Huffpost Sports
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Lubomir Kavalek Headshot

When Bobby Fischer Played Chess Like Misha Tal

Posted: Updated:

Reckless sacrifices were not his style, but for one day, one game and one moment in 1959 Bobby Fischer threw caution to the wind, went va banque and played like Mikhail Tal. His opponent was the Czech grandmaster Ludek Pachman and the game was played in Santiago de Chile.

Tal mesmerized his opponents with a demonic look, quick mind and unsurpassed imagination. Sometimes his combinations were wrong, but it was always fun to watch him find his way through turbulent complications he created on the chessboard.

2011-11-26-tal185.jpg

In 1956, Tal and Fischer slowly lifted their chess careers and began to fly. Bobby created his "game of the century" against Donald Byrne. Tal won the first seven games at the Student olympiad in Uppsala, Sweden, and during that streak he produced an astonishing miniature against a Polish player.

Szukszta,Janusz - Tal,Mikhail
Uppsala, 1956

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Be3 e5 7.Nge2 c6 8.Qb3 exd4 9.Nxd4 d5!? 10.cxd5 cxd5 11.exd5
Try to guess black's next move.

2011-11-30-SzukzstaTal.jpg

11...Nc6?

(A completely ridiculous sacrifice. It should lose, but when it doesn't, Tal wins the game beautifully. But it also possible, as suggested by GM David Navara, that the move order was different and black played first 11...Re8 and only after 12.Kf2 Nc6!)

12.dxc6 Re8 13.Kf2?

(White had two winning ways:13.0-0-0 Rxe3 14.cxb7+-; and 13.cxb7 Rxe3+ 14.Nce2+-)

13...Rxe3 14.Rd1?

(Losing. White had to try 14.Kxe3! Ng4+ 15.Ke2 Qxd4 16.Ne4 bxc6 17.Rd1 Qe5 with equal chances.)

14...Ng4+! 15.fxg4

(After 15.Kg1 Rd3!! 16.Rxd3 Qxd4+ 17.Rxd4 Bxd4 mates.)

15...Bxd4 16.Rxd4 Qxd4 17.Qd5 Re2+!! 18.Kxe2 Bxg4+ 19.Ke1 Re8+ 20.Be2 Rxe2+

(After 21.Nxe2 Qxd5 wins.)

White resigned.

It was a little preview of what was going to happen and we knew chess was going to be a lot of fun. Tal advanced fast: in one year he became the Soviet champion, in four years he was the champion of the world. And for the next half century "playing like Tal" was the highest accolade you could bestow on attacking players.

Last week, the world's top rated grandmaster Magnus Carlsen, 21, won the Tal Memorial in Moscow, the year's strongest tournament, a tribute to one of the most popular world chess champions. When he burst on the international chess scene in 2004, Magnus was compared to Tal before many more world champions, together with one famous musician, were added to describe his style.

Hou Yifan, 17, the women's world champion defended her title in Tirana, Albania, defeating India's Humpy Koneru 5,5 - 2,5. Her aggressive attacking style comes close to Tal's, but her favorite player is Fischer. But Hou and Tal have one thing in common: they are the only players who with the black pieces tried the Ragozin defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4) in a world championship match. Tal was not very successful against Mikhail Botvinnik in 1961, but Hou won two decisive games.

It was named after the Soviet grandmaster Vyacheslav Ragozin, who played it in the 1930s, but he was not the first one. The legendary commentator Hans Kmoch, an Austrian International Master who settled in New York, poked fun at the name: "It is a rare side-line of the Queen's Gambit Declined which dr. Josef Noa (1856-1903) used to play before Aaron Nimzovich (1886-1935) and which Ragozin (1908-1962) re-invented after Nimzovich and the Nimzo-Indian Defense."

The Soviets were obsessed with naming chess openings after their players, and Ragozin was a well-known grandmaster and a world correspondence champion. But it was the Ukrainian International Master Isaac Lipnitsky who took the defense apart and published incredible analyses in 1956. His life was short, just 36 years, but his 430-page blue book enriched the lives of many chess generations.

The first part of the book, covering problems in the opening and middlegame was published by Quality Chess as Questions of Modern Chess Theory. The second part covers the actual Ragozin defense. The text has been retained by Vladimir Barsky in his 350-page book The Ragozin Complex, published by New In Chess. But the Russian IM brought Lipnitsky's work into the 21st century, enhancing the original ideas with new games and new developments, and creating a unique opening manual.

Fischer studied Lipnitsky's original work in Russian and the Ragozin defense became one of his favorite openings in the late 1950s. He played it in many games, but none was as exciting as the duel against Ludek Pachman in Santiago in 1959. It is the privilege of the victors to belittle those they vanquish and the Czech grandmaster was no exception when he was showing us the game after he came back to Prague from the South-American tour . I remember how proud he was about his king's walk, escaping from the full blast of Bobby's heavy pieces.

