Celebrating Bobby Fischer: A quiet win by a troubled genius

by Johannes Fischer
3/9/2023 – Today Bobby Fischer, who was born in Chicago on 9 March 1943 and died in Reykjavik on 17 January 2008, would have turned 80 years old. Fischer, world champion from 1972 to 1975, was a man full of contradictions and made headlines time and again — through his brilliant play, but also through his eccentric behaviour. Fischer’s long-time rival Bent Larsen once said: “You can’t understand Robert James Fischer. But why should you want to? Why not just feast your eyes on his games?” To celebrate his 80th birthday, we present a typical victory by the American genius.

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Impressively elegant

In the book Learn from the Grandmasters, published by Raymond Keene in 1975, fourteen players were invited to comment on two games each: one of their own victories and “a game of another player which has made a deep impression on the commentator”. The result was a collection of interesting, beautiful and vividly commented games.

One of the fourteen commentators was Michael Stean. In 1974, at the age of 21, the then still untitled Stean had finished joint first in the British Chess Championships and was regarded as a great talent. In 1975 Stean became an International Master and two years later, in 1977, he got the Grandmaster title. From 1977 to 1981 Stean was a member of Viktor Korchnoi’s team, for whom he worked as a second in the 1978 and 1981 World Championship matches. In 1982, however, Stean retired from tournament chess to pursue a successful career as a financial consultant in London.

The game presented by Stean was Bobby Fischer’s victory over Milan Matulovic at the 1968 tournament in Vinkovci. Stean writes: “It is rare to find a game of such simplicity and technical accuracy”. Nevertheless, it is a typical Fischer game: the man who would go on to become World Champion plays precisely and accurately and makes the moves the position demands, even if they look unorthodox at first glance. That is how he outplays his opponent and gets a seemingly effortless win in a game with almost no tactical complications.


How Bobby Fischer battled the Sicilian

Fischer liked to play aggressive but basically sound lines against the Sicilian and many of his variations are still very much alive and a good choice for players of all levels.


Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".