Vlastimil Hort: Memories of Bobby Fischer (2)

by Vlastimil Hort
3/14/2018 – 75 years ago last Friday, on March 9, 1943, Robert James Fischer was born. His chess was clear, logical and powerful, but his behaviour off the board was erratic and irrational and later in his life he was mentally ill. A lot has been written about Fischer but he still remains a mystery. Vlastimil Hort knew the American chess genius personally and shares memories of Bobby.

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After the tournament Rovinj/Zagreb...

Continued from part 1...

We were invited to a party on a sailing ship. The fantastic blue of the Adria, delicious barbecue specialities, cocktails galore, and music helped us to forget the games of the tournament. Hostesses lionised the big star. 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?

Viktor Lvovich Kortschnoi was certainly no friend of the extravagant American, but Kortschnoi's professional praise of Fischer is  remarkable: "The chess players all over the world should be grateful to him because chess has become so popular, the prizes in tournaments increased, and in dozens of countries it is now possible to become a chess professional."

So much from Kortschnoi whose chess skills Fischer rated higher than those of Spassky. Fischer considered Kortschnoi to be the far more dangerous opponent. Since Fischer's interventions prizes and fees have significantly increased. All chess professionals should thank him and at least once a year light a candle in church for Fischer.

When did Bobby turn his back to the normal world?

I saw him in Amsterdam 1972, just after his grandiose victory against Spassky. In Amsterdam, I played in the IBM tournament. Fischer was also in town, though incognito. He invited me to visit him in the Hilton hotel because he was curious why I had not come to Reykjavik. I answered truthfully: "I am sorry, Robert, I would have come, but I could not. No passport!"

Drawing: Otakar Masek

I told him that the entire CSSR had kept its fingers crossed for him. Firm and tight as they did during the hockey game USSR-CSSR. I explained that every victory over the USSR was a welcome remedy for our hurt souls after the "brotherly" tank attack by the countries of the Warsaw Pact. Unfortunately, Jan Palach, "torch number one", could not join the celebrations of Fischer's victory against Spassky. (Jan Palach was a Czech student who set himself on fire on January 16, 1969, to protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Palach died on January 19, 1969, Ed.) I am still not certain whether the new champion Bobby Fischer could understand the Czech perspective.

During this secret meeting, he showed me some games from his match in Reykjavik, and he was quite pleased that I already knew them by heart. We spent the most time with game number 13.

