Endgame riddle: Fischer vs Spassky - Game 10

by Karsten Müller
2/5/2022 – The sharp endgame seen in game 10 of the 1972 match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky has been analysed countless times. But there are still many open questions and new discoveries to be made. Karsten Müller invites you to help him solve the riddles emerging from this fascinating endgame.

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Endlessly alluring

Boris SpasskyThe “Match of the Century” between World Champion Boris Spassky [pictured] and his challenger Bobby Fischer was due to start in the first days of July 1972 in Reykjavik, Iceland. Spassky, who had the backing of the mighty Soviet chess machine behind him (the title of World Chess Champion had been held by USSR citizens for twenty-four years), had arrived in the Icelandic capital well on time. But his opponent, the maverick US grandmaster Fischer, who was working essentially all on his own, sat in New York, unsatisfied with the conditions.

The Championship was to be a 24-game match in which the reigning champion had draw odds: if the match ended in a 12-12 tie, the title would remain with Spassky. Fischer’s Elo rating was 2785, 125 points higher than Spassky’s (2660). The prize fund was $125,000 – 5/8ths to the winner, 3/8ths to the loser.

After two traumatic games for Fischer at the outset, World Champion Spassky was leading 2-0 in the match. But then Fischer started to play and struck back: in the next eight games he scored 6½ points, chalking up a 6½-3½ lead. Games 8, 9 and 10 were quite spectacular.

Most chess enthusiasts know the outcome of the confrontation. In the end, Fischer became world champion after beating his Soviet rival by a 12½-8½ score.

Relive the match with a fantastic 14-part narration by Frederic Friedel: Part 1 ... Part 14

An old riddle

The sharp endgame seen in the tenth encounter has been analysed countless times. But Alex Fishbein has pointed out that there are still many open questions and new discoveries to be made. One such questions is, which was the last mistake? From which point on was Fischer winning? As this game is so fascinating, I decided to use it as a riddle from beginning to end!


So, which was the last mistake? From which point on was Fischer winning?

Endgames of the World Champions from Fischer to Carlsen

Let endgame expert Dr Karsten Müller show and explain the finesses of the world champions. Although they had different styles each and every one of them played the endgame exceptionally well, so take the opportunity to enjoy and learn from some of the best endgames in the history of chess.


Karsten Müller is considered to be one of the greatest endgame experts in the world. His books on the endgame - among them "Fundamentals of Chess Endings", co-authored with Frank Lamprecht, that helped to improve Magnus Carlsen's endgame knowledge - and his endgame columns for the ChessCafe website and the ChessBase Magazine helped to establish and to confirm this reputation. Karsten's Fritztrainer DVDs on the endgame are bestsellers. The mathematician with a PhD lives in Hamburg, and for more than 25 years he has been scoring points for the Hamburger Schachklub (HSK) in the Bundesliga.


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Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 2/9/2022 09:11
marcguy: Many thanks for sharing your conversation with Spassky and your analysis of his claim, which was new for me!
marcguy marcguy 2/8/2022 08:12
Karsten: I would like to share some interesting trivia about this match. I met Spassky once at a chess tournament reception-I asked him a few questions regarding this match. He claimed that Fischer's constant varying of openings did not unsettle him, but that Fischer played much better in the middlegame. He went on to claim that in the second half of the match he reached a winning position in five games and failed to convert any. Having analysed this match extensively with computer software (and compared GM commentary), this is a false claim if there ever was one. The only games in the second half of the match in which Spassky had a forced win were #14 and #19. In game 12 there was one point near the end of the game where Fischer went astray and Spassky could have made life difficult for him, but no forced win (Interestingly, 23 years later Gata Kamsky defeated V. Salov with this same variation as White). In game 13 some commentary claimed Spassky had good winning chances if he had played 25.e6 but this is not borne out by analysis. Although Spassky had a dangerous initiative in game 15, he missed a chance on move 23 for a long-term advantage, but no forced win (indeed when Spassky later erred it was Fischer who missed the forced win-interestingly only tw0 of the five books I have on the match pointed it out). In games 16 and 17 neither player had any winning chances. In game 18 it was Fischer who had a nice advantage at one point, Spassky never was close to winning. In game 20 Spassky claimed in print he missed a win, but not so, even though Fischer made a mistake late in the game, the endgame was still a draw.
In the Soviet magazine "64", they claimed that Spassky surpassed Fischer in the openings. This is a ridiculous claim, only in games 4, 11, and 15 did Spassky get a significant advantage out of the opening. Fischer was better prepared in games 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, and 21.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 2/8/2022 03:07
marcguy: My opinion is

