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Bobby Fischer: The Later Years
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Bobby Fischer: The Early Years
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Collected Annotations and Articles by Bobby Fischer
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A new edition of Legend on the Road: Fischer's 1964 Simul Tour
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Bobby Fischer in Action: Simultaneous Exhibitions and Blitz Games
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Winning Against Flank Openings (A Repertoire Based on the Games of Bobby Fischer)
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Winning Against 1.d4 (Play the Nimzo/Bogo Indians)
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Winning Against 1.e4 (Play the Sicilian Defense)
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Chess Combinations of the World Champions, Steinitz to Tal
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Return of a classic, available on Kindle and iBooks:
How Chessmasters Think
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A Chess Opening for White: The Kings Indian Attack, a Fischer Favorite (currently on Kindle and Nook and iBooks)
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Appointment in Amfreville
A memoir of my Uncle in WW2 here

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Updates to the Fischer Books

We will be adding articles that didn't get published in the Fischer books.

Six years after forfeiting the 1975 World Championship, Bobby Fischer visited Browne at his home in Berkeley, California.

"They had this article in Sports Illustrated in '76 and evidently Bobby didn't like a few of the quotes I made. One I think he might have taken offense to was something like - I made some comment like, 'there's nothing in chess I don't understand'."

"A mutual friend of ours who lived in San Francisco contacted me one day, and says that Bobby wasn't happy [with me] but then suddenly out of the blue in 1981 he told me, 'say Bobby's in town and he'd like to see you.' I remember we talked first and then we set up the meet, and then he came to my house."

"Basically we went over [my games] - I was very happy - because he wanted to go over my games from the US Championship, so I showed him a bunch of games. And he was complimentary, which for him was no easy deal. You know for him any compliment was the very- he didn't give them easily, you know what I mean? His compliments were avoided. Well we looked at my games from the US Championship, and he basically was very complimentary - I mean always he had a criticism here or there. And then we went to my library. I do have a fair amount of chess books and he showed this book - I think it's either 600 or either 660 games by Kurt Richter (its 666 Kurzpartien, a book of miniatures, from the Richter of Richter-Rauzer fame -editor) and he liked the book. He was playing over some of the games. Well I'm glad he found a book that he liked, because he'd seen so many books you could bore him easily if you didn't have some special books in your library - he'd get bored I'm sure. Because he used to go to bookshops going through all the books looking for new material all the time. One time I did that, and down when we were walking in New York, and we went in a store, and at least an hour, or two hours, we were in that store and he was just - he'd go through books and just start readin' 'em while he was there and look and he'd go through a bunch of pages. He might spend 15 or 20 minutes on one book and then go on to the next book."

"I knew he did that a lot. I mean that's why he got so good. He did a tremendous amount of research, and of course he worked extremely hard. I loved his work ethic, I mean he just - its tremendous stuff - and it's a wonderful thing that he could take so much time to work on chess. There's very few of us who could do that. Even though I sooner or later had to succumb to the day-to-day paying-the-bills kind of thing."

During Fischer's stay, Browne beat him at pool, and despite Fischer's competitive nature, he was unfazed.

"I think the thing about Bobby is, he could appreciate if somebody is really good at something and appreciate it and I believe that's the kind of person he was. He wouldn't take offense or anything. He respected excellence, as I do. So I don't really like football, but say I'm watching and I see two teams playing great, I would enjoy it. Or baseball - I don't watch any more but - two top teams or a great pitcher, you know I can enjoy it, I can enjoy excellence. I don't recall playing him a second game. He might have been upset in his own way, but he didn't show it. And I don't think he really had good reason to be upset there. It's just that he might have felt it was a mismatch. Because he thought maybe I'm too good - and I wasn't really that good, I just had a good game."

"He still kept up with chess and he still played. Very strange - you could tell by his analysis that his mind was still very sharp. It's just a shame that he had to wait twenty years to play another match. If he had played in say 82, he would have been much stronger than he was in the Spassky match."

"He seemed upset with a bunch of things. He wasn't sure he was getting paid well for his book [My 60 Memorable Games]. He had some prejudices. We could take a walk and he was ranting and raving a bit, and he was obviously very perturbed by a bunch of things. That was about how it was I think. And it got worse, it definitely got worse, as far as his rationality."

The visit ended on a sour note, after Browne took Fischer to task for spending six hours on his house phone.

"He just normally would do that. He did that with other people too - he stayed at their house - he might have stayed weeks or months and he spent a lot of time on the phone. But they put it up with it. And I didn't want to put up with it. So I just told him it was too much. He probably talked to several different people, but the gist of it is he was tying up the phone, and I might be getting calls for a tournament or something. In those days I only have one phone number, and even only one phone, so I didn't want it tied up completely. He could have just said, "OK fair enough," and just hung up, or said, "look I'll only be on for a little longer," but he just took it the wrong way and didn't really say very much, and he left soon after. And I didn't see him any more, or hear from him.

From Chessbase.com

In Frank Brady's biography of World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer, Endgame, the author writes: "It is known that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation wanted to interview Bobby for a documentary. He demanded $5,000 just to discuss it over the phone, with no promises of anything else. The network refused." (p. 229).

Although it is indeed possible that the CBC tried to contact Fischer, I believe Brady's sources are inaccurate and probably refer to an episode I feel free to discuss publicly, now that Fischer is no longer with us.

In late 1980, the National Film Board of Canada, a world-famous documentary studio (as opposed to the CBC which is a television network), agreed to finance and produce a feature-length documentary on the game of chess. The director was Gilles Carle, one of the best-known filmmakers in the country; I was the researcher and writer, although eventually circumstances pushed me into the role of co-director as well. The NFB producer in charge of the project was Helene Verrier.

Shooting started in spring 1981 and went on until the fall of that year. We filmed in Lone Pine, New York (where we interviewed GM and chess legend Reuben Fine), at Bell Labs in New Jersey (the site of pioneering chess program development), in Iceland, Holland, and finally in Merano for the Karpov vs. Kortchnoi World Championship.

Gilles, who passed away recently, was an enthusiastic chess amateur, and backed me up fully when I suggested we invite Bobby Fischer to participate in the film. Helene completely approved as well, a crucial factor since, without the unconditional backing of our producer, we stood no chance of getting anywhere.