[Event "Reykjavik World Championship (13)"] [Site "Reykjavik"] [Date "1972.08.10"] [Round "13"] [White "Spassky, Boris Vasilievich"] [Black "Fischer, Robert James"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B04"] [WhiteElo "2660"] [BlackElo "2785"] [Annotator "Byrne,Robert"] [PlyCount "152"] [EventDate "1972.07.11"] [EventType "match"] [EventRounds "21"] [EventCountry "ISL"] [SourceTitle "MainBase"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. e4 Nf6 {Because of the bomb-out of his favorite "poisoned pawn" Najdorf Sicilian in game 11, Fischer had had to go to one of his rare second string defenses.} 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 {This quiet line has been one of the most popular in the last few years...} 4. Nf3 ({... but the sharp} 4. c4 Nb6 5. f4 { may be necessary if White wishes to get the advantage against Alekhine's Defense.}) 4... g6 {A comparatively new idea, this may be a more promising way to put the White center under pressure than the older ...B-N5 [...Bg4].} 5. Bc4 Nb6 {5...P-QB3 [5...c6] is solid and defensive, but the text move, more ambitious in keeping the QBP [c-pawn] free for a later break by ...P-QB4 [... c5], allows Black to play aggressively.} 6. Bb3 Bg7 7. Nbd2 ({The sharper} 7. Ng5 {comes into question, for} O-O {is answered by} ({However} 7... d5 8. f4 e6 9. Nf3 O-O {seems quite playable.}) 8. e6 {with advantage to White.}) 7... O-O 8. h3 $6 {The reason for this time-wasting, superfluous precaution is not clear. Is ...B-N5 [...Bg4] and ...BxN [...Bxf3] really something to worry about?} a5 9. a4 $6 {Spassky should have realized that he was getting outplayed in this opening and made an attempt to hang tight by 9 P-B3 [9.c3].} dxe5 10. dxe5 Na6 11. O-O Nc5 {The Black pieces now have excellent mobility while White has weak pawns at K5 and QR4, which constantly need tending.} 12. Qe2 Qe8 {Only a dozen moves have been played and Bobby is already winning a pawn in broad daylight.} 13. Ne4 (13. Qb5 Qxb5 14. axb5 Bf5 $1 {sets up the winning ...P-R5 [...a4].}) 13... Nbxa4 14. Bxa4 Nxa4 15. Re1 {Boris banks all on the chance for a Kingside attack.} (15. Qc4 {would regain the pawn, but after} Bd7 16. Qxc7 Qc8 17. Qxc8 Rfxc8 {Black has convincing positional superiority.}) 15... Nb6 16. Bd2 a4 17. Bg5 h6 18. Bh4 Bf5 $6 {Why give White a tempo for the attack?} ({The immediate} 18... Be6 {was correct,}) ({while} 18... Ra5 $5 {may be strong too.}) 19. g4 Be6 (19... Bxe4 {has been widely recommended, but} 20. Qxe4 Rb8 21. Qb4 $1 g5 22. Bg3 e6 23. h4 {still gives White attacking opportunities against the weakened Kingside.}) 20. Nd4 Bc4 21. Qd2 Qd7 ({Whether} 21... Bxe5 {is a better defense is a question.} 22. Qxh6 Bg7 (22... Bxd4 {is impossible because of} 23. Ng5 {and mate}) 23. Qd2 Qd8 24. c3 f6 25. f4 {seems also to leave White some attacking chances.}) 22. Rad1 Rfe8 23. f4 {Spassky's attack, although without a specific target as yet, is building to menacing proportions.