Fischer - Larsen 1971, from 64 newspaper

Feb 11, 2015, 12:04 PM |

Vasily Panov. "Before the New Difficult Battles"

(The part about Petrosian - Korchnoi match is omitted)

Now let's discuss the match between two foreign stars: Robert Fischer, 28, USA, and Bent Larsen, 36, Denmark; it's kind of inappropriate now to call Larsen the 'Danish Prince', because he's not of a princely age anymore, but it's too early to call him the "Danish Chess King"!

Both consider themselves the world's strongest chess players, and, of course, they are jealous towards each other, like Miss America and Miss Denmark. Larsen said in 1968 and 1971 that he would win the Candidates' matches and then the world title, and that "Fischer will never become a world champion", because he supposedly "always fears to lose a game".

A strange fallacy, which, by the way, also led Taimanov to his own fatal mistake - he thought that Fischer had some kind of "diffidence complex". This seemingly stemmed from Fischer's letter to the head of US Chess Federation, in which he declined to take part in the US Championship because there were too few participants (11 or 12), and one random loss could severely hurt anybody's winning chances. Fischer recommended to follow the example of USSR Championships: more than twenty players compete there, and one loss isn't that dangerous.

But what does Fischer's completely correct statement really mean? It shows his psychology of a professional who is used to winning first prizes, and the feelings of somebody who won many championships in his country and does not want to risk his reputation due to a random loss. Nothing more! The conclusion about some kind of "fear of losing" is completely unfounded.

There are many gossips and conjectures about Fischer, and I've been compiling a special dossier in the last few years. In an interview given for the book Match of the Century, Fischer said, "What attracts me the most in chess is the opportunity to travel, money, the chess atmosphere... I love chess very much, but I'm also interested in many other things: music, sports, politics... With chess, I earn a living. For the book Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess I received $10,000, and half the sum for the book My 60 Memorable Games. Also, I earn $300/month for a chess column in a youth magazine... I work constantly, try to be affable, I don't everything only for the money, but I earn my living with chess."

Could we blame Fischer for growing up in a country that instills a dollar cult in everyone since the young age? It's not his fault, it's his misfortune.

Speaking of Fischer's universal and purely chess characteristics, we may cite, for instance, Botvinnik or world champion Spassky's complimentary words about Fischer; the latter said, "Fischer is a true chess fanatic. I have a sympathy towards him." Or what Korchnoi said about him: "He deserves utmost respect both as a grandmaster and a man who's completely dedicated to chess and, by the way, very humble in life, despite some of his antics."

So, we see a young man, not an "intellectual hobo", who lives off his performances, his literary works, his prizes. And what's most interesting, Fischer grew up on Soviet chess literature and, therefore, on traditions and aims of the Soviet chess school. Fischer plays similarly to a young Smyslov, and he's striving for a universal style, like Botvinnik's or Spassky's. Fischer learned Russian language, purchases Soviet chess books and magazines and even gives autographs in a Russian transcription!

For chess purposes, he also learned Spanish and Serbian languages: there are lots of chess tournaments held in Yugoslavia, Spain and Latin America.

Several years ago, when asked to name ten greatest chess players of all ages, Fischer named Morphy, Staunton, Steinitz, Tarrasch, Chigorin, Alekhine, Capablanca, Spassky, Tal and Reshevsky. Despite the obvious randomness of his choice, Fischer clearly respects our country's chess culture.

By all accounts, Fischer seems to be a grandmaster of great determination, a man whose goal in life is to win the World Championship through hard everyday work.

Interestingly, unlike Larsen, Fischer is very careful in his predictions. Before the match against Taimanov, he said, "It's hard to predict who wins the Candidates' matches and challenge Spassky for the World Championship. It's quite possible that there won't be two Soviet grandmasters in the finals this time."