Pachman commented on the game in July 1959 in the magazine Ceskoslovensky Sach. In the same month, Hans Kmoch published his notes, based on a conversation with Fischer, in Chess Review. I have added new comments and checked it with analytical engines.

This unbelievable game gathers speed after 16 moves, when both players begin to fight for an advantage. There are a few missteps, but that is to be expected when imagination clashes with logic.

Pachman,Ludek - Fischer,Robert James
Santiago de Chile, 1959

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.d4 d5 4.e3 Nc6?!

(A clumsy way to reach the Ragozin variation. White usually forces black to move the knight to c6 after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 Bb4 by giving a queen check 5.Qa4+. Pachman saved the move and gained a tempo.)

5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd2!

(The well-known opening theoretician, works with a little trick, avoiding the strict Ragozin variation 6.Bd3 0-0 7.a3 dxc4 8.Bxc4 Bd6. For the time being, he keeps his light bishop home.)

6...0-0 7.a3!

(Pachman: "After 7.Qc2 dxc4 8.Bxc4 Bd6 we would reach the position from my game with Lilienthal, Moscow-Prague 1946. Fischer surprised me after the game with his deep knowledge of the game. He knew where Lilienthal could have played better.")

7...Bxc3 8.Bxc3 Ne4 9.Qc2 a5 10.b3 b6

(After 10...Nxc3 11.Qxc3 white's bishop is more active. Strategically, black struggles in such positions and Fischer tries to put pressure with his pieces on the light squares.)

11.Bb2 Ba6 12.Bd3 f5

(Kmoch: "Black is playing a reformed Stonewall of great originality. The absence of his important dark bishop does not cause the usual harm since his light bishop is unusually well placed.")

13.Rc1 Rc8 14.0-0 Rf6

(Protecting the knight indirectly.)

15.Rfd1 Rh6 16.Bf1!

(16.cxd5 Bxd3 17.Rxd3 exd5 is premature, but now 17.cxd5 is a threat.)

16...g5?!

(Kmoch:" With this advance, the attack attains its sacrificial stage.")

17.cxd5!

(Kmoch: Here comes White's carefully prepared counter-stroke, and necessary it is. Other moves offer no reasonable chance of survival. White intends to answer 17...Bxf1 with 18.Qxc6, thus gaining a tempo as well as the open lines which he needs for counterplay.

Pachman: "It seems obvious, but it cost me 40 minutes," Pachman said. " I was not sure about the complications, but decided not to avoid them.")

2011-11-26-Tal1.jpg

17...g4?!

Fischer is turning into Tal. Everything is hanging.

("This move took my breath away," Pachman said. "Is it possible to sacrifice that much? Fischer spent more than an hour before convincing himself that 17...Bxf1 18.dxc6 Bxg2 does not work."

Let's check out the consequences after 17...Bxf1.
a) 18.Rxf1 exd5 gives black the edge.

b) 18.Qxc6 - Kmoch's idea that seems to leave black without any satisfactory defense against the threat 19.dxe6 and 20.e7, but it is not as simple:
18...Bxg2! Shattering the king's cover with a bishop sacrifice is the only way to continue the attack. 19.Ne1 Kmoch believed that by attacking the bishop, white gains a decisive tempo for 20.dxe6, but after an astonishing, computer-like sacrifice, hanging two pieces at the same time, black is fine, for example: 20.Nxg2 [or 20.Kxg2] Nxd1 21.Rxd1 Qxd5; and after 20.Kxf2? Bxd5 21.Qc3 Rxh2+ 22.Kf1 Qd6 with a decisive attack.)

c) 18.Kxf1 exd5 19.Ne5 Nxe5 20.dxe5 g4! (20...Rxh2? 21.Qc6!) with a counterplay, leading to a facinating draw after 21.f3 gxf3 22.gxf3 Rg6! 23.fxe4 Qg5 24.exd5 Qg1+ 25.Ke2 Qg2+ 26.Ke1 Qh1+ 27.Kd2 Qg2+ 28.Kc3 Rc6+!! 29.dxc6 Qxc6+ and the white king can't escape a perpetual check.

d) 18.dxc6 This Pachman's intention is best met by 18...g4! narrowing white's choices. [It is stronger than 18...Bxg2 19.Kxg2 g4 because white can play 20.Ng1!?]
19.Ne5 [After 19.Kxf1 gxf3 20.gxf3 Rxh2! 21.fxe4 Qh4 black's attack is decisive, for example 22.e5 f4 23.exf4 Rf8! and white is doomed.] 19...Bxg2! 20.Kxg2 Qh4

