This is Part II of my 3-part analysis of Fischer’s openings in the Match of the Century in 1972. The series was written for my Inner Circle to which you can also subscribe using the yellow form on the right. Once inside The Circle, if you would like to read the other two parts, let me know and I will send them to you. In the meantime, enjoy!
Fischer’s Openings in Reykjavik – Part II
Continuing my analysis from last week, we left off with Game 11, Fischer’s only catastrophy in the match. This was the first time he repeated an opening, the Poisoned Pawn from Game 7, but this time Spassky was ready and the punishment was severe.
This serious setback forced Fischer to implement the same strategy of changing his openings after 1 e4 as well. But this was more problematic for him because playing almost only the Najdorf since the US Championship in 1963 he had less solid openings at his disposal.
Fischer’s choices of the Alekhine and the Pirc in games 13, 17 and 19 were the most puzzling for me in the whole match, due to several reasons. Even though Fischer played the Alekhine on several occassions in 1970, the opening is far from being solid enough for a World Championship match. And the Pirc even less so! Yet he still played them in 3 games!
I read an interesting observation somewhere, that Fischer didn’t know how to play solidly for equality. That he always needed dynamism and activity. And this was the only reasonable explanation I could find to explain his choices of those openings.
The Alekhine in Game 13 saw a very poor reaction by Spassky. His improvisation on move 7 in a very-well know theoretical position (7 Nbd2 on which he spent 17 minutes) was of low quality. It is surprising that on both first occassions with an opening (the Poisoned Pawn in Games 7 and 11 and the Alekhine in Games 13 and 19) Spassky reacted badly! And as Russians vs Fischer tells us, he was excellently prepared for all the openings! Puzzling indeed.
In Game 15 Fischer returned to the Najdorf and didn’t venture again in the Poisoned Pawn, choosing the line with 7…Be7. In view of Spassky’s superior preparation he was close to losing after the opening. This was another surprising choice because later Fischer would say that approximately after Game 13 he started to play safe, stopped looking for chances and was leaving it to Spassky to beat him. No reason not to trust him, but how does that go along with his
opening choices with Black?
Game 17 and the Pirc was perhaps the strangest choice. First about the move-order. After 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Fischer went 2…g6. This begs several questions to be asked: why did he allow the King’s Indian that would have most probably arisen after 3 c4 (and he didn’t play it in the first half of the match when Spassky was playing 1 d4)? Since Spassky was sticking to 1 e4 did he really know Spassky so well that he trusted him he wouldn’t switch to a 1 d4 opening once he
abandoned them? And what was he trying to achieve by playing 2…g6 instead of 2…Nf6? The only explanation I could come up with for the last question was that he was avoiding 2…Nf6 3 f3, as Spassky played against Jansson in 1971.
To continue with the questions, did he intend something else after 3 c4 instead of a normal KID transposition, by leaving the knight on g8? And after Spassky’s 3 Nc3 (on which he spent 4 minutes, probably thinking to KID or not to KID) Fischer spent 4 minutes on 3…Nf6. Why? The only obvious alternative is 3…Bg7, so again, what was he trying to avoid?
The following few moves and the times spent on them continue to be mysterious. Being faced with an obvious surprise by Fischer, Spassky again, as in Game 1, chose a line from his youth, one he played only once in his life, in 1960 in Mar del Plata (incidentally a tournament where Fischer also played) – Fischer’s own pet line, the Austrian
Attack. After 4 f4 Bg7 5 Nf3 Fischer sank into a 15-minute think before choosing 5…c5. When playing the Austrian Attack with White Fischer convincingly demonstrated the strength of the line 5… 0-0 6 Bd3, winning several good games with it. So it is perhaps understandable that he wanted to avoid it with Black, but why spend 15 minutes on that decision?
The game was very important theoretically and it established the best way to play for Black in that line of the Pirc (namely to play …Bg4 before White can prevent it by h3) and it was also notable for Spassky’s original middlegame plan of 11 Rad1 and 12 Bc4.
Game 19 saw the return of the Alekhine, with Fischer varying with 4…Bg4 instead of the 4…g6 from Game 13. Another first-ever by Fischer, but Spassky was prepared. I find an interesting parallel between this game and Game 5. Had Spassky taken 12 gf (he took 20 minutes on that decision) the blocked character of the position would have resembled the one from Game 5. Why was Fischer luring Spassky in such closed positions, did he learn in his preparation that
Spassky didn’t like them and played them less well? It was considered that Fischer didn’t like closed and blocked positions, buthere he was actively pursuing them!
Fischer’s choice for what turned out to be the last game of the match was excellent and I wonder why he didn’t come up with it earlier. Again a first-ever, this time in the Sicilian, 2…e6 instead of the automatic 2…d6. (Curiously enough, in Game 20 of their match in 1992, the first game of that match where Spassky played 1 e4, after 1…c5 2 Ne2 Nf6 3 Nbc3 Fischer again played 3…e6, signalling that he wanted to play something else than the Najdorf. Here the most probable is the Scheveningen after 4 d4 cd 5 Nd4 d6, but Spassky played 4 g3).
After 3 d4 cd 4 Nd4 there came 4…a6, a move he so convincingly dismantled with White in Game 7 of his match with Petrosian. So the first question, what did he have in mind against his own choice of 5 Bd3? My guess is 5…Nc6, as Petrosian played, and after 6 Nc6 dc, instead of Petrosian’s inferior 6…bc. The positions after 6…dc are much calmer and more solid, quite in line with Fischer’s admission that he wasn’t trying to look for chances in the second half of the match. And being a Sicilian, it still offers more dynamism and activity than other openings. Still, this is why I think his choice was good, because he finally found a solid and safe line for Black.
But Spassky stayed in line with his established way to reacting to surprises, he chose a line he played before. The system with Be3 and Bd3 brought him the title with a draw from a winning position in Game 23 of his match with Petrosian in 1969, but Fischer played an important novelty after 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Be3 Nf6 7 Bd3 d5 (the game Spassky-Petrosian went via a different move order 7…Qc7 8 0-0 Ne5) 8 ed ed! and Black was already equal. Fischer’s love for old games was crowned by employing a move played by Adolf Anderssen in 1877!
Fischer’s strategy with Black turned out to be very efficient. His frequent changes of openings and sub-lines coupled with Spassky’s predictability and bad first-time reactions enabled him to have the opening initiative in most of the games. The only opening disaster he had was when he himself was predictable, but he didn’t let that happen again.