What are Larsen's chances in the upcoming match against the American? Larsen is a brilliant tactician, master of combinational attacks similar to such virtuosos as Bogoljubov or Spielmann. However, it's different when Larsen is bogged down in a difficult positional struggle, let alone forced to defend. In this regard, he's inferior to Fischer whose playing is harmonious and who's equally good in attack and defence. Sometimes Larsen uses too strange and original opening ideas, which cost him dearly. As the last years' practice shows, Larsen is a typical tournament (rather than match) player, and he's especially strong in the tournaments with mixed lineups, when you play a mighty grandmaster one day and a national master the next. But still, Larsen has a substantial match (especially short match) experience, which Fischer lacks.

Numerous Larsen's interviews where he promises to win both Candidates' matches and the World Championship tell not of Larsen's optimism or overconfidence, but of a foreign chess professional's everyday struggles to earn a living.

The conditions of a capitalist world force the talented grandmaster to promote himself and attract the society's attention to his cause. On the other hand, Larsen is effectively trying to hypnotize himself and get an immunity to bad luck. That's how he explains things: "Some of my failures are due to the fact that I play too much. I'm a chess professional and have to play constantly to earn money. This is sometimes detrimental to the quality of my playing, because it's impossible to constantly perform at one's best."

These words explain why Larsen, and Fischer as well, have to play until the lonely kings and take risks. They say that Edmondson, the USCF president, paid Fischer $500 for each win against Taimanov. But this does not mean he would pay him $250 for a draw.

For Larsen and Fischer, world championship success is their lifeblood. This is the eternal problem, 'to be or not to be', but limited to chess. To be a world champion, the Earth's greatest chess player, or remain a well-known, famous grandmaster, but "one of the many"? The material difference is enormous as well. If you're a champion, you receive extra fees, and if you fail, there's an eternal chase for prizes and simultaneous displays, hard-earned money for book and articles and grim prospects...

So we can predict that the match between Fischer and Larsen will be furious and sharp. Of course, for Larsen, who's already 36 and who couldn't win the Candidates' matches either in 1965 or 1968, it's much harder psychologically than for Fischer. The stakes for him are much higher than for the American, because Fischer can easily enter the subsequent Candidates' cycles, and Larsen's third failure would put an end to his aspirations!

That's why Larsen's recent interview sounds so naive: "I will cause as much pressure to Fischer as I can. I'm sure that if he loses the first game, this will upset him." This psychological estimation is simple, comfortable, undoubted, but has the same fatal flaw as the old recipe: "To catch a bird, it's enough to pour salt on its tail."

Agreeing to play in USA also seems not too good for Larsen, where everyone will be obviously rooting for the younger American.

Yuri Zarubin. Fischer or Larsen?

Even those sport fans that don't know much about chess and never paid much attention to the ancient and wise game, now watch all the news intently. And this is natural, I think. The time came for the most interesting battles at the foot of the chess Olympus.

The Western press and radio pay attention to the upcoming Candidates' matches. They tell about Petrosian, Korchnoi, Fischer and Larsen's lives in great detail.

Here are some facts about the Fischer - Larsen pair.

Very few people though that the Danish grandmaster would suddenly agree to play the match in the USA. But this happened. He preferred United States to Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.

The AP agency said that the match would begin on 10th July. But there's still a lot of unanswered questions. Even the venue is still undetermined. They say that one of the USCF leaders and Fischer friend, Colonel Edmondson, visited Denver, Los Angeles and New York. In each city, he found one hall that could host the match. But all the offers were declined, one by one. GM Kashdan's offer to hold the match in a school hall in Los Angeles seemingly had the most success chances, but just before flying over from New York, Edmondson came to Fischer and asked for his opinion. After this visit, Edmondson didn't go to Los Angeles at all.

"This is no place for a match of such level", Fischer said resolutely. "I might agree to play in a university or college hall, but not in a high school."

Fischer reportedly offered to play Larsein in a closed hall, without spectators. But the Danish player's opinion is not known yet, and such a decision can't be made without him.

Edmondson also can't currently resolve another issue: who's going to be Fischer's second? Evans seemed to decline the offer, and Fischer thought that Evans wouldn't be of much help anyway.