2011-11-26-Tal1a.jpg

21.Kf1! [The defense 21.Rh1 is self-mating after 21...Qh3+ 22.Kg1 Ng5 23.f4 gxf3 threatening to win with 24...Ne4; and after 24.Rf1 Qg4+!! 25.Kf2 (25.Nxg4 Nh3 mate.) 25...Qh4+ 26.Kg1 Nh3 mate.] 21...Qxh2 22.Ke2 Pachman gave his move two exclamation points, suggesting that his brilliant king's run beats the attack. But he miscalculated. After 22... 22...Qxf2+! 23.Kd3 Rh2! white is in dire straits, for example 24.Qxf2 Nxf2+ 25.Kc3 Ne4+ 26.Kc4 Rxb2 wins; or 24.Bc3 Qg3 25.Rd2 Nxd2 26.Bxd2 Qg2 27.Kc3 h5 and the kingside pawns are marching in.)

18.Bxa6 gxf3 19.gxf3

(19.Bxc8? allowed a mating attack: 19...Qg5 20.g3 Rxh2! 21.Bxe6+ Kg7 22.Kxh2 Qh5+ 23.Kg1 Qh3 24.Qxc6 Qg2 mate.)

19...Qg5+ 20.Kf1?!

(Pachman: "I was influenced by the previous variation where the king ran to the center. In fact, I should have played 20.Kh1! Qh5 21.Rg1+ Kh8 22.Rg2 Ng5 and although it looks dangerous for white, he has a winning continuation 23.dxe6! Nxf3 24.d5+ Nce5 25.Bxe5+ Nxe5 26.Qc3 wins. Now it gets really complicated.")

20...Rxh2 21.fxe4?

(Kmoch:"As natural as it looks to eliminate this menacing knight, this move out to lose. Correct is 21.Bxc8! as white can move his king into safety:
a) 21...Qg2+ 22.Ke2 wins;
b) 21...Rxf2+ 22.Qxf2 Nxf2 23.Bxe6+ Kf8 24.Kxf2 Qh4+ 25.Ke2 Qh2+ 26.Kd3 Qxb2 27.dxc6 wins.
c) 21...Qh5 22.Bxe6+ [Either 22.dxc6?? or 22.Ke1? is met by 22...Qxf3 and black wins.] 22...Kf8 23.Ke2! Rxf2+ 24.Kd3 Rxc2 and now instead of Kmoch's 25.Rxc2, white should play 25.Kxc2! Qxf3 26.dxc6 Nf2 27.Bc4 Nxd1 28.Rxd1 with good winning chances.
Pachman doesn't even analyze 21.Bxc8!.)

2011-11-26-Tal1b.jpg

21...Rf8!

("I simply overlooked this beautiful move," Pachman admits. All Fischer's heavy pieces target the white king. )

22.e5?

(Pachman wants to keep the f-file closed because he thought that after 22.Ke2 Rxf2+ 23.Kxf2 fxe4+ black wins. But the combination is not correct: after 24.Ke2 Qg4+ 25.Kd2 Rf2+ 26.Kc3 Rxc2+ 27.Kxc2 white has a huge material advantage and wins.
But after 22.Ke2 black can scramble with 22...Qg4+ 23.Ke1 fxe4 24.Be2 Qg6 25.Bf1 Ne7 with roughly equal chances.;
But instead of 22.Ke2, white can play 22.Rd2! for example 22...Qg2+ 23.Ke1 Rh1+ 24.Ke2 fxe4 25.Rxh1 Rxf2+ 26.Ke1 Rxd2 27.Qxd2 Qxh1+ 28.Bf1; or 22...fxe4 23.Qxe4 exd5 24.Qxd5+ Qxd5 25.Bc4 Ne7 26.e4 with good winning chances.)

22...f4!

(Pachman: "Fischer offered a draw with this move and I have refused, mainly because I had one hour more on the clock. Still, the game was so complicated that I was not sure I could win the game." But Bobby was right. With his last move, he leveled the playing field.)

23.e4?

(Playing for a win could have backfired. Pachman should have run with his king: 23.Ke2 Rxf2+! 24.Kxf2 fxe3+ 25.Ke2 Rf2+ 26.Kd3 Nb4+! 27.axb4 Qf5+ 28.Kc3 Rxc2+ 29.Rxc2 axb4+ 30.Kxb4 Qxc2 31.Rg1+ Kf8 with roughly equal chances.)

23...f3 24.Ke1 Qg1+?

(The game reaches a critical point and Bobby blunders.

Kmoch:" This unfortunate never-miss-a-check loses, enabling the white king to escape via d2." In a conversation with Kmoch, Fischer hinted on two winning variations; the third was found by computers.

