Reality Conditions

Saturday, January 19, 2008

In Memoriam Bobby Fischer

It is sad that he has died unreconciled with the world and with sanity. But, hopefully, the future will remember him not for his madness but for his greatness. My favorite example of it is his famous "Brilliancy Prize" game against Robert Byrne in 1963. As a fitting homage, let us go over it:

Robert Byrne — Robert Fischer
1963 — 1964 US Championship

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 c6 4. Bg2 d5 5. cxd5 cxd5 6. Nc3 Bg7 7. e3 O-O 8. Nge2 Nc6 9. O-O b6 10. b3 Ba6 11. Ba3 Re8 12. Qd2

The position looks almost symmetrical -who would have thought that White would be forced to resign after just ten moves and having made no obvious blunder?

12... e5! 13. dxe5 Nxe5 14. Rfd1 Nd3 15. Qc2 Nxf2!! 16. Kxf2 Ng4+ 17. Kg1 Nxe3 18. Qd2

Now everyone, Byrne included, was expecting 18... Nxd1, which leads to a favorable position for White. But Fischer pulled out of his hat the unexpected:

18... Nxg2!! 19. Kxg2 d4! 20. Nxd4 Bb7+ 21. Kf1 Qd7

And White resigned, to the surprise of most commentators and spectators who were still ranking his position as better. The white king is trapped in a mating net made of subtle, almost invisible threads, but from which there is no escape. For example: 22. Qf2 Qh3+ 23. Kg1 Re1+! 24.Rxe1 Bxd4 and mate in g2. As K. F. Kirby famously said, the progression from a seemingly equal position to this debacle seems "more witchcraft than chess".

You can play the whole game and read comments at Chess Games.