Fischer's friends are quite concerned with the choice of a second. Three players have received some diplomatical offers, but their names are kept secret.

International arbiter Bozidar Kazic, who recently returned to Yugoslavia after the Fischer - Taimanov match, said that Fischer was much more restrained than before, and on good speaking terms with Taimanov. Fischer was especially considerate towards Taimanov's young second, grandmaster Balashov.

As we know, Yuri Balashov, the Moscow Physical Culture Institute student, wrote his thesis about Fischer's body of work. In Vancouver, we learned some funny details. Even Fischer himself seemingly had a smaller base of his games than Balashov.

After the match, in presence of several people, Fischer started a joking 'examination' of our student. And Balashov would give quick and comprehensive answers about every Fischer's game, even played 10 or more years ago.

"He knows all my games by heart!" the American said, astonished.

At the conclusion of this "examination", Fischer asked if Yuri remembered his score against grandmaster Evans.

"I think he's yet to make a draw with you", Balashov said modestly.

"You're right", Fischer laughed. "13-0!"

In this same conversation, Fischer amazed the people present as well. Chess fans remember that 13 years ago, before the Portoroz tournament, he came to Moscow and played some casual and blitz games with our masters and grandmasters. In Vancouver, Taimanov's second grandmaster Vasyukov told Fischer that he won against him then.

"No, that's impossible!", Fischer objected.

Before everyone's eyes, he took out his pocket chess and started to demonstrate the game against Vasyukov that was played in 1958. Vasyukov reportedly didn't remember the game and couldn't say anything.

Larsen said in an interview for the Danish television that he studies his opponent's games day and night. He's read all leading grandmasters' critical assessments of Fischer's playing.

The Dane doesn't want to reveal his secrets, but hopes to pleasantly surprise the Danish supporters in the first games.

"Hard work lies ahead, but I'm sure of my ability to defeat any player now", he said at the conclusion.

Fischer doesn't give interviews. The main thing that concerns him, says IM Horowitz of New York Times, is getting good rest.

So, there's a week before the start of Fischer - Larsen match. But, as it comes out, FIDE is already concerned with the final match.

Yugoslavian Chess Union received a telegram from Euwe asking them to host the final match.

As of now, Venezuela, USA, Spain and Portugal have made bids to host the match. But Euwe thinks that Yugoslavia will be best able to do that, with their great experience in hosting biggest tournaments and matches.

Nikolai Krogius. Only facts!

In the 64 #27, there was an article "Fischer or Larsen?" by Yuri Zarubin. The author describes, among other things, a dialogue between Fischer and Yuri Balashov. They say that Fischer won 13 games against Larry Evans. Zarubin concludes that Balashov has great knowledge of Fischer's body of work, and Fischer himself has a phenomenal memory.

I think that the 13-0 score cannot be used as a proof for the author's conclusions. A well-known game between two American grandmasters in the 1962/63 US Championship ended in a draw at move 33 (Grunfeld Defence, Evans played White). This game was published in foreign magazines, mentioned by Fischer in his book My 60 Memorable Games and even published in the Shakhmatniy Bulleten' #5, 1963. There were other drawn games: Fischer - Evans, 1958/59 US Championship (Sicilian), published in Shakhmatniy Bulleten' #6, 1959, and Evans - Fischer, 1966/67 US Championship (English opening), published in Shakhmatniy Bulleten' #6, 1967.

To make any conclusions about great chess players' qualities, you should clearly base them on actual facts.

Yuri Averbakh. Fischer - Larsen, game 1

A combative game!

The battle between Robert Fischer and Bent Larsen is a chess event that needs no additional promotion. The talented grandmasters have long ago established their places at the world chess arena. Both achieved much success, both have bright individual styles.

Larsen's style is more risky. He's bold and likes sharp, unclear positions. For that, he often willingly worsens his position and even compromises it. We know that Larsen reacts well to losses, and this supports his believe in the risky style.