Did we have high hopes? Perhaps not, but we felt we held two cards in our favor.

Firstly, there was the NFB's international reputation and its non-commercial status, which we believed might alleviate Fischer's famous fear of being taken advantage of. The Film Board's very mandate guaranteed that no individual stood any chance of personally benefiting financially from the project. We also hoped - naively, as it turned out - that this consideration might encourage Fischer to go easy on us as far as financial demands were concerned.

The other factor was that our project was by far the most ambitious documentary ever made about the game up to that time, and Fischer might not wish to be left out.

I do not remember exactly when I started tracking down Bobby Fischer, nor how I finally got hold of the phone number of the Mokarows, who were Fischer's spokespersons at the time. I think it must have been in January or February of 1981, and that it was either thanks to Ed Edmondson, a longtime executive officer of the United States Chess Federation, or through the help of Dobrila Suttles, whose husband, Canadian GM Duncan Suttles, was rumored to still have some distant contact with Fischer. At any rate, over the next several months, I had numerous phone conversations with the Mokarows, during which I had to answer many questions about myself, our team, and the purpose of the movie.

My impression of Mr. Mokarow was that of an articulate, intelligent person who held his cards very close to his chest indeed. I also had the distinct feeling that someone was listening in on most of our conversations, as I always had to call at a very precise time and there were too many unnaturally long pauses between Mokarow's replies.

The location for the first shoot was the famous Lone Pine Open in California, which offered a great opportunity to meet Arthur Mokarow face to face, since he was based in the LA area. I had to request a meeting several times, and he eventually agreed, although only at the last minute.

I met him at an upscale Japanese restaurant and again explained our plans and purposes. As we parted, he told me he would consult with Mr. Fischer and get back to me. This was in April 1981. The following month, I received a letter saying that Fischer refused to participate in the movie. With hindsight, and after reading about other negotiations of this nature in Frank Brady's book, I realize that this was a typical Fischer gambit.

At any rate, I wrote him back saying how disappointed I was and how I felt he was losing a great chance to tell the world his side of the story, particularly his reasons for not defending his title and for staying away from professional chess for almost ten years.

Maybe it was a result of my insistence (I wrote several more letters), or maybe reports of our shooting around the world triggered something, but when I contacted the Fischer-Mokarow team again in late 1981, telling them we had filmed the Karpov-Kortchnoi world championship in Merano, Italy, and that we had interviewed both players for our movie, I found the door suddenly swung open. Meeting Fischer for further discussions was now primarily a question of money. The conditions were a cool US $5,000 in cash (worth about CAD $6,000 at the time) just to talk, as well as a written guarantee that nothing about the meeting or the subjects discussed was to be made public.

Although the film's budget was adequate for the general goals we had in mind, $6,000 was a lot of money to spend on something as elusive as Fischer's participation. Most producers would have balked at this, but Helene was a trooper and actually managed to get the go-ahead from the NFB's top brass.

That is how I came to board a Montreal-LA flight in early 1982 in the company of Helene and Gilles. Helene's presence was necessary because we knew that further financial demands would follow and only she had authority over that aspect of the negotiations. As director of the movie, Gilles hoped to win Fischer over with his cinematographic ideas and convince him that his participation in a major documentary that would be shown all over the world was essential.

Helene was a little nervous having to travel with all that cash, and I do not remember if she eventually met with Mr. Mokarow to hand it over to him, or if she gave it to Fischer personally when we saw him. But in any case, soon after our arrival we were instructed to take a taxi to a designated street corner in Pasadena and pick Fischer up at 8 p.m. He would then direct us to a French restaurant in LA.

Upon our arrival, a tall, lanky figure emerged from the shadows across the street, crossed quickly as if in a panic, jumped into the cab and gave the restaurant's address to the driver. This was truly the stuff of Hollywood, and Helene, Gilles and I looked at each other: would Fischer agree to appear in our movie? He already seemed to live in one!

Fischer was relatively well dressed, but his suit was far from the flashy, perfectly tailored attire I had seen in photos and newsreels. He was bigger around the waist, and, though I would not go so far as to say he looked haggard, there was certainly something broken about him. He had been reading while waiting for us, and I remember taking a peek at the paperback he was holding in his hand, wondering if it had anything to do with chess. But no, it was a comic book, and in Spanish, which was a surprise, as I was not aware he knew that language.

The introductions were hurried and awkward. "So who is the chess guy?" he asked almost immediately. The way he said it, I knew right away I was going to have to carry most of the conversation. His brusque manner made that seem a less than enthralling prospect. Fischer was not one for small talk, and after a few minutes things came pretty much to a standstill in the restaurant while we waited for our food. Luckily, I remembered a number of positions from his 1972 World Championship games against Spassky, and as soon as I came up with a question about the opening of the fifth game, he whipped out a miniature chess set from his pocket and started looking at my suggestions, most of which he proceeded to demolish!

So there I was, having the thrill of analyzing for a couple of hours with Bobby the Great, watching him maneuver the pieces between the fancy salad and the foie gras, and hoping that my occasional suggestions did not make me look like too much of a patzer!

By 1980, I had basically ended my career as a professional player, but was still very curious to see how Fisher's mind worked. One tends to think of genius as some kind of mysterious power, but Fischer basically proceeded like all masters, except he was much faster in his appraisals, and the proportion of trial and error in his mental process (i.e. playing through a variation over the board and then rejecting it) was much smaller. Still, hypothesis and verification were at the core of his method, just like everyone else's. He was also very open-minded about odd-looking moves - something I had wondered about, considering he belonged (in my view) mainly to the positional, objective school of chess.

We had hardly broached the subject of the film by the time the waiters' discreet coughs signaled that the restaurant was closing. By then Fischer was in a much more relaxed and sociable mood, and graciously accepted our invitation to pursue the conversation at our hotel.

We got to my room (Fischer refused to go to a public place) by midnight, and for the next three hours, Helene and Gilles explained the project amid a barrage of questions and objections from a smiling but non-committal Fischer.

By 3 a.m., exhausted by the long day's trip and having basically argued their case the best they could several times, Helene and Gilles said goodnight and each went off to sleep. I would have liked to go to sleep myself, but Fischer was all gung ho and showed no sign of calling it a day. I was afraid that my cutting the meeting short might offend him and jeopardize the negotiations, so I found myself having to talk with him all through the night.

