Riddle solved: Hort could have held!

by Karsten Müller
8/5/2020 – Bobby Fischer was the star of the show at the 1970 Interzonal Tournament in Palma de Mallorca, before starting an amazing run that led him to challenge Boris Spassky for the World Championship title in Reykjavík 1972. But was he always winning in the endgame he played against Vlastimil Hort? Or could have Hort defended? We asked our readers to help settle the historical debate. And they helped endgame expert GM Karsten Müller to settle the question! | Drawing of V. Hort: Otakar Masek

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Bobby Fischer obtained an astounding 18½ out of 23 score to win the 1970 Interzonal Tournament in Palma de Mallorca. In round 5, the American genius defeated Vlastimil Hort with Black in an opposite-coloured bishop endgame, but it is not clear whether the ending was always winning! 

Hort has shared his memories with the readers of ChessBase throughout the years. In 2018, he presented a 3-part series on Bobby Fischer, in which he concludes:

Genius and madness are — and might always be — close, unfortunately.

Bobby Fischer, Otakar Masek He also reminisces on the time he met Fischer, at the 1960 Chess Olympiad in Leipzig:

But when did we meet for the first time? USA-CSSR, Chess Olympiad, Leipzig 1960. Fischer took a time-out but seemed to be very interested in the game on board four, Hort-Weinstein. In mutual time-trouble I overlooked a knight fork, attacking queen and both rooks. Quel malheur! But fortunately my opponent then made one mistake after the other and our famous kibitz was aghast. His expression was easy to interpret: “I wish I could have played with Black…”

When Hort describes the period in which Bobby started his run of historical results that ended with him beating Boris Spassky in Reykjavík, he wonders whether these were the happiest years of the genius' life:

His body evoked memories of Johnny Weissmüller, the famous swimmer and Tarzan-impersonator. Only the lianas of the jungle were missing on the ship. But Bobby remained faithful to his lifestyle, no alcohol, only litres of cold milk. Every now and then he jumped into the water to cool down. But all the time he hardly ever lost sight of his pocket chess set. Were the years in Yugoslavia from 1968 to 1970 the happiest of his life?

[Drawing: Otakar Masek] 

It was around this time that Fischer beat Hort in an endgame that was not clearly winning. We asked our readers to help us with this historical riddle, and the conclusion was: The starting position of the riddle is a draw!

Against Vlastimil Hort, he needed a lot of Sitzfleisch (perseverance) in order to pocket the full point due to the presence of opposite-coloured bishops. And Hort missed opportunities to defend.

Opposite-coloured bishops have two faces. Pure endings with opposite-coloured bishops are very drawish but in the middlegame the opposite-coloured bishops favour the attacker. So when more men are on the board, the middlegame guideline gains more and more importance. This is a borderline case due to the reduced material.

Again, Zoran Petronijevic provided the best solution. His conclusions are:

Zoran Petronijevic1. The starting position of the riddle after 55...Bd4 is a draw.
2. Passive play with 55.Rf1 leads to a relatively easy draw.
3. The move 57.Kg2 is a mistake which leads to losing position. Instead, 57.g5 leads to equality.
4. Fischer's 58...Bc5 is a mistake. The winning move was 58...Bc1.
5. 59.Kg3 is a decisive mistake, after which Black is lost.

It is very hard to analyse such positions because of the opposite-coloured bishops. Such positions are impossible to calculate — we need to make plans.  That’s why I spent a lot of time.


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.

In our replay board above there are a large number of functions you can use to really understand the game and the analysis. Recently we published a comprehensive tutorial plus video instructions which tells you about all the powerful features and buttons that make the ChessBase's replay one of the best replay experiences around.

One big advantage is that you can start an engine (fan icon) that will help you to analyse. You can get multiple lines of analysis by clicking the + button to the right of the engine analysis window. The "!" key, incidentally, shows you the threat in any position, which is incredibly useful in the case of unclear moves.

There is one more thing you can do. It is a lot of fun, but also a serious challenge: Click on the rook icon below the notation window. This will allow you the play the above position against Fritz, at your level of playing strength (e.g. "Club Player"), right here on the news page. Note that your analysis, in which you can delete, move or promote lines, is stored in the notation as new variations. In the end you will find the game with your analysis in the cloud. So nothing is ever lost.


Karsten Müller, born 1970, has a world-wide reputation as one of the greatest endgame experts. He has, together with Frank Lamprecht, written a book on the subject: “Fundamental Chess Endgames” in addition to other contributions such as his column on the website ChessCafe as well as in ChessBase Magazine. Müller's ChessBase-DVDs about endgames in Fritztrainer-Format are bestsellers. The PhD in mathematics lives in Hamburg, where he has also been hunting down points for the HSK in the Bundesliga for many years.


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Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 8/9/2020 08:32
In the German comments fastgm has pointed out one mistake on Zoran's analysis:
"Allerdings gewinnt Schwarz nach 57...hxg4 58.Bxg6 und nun 58...Bb6! 59.f5 e5 60.Bf7 d4 61.h5 Rxa6 62.Kg3 (62.Rb1 Bc5 63.Bb8 Ra3 64.Rg8 Rc3 65.h6 Rh3 66.Rg6 Bb4 67.Bc4 Bc5 68.Bf1 Bd2 -+) 62...Ra7 63.Bc4 Rc7 64.Ba6 Rh7 65.Kxg4 e4 66.Rb1 Ba5 67.Kf4 Re7 -+"
RivertonKnight RivertonKnight 8/6/2020 06:39
AlexYermo AlexYermo 8/6/2020 05:17
Kasparov vs The World can take the back seat
philidorchess philidorchess 8/6/2020 03:07
Mueller is smashing as usual.