Fischer's style is solid and rational. He creates sober plans and tries to punish his partner for strategical mistakes.

If the strength is equal, this style clash is akin to a battle between fire and ice, which is usually won by a cold, calculating mind. But this is only the objective side. The picture will be complete only if we take into account the psychological side of the struggle. Larsen is hoping to divert Fischer from tried-and-true ways and force him to take part in nervous tactical skirmishes. The task is difficult, and Larsen couldn't do it in the first game, even though he did manage to sharpen the play and attack Fischer's King. The shield was stronger than the sword, tactics couldn't overturn the positional common sense.

Ratmir Kholmov. Larsen - Fischer, game 2

Vladimir Alatortsev. Larsen's Psychological Catastrophe

The Candidates' semifinal between Robert Fischer and Bent Larsen takes part in extreme conditions. Both opponents feel strong responsibility. The diversity of ideas, sharp styles and complexity of constantly and quickly changing positions, creating an endless stream of urgent information, demand from grandmasters to show high proficiency, skillful analysis and timely decision making in limited time. The latter needs great knowledge, ability to generalize and foresee the outcomes.

The ability of making the right decision in the state under great intellectual and emotional pressure is one of the main foundations in Fischer's tactics and strategy.

The first game of his match with Larsen is a shining example of that.

Let's study the critical position after Black's 22nd move.

The first games show that Larsen is unable to understand the position as deeply and comprehensively as his opponent, as well as his great ideas like 28. Bc5! in the first game, or 17... Qe5!, 34... Bd7! and 37... Ra4! in the second.

The analysis here shows the timeliness and correctness of the decisions made by Fischer, his depth of calculations, high psychological stamina and confidence, his great work rate and perseverance. Flawless memory and precise evaluation of the positions calculated. Skillful self-control during his determined actions.

Larsen's two losses at the start played an adverse role, especially after his careless interviews about his chances against Fischer. The failure caused the Dane to lose playing strength and his usual optimism and confidence. In the third game, he made a decisive mistake already in the opening.

Yakov Murei, Boris Shashin. Larsen - Fischer, game 4

The reason for a time-out?

The Reuter agency sent us a correction several times: "Strike out that Fischer is ill. Write instead that Larsen is ill."

The correction was necessary. The fifth game didn't take place as scheduled because of the Dane's illness, but which illness that was? We only knew that the doctors mentioned high blood pressure. Some commentators thought that he fell ill because of shock caused by four straight losses, and others pointed out Denver's elevation above the sea level (1609 meters).

The doctor only added that he advised Larsen to take several days off for recuperation, and the secondary inspection would take place on Saturday. On Saturday, the doctor said that Larsen was fit to play.

Leonid Stein. Fischer - Larsen, game 5

When the chess world learned that Fischer was to play Larsen in the Candidates' semifinal, it attracted a lot of interest. Along with the place in the finals, an unofficial title of "strongest Western player" was also at the stake.

We have to say that both grandmasters have their reasons to claim that title. There's no reason to list the achievements of those highly talented players. Both of them have won very strong tournaments in recent years. But now, after half of the match, I think that interest gave way to severe disappointment and bewilderment.

What's happening with Larsen? To be honest, I was sure in Fischer's victory before the match, but I've never thought that Larsen would be crushed in such manner. Speaking in soccer terms, the ball is constantly on one side. It's now obvious for me that all Larsen's statements about some miraculous home preparation that would allow him to put pressure on Fischer were just a bluff. It's blatantly obvious when you analyze the games.

In reality, the Danish grandmaster was very badly prepared, both opening-wise and psychologically. That's why he was completely destroyed. I think that if he prepared normally, the games would be much different, but still I don't doubt that the American grandmaster would win.

Fischer shows powerful, almost flawless playing, and doesn't allow any room for mistakes: the punishment comes immediately.

That's how the latest game in Denver went.

Mikhail Tal (with Igor Zaitsev). Larsen - Fischer, game 6

The first and last games were probably the most interesting. Fischer played the last game very well, but Larsen also played good.