The conversation very quickly turned away from chess and the documentary as Fischer brought up what was clearly his favorite subject: conspiracy theories. It was obvious that he was eager not only to share his views, but also to bring me around to them.

Fortunately for me, I had already met a number of people like him (not all of them chess players!) and had long been familiar with a number of his so-called sources, such as the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion". So the specious erudition he brandished hardly impressed me. I had also read some of the theories on which Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God - the sect Fischer was known to have had a long involvement with - based most of its articles of faith.

Fischer, to illustrate one of his many outlandish views, was persuaded that thirty-two or so Jewish families controlled the planet. He was sure that the Cold War was just a hoax, that these families ruled both the USA and the Soviet Union, and that they were using their fake planetary rivalry to deceive the world and extend their own power.

At first, Fischer would not listen when I told him that most of the Protocols was lifted from a satirical book published in France under Napoleon III. He refused to accept the fact that I had seen, in several libraries, copies dating back unequivocally to the 1860s. "How do you know," he said, "that they are not fakes and were not planted later on all over the world in order to mislead people like you?"

This was a typical paranoid mind operating: I knew from experience that there was no realistic hope of achieving anything through rational discussion. But since I was stuck in this strange conversation, I decided to give it my best shot. After all, Fischer was a chess player and logic was a central part of his psychological make-up.

There were a couple of moments during the long hours in which we locked horns when I could see a slight look of doubt cloud his eyes. I tried to make him realize that his way of reasoning was a hopelessly closed loop. "Any fact in my favor is in my favor; any fact against me is only a clever lie and just proves my point!" This put him in a state of mental zugzwang from which not even the strongest argument could deliver him.

For instance, when I asked him the obvious question as to why, if the Jews controlled the world, they would have allowed the Holocaust to take place, he first answered that it had probably never taken place, but that if it really had, it must have been to more cunningly cover up their domination! When I pointed out that this circular reasoning was precisely what I was talking about, he looked shaken for a while... but sadly not for very long!

One thing I was grateful for, though, was that Fischer showed absolutely no sign of the mind-numbing Biblical references that evangelists of all stripes seem duty-bound to inflict on their neighbors. There were no prayers before meals, no outpouring of "Praise the Lord", quotes from "Genesis 1:3", or other trimmings one observes with evangelist proselytizers. As a matter of fact, for someone whose career was marked by so many conflicts with tournament organizers because of his Seventh-day Sabbatarianism, religion was remarkably absent from Fischer's persona.

I could not help but compare him with another player who experienced similar issues all through his long career, GM Samuel Reshevsky, Fischer's old rival, whom I had just seen in Lone Pine.

I had approached the former prodigy and US Champion for an interview for the documentary, and met him on several occasions; he kept changing his mind as to his possible participation (in the end, he refused, although he never made his reasons clear). Every time I went to Reshevsky's little motel suite, he was either washing dishes or cooking his next meal: one did not exactly trip over kosher food in a one-saloon town like Lone Pine. I am sure he would have preferred to rest or study between rounds, but he seemed cheerful enough performing these chores, and there could be no doubt that this was a genuinely devout man whose religion permeated every aspect of life.

The impression one got from Fischer was very different.

Although his attitude towards religion clearly evolved with age (as Brady shows in the book), I am convinced that at the time of our meeting (and probably for a long time before) sentiment had little part in Fischer's interest in religion. I believe Fischer was someone who was looking for explanations, and religion attracted him mainly as something that could give him a key to understanding. And not just any kind of understanding.

Being from his very childhood an outsider and a loner, as well as a "genius", it was probably inevitable that Fischer should be drawn to views that isolated him and exacerbated his difference from the mainstream, and at the same time nourished his sense of superiority and predestination.

I do not think it is a coincidence that Fischer did not feel drawn to conventional religious denominations, and that he was instead attracted from a very early age to the World Wide Church of God, an Evangelical sect that was quite well known after the war thanks to its radio broadcasts and its ubiquitous magazine, "The Plain Truth".

Even fundamentalist Evangelical churches viewed the World Wide Church as a fringe cult during its half century of existence, which is not surprising if one looks at just one of its basic tenets: Anglo-Israelism, or the notion that the real descendants of the Biblical Hebrews are the people who came to inhabit the English Isles and neighboring countries.

The holders of Biblical inerrancy, who believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that everything in it is literally true (although doors are often left conveniently open for interpretation) have always had a hard time reconciling Christianity's negative and often heinous attitude toward the Jews with the fact that God chose to reveal his Book to them.

Anglo-Israelism cuts this Gordian knot bluntly by claiming that only a small number of modern Jews are descendants of Biblical Hebrews, and that even those belong only to the "bad" tribes (Judah and Benjamin). All other Jews of modern times are claimed to be impostors and to have no direct link with the Jews of Biblical times. The only supposedly genuine Hebrews left are the scions of the Lost Tribes of Israel, who (Armstrong revealed to a supposedly benighted America) migrated ages ago to the British Isles and northwestern Europe.

Armstrong was not the first who devised this solution to the "I love the Bible but not the Jews" conundrum. The Lost Tribes of Israel have been an object of speculation for centuries, and have been located in the most surprising places, from Southeast Asia to Hawaii to British Columbia.

Besides "solving" the Jewish problem, Anglo-Israelism opens the door to an alluring proposition: it marks out all Americans of English and northwest European origin as "real Jews". From a religious point of view, it creates a direct relationship between them and Israel and gives them a claim on the Biblical Land. There is more than meets the eye in the current support for the state of Israel shown by many fundamentalist Christians, something that may seem surprising at first when one considers that many of them come from parts of the United States where not long ago the fiercely anti-Semitic KKK flourished.

This theory is a perfect example of circular thinking. It holds no water as a key to understanding history or the world, but it does give at least a partial understanding of how Fischer, a Jew himself, could justify his anti-Semitism in his own eyes: the world Jewry he loathed and denounced was not a body of authentic Jews, but was a bunch of traitors or impostors. He told me so himself; and went on about it at such length that before I knew it, night had turned into morning.