} Bd5 24. Nc5 Qc8 {[#]} 25. Qc3 $2 {If there is no better than this, White's attack is a total failure.} ({The main question is why Spassky declined to play} 25. e6 {If} Nc4 26. Qe2 $1 Nxb2 27. Nf5 $3 Nxd1 ({However, the draw can still be saved by} 27... Bc4 $1 28. exf7+ Kxf7 29. Qxe7+ $1 Rxe7 30. Rxe7+ Kf8 31. Nd7+ $1 Qxd7 (31... Kg8 $4 32. Rxg7+ Kh8 33. Bf6 gxf5 34. Ne5 $1 Qe8 35. Rdd7 {and mate cannot be stopped.}) 32. Rdxd7 Bc3 $3 33. Nxh6 a3 34. Rf7+ Bxf7 35. Rxf7+ Ke8 36. Re7+ Kf8 {etc.}) 28. Nxg7 Kxg7 29. Qe5+ f6 30. Qxd5 Nb2 31. g5 $1 {White has a terrific onslaught.}) 25... e6 26. Kh2 Nd7 27. Nd3 (27. Nb5 {doesn't get anywhere either –} Nxc5 28. Qxc5 Ra5 29. c4 Bc6 30. Qb4 b6 {keeps the pawn advantage.}) 27... c5 28. Nb5 Qc6 29. Nd6 ({Since} 29. Na3 b5 {drives White back further, the text move virtually forces a safe pawn-ahead endgame.}) 29... Qxd6 30. exd6 Bxc3 31. bxc3 f6 32. g5 hxg5 $6 ({Instead of allowing a long fight with Bishops of opposite colors, Smyslov recommended} 32... c4 33. Nb4 hxg5 34. fxg5 f5 {as the easiest way to win. It looks awfully good, because winning the pawn back by} 35. Nxd5 { would leave White with no means of coping with the passed RP. In the next stage of the game, Fischer once again takes things too easy, as he did in game 7, giving Spassky chances he should never have had.}) 33. fxg5 f5 34. Bg3 Kf7 35. Ne5+ Nxe5 36. Bxe5 b5 37. Rf1 $1 {Spassky reveals his counterplay, R-B4-R4-R7ch.} Rh8 $2 {Playing superficially, Bobby succeeds in making the ending very difficult, if not impossible. The point is that nothing compels White to take the Exchange, which would only permit Black to win the QP for an effortless finish.} ({The correct plan, as pointed out by Bill Lombardy, was} 37... Rg8 38. Rf4 Ke8 39. Rh4 Ra7 {and there is nothing to be done about ... R-KB2 followed by ...K-Q2-B3 and the march of the QRP.}) 38. Bf6 $1 {Now Black is nicely tied up and the win is gone.} a3 39. Rf4 a2 {[#]} 40. c4 $1 {It is necessary to use the Bishop to stop the passed pawn.} ({If} 40. d7 $2 a1=Q 41. Rxa1 Rxa1 42. Bxh8 Ke7 43. Rh4 (43. c4 Rh1+ 44. Kg3 Rg1+ 45. Kf2 Rg2+ 46. Ke1 bxc4 {gives White no chance of a defense.}) 43... Kxd7 44. Kg3 ({Not} 44. Rh6 $4 f4 {and mate.}) 44... Kd6 45. Rh6 Be4 {Black wins without trouble since} 46. Rxg6 $4 f4+ {grabs a Rook.}) ({If} 40. Ra1 $2 e5 $1 41. Bxe5 Rhe8 42. Bf6 Re2+ 43. Kg1 Ke6 {wins.}) 40... Bxc4 41. d7 Bd5 {[#]} 42. Kg3 $1 {Spassky took 25 minutes to come up with this accurate sealed move, which even threatens to win by 43 R-KR4.} Ra3+ $1 {Both players conspire to produce one of the most exciting endgames ever seen in a championship match.} 43. c3 ({Spassky cannot reply} 43. Kf2 {because} Raxh3 44. d8=Q Rxd8 45. Bxd8 e5 {traps the Rook and wins after} 46. Bf6 Ke6 47. Re1 a1=Q 48. Rxa1 exf4) ({And} 43. Rd3 {permits} a1=Q) 43... Rha8 ({Boris was all ready for} 43... a1=Q 44. Rxa1 Rxa1 45. Rh4 $3 Raa8 ({Taking two Rooks for the Queen doesn't help Fischer at all, since the only way to stave off the mating net his King finds itself in is the perpetual check:} 45... Rg1+ 46. Kf2 Rg2+ 47. Kf1 Rxh4 48. d8=Q Rf4+ 49. Ke1 Re4+ 50. Kf1 {etc.