1) 23...Rad8 is indeed more precise than the game continuation
2) 27...c4 is indeed more precise
3) 32...b4 is indeed better than the game and almost equal
4) 35.Kf1 does not change much
5) 38...h5? is indeed a losing mistake. ...Be5 and ...Ra6 are playable as you mention.
6) 39.g4! and 40.g4! are indeed winning
7) 40...Rd3+ was indeed called for

Well done!
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 2/8/2022 02:42
marcguy: Many thanks! You have a point. It should indeed be "games 4,7 and 10" as you point out instead of games 8,9 and 10 as given above.
marcguy marcguy 2/8/2022 06:39
Karsten, I hate to be a stickler for details, but your column above contains a peculiar comment. In games 3-10, games 8 and 9 were not "quite spectacular". Game 8 was Spassky's worst effort, and apart from Fischer's opening novelty, game 9 was a short draw. The other two spectacular games were 4 and 7, both players missing wins. Although game 6 always gets heralded, it doesn't have the complexity of these two.
marcguy marcguy 2/7/2022 10:15
Yes, 38...h5? is the losing move, after 38...Be5 or Ra6 White's advantage is minimal. However, Fisher should have played 39.g4, as after 39.Rb6 Kf5 (instead of Rd1) fights for a draw. 40. g4 was also better than 40.Kf3. After 40.Kf3 Rd3 still fights for a draw.
Spassky started going astray at move 27, instead 27...c4 28.Bc4 bc 29.Rb7 f6 holds the balance.
Also, the computer prefers 35.Kf1 to Rb7, and 32...b4 33.Nd6 Bc6 34.e5 b3.
At move 23, 23...Rad8 24.Ba4 Re6 25.Qc2 Qf4 looks dynamically equal.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 2/7/2022 09:12
brian8871: I agree. But there are more mistakes to be found...
brian8871 brian8871 2/7/2022 03:00
38...h5 is also wrong. Black is only slightly worse after 38...Be5.
Leavenfish Leavenfish 2/6/2022 10:01
@Davidx1 Yes, it is a burden we bear... ;)
MickyMaus90 MickyMaus90 2/6/2022 08:19
The articles of Fredric Friedel are indeed highly interesting. In #7 (https://en.chessbase.com/post/bobby-fischer-in-iceland-45-years-ago-8) game 10 is covered and at the end the pure notation with time stamps is given. The method of recording the times is explainded in #5.
Timman in "The art of chess analysis" and other commentators have repeatedly claimed that Spassky was in time trouble after Fischer's combination on f7.

Times used after 32.Nxf7 as given in the article are White 1:25, Black 2:13.

Timman: "Spassky finds his best chance, despite his time trouble."
Article: Black has 17 minutes left for 9 moves and plays 32...Bxe4 in less than a minute.

Timman: "The last move in time trouble, and an unfortunate one."
Article: Black has 8 minutes left and uses 3.

So if the record is correct, the legend of Spassky's time trouble should be abolished. Thus also chess historians can get a question out of this riddle.
Davidx1 Davidx1 2/6/2022 11:12
A perfect representation of the western hero.
The hero is a lonely individual who fights against evil, wins, and even here temples rise to him.
And like Ulysses and Aeneas he must also go to Hell, to celebrate his triumph. (Fischer will descend into his Hades: the prison and then come out strengthened as a victim of a system.)
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 2/6/2022 09:17
brian8871: I agree. 16...Qb8?! is inaccurate and 40...Kf7? is the last and losing mistake. But there are more mistakes to be found in between...
brian8871 brian8871 2/6/2022 02:10
The last mistake is 40...Kf7. 40...Rd3+ puts up more of a fight, although Black is still playing from behind. The first mistake is 16...Qb8, when a more aggressive approach, like 16...exd4 is called for.