“All I ever want to do is just play chess.” – Bobby Fischer
He is loved by fans for his total commitment to the game, his aforementioned quote summing up his dedication. Many chess fans even consider Bobby Fischer to be the best chess player ever.
Aged 29, he became World Chess Champion in 1972 after beating Boris Spassky in their famous match in Reykjavik. But how did he alone manage to dominate the Soviet school of chess?
In this article, we’re going to retrace Bobby Fischer’s steps from an early age to when he became the 11th World Chess Champion. You’ll learn why Bobby Fischer is considered one of the best chess players of all time.
The Game of the Century – Bobby Fischer Aged 13
“Chess is a war over the board. The object is to crush the opponent’s mind.” – Bobby Fischer
In 1956, the strongest players in the US were invited to the New York Rosenwald Memorial Tournament, including Sammy Reshevsky, Edmar Mednis, and Arthur Bisguier.
Making up the numbers was a 13-year-old boy, invited due to his victory in the US Junior Championship. His name was Robert James “Bobby” Fischer.
Reshevsky lived up to his billing as the favorite, winning by a 2 point margin with a score of 9 out of 11. The young Bobby Fischer found things tough, alternating draws with losses.
Then came round 9. Bobby had Black against Donald Byrne, the only player to beat Reshevsky and one of the top 10 players in the country. What followed sent shockwaves around the world.
Donald Byrne – Robert James Fischer, New York 1956
Fischer completely crushed his 26-year-old opponent. Hans Kmoch, the famous chess writer and journalist, proclaimed this “The Game of the Century” in Chess Review magazine and news of the brilliancy spread around the world like wildfire, even capturing the attention of the World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik who commented “We will have to start keeping an eye on this boy.”
Fischer Becomes the Youngest Grandmaster Ever
“You can only get good at chess if you love the game.” – Bobby Fischer
The 18 months after “The Game of the Century” brought Bobby more success. The new rating list showed a phenomenal 500 point gain over the year before and he retained his title of US Junior Champion with a score of 8½/9.
He followed this by winning the US Open (10/12) and the New Jersey Open (6½/7). He was now, by rating, in the top 10 players in the country and the USCF invited him to play in the 1957-8 US Chess Championship.
Arthur Bisguier, the reigning US Champion, predicted Bobby would “finish slightly over the center mark.” After all, this was a tough group.
Besides Bisguier there were 6-time Champion Sammy Reshevsky, World Junior Champion William Lombardy, both Donald and Robert Byrne, Larry Evans and Pal Benko.
Bobby started well with draws against Lombardy and Benko and wins against 3 of the weaker participants. Round 6 gave him White against the great Sammy Reshevsky.
Fischer opened with 1.e4 of course, the move he described as “best by test”, and Sammy replied with 1…c5. A Sicilian Defense, both players were going for the win.
Fischer, Bobby Fischer – Reshevsky, Samuel, New York 1958
2 more wins (vs Mednis and Bisguier) and 3 draws (vs Evans and both Byrnes) in the final 5 games gave Bobby a final score of 8½/11! Against all the odds, he had won the tournament with a 1 point margin and was US Champion! The victory gave Bobby the title of International Master too, aged 14.
As US Champion, Bobby had won a place in the Interzonal tournament, in which the top 6 finishers (out of 21) would be entered into the Candidates. Again, Fischer wasn’t given a chance but he believed in himself “I can draw with the grandmasters, and there are half-a-dozen patzers in the tournament I reckon to beat” – and he was right.
He finished with 6 wins, 12 draws and 2 losses to share 5th-6th places, becoming the youngest player ever to reach the Candidates. Qualifying gave him the Grandmaster title at just 15 years old, beating Boris Spassky’s record of 18 years of age.
Bobby Fischer was to keep this record for an incredible 33 years – Judit Polgar eventually beat it by 1 month.
If you want to see more wins right out of the opening by Bobby Fischer, you can watch the following video by GM Eugene Perelshteyn. These games are not only some of the most amazing games Fischer played throughout his career but each of these games also contains a beautiful opening trap.
Bobby Fischer Beats Everybody, US Championships 1963
“I don’t believe in psychology. I believe in good moves.” – Bobby Fischer
Bobby Fischer played in 8 US Championships in total, winning them all by at least 1 point and with a combined score of 61 wins, 26 draws and 3 losses. However, the 1963 Championships were truly special.
In Round 1, Fischer converted a knight and pawn endgame against Mednis on the Black side of an Italian Game, winning in 62 moves. This was the longest anyone would survive against Bobby in the tournament.
Fischer sprung a surprise in round 2, playing a King’s Gambit against Larry Evans, quickly winning a trapped Knight and soon the game.
Round 3 saw Fischer at his best. Black against GM Robert Byrne, Bobby Fischer went for a brilliant combination in the middlegame:
Byrne, Robert – Fischer, Robert, New York 1963
After this, there was no stopping Bobby. He won every game, crushing the best players in the US with White and Black. Fischer had proved that not only was he the strongest player in the country but he was in a league of his own. His 11-0, 100% record in the US Championship has never been repeated. Bobby was just 20 years old.
