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Bobby Fischer (V): The rival crush machine

Translated from E. J. Rodríguez

Palma de Mallorca, 1970. Bobby Fischer is 27 years old and for the third time in a row has been on the verge of staying out of the fight for the world crown. Having rejected the possibility of revalidating his title of American champion, who had already won eight times, he did not have a place for the great Interzonal Tournament that was to be held on the Balearic island. Only thanks to the intelligent (and, everything is said, desperate) intervention of the American federation that we already narrated in the previous chapter, the genius of Brooklyn has finally been able to present himself to the Interzonal as everyone anxiously awaited. Now, a disturbing question arises: What will Fischer do this time? Will he go away with the tournament halfway, leaving everyone in the lurch like he did in the Interzonal three years earlier?

Despite what many feared not without reason, the voluble Bobby did not organize any brawl in Palma and went willing to qualify. What's more, he was determined to get the top spot even if he only needed to be in the top six. And he did not leave. This was going to be the first time an Interzonal had finished since he was 19 years old. He finished in the first place with a score difference more than considerable compared to the rest of the competitors; his performance was brilliant. After a good start in which he did not take long to take the lead in the tournament, he suffered a slight decline in the intermediate stage - probably due to his low pace of competition - and during that small drop he saved three draws in a hurry. What's more, he could not avoid suffering the only defeat of the event against the Danish Bent Larsen, one of the best players of the moment. But Bobby's reaction was worthy of his talent: when he realized that he was performing below his means, he pressed the accelerator again and dazzled everyone with an impressive final run of seven wins in seven games (although there was an abandonment on the part of the Argentine Oscar Panno, who protested with all reason for the privileges of schedule granted to Fischer for religious reasons). A feat that reminded me of what I had achieved a few years earlier in the US Championship and in some other smaller tournaments. Now, competing against the world elite, the Interzonal ended showing that he was becoming a much more dominant player than before. Fischer was starting to get scared.

That seven-game winning streak not only aroused great admiration in the chess circles, but caused expectations to grow back around his chances of being a world champion. When Bobby decided to raise his level in the last rounds of the Interzonal, none of the Masters with whom he crossed could take away even half a point. It is true that they were not the first-rate Russian champions, but even those less likely to gloss their exploits had to admit that there was finally a western player with the necessary conditions to become at least a threat to Soviet hegemony. For years Fischer had claimed that he was the best player in the world, despite not being a world champion. But his absences in the great competition and his defeats with some players, especially with Boris Spassky, prevented this opinion from being universally shared. After the Interzonal, however, many began to wonder if their moment was really coming … because a new Fischer seemed to have emerged in Mallorca.

And so much that it had emerged. Moreover, no one could even imagine what Fischer was going to convert the following year: an amazing machine to crush opponents.

“Maybe it's not so scary”

Fischer may not be so scary. A while ago, while on vacation with Botvinnik, we studied their games and I could see that Fischer's ideas are straight, clear and apparently easy to unravel. (Boris Spassky)

Fischer was going to play the Candidates for the first time since his adolescence and the new format – one-on-one eliminations – seemed ideal for a player as competitive as himself, although his previous experience in that type of individual matches was quite limited, not to say practically non-existent. Anyway, Fischer was along with former champion Tigran Petrosian the big favorite to win the Candidates and to face the world champion Spassky. However, many were still wondering: how good is Bobby really?

Bobby with the Danish Bent Larsen, the only player who could win a game in the 1970 Interzonal.

