When Bobby Fischer Played Chess Like Misha Tal
By GM Lubomir Kavalek
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.
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.
Note that in the replay windows below you can click on the notation to follow the game.
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.
Solutions from the previous column
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