Bobby Fischer: Blitz World Chess Champion
“I add status to any tournament I attend.” – Bobby Fischer
In 1970, Herceg Novi, Yugoslavia, played host to an incredibly strong Blitz competition dubbed “the unofficial World Blitz Championship”.
With 3 former World Champions taking part in Tal, Petrosian, and Smyslov, plus Korchnoi, Bronstein, and Reshevsky amongst others, this was a highly competitive field.
The 12 players would face each other with both colors for a total of 22 five minute rounds.
Before the tournament began, Tal was the favorite with Petrosian, Korchnoi, Bronstein, and Smyslov expected to provide tough competition.
Of course, everyone knew Fischer was a great player then but didn’t think his blitz chess was as strong as his classical chess.
They soon realized their mistake. Fischer tore the field apart. The World Champions Tal, Petrosian and Smyslov lost 6-0 to Bobby Fischer.
Out of his 11 opponents, only Viktor Korchnoi managed not to lose their 2 game mini-match, tying 1-1. When the dust settled, Bobby had 19/22, a winning margin of 4½ points!
According to one report, Fischer took no more than 2½ minutes per game. His play was simple, logical and without errors. He was a chess machine.
As the sun set in Herceg Novi, Tal conceded “Fischer’s result was very, very impressive” – but many thought Bobby had just had a very good tournament. The truth was that Fischer was now the best in the world – by an absolute mile.
Bobby Fischer Destroys the World’s Elite, Candidates 1971
“I like the moment I break a man’s ego.” – Bobby Fischer
The Candidates Matches of 1971 have gone down in history for showcasing the most dominant performance in modern chess. Amazingly, the journey there almost didn’t get started.
Before the Candidates took place, there was the Interzonal Tournament, entry to which was reserved for the top 3 finishers in the Zonal Tournament which, in America, was the US Championships.
The problem was Bobby had sat out the 1969 Championships after a disagreement with the organizers on format and prize money. What to do? Could the US really not send their best player?
A tragedy was averted when Pal Benko agreed to give up his place for Fischer and William Lombardy, the next eligible participant, did the same. “I would like to play, but Fischer should have the chance,” was Lombardy’s position.
The Interzonal was held in Palma de Mallorca in late 1970 and Fischer was under pressure to perform. He didn’t disappoint. With 18½/23, he stormed to 1st place, winning by a margin of 3½ points. 15 wins, 1 loss (to second-placed Bent Larsen) and 7 draws. He finished emphatically with 7 consecutive wins but Botvinnik was not impressed:
“Fischer has been declared a genius. I do not agree with this… In order to rightly be declared a genius in chess, you have to defeat equal opponents by a big margin. As yet he has not done this,” was the Patriarch’s assessment. He wouldn’t have to wait long.
Candidates Quarterfinals: Bobby Fischer vs Mark Taimanov – 6:0
The Candidates paired Bobby against Grandmaster and concert pianist Mark Taimanov, who came armed with 2 GM seconds and a dossier on Fischer prepared by none other than Botvinnik himself.
The match was to take place in Vancouver, Canada and Mikhail Tal predicted a close 5 ½ – 4 ½ wins for the American.
Tellingly, Boris Spassky had some advice for the Russian Chess Federation: “Conceal from Taimanov the truth about Fischer’s strength, so as not to discourage him.”
After 2 weeks of play came the “result that resounded like a clap of thunder around the chess world”: 6-0 for Bobby Fischer!
A win as Black in the King’s Indian Defense in game 1 was followed by a lengthy Sicilian in which Taimanov blundered on the 81st move in a Knight v Bishop + Pawn endgame:
After that, he fell apart, allowing Fischer to rack up the biggest match win in nearly a hundred years (since Steinitz beat Blackburne 7-0 in 1876 – but this was a much higher level).
Taimanov confessed, “[I had] the terrible feeling that I was playing against a machine which never made any mistake.”
Candidates Semifinals: Bobby Fischer vs Bent Larsen – 6:0
Waiting for Bobby in the semi-final was Bent Larsen. Mikhail Botvinnik confidently stated on Russian TV, “It is clear that such an easy victory as in Vancouver will not be given to Fischer.
I think Larsen has unpleasant surprises in store for him. All the more, since having dealt with Taimanov thus, Fischer will want to do just the same to Larsen and this is impossible.”
Fischer didn’t agree and promptly destroyed Bent Larsen by the same 6-0 score!
How could this happen? One journalist asked if he had discovered a new way of playing chess, to which Bobby replied: “I just took advantage of their mistakes.”
Candidates Final: Bobby Fischer vs Tigran Petrosian – 6,5:2,5
Former World Champion Tigran Petrosian was next and “Iron Tigran” was confident. “Fischer’s wins do not impress me. He is a great chess player but no genius.”
After 40 moves, Petrosian had to resign game one. 20 wins in a row for Fischer against world-class opposition. Unprecedented. Surely he couldn’t beat Petrosian 6-0 too?
