Master class vol.1: Bobby Fischer

by Albert Silver
11/1/2013 – Master Class: Bobby Fischer is the first in an ambitious new DVD series designed to examine every facet of the play of chess giants. Each aspect such as the openings, the strategic style, and the endgame play, is analyzed in depth by a grandmaster, plus there are tons of interactive training videos and quizzes. See what the fuss is about in this review by Albert Silver.

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Master class vol.1: Bobby Fischer

Review by Albert Silver

When I saw the title appear in the ChessBase catalogue, “Master Class Vol.1 – Bobby Fischer”, it did not take more than a few seconds to decide I wanted it, and once acquired, it was less than 20 minutes to download it from the ChessBase shop. Ah! The joys of instant (close enough) gratification. I did not even bother reading the detailed description, since the title, and list of authors (yes, with an S) promised it would be something special.

In fact, the actual content went far beyond my expectations, and if all you wanted to know was whether it is a safe buy, then you can stop reading now and get it with an easy conscious. Otherwise, read on as I share my impressions of what I found.

The DVD comes with a clear-cut plan, and an ambitious one at that. Four players, three grandmasters and one international master, will each analyze one aspect the play of world champion Robert J. Fischer, AKA Bobby Fischer and take it apart.

Dorian Rogozenco gives a detailed look at Fischer’s opening repertoire, breaking it down into four videos of roughly twenty minutes each. Bobby Fischer’s opening repertoire was legendary in its consistency and depth, and I was almost inclined to skip through what was inevitably going to be on his propensity for the Ruy Lopez, Sozin and the Najdorf. To be fair, there was quite a bit of technical commentary, but throughout the Romanian grandmaster’s professional lecture was a depth showing research that went far beyond a familiarity with the openings and games.

Rogozenco shares anecdotes such as when Taimanov was aghast to find he had fallen to opening preparation published in the Soviet Union, in Russian, that Bobby knew and that he had missed. It was also very interesting to see the sheer number of times Fischer was building upon the theory of classic greats such as Capablanca, showing that his knowledge of the champions of the past was more than historical curiosity. Although I might have preferred a few full games here, the lectures were so well researched and prepared, it is a minor complaint at best. Besides, the DVD is certainly not lacking in commented games as will soon be seen.

Dorian Rogozenco gives an in-depth look at Robert Fischer's opening repertoire and how he prepared

The next part is presented by Dorian’s compatriot, Mihail Marin, who takes a look at Fischer’s style and strategic tendencies. Two words are often used to describe the American’s play: attacking, and classic (or pure). These don’t always sound like synonyms, and justifiably so, but Marin is quick to point out that an important reason is Bobby Fischer’s evolution as a player in which he evolved into a much better rounded player as he closed in on the world championship. He illustrates this with some interesting choices that are not the usual Fischer games we are shown time and time again. In fact, the first game is from 1970 between Fischer and Filip, and starts with the unlikely 1.b3. Marin shows how Fischer did not try to outprepare him, but instead chose a path where an opening advantage was anything but certain, and opted to simply outplay his opponent: may the better strategist win.

Marin shares the astonishing move g4 and the fantastic idea behind it

Marin shows the game in its entirety, emphasizing the choices faced by Fischer as the game proceeded, and why he chose the moves he did, and how these fit into Fischer’s stylistic tendencies as a player. There are four videos in all here and each is a fascinating tale to be told.

IM Oliver Reeh brings up the tactics of Fischer, a famous aspect of the great attacking player, and presents a very impressive 18 interactive videos in the new ChessBase vein. A video prelude is given, leading up to the key move, and the viewer is asked to present his choice. If it is wrong, a new video segment is shown, saying it is wrong, and sometimes giving a refutation. You are then asked to try again. Some of the combinations contain multiple questions. Still, if you feel you would like more, do not worry, as there is a large selection of 100 combinations by the champion in classic quiz style to test yourself.

Want to see if you are also a budding Fischer? Try solving the positions chosen by IM Oliver Reeh

Finally, we reach Karsten Mueller’s coverage of Bobby Fischer’s legendary endgame play, and someone must have told him to “go crazy” since that is what he does (in the most positive sense of the term). Mueller’s admiration of Fischer needs no description. Bear in mind he authored a massive work dedicated to analyzing all of Fischer’s games in varying depth, but here he brings together his two loves: Fischer and the endgame, and the reason for his admiration is soon made apparent.

25 videos illustrating the genius and encyclopedica endgame knowledge of Fischer

The section here is divided into four parts, with a total of 25 videos, and each one is not only an opportunity to bask in admiration of the great champion, but a chance to learn. Just as in his superb endgame DVD series with ChessBase, he starts the videos by inviting you try to find the correct solution yourself and pause while you do so. He encourages you by suggesting you take your time. His motto is to not hurry, and use this to learn and improve. How many will actually do so I cannot say, but the opportunity is there and will present itself several times throughout the video when a key move must be found or avoided. Fischer’s technique was legendary, and we find out why in the very first video.

Karsten Mueller's enthusiasm for the subject and desire to share is infectious

The year is 1960, and 17-year-old Fischer held Mark Taimanov to a draw after a very difficult technical defense. At least, very difficult to most common mortals. Astonished that not only had Bobby held the draw, but played it so fast, the Soviet player asked the teenager how that was possible. Bobby commented no effort had been required since seven years earlier the Soviet magazine Chess in USSR had published detailed analysis of that precise endgame, and he was simply quoting from memory. The word “wow” doesn’t seem to do the story justice.

The first of 25 videos by Karsten Mueller on Fischer's handling of the endgame

It is also a testament to his diligence that in the list of games for replaying, Karsten Mueller also provides a full list of the sources used and referred to.

This concludes the video presentations of the DVD, it is not the end of the material, not by a long shot. There is also a short biography of Fischer in case you are curious, two full position trees of Fischer’s games as White and Black, and finally a complete collection of his games, all 1006 of them. It would be enough if they were just all the games, but there are literally hundreds that are commented, including many times many which contain detailed grandmaster annotations.

1006 games should sate even the greediest of Fischer fans

If German is your preferred language, this opus also comes in a complete German-spoken version, though I have not looked at it. I can only presume the presentation is of at least similar quality.

All in all, I found this to be an impressive new series by ChessBase, with tremendous value for even the most casual fan, and I really look forward to the next iterations.

Master Class Vol. 1: Bobby Fischer can be bought in the ChessBase shop


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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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