Endgame riddle: Fischer vs Spassky - Game 3

by Karsten Müller
1/25/2024 – Game 3 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, historic encounter.

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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

Fischer’s first win of the match

Charles Sullivan shared the following reflection about the third game of the game: “What do we remember about Fischer’s famous Game 3 win over Spassky in 1972? My memory is that Fischer made a bold foray (11...Nh5 and 14...Qh4), Spassky responded weakly, and Fischer pressed his advantage until he sealed ‘a crusher’ at move 41”.

Can you help us analyse the game in depth? Which mistakes did Fischer make, and how could Spassky have saved himself?

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 1/28/2024 02:25
tip4success: Yes, but probably Black can defend there in the end. 13.a4!? is also interesting by the way. But I suggest to start with 14...Qh4? and proof that 15.f3! wins for White...
tip4success tip4success 1/28/2024 10:47
Spassky could've played a different white setup as in 13.b3 b6 14.Bb2 Ba6 15.Nc4 Ne5 16.Nd1 Nxc4 17.bxc4 +0.67 instead of the line played.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 1/27/2024 05:53
1) 14..Qh4? indeed was a mistake, but 15.f3! even wins for White.
2) 17.Bf4 is indeed not precise, but playable - so no "real" mistake.
3) 18.g3 is indeed not precise, but playable - so no "real" mistake.
4) 21.Te2 is indeed not precise, but playable - so no "real" mistake.
5) 23...Rac8! indeed wins. Very good point!
6) Is it over after 27.Qd2 ? Please have a closer look!
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 1/27/2024 05:42
marcguy: You are right. I indeed mean "Games 4, 6, 7 and 10 were quite spectacular".
marcguy marcguy 1/26/2024 07:37
Karsten, in your comment "Games 8, 9 and 10 were quite spectacular", I believe you must have made a typo. In fact, game 8 was Spassky's poorest game of the match, and Game 9 was a rather sedate draw. Game 10 was indeed one of the finest of the match, but in games 3-10, the other spectacular games were 4, 6, and 7. In game 4 Spassky missed a win, and in game 7 Fischer missed a win.
Speaking of missed wins, in this match Spassky missed wins in games 4 and 14, and squandered excellent chances in games 15 and 19. Fischer missed wins in games 7 and 15 (yes, Fischer turned the tables in game 15 and then blew the win), and squandered excellent chances in game 18.
arzi arzi 1/25/2024 02:16
First weaker move for black was 14...Qh4 but it worked out because of white answered with 15. Bd2. Better was 15. f3 and the draw should be an outcome ... only the opposite colors bishops and pawns are left after changes. The next weak moves for white were 17. Bf4 (better was Ne2) and 18. g3 (Bg3 was also better). Now black has a small advantage. 21. Re2 was not so good, better was 21. Ra3. Now the advantage after 21...b5 is a serious one. However in a move 23...black could have moved Rac8 instead of the 23 ..Re7. After 27. Qd2 (27. Qe3 does not change the result) the game is over.