Historical riddle: Was Fischer’s 22.Nxd7 winning?

by Karsten Müller
11/18/2020 – One of the most amazing moves in Bobby Fischer’s rich career was 22.Nxd7+ in the seventh game of the Candidates final match against Tigran Petrosian. Endgame specialist Karsten Müller wonders whether the move was objectively the best in the position or if an alternative pawn push might have been a better try. You can help him solve the historical riddle!

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A crucial episode in chess history

Much has been written about the final match of the 1971 Candidates Tournament. Bobby Fischer came from demolishing two of the strongest grandmasters in the world, Mark Taimanov and Bent Larsen, while his rival, Tigran Petrosian, a former world champion, had the reputation of being the most resourceful defensive player of all time — he had lost only two of his 42 preceding games.

The stage was the Teatro General San Martín in Buenos Aires, located within walking distance from the venue where Capablanca and Alekhine had played the 1927 World Championship match. Grandmasters Hermann Pilnik and Miguel Najdorf were in charge of the commentary, explaining the moves to a large audience using a demonstration board. Would Fischer continue his perfect run? Or would Petrosian finally put a stop to the American’s bid to play Boris Spassky in a World Championship match?

Tigran Petrosian

Tigran Petrosian at the Martín Coronado Auditorium of the Teatro General San Martín

The streak continued in the first game of the match, despite the fact that Petrosian had surprised his opponent in the opening — the Soviet star got short of time and ended up resigning on move 40. Petrosian quickly bounced back though and levelled the score in game 2, putting an end to Fischer’s streak while showing he was in better form than his famed rival. 

Petrosian got a better position in game 3 as well, but once again he got into time trouble and allowed Fischer to find a draw by repetition. Games 4 and 5 were drawn by agreement, while Fischer obtained the first of four consecutive wins in game 6 — we already looked into the critical encounter that turned the tables in favour of the American. 

Let us now move on to game 7, one that might be even more famous and still contains several deep riddles. We will examine Fischer’s 22.Nxd7+, one of the most amazing moves he played during his rich career.

But was the move really objectively the best and winning? Or was, for example, 22.a4 even stronger? This deep question is only the start of the mysteries surrounding this famous endgame.

So your job is: How many mistakes were made and which was Petrosian’s last mistake?


Please share any analysis you come up with on the comments section. You may also like to use more powerful engines to assist you in your efforts. Fat Fritz, for instance, goes for some unconventional continuations and surprises. I will evaluate your submissions and discuss them with you.

Magical Chess Endgames

In over 4 hours in front of the camera, Karsten Müller presents to you sensations from the world of endgames - partly reaching far beyond standard techniques and rules of thumb - and rounds off with some cases of with own examples.


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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