} ({Here} 50. Kd1 $4 Bb3+ {is mate in two.})) 46. Bxh8 Rd8 47. Bf6 Rxd7 48. Rh7+ Ke8 49. Rh8+ {with perpetual check.}) 44. Rh4 e5 $3 {Still not content with the draw, Fischer must give up a piece to escape the perpetual check and get his King into the game.} 45. Rh7+ Ke6 46. Re7+ Kd6 47. Rxe5 Rxc3+ $1 (47... a1=Q {loses to} 48. Rexd5+ Kc6 49. Rxa1 {coming out a piece ahead.}) 48. Kf2 ({Of course not} 48. Kh4 $4 Ra4+ {and mate in two.}) 48... Rc2+ 49. Ke1 Kxd7 50. Rexd5+ Kc6 51. Rd6+ Kb7 52. Rd7+ Ka6 53. R7d2 Rxd2 54. Kxd2 b4 55. h4 $1 {Passive defense against Fischer's connected passed pawns cannot succeed, but Spassky gets his own just in time.} Kb5 56. h5 c4 57. Ra1 {The only move} ( {because} 57. h6 c3+ 58. Kd3 a1=Q 59. Rxa1 Rxa1 60. h7 Rd1+ $1 61. Kc2 Rh1 62. h8=Q Rxh8 63. Bxh8 Kc4 {wins easily for Black.}) 57... gxh5 58. g6 h4 $1 59. g7 ({Fischer's point is that} 59. Bxh4 Rg8 {gives him a won ending.}) 59... h3 60. Be7 Rg8 {[#]} 61. Bf8 {Trapping Bobby's Rook is the only move to draw.} (61. Bf6 h2 62. Kc1 {[Probably Kc2 was meant: Byrne's "62 K-B1" allows 62...h1Q with mate to follow – ed.]} f4 63. Kb2 c3+ 64. Kxa2 Ra8+ 65. Kb3 Rxa1 66. g8=Q Rb1+ 67. Kc2 Rb2+ 68. Kd3 Rd2+ 69. Ke4 h1=Q+ {wins.}) 61... h2 62. Kc2 Kc6 63. Rd1 $1 {Just in time to stop Fischer's King from getting to the Kingside where it would guide a pawn in to cost Spassky's Rook.} b3+ 64. Kc3 $6 { This is sufficient to draw,} ({but the simplest was} 64. Kb2 h1=Q 65. Rxh1 Kd5 66. Rd1+ Ke4 67. Rc1 Kd3 68. Rd1+ Ke2 69. Rc1 f4 70. Rxc4 f3 71. Rc1 f2 72. Kxb3 f1=Q 73. Rxf1 Kxf1 74. Kxa2) 64... h1=Q $1 {There is one last chance to make things difficult for Boris and Fischer is going to try it! By deflecting the Rook, he hopes to cross over with his King to support the KBP.} 65. Rxh1 Kd5 66. Kb2 f4 67. Rd1+ (67. Rh8 {loses after} c3+ 68. Ka1 f3 69. Rxg8 f2 { mating.}) 67... Ke4 68. Rc1 Kd3 {[#]} 69. Rd1+ $4 {After all his brilliant defense, Boris throws the game away with this blunder!} ({The way to draw was} 69. Rc3+ Kd4 70. Rf3 c3+ 71. Ka1 (71. Rxc3 $3 a1=Q+ {wins the Rook.}) 71... c2 72. Rxf4+ $1 Kc3 73. Rf3+ $1 ({It should be noted that the exact order of moves is required. If, for example,} 73. Bb4+ Kd3 74. Ba3 Rxg7 75. Rf3+ Kc4 76. Rf4+ Kd5 77. Rf1 Rd7 $1 78. Bc1 Ke6 $3 79. Kb2 Rd1 {and when the Rook moves, there is nothing White can do about ...RxB.}) 73... Kd2 ({If Black plays} 73... Kc4 {then} 74. Rf1 {certifies the half point.}) 74. Ba3 {and every last pawn will be annihilated.}) 69... Ke2 70. Rc1 f3 71. Bc5 ({There is now no time for } 71. Rxc4 f2 72. Rc1 f1=Q 73. Rxf1 Kxf1 {and White cannot get the remaining Black pawns.}) 71... Rxg7 72. Rxc4 Rd7 $1 {This most exact move of Bobby's threatens R-Q8 as well as R-Q7ch.} 73. Re4+ Kf1 74. Bd4 f2 {White resigned.} ( 74... f2) 75. Rf4 {is met by} Rxd4 76. Rxd4 Ke2 {while a Bishop move allows ... R-Q8.} 0-1

