Morphy, Fischer, Firouzja

This text was published in British Chess Magazine.

My impression of Fischer has always been that in view of his encyclopaedic knowledge, knowing all there is to know in his time, he was an excellent implementer of ideas. He would recognise an idea and then he would either perfect it or use it as it is.

For a very long time I thought that Fischer’s most original idea was his plan in the hedgehog formation consisting of …Kh8, …Rg8 and …g5, starting an attack on the kingside. He used it first in the less-well known game against Garcia Soruco at the Havana Olympiad in 1966:

While this is not exactly a hedgehog formation, in view of the passivity of White’s position Fischer played 14…Kh8! followed by 15…Rg8 and 16…g5.

The more famous example of this plan was seen in his game against Ulf Andersson, played after the Siegen Olympiad in 1970.

The pawn is on c7 instead of c5 in order to have a proper hedgehog, but Fischer already knew what he was doing: 13 Kh1! followed by 14 Rg1 and then expansion on the kingside with g4, Rg3 etc.

It was only several days ago that I learned that Fischer was not the originator of this plan. When I discovered this I was both surprised and not surprised.

It is well-known that Fischer was an ardent student of Paul Morphy’s games and had the highest esteem for his talent. He probably knew all Morphy’s games by heart. Therefore, the idea from the following position must have rung a bell when he played that game against Garcia Soruco.

This position arose in the blindfold (!) game between Louis Paulsen and Paul Morphy, played in New York in 1857. Black is stable in the centre and he finds an ingenious way to take advantage of White’s last move 15 h3.

Morphy played 15…Kh8! followed by 16…g5, 17…Rg8 and 18…g4. He won with direct attack against the king, sacrificing a rook on g2 and delivering mate.

 One can only admire the genius of Paul Morphy, to be able to come up with such an original strategic plan in a blindfold game, more than a century (!) before the modern masters picked it up. It is also no surprise that it was Bobby Fischer, with his keen eye for ideas, who first implemented the plan of his great predecessor.

As they say, everything new is something well-forgotten.

Fast forward to 2019 and the Iranian talent Alireza Firouzja. There is no doubt that Firouzja knows of Fischer’s plan in the hedgehog, just like many other players. What makes certain players stand out is not the knowledge, but the ability to adapt that knowledge to a new, original situation.

I will now show what I have in mind.  Take a look at the following position.

This position is from the game Tari-Firouzja, from the World Blitz Championship in 2019. Black has a great position here, as he has everything he could dream of from the hedgehog – the eternal knight on e5, the safer king and an opening of the position at his disposal.

Here the typical 27…b5 would have been quite strong. Black is ripping White’s position apart in classical fashion, having pushed …d5 first and now …b5. The tactical justification of the move is seen after 29 ab Ba5!, hitting the knight on c3.

However, what Firouzja did is something completely different. He managed to adapt Fischer’s plan and played the extremely curious 27…Kh7! I’ll be honest and admit that this would have never crossed my mind. To my understanding, the position is too dynamic and with a safe king I would have looked for more direct continuations akin to …b5 mentioned above.

This doesn’t mean that Firouzja’s idea is bad, not at all. It is a very interesting one, showing that the position can be approached in more than one way. His idea is a good adaptation of Fischer’s plan – he sees the open h-file as the perfect place for the somewhat idle rook on e8. After 28 Bg2 Rh8 29 Qe2 Kg8 he achieved his aim and maintained the advantage.

A lot of players have knowledge, but what they do with that knowledge is what makes a difference. From what we have seen so far (and not only based on the above example) Firouzja is intent on making a difference in the chess world.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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