It was a relief when by noon a rested Helene and Gilles finally came to my rescue and asked if we wanted to go for lunch. We went down to the hotel restaurant, and although it was still mostly empty at that hour, Fischer made a beeline for the remotest booth and sat against the wall so that he could keep an eye on anybody who came in. ("The FBI, you know!")

By the time we parted around 3 p.m., Fischer was showing interest not only in the chess documentary, but in the shooting of a fiction film Gilles was scheduled to start a couple of months later. Fischer said he had always been curious to see how movies were shot on location, and Gilles invited him to come and watch - all expenses paid, of course, and total anonymity guaranteed.

Fischer was very friendly by the time we left, and although he was still noncommittal, he showed a lot of interest in our project. We felt we had established a fragile but real bond of trust and that there actually was some possibility of his participation.

At any rate, as a parting gift, he suddenly whipped out three copies of the "Protocols" from his jacket and, all smiles, gave one to each of us!

Our hopes were dashed when we received a letter a few weeks later listing conditions that, based on our conversations, he knew very well could not be met. Among other things, he asked for a $50,000 honorarium, insisted on being billed in the movie and its publicity as the World Chess Champion, and, totally unrealistically, demanded to be paid rights for any stock footage in which he appeared and was used in the film.

So in the end, we had to do without Fischer, although the film, which came out in the summer of 1982 under the title of "The Great Chess Movie" in its English version, did manage to include some good documentary footage of his career. I recently found out someone has posted it in three parts on YouTube (see links below).

Reminiscing over my 19-hour marathon with Bobby (this was the only time I was to meet him), what stands out first of all is the memory of a lonely man who craved company as much as he tried to avoid it.

I remember, too, the very pleasant side of his personality. He was at his most friendly during the wee hours near dawn, when we were alone and he seemed to feel safe and at ease, talking very openly. I recall the distinct feeling of being in the presence of an emotionally very young and, in a way, very innocent person, and I could not help liking him even though he kept coming up with the most outrageous and repulsive opinions and remarks.

The deepest impression that remains, though, was that he was brainwashed and manipulated.

It was rumored in the chess world in the early '80s that after the fallout between Herbert Armstrong and his son Garner Ted Armstrong, Fischer had followed the latter in the splinter sect he went on to establish. My meetings with the Mokarows and Fischer did not give me enough evidence to say for sure which side Fischer actually chose. I asked Mokarow point-blank once, but he demurred.

Mokarow himself, who can now be found giving his latest take on the Bible on YouTube of all places, claims he stopped working for the Worldwide Church of God in the late '70s and went on to become a very successful businessman. I do not know if he ever made a clean break with that organization, and the whole picture remains blurred as there were rumors at some point in the '80s of a reconciliation between Fischer and Armstrong Sr. (Fischer had donated a lot of money to Armstrong and was very upset when his doomsday prophecies failed to materialize in 1972).

Still, I was left with the strong feeling that, far from being merely Fischer's representatives, Arthur and Claudia Mokarow exerted a great influence on his decisions. I would go so far as to say that the 180-degree change in Fischer's position on the documentary or towards the invitation as a guest of honor at Gilles' shooting location was the work of people who were loath to let Fischer out of their grip for any length of time. Brady describes the couple as a "kind of buffer for Bobby" and says that they were in a position of "considering offers (and rejecting them) without even discussing them with Bobby".

I am not implying that Fischer was a lamb-like victim and that "they" (whoever it was who ultimately manipulated him) necessarily had sinister motives. Fischer was a needy, unbalanced, and difficult person, and it is possible, I suppose, that those who used and/or encouraged his feelings of persecution sincerely felt that they were doing the right thing by keeping him away as much as possible from the secular values of the chess world and the stress of a professional player's life.

On the other hand, Fischer, with his immense aura and fame, was literally a godsend for any group or individual engaged in the business of recruiting members and saving souls. Apart from his being potentially a great source of money, the bizarre worldview of the milieu into which he was plunged cannot be ignored. Who knows if his beating the Communists was not interpreted as a sign from above, or if he was not seen to play a role in an imminent "prophecy"? In any case, he was too much of a prize to risk losing to outside influences, and the Mokarows' role of gatekeepers gave them the power not only to keep people out, but to keep Fischer in.

Fischer eventually seems to have distanced himself from the Mokarows, if only because after 1992, he could not return to the States and remain in their entourage. He went on to graze in other "spiritual" pastures, though he was never able to shed the paranoia and fringe ideas that were ingrained in his mind since adolescence.

There will be some who will use this fact to defend the role religion played in his life. They will say that he was emotionally unbalanced to begin with. That maybe it was chess which was deleterious, and that whatever balance he managed to achieve was due to religion's positive influence.

But chess players know that this is hogwash. Despite the stereotypes, chess does not drive anyone mad; if anything, it keeps madness at bay. It may be abstract, but it is real and true, and keeps the mind grounded. No matter how much we would like to get rid of that queen, we know it is a queen, not a spy; and that pawn about to check our king is not an agent of Satan, it is doing just what a pawn is supposed to do!

Chess is the very antithesis of circular thinking. It is supremely rational, whereas religion is, by definition, non-rational.

One of the motifs of "The Great Chess Movie" is that chess and chess players have always reflected the times and places where the game flourished. Fischer is no exception. The parallel between his life and certain aspects of post-war America is striking. He had all the drive and ambition of America, its readiness to defy authority, and, like the archetypal Hollywood hero, the determination to single handedly fight the system and win against all odds.

But his life also embodies the dark side of these wonderful qualities: emotional and intellectual isolation. Since its beginnings, America has always been a grand battleground between rationalism and religious utopia, and Fischer's life mirrors the accelerating slide from one to the other in American society since WWII.

In a country where Creationism has been endorsed by a President, where a significant proportion of people believe that Man walked with the dinosaurs, and a nuclear war in the Middle East is viewed by many as a necessary prelude to Rapture, ideas such as Anglo-Israelism now no longer seem so over the top. Unique in his talent and a loner as a person, Fischer was yet a true child of the country he came to hate and reject. In a twisted way, Fischer's post-9/11 rants may have been unpatriotic, but they showed how very American he was.