A. Pachman: "My sigh of relief could have been noticed in the whole tournament hall. After I refused the draw I worried about 24...Rf4, threatening 25...Rg4 and 26...Rg1+.

2011-11-26-Tal2.jpg

It forces 25.Bf1! (After 25.Kd2 Rxf2+ 26.Kd3 Rxc2 27.Kxc2 exd5 black wins.) 25...Qg1 and what can white do about 26...Qxf1+! or 26...Rxe4+!? I planned to ignore it with 26.dxc6. But here Pachman didn't notice 26...Rxf2! [He only gave two variations: 26...Rxe4+ 27.Kd2 Rxf2+ 28.Kc3 Rxc2+ 29.Kxc2=; 26...Qxf1+ 27.Kd2 Rxf2+ 28.Ke3!+-] 27.Qxf2 Rxe4+ 28.Kd2 Qxf2+ with black's advantage. The white king is not yet safe and black has two dangerous passed pawns on the kingside. As a matter of fact, Fischer told Kmoch that it was winnable.

B. The second winning way pointed out by Fischer to Kmoch was 24...Ne7

2011-11-26-Tal3.jpg

with the idea 25.d6 Ng6 26.dxc7 Nh4 27.c8Q Rh1+ 28.Bf1 Ng2 mate.

Other moves also lose:

a) 25.dxe6 c6! with the idea 26.d5 b5! and with white's light bishop out of play there is no defense to 27...Rh1+. White is forced to play 26.Bf1, but after 26...Qg1 27.Kd2 Rxf2+ 28.Kd3 Rxc2 29.Kxc2 Qg6 and black should win.

b) 25.Qb1 exd5 26.Ba1 Rh1+! 27.Bf1 Rxf1+ 28.Kxf1 Rf4 and black wins either after 29.Qd3 Qh6 30.Ke1 Rxe4+; or after 29.Rc3 Qh6 30.Ke1 Rxe4+.

C. But even stronger than 24...Rf4 or 24...Ne7 is the cold-blooded 24...exd5!, destroying white's pawn center and giving more space to the knight, for example:

2011-11-26-Tal4a.jpg

a) 25.Qb1 b5! 26.Bxb5 Rb8! 27.Bf1 [27.a4 Rxb5!] Rxb3, threatening either 28...Re3+ or 28...Qe3+, black wins.

b) 25.Qxc6 Qg1+ 26.Kd2 Qxf2+ 27.Kc3 Qxb2+ wins.

c) 25.exd5 and only now 25...Ne7! with a decisive attack, e.g.:

c1) 26.Bf1 Qg1 wins;
c2) 26.Qc4 Rh1+ 27.Qf1 Rxf1+ 28.Bxf1 Nxd5 wins.
c3) 26.Bc4 and black wins either with 26...b5! the best 27.d6+ [or 27.Bxb5 Qg1+ 28.Bf1 Qxf1+ 29.Kd2 Qe2+ 30.Kc3 Nxd5 mate] 27...bxc4 28.Qxc4+ Nd5!! 29.Qxd5+ [or 29.Qf1 Ne3!] 29...Kh8 30.Qc4 Rh1+ 31.Qf1 Rxf1+ 32.Kxf1 Rg8 33.Ke1 Qh6 34.Rxc7 Rg1 mate; or with 26...Nf5! 27.Bf1 [after 27.d6+ Kh8 28.e6 Ne3! wins] 27...Ne3! 28.Qe4 Ng2+ 29.Bxg2 fxg2 30.Ke2 Rxf2+ 31.Kd3 b5!! closing the mating net and threatening 32...Rh3+, for example 32.Qe3 [32.Kc3 Rh3+ wins] 32...Qg6+ 33.Kc3 g1Q! 34.Rxg1 Rc2+ 35.Rxc2 Rxc2 mate.)

25.Kd2!

(But not 25.Bf1?? Qxf1+! 26.Kxf1 Rh1 mate.)

25...Qxf2+

(Black loses also after 25...Rxf2+ 26.Kd3 Qg2 27.Qxc6.)

26.Kc3 Qg3 27.Qd3 exd5 28.Rg1 Rg2 29.Rxg2 Qxg2 30.Qf1 dxe4 31.Qxg2+ fxg2 32.Rg1 Rf2 33.Bc4+ Kf8 34.Bd5 Rf3+ 35.Kc4 b5+ 36.Kc5 Ne7 37.Rxg2 Nxd5 38.Kxd5 Rxb3 39.Kxe4 b4 40.axb4 axb4 Black resigned.

Note that in the replay windows below you can click either on the arrows under the diagram or on the notation to follow the game.

Solutions from the previous column:


From Our Partners