Before starting the Candidates, Boris Spassky was almost unanimously considered the best chess player on the planet and there was no lack of reasons for it. Not only was he the current chess monarch, but he played with ease against any kind of opponent that put him ahead, including Fischer. In fact, on the rare occasions when he had faced Fischer he had never lost and seemed to have taken the measure. The Soviets, then, were quite skeptical about the options of the estadouindense in a hypothetical confrontation against the champion. Spassky himself appeared completely confident, aware of his superiority. For his part, the patriarch of the Soviet school Mikhail Botvinnik considered that Fischer's chess was very solid but “simple as a child”, which was a way of remembering Bobby's weak point: his difficulties in deciphering games “irrational” where the position of the pieces was confusing and did not respond to a clear and well-established order. In that type of games Bobby did not always manage to apply his main weapons: a crushing logic and a unique clairvoyance to immediately capture the nature of any well-structured position. When an intuitive imagination was required to generate moves of uncertain future, Bobby did not seem to feel too comfortable and therefore the Soviets accused him of being unimaginative and lacking in flexibility. The Russian Victor Korchnoi recalled that both he and his compatriot Efim Geller had put Fischer in trouble on more than one occasion, precisely by the procedure of disorganizing the game so that the American was forced to think beyond the comfortable limits of his overwhelming logic. If they had managed to create problems for Bobby with that kind of game, Korchnoi said, how Spassky was not going to get it, that he was as much or more capable of navigating the turbulent waters of unpredictable chess. Also the ex-champion Tigran Petrosian considered that the North American was in inferiority with respect to Spassky by similar reasons. As usual among the Soviets, only Mikhail Tal praised Bobby without reservation and insinuated almost prophetically that Fischer was already the best in the world. Of course, his was still a minority opinion. For almost everyone else, Fischer was the second best chess player on the planet, not the first.

That opinion was reasonable, at least before the Candidates' qualifiers were held. Spassky was exactly the kind of player who could create Fischer the most problems. However, what the Soviets did not know – or did not want – to see at that time was that Fischer could also create problems for the world champion. Although the opinion of the Russians was supported by good arguments, there was also some condescension and perhaps even the need to align with the official version of the Kremlin's propaganda, which defended Spassky's invulnerability. Because in the rest of the world, where observers were more neutral, questions were emerging around Fischer's true potential. His game seemed to have taken an evolutionary leap. I was starting to play “something else”. At the moment they were only questions, but who could tell where the roof was for him? It had improved, and much, over the years. The praises of some non-Soviet teachers were like a warning that Fischer, despite his low participation in the competition, could be reaching a new and unknown level. Miguel Najdorf summed it up with the fantastic phrase: “If Bobby threw the pieces in the air, they would all fall into the correct boxes”. Yuri Balashov said: “Do you realize that Fischer almost never has bad pieces? He exchanges them, and the bad pieces are left to the opponent.” Fischer had the rare ability that his pieces came “to the right place at the right time” and in his best moments his chess gave off a symphonic harmony almost in the style of a JS Bach. The new Bobby had developed a particular type of positional chess in which all the pieces seemed to collaborate magically with each other, a style with which he dedicated himself not to stabbing the opponents with an attack but to strangle them slowly. His ability to grasp the internal logic of the position on the board was privileged and he used that vision to create more and more pressure with each new play, even though he did not seem to be attacking openly. More than one rival summed up their games saying that there came a time when, without knowing very well how, they were faced with several problems in different parts of the board. And that they could usually see in advance what Fischer's plan was, a plan that was clear and crystal clear. The problem is that even seeing him coming could not stop him. Also, since he could read most positions on the board quickly and accurately, he was one of the fastest players on the circuit and almost never had clock problems. In fact, it was not unusual for him to arrive several minutes late to his games knowing that in the end, anyway, he would have plenty of time. His rivals, on the other hand, were often caught in a race against the clock after spending many minutes trying to find a way to stop the avalanche.

As for his technique, the years of obsessive training had turned him into the closest thing to a computer that existed at the time. For example: in the final game, when there are few pieces and technique and calculation are more important than the imagination, its effectiveness was devastating. As Kasparov wrote analyzing some of those endings, Fischer made “computer game”. In fact, when Kasparov himself began to have problems in his confrontations with Deep Blue, he came to compare the game of the IBM supercomputer with the style of Bobby Fischer … quite a statement, very illuminating about what the American had come to achieve in his time.