A couple of months later, in San Antonio 1972, Fischer was still in excellent shape and seemed to be entirely normal and healthy to me. In the same year, the swimmer Mark Spitz won seven gold medals at the Olympic Games in Munich. American TV invited both heroes to appear together on an interview show. Afterwards, the whole of America fell into a chess frenzy.

Subsequently, Mark Spitz "pawned" one medal after the other to advertising. Unlike Robert Fischer. He could have negotiated substantial endorsement deals – milk, shaving cream, Las Vegas Hotels, etc., but he did not play along. "Please, pay me for my chess art, my chess ideas, and my chess moves!"

Kurt Rattmann, owner of a chess mail order company in Hamburg, was very happy about the chess boom in the USA.  "Just imagine, Mr. Hort, in one year I delivered more than 50,000 chess clocks to the USA!"

Good news! The new champion was a surprise guest and kibitzer in San Antonio. At the reception of the hotel, I found two notes addressed to me. An invitation to a religious event at the congress centre, and an invitation to dinner, both by Fischer.

Worldwide Church of God. The Redeemer himself, Herbert Armstrong, lectured in a hall packed to capacity. Questions from the public immediately received an optimistic answer from the preacher. Armstrong tried to take the simple folk the fear of death. What did my neighbour Fischer, who was seated next to me, hoped to get out of his membership? His eyes were closed, his hands on the Armstrong bible. Does he meditate or did he fall asleep? As an atheist, I did not understand one single word from the discussion. I would have liked it much better when the Armstrong on the stage would have been jazz singer and trumpeter Louis Armstrong. As usual, at the end of the event men came with an offertory. My neighbour honoured the eloquence of the big boss with a fat note, I dropped a quarter into the box. That is what the lecture was worth for me.

In the evening five people — Fischer, his sister Joan, her husband, Gligoric and I — sit in a Mexican restaurant. An unforgettable evening! Fischer was in high spirits.

Drawing: Otakar Masek

Bad News! Mister Fischer left for Pasadena, the hotel told us next morning.


USSR against the Rest of the World — the match of the century in Belgrad 1970.

The participants were looking forward to a rest day. The telephone in my hotel room rang. "Here is Miguel Najdorf, I would like to invite you to a chess evening, young man. Bobby already agreed. We can analyse and play some blitz. Tomorrow is a rest day, isn't it?" I thanked him and assured him that I would be knocking on the door of his suite at 10 pm sharp. The invitation surprised me and made me happy.

Just as in tournament games we had to wait exactly seven minutes for Bobby. But board and pieces were ready. When welcoming me Don Miguel had quickly given me the key to the drinks cabinet. I was happy to give the shooting star of our team my place at the board because I was happy with my role of a kibitz.

Miguel Najdorf, (standing) in a game against Fischer

Najdorf was in charge. Proud about winning against Tal the day before he was waiting for recognition and praise. As an attentive host, he also ordered food from the hotel kitchen. For Fischer two litres of fresh milk, plus two steaks medium rare. On this special evening, I ate a steak tartare on toast and had promised myself to enjoy the scotch on the rocks very carefully.

Bobby knew the game Najdorf-Tal by heart and showed where Tal could have defended much better. He also thought that Najdorf could have played much better. During the analysis, I realised that compared to Bobby I knew nothing about chess and that Don Miguel knew very little.

For a while, our Grand-Maitre was occupied by the 200-gram steaks, and we, the foot soldiers, could start blitzing. My first move was 1.e2-e4. Najdorf defended with his own weapon (the Najdorf Sicilian), and I later lost on time. We only played for the honour. If the game was drawn, the player with Black remained seated, if the game was decided, the winner kept his seat. I remember that Miguel and I were always taking turns and did not have a chance against Fischer. After about three hours I could snatch a piece from the American. In hindsight I believe that he let me win because he had to go to the place where even emperors like to go alone.

Drawing: Otakar Masek

But then the merry-go-round turned as before. Hort lost against Najdorf, who lost against Fischer, then we two took turns: Najdorf, Hort, Najdorf, Hort, Najdorf, Hort, against Fischer. The future world champion was simply faster and better. Since this memorable evening, Fischer called me by first name "Vlasty". At a certain point of time Fischer was yawning, looking on his watch, and I won my second game. But I was the first to leave the "scene of the crime", and I saw that the sun was already sending its first rays to earth.

Tailor trap

A few days after the "USSR against The Rest of the World Match", which ended with a narrow 20½-19½ victory for the Soviet union, Fischer and I were sitting in a Yugoslavian aeroplane, flying to Dubrovnik. Bad weather travelled with us. How on earth did the Serbian journalist Dimitri Bjelica manage to lure the famous American into playing, I asked myself during the flight. Fischer sat next to me at the window, desperately clinging to the backrest. He sweated buckets and in his eyes, I saw his fear of flying.