Analyzing the Denver games, you can come to a conclusion that a couple of them could have been drawn. By the way, I think that Larsen didn't have advantage for even a single move. The 6-0 score shows both American's "ruthlessness" and his "monotonous" playing (quotes from articles about Fischer), but, quite frankly, I'm jealous of him.

Regardless of who would be Fischer's opponent in the final match and how would this match end, we can easily say even now that no World Championship contender ever showed such dominance in the candidates' competition.

Mikhail Botvinnik. Miracles and Reality

(The part about Petrosian - Korchnoi match is omitted)

The Fischer - Larsen match ended with a "standard" 6-0 score. Is it a miracle? We can explain how Fischer won each of those 12 games, but how to explain the result as a whole? Of course, the simplest thing to do is declare Fischer the all-time chess genius, a charismatic man, praise his love towards chess, etc. We can do that, many people do that. But what's the reality?

Fischer loves chess. But this is nothing new. Many great players truly loved chess. However, we have to admit that Fischer has no other choice than to love chess. Chess is his only profession (in my opinion, a very respectable one): Fischer cannot do anything else. Let me remind you that even Fischer's 60 Memorable Games was ghostwritten for him by Larry Evans. But the American's love towards chess is a positive quality, without a doubt. Still, what about his charisma in other regards?

I've always avoided writing about that, I wanted to spare my colleague - but it was a time when Fischer was reproached for his civic qualities. Now times are different, and, for truth's sake, I think that it's my unpleasant duty to remind about Fischer's offensive sayings, about his disrespect towards fellow chess masters and organizers, about his caprices, vanity and unscrupulousness. We could show many examples in support of such an evaluation of Fischer. But do we need to? I think that it's not important, and we should not stir up the situation. Sadly, there were other great masters who had immense talent, but less than average human dignity. Fischer is not an exception. What can we say about Fischer the chess player? What are his strengths? Nine years ago, at the Varna Olympiad, when Fischer wasn't even 20 years old, I felt his strength personally. The game wasn't too original, the complications were too unclear, but it was obvious that in our struggle I wasn't the one determining the direction. My calculating skills were inferior to my opponent's, so I got a losing position. When there are many pieces at the board, and they are all dynamic, calculating skills are the main deciding factor. In this regard, Fischer is similar to the young Tal. But Fischer combines these skills with caution, high technique, sober evaluation of the position - this makes him similar to the young Smyslov as well.

In nine years, Fischer had grown a lot. However, he had a crisis in 1968/69, when he didn't play anywhere at all. Fischer doesn't tell what happened with him during this time. Since the Match of the Century, he made another step forward and started to defeat grandmasters regularly. But whom did he strike down most convincingly? Of the games against nine grandmasters that made top 10 of the 1970 Interzonal, he won five, including four against the players aged 44-49... As we know, calculation skills grow weaker at that age. Against 5 players aged 22-37, Fischer's score was only 50%. Still, Fischer scored 6.5/9 against grandmasters - a brilliant performance! We also have to remember that 8 of those 9 grandmasters played in Candidates' matches before, and Polugaevsky was 9th. Such results were shown only by prominent masters on their way to the World Championships or while they were champions.

But now, against the players of similar level, Fischer scores not 72%, but 100% - in matches, which are much harder than tournaments! The American never performed like that before. Furthermore, there are no similar precedents in the whole of chess history. For instance, Emanuel Lasker in 1907-10 had an overwhelming score against Marshall and Janowski (twice): +8-0=7, +7-1=2, +8-0=3, but still it's not 12-0! So, what is it - Fischer's further advancement towards the heights of chess art or a miracle? If it's the former, we'll rejoice - the chess will be richer. If it's the latter, what would Fischer do when the miracles finally end, when he goes back down to earth and faces stiff resistance? Would Fischer overcome the troubles or face a new crisis, similar to one he had two years ago? This would surely be very detrimental to chess. Let's wait and see.