I remain convinced that his involvement with sects and the influence of religious zealots had a determining role in the tragic course of life, and turned his promising reign as world champion into the greatest waste of talent in the game's history. Few lives better illustrate the self-destruction that ensues when a great brain falls victim to irrational thinking.

In conclusion, I am intrigued by the fact that, among the many theories Brady gives for Fischer's anti-Semitism, Anglo-Israelism is never mentioned. I find it even more curious that the nature of Fischer's relationship with the World Wide Church of God and the Mokarows is never seriously discussed in Brady's otherwise rather thorough biography.

It appears almost as if, in exchange for some skin-and-bones information on Fischer's whereabouts and living habits, Brady had to vow not to come close to the elephant in the room: the devastating impact Fischer's association with cults must have had on all his life and career.

Perhaps this smacks of paranoia, but then again, maybe I did pick up a thing or two from Bobby Fischer.

Camille Coudari
Montreal, December 2011

Fischer - Larsen 1971

From the 64 newspapers.

Prematch commentary

Before the New Difficult Battles by Vasily Panov

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 defense. 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 Larsen in 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 diplomatic 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.

Postmatch commentary

Miracles and Reality by Mikhail Botvinnik

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

Fischer - Taimanov 1971

From the 64 newspapers.

Prematch commentary

by Igor Bondarevsky

Many commentators and especially the public wait impatiently for the match between Robert Fischer and Mark Taimanov. It's not only because the American grandmaster's name is popular both at the West and in our country, but also because of various facts and anecdotes that grow around his name. Besides, everyone wants to know how serious Fischer's claim for the world championship is this time.

We often hear that Fischer has little match experience. But Taimanov has even less: the Leningrad player had only one short match against Botvinnik in his career. So, other moments seem more important. Fischer is much younger and goes forward creatively. He's able to fight in every game, from the very beginning until the end, until the lonely kings - only a few players are able to do that. Of our players, only Korchnoi plays like that. Others sometimes let themselves rest at the distance, which can be beneficial though. But Fischer/Korchnoi-type character has an important advantage: such players develop a very dangerous, fighting style as they grow older. The partner doesn't get any rest - not for one game, not for one hour, not for one move... And it's especially hard to withstand such style in a match, when sometimes you're desperate for a "grandmaster's draw". That's why both Fischer and Korchnoi are so dangerous both in tournaments and in matches. (The other thing is that, strategically speaking, Petrosian and Spassky have their advantages in long matches, which are different from the short ones. But that's another question.)

As a chess player, I see Fischer as a prominent grandmaster of a great practical strength, with scientific understanding of the game. He consciously widens his opening repertoire, and used his long hiatus from active playing wisely. He did his homework, that's for sure. It seems that Fischer has carefully planned his further chess development. There are no tricks and no bluffs in his playing - he's a chess player of a pure, crystal clear classical style. People sometimes talk about Fischer's chess naivete, but Capablanca played in a similar style, and nobody ever called Capablanca naive. Those talks are seemingly caused by anecdotes that surround Fischer. The American grandmaster has a great endgame technique, and always plays until the lonely kings, which is especially dangerous with such a strong technique.

Taimanov should have prepared a serious and well thought-out opening repertoire for the match. The Leningrad player most probably didn't widen it, but he surely had to deepen his schemes (especially in the Sicilian), because Fischer plays Sicilian incredibly strong as White. Mark Evgenievich will have a very hard time in technical endgames: the opponent is just stronger. I think that Taimanov's chances lie in creating unusual, unconventional positions. When the fight gets tactical, when the course of play changes dramatically, when there's no clear-cut plan, it's easier for Taimanov. There, he's not weaker than his opponent.

Post match commentary

Mikhail Beilin about the Fischer - Taimanov match

Robert Fischer again demonstrated the qualities of an indomitable fighter who strives to win every game. He's very active and very accurate at the same time. Taimanov's will to fight was literally crushed. After the Interzonal, some critics were too happy to find Fischer's mistakes, saying that in the earlier years, there were fewer of them... Complete precision in chess is impossible. And the fight is not easy even for the greatest chess players. Complete precision and drawing death are specters of the past. Fischer's strength is obvious, he's on a roll.

In 1967, Fischer said that he wasn't going to play at Sousse - the prizes were too small. He started the tournament successfully, and then just quit. Before the Sousse tournament, I wrote, "At this time (1972), Fischer will be 29 years old. And he will be a grandmaster for 14 years. Didn't Fischer plan his ultimate fight for the 1972?

I think that it's one of Fischer's strategical maneuvers, perhaps even more deep and subtle than it might seem". Literaturnaya Gazeta, No. 3, 1967.

This speculation was based on a memory: Alekhine prepared for a world championship match against Capablanca when Lasker was still a world champion. He calculated a move ahead, if you will. And avoided playing Capablanca in tournaments. Why? Alekhine gave a clear answer: he played weaker than Capablanca then, but was sure that eventually he would be playing stronger.

Viktor Korchnoi about the Fischer - Taimanov match

I thought that Taimanov would put up more resistance to Fischer.

The Canadian match impressed me mightily. Taimanov looked good in the openings, but chess isn't just an openings game. You know, for some reason I think that Taimanov... underestimated Fischer. How can you underestimate a player with such colossal successes?! Anyway, Taimanov wasn't ready to face such a mighty opponent. Perhaps some articles in our press are to blame, that showed Fischer in a wrong light. 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. In the match against Fischer - and I'm sure that he would defeat Larsen, even though there'll be a real war on the board - Petrosian or I would face a very, very difficult challenge. Now, after the match against Taimanov, nobody can say that Fischer is only a tournament player. He's a chess fighter of exceptional strength. And we all should remember that.

Boris Spassky about the Fischer - Taimanov match

The American grandmaster attracts much interest from the entire world now. He won the US championship aged 13, shows extra class results in the last 7 years, and now he's on the finish line of the world championship cycle. The specialists think that Fischer will most probably become the world championship candidate. I think that Fischer represents a great chess strength. A great grandmaster with a clear, precise style. In the last years, he'd became much more mature, serious, solid, stopped giving too many interviews. Fischer is a true chess fanatic. I have a sympathy towards him. I think that 64 shouldn't have published A. Golubev's articles 'Subjectively about Fischer'.