Tigran won the 2nd game to end any hopes of another shutout and the next 3 games were drawn. Fischer won game 6 after a long, complicated endgame. Petrosian seemed shattered.
Bobby smelled blood and ruthlessly won the next 3 games too, crushing the ex-champion 6½ – 2½. Game 7 is a fantastic illustration of Fischer’s domination and superb endgame play. The position that was reached after Black’s 21st move can be found in many training books:
18½/21 against Taimanov, Larsen, and Petrosian. By far the most dominant performance ever seen in the Candidates.
The Match of the Century: Bobby Fischer vs Boris Spassky, Reykjavik 1972
“When I won the world championship, in 1972, the United States had an image of, you know, a football country, a baseball country, but nobody thought of it as an intellectual country.” – Bobby Fischer
Bobby Fischer’s career goal had always been to become World Champion. Now he had reached the final stage, a match against Boris Spassky to take place in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Despite this, it still took a 2-day postponement to the start of the match, a businessman doubling the prize money to $250,000 (about $1.4m in today’s money) and a phone call from Henry Kissinger, the National Security Advisor to the US President, to persuade Fischer to go to Iceland.
The match was on. This was the Cold War being fought over 64 squares – the media interest was huge. Before Fischer, there had been virtually no mainstream interest in chess in the US. Now the country was gripped with chess fever.
Who should be the favorite? After all, Boris Spassky was the reigning champion and had a brilliant record against Fischer: 3 wins, 2 draws, no losses. But the phenomenal results of the previous 2 years had elevated Fischer’s rating to 2785 Elo, a record that would stand for 18 years. Compare this to Spassky’s 2660 – the World Champion was being outrated by 125 points! Never before or since has there been such a disparity.
Game 1 was a huge disappointment for Fischer fans. In a dead drawn position, Bobby inexplicably captured a Rook’s pawn, allowing his Bishop to get trapped. 1-0 Spassky.
After this loss, Bobby demanded that all cameras were removed from the playing hall as they were affecting his concentration. After the organizers refused, Fischer didn’t turn up the next day, forfeiting the game. No-one could give the World Champion a 2 game head start and still win – could they?
Graciously, Spassky agreed to play the next game in a small room away from the spectators. Game 3 saw Fischer spring a novelty in a Modern Benoni (11…Nh5!?) and he soon got a positional advantage.
Spassky resigned after 41 moves and Fischer scored his first ever win against the Russian. Game on!
A draw in 45 moves in Game 4 then another win as Black for Bobby in game 5. In the diagram on the right, Spassky is about to play 27.Qc2? but had to resign after 27…Bxa4! The match was level but Fischer needed to beat Spassky, not just tie.
Bobby Fischer vs Boris Spassky (Reykjavik 1972 – World Championship Match – Game 6)
Game 6 of the Bobby Fischer vs Boris Spassky match produced another shock. Fischer opened with 1.c4 and soon transposed to a Queen’s Gambit, an opening he had never played before in serious chess.
He then proceeded to play one of the most beautiful games of all time, effortlessly enhancing his position before sacrificing an exchange to open up the king’s position.
Finally, Spassky offered his hand in resignation. The audience stood and applauded, and Spassky did too. “Did you see what he did?” Fischer asked Larry Evans later, “He’s a real sportsman.” The game was branded “a symphony” for its smooth elegance.
Having taken the lead, Fischer did not look back, winning another 4 and losing just once in the remaining 15 games to record a convincing 12½-8½ victory. Bobby Fischer was World Champion.
“Chess is life.” – Bobby Fischer
Bobby Fischer stopped playing serious chess after beating Boris Spassky in their World Chess Championship Match in 1972. In 1974, Anatoly Karpov qualified as the challenger for the next match against Bobby Fischer.
The latter, however, refused to defend his title against the new challenger because he was unhappy with the format of the World Chess Championship.
Karpov was declared the 12th World Champion by default. In his book “Memoirs of a Chess World Champion,” Karpov writes:
“I don’t know how Fischer feels about it, but I consider it a huge loss that he and I never played our match. I felt like the child who has been promised a wonderful toy and has it offered to him but then, at the last moment, it’s taken away.”
The pride and sorrow of chess, Bobby left the game he loved, only reappearing briefly to beat Spassky 10-5 in their unofficial rematch in 1992.
Although some chess players support the theory that Bobby Fischer returned and played a series of brilliant games on the Internet in 2001, he never played any official competitive games again. In 2008, Bobby Fischer died aged 64, 1 year for every square on the board.
Every modern GM stands on the shoulders of giants. Much of their strength comes from studying and copying the great play of their predecessors.
Which is why every coach recommends the careful study of the games of all the World Champions.
Fischer, for example, studied all of Steinitz’ games. Kasparov, Carlsen, and Anand have studied many of Fischer’s games.
If you want to take a journey through time and study games from all 16 World Champions, from Steinitz to Carlsen, we’ve got the perfect deal for you.
On his latest DVD, GM Aleksandr Lenderman explores the secrets of all 16 World Champions, analyzes their most important games, reveals their playing style and provides you with all the key concepts you can learn from the great masters of the past. Click here to get your copy for 35% off.
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