After the chess night with Najdorf and Fischer in the hotel Metropol, I knew who would win the blitz tournament in Herceg Novi. How much time had passed since a little boy in short trousers had played countless blitz games against the leading Russian masters n the central chess club of Moscow? Back then Bobby knew the names of the pieces in Russian.

Shortly before landing my nervous neighbour took out his pocket chess set. With one eye I saw that he was still analysing the fourth game Petrosian-Fischer from Belgrad. Apparently, he did not like that White could get an absolutely equal endgame in the Grünfeld.

The writer and journalist Dimitri Bjelica did a lot for chess at that time. He knocked on every door and when he was sent away the next day he knocked on the window. But when did he give his protégé the address of the top-tailor in Sarajevo who had already made suits of the finest fabric for Alekhine? Chess players know scholar's mate, Bobby got caught in the tailor-trap.

Probably, that's the way the cookie crumbles, I thought. True or not? At any rate, in his tailor-made suits, he cut quite a figure in the tournament hall – a handsome guy.

Herceg Novi Blitz Tournament - Final Standings

1) Fischer 19-3 
2) Tal 14½-7½ 
3) Kortschnoi 14-8 
4) Petrosian 13½-8½ 
5) Bronstein 13-9 
6) Hort 12-10 
7) Matulovic 10½-11½ 
8) Smyslov 9½-12½ 
9) Reshevsky 8½-13½ 
10) Uhlmann 8.0-14.0 
11) Ivkov 7½-14½ 
12) Ostojic 2.0-20.0

I was right. On average, Robert Fischer did not think for more than two minutes in a game. And there's one thing I understood at this tournament: the next time in Sarajevo I would ask to get my fee paid in kind.


Chess Olympiad in Siegen 1970. Although Fischer's results were moderate (he suffered a particularly painful loss against Spassky) I always respected his art. The match USA – CSSR: it was an honour for me to play against him.

As usual, he gave his opponent seven minutes, me too. This way he avoided contact with the press and the photographers. But would he even be allowed to play today, in the times of the zero-tolerance-rule?

Caro-Kann opening. When he was sitting at the board his behaviour was immaculate. A kind of gentleman like Keres. He wrote down the moves legibly and in a nice way. As far as I know, he had never tried to speed up his writing, not even when his opponent was in time-trouble. He would never have duped someone. The saying "slow and steady wins the race" expresses his manners at the board very well.

In our game, I lost a pawn but when Fischer sealed his move at the adjournment I was surprised to notice that I had very solid compensation.

After a quick dinner, my assessment was confirmed during analysis. If both sides found a series of best moves the game would certainly end in a draw. I had more luck than skill.

Late in the evening I ventured into the lion's den and offered the captain of the US team, Ted Edmonton, to draw the game. This would have saved Fischer and me the trouble to go to the tournament hall in the morning and would have given us time for a relaxed breakfast before we would appear in the tournament hall in afternoon for the next round. But the answer was "I am sorry, Vlastimil, Bobby wants to play."

More analysis till deep into the night. But I found no improvement, neither for White nor for Black. All attempts ended in the dead-end of a draw. The next morning I hurried to the tournament hall. My idol again gave me seven minutes. What happened then? My nightly analysis was confirmed. Move by move. "I offer you a draw!" A nice suggestion!

Continued in Part 3...

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer

Master Class Vol.1: Bobby Fischer

No other World Champion was more infamous both inside and outside the chess world than Bobby Fischer. On this DVD, a team of experts shows you the winning techniques and strategies employed by the 11th World Champion.

Grandmaster Dorian Rogozenco delves into Fischer’s openings, and retraces the development of his repertoire. What variations did Fischer play, and what sources did he use to arm himself against the best Soviet players? Mihail Marin explains Fischer’s particular style and his special strategic talent in annotated games against Spassky, Taimanov and other greats. Karsten Müller is not just a leading international endgame expert, but also a true Fischer connoisseur.



Vlastimil Hort was born January 12, 1944, in Kladno, Czechoslovakia. In the 1970s he was one of the world's best players and a World Championship candidate. In 1979 he moved to West Germany where he still lives. Hort is an excellent blindfold player, a prolific author and a popular chess commentator.


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