Before the match with Fischer, Taimanov had to solve a lot of serious troubles. Taimanov was the first Soviet grandmaster to play a match with Fischer. Taimanov's chances were in good opening preparation and readiness for a harsh, no-nonsense struggle. It's hard to play against Fischer - he puts up difficult problems. We also have to consider the age difference (Fischer is 28, while Taimanov is 45). The American grandmaster has his vulnerabilities, even though there aren't many of them. He likes when his opponents sacrifice material to him. Also, he becomes flustered when he doesn't see a clear strategic plan.

Taimanov's playing in games 1 and 3 was too impulsive and nervous. He couldn't play a single game consistently strong. After losing the third game, when Taimanov could play Qh3 and pose more difficult problems for Fischer, everything was over. But such moves require concentration, willpower and iron nerves.

The score is frightening, to be frank. I discussed Fischer's chances before the start, but only Botvinnik (and Taimanov himself) was optimistic: "if Taimanov manages to put up a lot of work, choose the right way..." Other grandmasters, including me, predicted that Fischer would win. But nobody expected a 6-0 score.

Looking forward to 1972, I would like to play Fischer for the world championship. Do I fear him? Like Korchnoi, I fear myself most. Lasker said that the man is responsible for his work, not for its results, and he was right. I feel good enough, I have new ideas and am ready to grow. But in what form will I be, how good will be the decisive games - no chess player can say that for sure. Speaking of the possible match against Fischer, I'm in a good mood. The very thought of such an interesting competition causes much enthusiasm.

Book Reviews

By International Master John Donaldson

Each generation has a tendency to think it is the best at everything no matter how ridiculous this might sometimes be, but I must say this is the golden age for chess book publishing. Never before have so many excellent books appeared for players of all levels and interests. One can credit this to many factors including better tools including ChessBase, stronger analytical engines and the Internet. The larger pool of potential authors that have become available as the chess world becomes better connected is also a big plus.

Paradoxically this golden age for chess literature is coinciding with a decrease in printed books as a younger generation prefers to receive their information electronically. Publishers also face the sad fact that soon after a new book appears pirated copies will start appearing on the Internet. Fortunately publishers are a hardy lot and the end of the printed chess book appears to be nowhere in sight.

There are smaller publishers that do an excellent job like Mongoose Press and Russell Enterprises, and others that specialize (think McFarland a giant in the field of chess history for over three decades), but the big three in the English language when it comes to hard chess content are New In Chess, Everyman Chess and Quality Chess. Note that another outstanding publisher, Gambit, is no longer as active as it once was.

The Dutch company New in Chess is most famous for its outstanding magazine which bears the same name and its Yearbook series dating back thirty years. It publishes books on all subject matter with its strongest offerings reminiscences of famous players by Sosonko and anything written by Sokolov and Tukmakov.

Everyman Chess from England is best known as the publisher of Kasparov's My Great Predecessors series, but has also carved out a niche for its self with its electronic offerings. Alone of the big three, it offers many of its books in digital as well as print format. Although Everyman does publish many books for higher rated readers its bread and butter is The Move by Move series, an interactive approach aimed at players rated 1600-2200.

The third member of the group, Quality Chess from Scotland, aims at a different market than the other two. This is the series Grandmasters read and the target audience is primarily players rated 2200 on up and those willing to do the work to get there. Five recent offerings from Quality Chess (www.qualitychess.co.uk) confirm that it is the unquestioned leader when it comes to consistently publishing chess books of the highest quality.

Danish Grandmaster Lars Schandorff has the gift of producing manageable and readable opening books that could have ended up the size of a large phonebook in lesser hands. The author of previously well received works on the Caro-Kann and a 1.d4 repertoire, Schandorff's latest book is a Semi-Slav repertoire book.

Only 260 pages (albeit the pages are good size and two column), one might assume the author is offering one line against 5.Bg5 as the Botvinnik (5...dxc4) and the Moscow/Anti-Moscow (5...h6) are both huge complexes, but they would be wrong. Schandorff manages to not only cover The Botvinnik but two lines in the Moscow (5...h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.e3 Nd7 8.Bd3 dx4 9.Bxc4 and now both 9...Bd6 (after which Schandorff believes Black has no problems) and the more popular and dynamic 9...g6. Also included in this work is coverage of the Meran (8...Bb7) and various Anti-Meran systems. The latter includes an interesting novelty in the line 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.Bd2 0-0 8.0-0-0 b5 9.cxb5 Bb7 10.Kb1 Qb8! Such novelties are sprinkled throughout this book.

The Semi-Slav offers Black one stop shopping against 1.d4 starting with the position reached after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6. Schandorff spends five pages discussing the various pros and cons of various move-orders (2...e6 or 2...c6) with a preference for the latter which offers White the choice of the Exchange Slav, well-covered in another Quality Chess offering on the Classical Slav by Boris Avrukh. Schandorff's book is must reading for anyone who plays the Semi-Slav. This book is attractively produced and reasonably priced at $29.95.

Highly Recommended

Seven years ago Israeli Grandmaster Boris Avrukh (now Chicago based) set a new standard for opening books with his two volume repertoire series devoted to 1.d4. Over 1000 pages in length it raised the bar with its in depth coverage, particularly volume one and its treatment of the Catalan. Now Avrukh is back with a second edition of this classic work.

As one might guess from the title 1.d4 The Catalan the first volume of the second edition of this series is primarily devoted to that opening as it was in its processor. Not only has Avrukh updated his analysis, in many cases he has changed the line he recommends - a case in point being the Open Catalan main line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.0-0 dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 where he now favors 8.a4 (previously his choice was 8.Qxc4).

One big difference between the first and second editions is while the former paired the Catalan with the Slav, Queen's Gambit and Queen's Gambit here its companions are the Bogo-Indian, Old Benoni and Modern Benoni. Avrukh explains in the introduction this reorganization was necessary as theory had changed substantially in some lines and the weighting of certain sections had to change to reflect this. Anyone looking to open 1.d4, with the Catalan the heart of their repertoire, will find this book just the thing they need. Amazingly the price for this new edition ($29.95) is the same as it was seven years ago.

