match.

In the popular Paulsen system, Fischer uses the quiet 6. g3, but still searches for new continuations.

For instance, for the match against Taimanov, Fischer specifically prepared the system 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e6 5. Nb5 d6 6. Bf4 e5 7. Be3 Nf6 8. Bg5.

And in the sixth game, Black chose 8... Be6.

In the French, Fischer, with his characteristic consistency, plays 3. Nc3, having in mind both 4. e5 and a more sharp 4. a3 (even though his setback against Kovacevic was a real blow). Against Pirc, Fischer consistently plays 1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. f4, and plays g2-g4?! as soon as the opportunity arises.

This is the American grandmaster's main opening repertoire. But it doesn't stay unchanged...

Repertoire expansion

Fischer slowly, but surely expands his opening repertoire, especially for Black. He's started to use the King's Indian Attack against the French, the Caro-Kann, and even the Sicilian.

In several games, Fischer successfully used Larsen's pet opening, 1. b3.

Fischer even used King's Gambit at the Vinkovci tournament, with success:

Strengths and weaknesses of the opening strategy

Fischer always follows the most current theoretical debates and novelties, not only in his pet lines. He can readily adopt popular opening variants and ideas.

For instance, against Nicevski (Zagreb 1970), he used Tal's variant.

Against Ivkov in Palma de Mallorca, Fischer used Spassky's 13. Qb1?!, first played against Gligoric (Skople 1969).

Of course, it would be wrong to say that Fischer can only skilfully compile others' opening ideas. By studying his main repertoire, we've already seen some of his very interesting developments, for instance, in the sharp Sicilian system 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4

One of Fischer's most modern theoretical novelties was used in his game against Geller (#29 in the My 60 Memorable Games).

The search for something new doesn't always lead to new positions or new evaluations. Fischer often suddenly transposes from one opening system to another, familiar, old, but difficult for the opponent.

After all the metamorphoses, Black got a good position which is characteristic for the Gruenfeld defence, which, as we remember, has a good place in Fischer's repertoire.

Let's also point out that Fischer can punish his opponents for tactical errors in the opening or obvious violations of opening principles with a truly machine-like precision. In this regard, his games against Bisguier (Buenos Aires 1970) and Uhlmann (Palma de Mallorca 1970) are very characteristic, as well as the following games.

These examples are from the group with early opening disbalance. Fischer has a lot of such "trophies" in his collection, which shows his great tactical mastery in an open piece play.

We can conclude that in those opening theory questions where concrete analysis, quick perception and memory are concerned, Fischer is very strong.

And still, Fischer had and still has some weak points in his opening preparations. He's trying to solve some complicated issues, where concrete and general considerations are closely interwoven and flexibility is required, in a too straightforward, even perfunctory manner. His games against Kovacevic (Zagreb), Taimanov and Larsen (Palma de Mallorca 1970) are very telling in this regard, as well as the following example.

Some Fischer's concepts for Black in the King's Indian and Benoni are somewhat dubious too. He wound up in critical positions many times in these openings, and only his resourcefulness in the middlegame, coupled with his opponents' hesitant playing, allowed him to emerge unscathed.

All that is, of course, only small weaknesses in an otherwise very strong player. Many of them can be easily corrected or, considering Fischer's ceaseless analytical work, have been already corrected. For instance, after he got in trouble against Geller (Skople 1969) and Larsen (Palma de Mallorca 1970) in a double-edged long-castle variant in the Sozin attack, Fischer quickly got back to his earlier lines and found an interesting improvement for his match against Larsen. We have already seen the fifth game of this match.

Fischer's main opening weakness is most probably a consequence of his general opening concept. There's too little flexibility in it, and when he plays Black, he takes too much responsibilities upon himself. But it's extremely difficult to exploit these strategically dubious peculiarities of his playing style. The main reason is... Fischer himself and his skilful playing in the subsequent stages of the game.