Highly Recommended

The first two books in this review were opening books, by nature limited to an audience that plays those systems. The following books don't have this restriction and can be recommended to all chess lovers. Non-chess players looking for a well-appreciated Christmas gift to give lovers of the Royal Game will find any of these three fit the bill.

The first, Python Strategy, is a collection of the writings of Tigran Petrosian. The ninth world champion (1963-1969) has not had nearly the number of books devoted to him as Fischer or Kasparov but there have been more than a few. They include works in English by Clarke, O'Kelly, Vasiliev, Soltis and Smith and Keene. The famous German Weltgeschichte series included a volume dedicated to Petrosian but the most impressive past work on Petrosian was the massive two-volume series published by Pergamon Chess in the early 1990s. These two oversize hardback books came to close to 1000 pages and were compiled by Eduard Shekhtman and based on Petrosian's work.

Unfortunately while Petrosian was an outstanding writer (something English language readers learned from his stimulating chapter in How to Open a Chess Game) he only started working on a book of his best games in December 1983 and died less than a year later with the project unfinished. Shekhtman did an outstanding job of pulling together material but keep in mind that a good deal of the length of the two volumes was due to the inclusion of many unannotated games by Petrosian - a treat in the early 1990s but no longer so special with today's databases.

Some of the same material to be found in Shekhtman's volumes can also be found in Petrosian's Legacy a 123-page paperback published in Los Angeles in 1990, but it also contains new information.

How does Python Strategy compare? How much overlap is there? This is not easy to say. The editor for the volume, Oleg Stetsko, has clearly built on Shekhtman's work, and some of the material, most notably several key games that Petrosian played against the King's Indian with his pet system (d5 and Bg5,) can be found in several Petrosian related works, but there is almost much that is new not counting the contributions by Jacob Aaagard and Karsten Mueller.

Python Strategy, which contains numerous interviews of Petrosian, has over 100 deeply annotated games which a cursory glance suggests is more than appears in any previous works. This includes the two volume Shekhtman books which have long been out of print. A paperback edition of the two volumes is now available for $29 per volume but the production qualities are not up to the level of the original, in particular the excellent quality black and white photos have not reproduced well.

Those looking for insights into the mind one of the most original World Champions of all time will find Python Strategy a fitting tribute and an excellent value at $29.95 for a near 400 page book.

Highly Recommended

The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal routinely appears on the list of the best chess books ever written and for good reason. This compilation of Tal's writings captures him at his best with lots of fantastic games and insights into the unique personality which make him arguably the best-loved of all the world champions. This makes one wonder about the need for more works on him, particularly when there are more books on Tal than all the greats except Fischer and Kasparov.

Hungarian International Master Tibor Karolyi's Mikhail Tal's Best Games 2: 1960-1971, like the first volume of this trilogy which covered Tal's early years, offers ample reason why this is a most welcome series which takes a fresh look at the games of the "Magician from Riga" and provides many anecdotes from his contemporaries.

The notes to the games in the present volume, which traces Tal's journey from winning the World Championship to 1971 when he was still among the world's elite, are first rate. Readable, yet with plenty of concrete variations when needed, Karolyi's annotations are insightful. A case in point is his seven pages of coverage devoted to Tal's epic encounter with Karen Grigorian in the 1971 Soviet Championship. The latter, not to be confused with the 2015 Armenian champion of the same name, was a great talent (according to Karolyi he had an even score with Tal over nine games and finished at 50 percent in the extremely string 1973 U.S.S.R. Championship) who met a tragic end. The game in question, which won a special prize for the Armenian for the best ending of the tournament, was not mistake free but was a great struggle right up to the end. At move 55 when Tal plays Bg4! Karolyi writes: "Tal goes after the enemy king. For such an attacking player, I was surprised at how rare an occurrence this was in Tal's endgames. By contrast, when I wrote my books about Karpov I was surprised at how often the twelfth world champion checkmated his opponents in endgames." Only someone intimately familiar with the games of these two great could have such an insight.

No chess player can fail to love Mikhail Tal's Best Game 2: 1960-1971, which is attractively produced and affordably priced at $29.95, a good value for a 357 page book.

Highly Recommended

Last but hardly least in this review of recent Quality Chess books is Boris Gelfand's Positional Decision Making in Chess. The Israeli Grandmaster, who narrowly missed becoming World Champion in 2012, has enjoyed a long and successful career which continues to this day. Talent has played a role in his development but so has an incredible work ethic fueled by an insatiable curiosity about the game. Positional Decision Making in Chess focuses on seldom-discussed topics like the squeeze, space advantage, the transformation of pawn structures and the transformation of advantages using Gelfand's games and those of his long-time favorite Akiba Rubinstein. The latter stopped playing in the early 1930s but Gelfand feels his games are still quite relevant for modern players.

There are many original and perceptive observations sprinkled throughout this book. Prefacing his game with Argentine Grandmaster Daniel Campora from Cesme 2004, Gelfand writes:

When you have managed to squeeze your opponent into only two or three ranks, it is often the case that you want to exchange the rooks and queens, but not the minor pieces. Rooks, and especially queens, will be able to do a lot of damage if they manage to sneak behind a far-advanced pawn chain, while minor pieces do not gain extra potential from a big void in the same way. Also, they are far less likely to escape from their prison.

This of course only matters in positions where there is at least one open file; how are the rooks otherwise going to be able to escape? But in most games there is an open file, as for example this one.

At move 26 in his game with Campora after starting a sequence of moves which will clear all the heavy pieces off the board Gelfand writes:

Apparently it is anything but obvious to some other grandmasters that White should exchange all the heavy artillery in this position, but I did not spend a lot of time on this decision at all. The danger of doing this is of course that Black could be able to set up a fortress and the heavy pieces would be needed to break it. Making such a decision at the board depends a lot on what you believe about the position. I was sure that I could break any attempt and therefore went for it without much hesitation. I should add that it is of course too far into the future to consider which type of fortress Black will try to set up. This is a moment to go with your feeling. I believed that White would win this ending and there were a lot of upsides to it. And I always play according to my beliefs. At the end of the day it is not a matter of life and death; nor is it the right moment to try to find ultimate solutions.

Such comments are invaluable and recall some of the annotations Botvinnik made that are worth their weight in gold. Positional Decision Making in Chess is filled with such nuggets of wisdom.

Any player rated 2200 on up will find this book to be full of food for thought. This is must reading for any serious chess player.

My strongest recommendation without reservation

Birds' Opening: Move by Move (Everyman Chess 2015, www.everymanchess.com, 448 pages, figurine algebraic, $29.95) by International Master Cyrus Lakdawala is one-stop shopping for those who like to open 1.f4. It covers all Black responses from From's Gambit (1...e5) to Reversed Dutch setups (1...d5) with the Leningrad, Classical (d3 and e3), Stonewall (e3 and d4) and lines where White fianchettoes his queen fianchetto are all examined. Although the title of this book suggests it is limited to only the Bird this is not the case as against 1...c5 with ...d6 (and not ...d5) Lakdawala favors Closed Sicilian and Big Clamp (e4, f4, d3, c3) setups.

Even the most experienced Bird aficionado will find something new in Lakdawala's book. The line 1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 Bg4 4.Be2 Nbd7 5.h3 Bxf3 6.Bxf3 c6 by ...e5 has long enjoyed a good reputation for Black but Birds' Opening: Move by Move favors dispensing with Be2 and playing h3 right away, capturing with the queen and then playing g4 immediately. This is not the only line of the Bird that the author recommends handling in a modern fashion. In the Classical Dutch reversed (1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 followed by Be2 and d3) he advocates lines with an early Nc3. In the Dutch this approach is usually considered suspicious due to a well-timed d4-d5 but Lakdawala feels the extra tempo makes this approach viable for White. Possibly the biggest revelation in this book is what the author recommends for White after 1.f4 f5. Lakdawala likes 2.e4 but with the twist that after 2...fxe4 the first player go for a From's Gambit reversed with 3.d3. The author believe that the inclusion of f4 makes the gambit not only playable but in fact favors White slightly.

Following the Move by Move format this book is arranged around 53 well annotated games that constantly feature questions designed to engage the reader. Like other books published by Everyman Chess this book is available in a variety of electronic formats.


Many chess players would be hard pressed to name U.S. champions between Paul Morphy and Henry Nelson Pillsbury. Fortunately North Carolina based McFarland & Company has done much to rectify this situation. Four players held the title between these giants of American chess and MacFarland has previously published books on Jackson Showalter and Albert Hodges. A work on the third member of this quartet - Samuel Lipschutz - is now available leaving only George Mackenzie unaccounted for.

McFarland's latest offering is Samuel Lipschutz, A Life in Chess (McFarland & Company 2015, www.mcfarlandpub.com, 399 pages, hardback, $65) by Stephen Davies. This handsomely produced book is the first comprehensive look at the man who defeated Showalter in convincing fashion (+7 -1 =) in 1892 to take the title. All 15 games of this important match, held after the previous title holder Mackenzie's death the previous year, are given. Many appear with annotations by Steinitz from various newspapers of the day.

Davies writes that the present time is a golden age for those interested in the history of the game. The last half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th saw chess columns in almost every important newspaper with many cities having more than one. Until recently accessing these columns involved a lot of effort At a minimum it meant going to a library and slowly going through newspapers on microfilm. This was a tedious process to say the least. Often the work involved was greater as most public libraries have limited holdings necessitating the need to order material on inter-library loan. In extreme cases the only way to gain access to the material was to travel to a distant library.

This is no longer the case. Now it's possible to access hundreds of newspapers and one look at the bibliography for Samuel Lipschutz, A Life in Chess makes it clear that Stephen Davies has made ample use of them. This is important as even information about something as basic as Lipschutz first name (Samuel or Solomon) is unclear. Davies has uncovered much new material in this work which includes 249 games annotated games including ones involving Emanuel Lasker and Jose Capablanca.

Lipschutz, who suffered from tuberculosis (he died at only 42), was in Los Angeles from late 1893 to early 1895 and appears to have been the first US champion to visit the West Coast. This reviewer, who works at the Mechanics Institute Chess Club in San Francisco, was curious in finding out what Davies had uncovered about this relocation which was motivated by health concerns. There are nine pages in Samuel Lipschutz, A Life in Chess on his sojourn in Southern California which reveals previously unknown information about chess in Los Angeles which had only 50,000 people in 1890.

Lipschutz and Dr. Walter Romaine Lovegrove of San Francisco, the best California player of the time, played several games during the latter's visit to Los Angeles in 1894. This information was previously known but new are the extensive plans for a visit by Lipschutz to San Francisco, the largest city West of the Mississippi in 1890 (population 300,000). Unfortunately it did not happen but Davies is to commended for his digging. This is but one of many examples where he has uncovered new information.

Samuel Lipschutz, A Life in Chess fills an important gap in chess literature and makes for interesting reading for those interested in American chess history pre-1900.

Highly Recommended.

Young players have been traditionally known for their love of opening study and dislike of endgames, habits that have saved many a veteran player who has entered the final phase of the game with a losing position against a whippersnapper. This lack of endgame knowledge by youngsters is due in part to a lack of experience but there is another contributing factor - a lack of proper instructional material.

Endgame books are nowhere near as prevalent as those devoted to the first part of the game but there still are well over a hundred. Among this number are some really excellent ones, but there is no escaping the fact that most of them are a couple hundred pages long. Yury Averbakh's Chess Endgames Essential Knowledge, which was first published in English in 1966 and reprinted in a 112-page edition in 1993, has been as close as it comes to meeting the needs of those with shorter attention spans, but is understandably a little dated. Until this year there really was no work on the ending for younger players that was both practical, affordable and entertaining.

The publication of Karsten Muller's Chess Endgames for Kids (Gambit Publications 2015, www.info@gambitbooks.com, hardback, figurine algebraic, 128 pages, $16.95, also available as an e-book) should fill this gap. This attractively produced hardback covers the endgame in 50 lessons arranged by level of difficulty (basic mates are presented early but B+N is not covered until near the end).

Chess Endgames for Kids presents fundamental endgame knowledge but not in a way that overwhelms the reader, making this book valuable not only for kids, but also chess teachers and adults who are tired of starting (and never finishing) massive tomes on endgame theory.

Recommended - Go to http://www.gambitbooks.com/books/Chess_Endgames_for_Kids.html for an excerpt from this book.

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