In addition, Fischer had prepared himself conscientiously and in an unknown way at the time by means of a deep study of the chess theory. Almost all the players focused on studying modern chess dictated by the Soviet school and the games of the most important current rivals. But Fischer, in addition to studying almost all of his rivals regardless of their importance, learned by heart even forgotten games of the nineteenth century, analyzing in depth plays that were considered refuted and useless long ago. Not infrequently he surprised his opponents by reissuing supposedly obsolete ideas and showing that, surprisingly, they could be put back into practice successfully. Thus, his mental inventory of games became immense, much larger than that of any other player of his time. He had in his head more than a century of high competition and his exceptional chess memory came to surprise other Grandmasters who also excel in that aspect. There are numerous testimonies or anecdotes about it: he was able to remember in detail even informal games without any importance played by himself and in a completely casual way many years before.

Fischer's concentration and tireless combativeness made each game a bad drink for his rivals.

Besides, there was his competitive fierceness. Fischer, with his immature and childish character, perhaps did not impose too much on other chess players in conventional social situations. But with the board in the middle almost all the Grand Masters had come to develop an intimate terror towards him. For most players, knowing they had to cross paths with Bobby in a competition was bad news. The North American came to his games surrounded by an impressive aura, walking at full speed with his giant stride characteristics (it was a spectacle to contemplate his determined march towards the board, see the images of this film, which speak for themselves). He barely got up from his chair during the games, in which he moved the pieces with very fast and accurate gestures that caused the rival the impression of playing against an infallible automaton. To make matters worse, Fischer was very unlikely to give easy ties and always preferred to fight the games until he saw no chance of victory. Many times throughout his career he rejected proposals of tables with a smile, with disdain and even sometimes with open anger. He always wanted to win. And his opponents were very aware of this: with Bobby on the other side of the table, he could only expect an agonizing struggle in which there was no place for him to “sign a draw and reserve some strength for the next round”. No, he did not reserve anything and always wanted to fight for every point. That, of course, created considerable psychological pressure on his opponents, who always anticipated a very hard day when they had to sit in front of him.

So, the worst thing that could happen to a player was to face Fischer and have the feeling that Bobby had gained some advantage in the game. The idea of ​​tracing that advantage was like climbing a mountain on your knees. This was part of the “Fischer syndrome” that would begin to be spoken about a little later, when Bobby astonished the world with his unexpected displays of insulting superiority during the Candidates Tournament. Fischer's performance during 1971 is considered by many specialists to be the greatest individual performance of a chess player in the history of the sixty-four squares, and one of the largest, if not the greatest, in the history of the sport.

Candidates 1971: Quarterfinals, Fischer vs Taimanov

Until my match against Fischer in 1971, everything went smoothly in my chess career. But this dramatic confrontation turned my life into hell. (Mark Taimanov)

At the level of the Grand Masters, you know what your opponent is trying to get on the board. Whether you can stop it or not is another matter. With Fischer, we were playing chess but he was playing something else. When we finally realized your intentions, it was too late: you were already dead. (Mark Taimanov)

Theoretically speaking, Fischer was 15 years ahead of his contemporaries. (Garry Kasparov)

In 1971, Fischer did not play regular tournaments and focused on preparing the Candidates' qualifiers, determined to get rid of any challengers that were ahead of him. The qualifiers consisted of matches of a maximum of ten games. The first, to celebrate in Canada, would face the Soviet Mark Taimanov.

Grand Master Taimanov was a refined man, an excellent pianist, who had abandoned a promising career in classical music to devote himself to his first love, chess. Although he was quite a veteran, he had played a good Interzonal Tournament in Palma and was going through a kind of “second youth” sport, a spring revival that had placed him among the best eight of the moment. Anyway, Fischer was by far the favorite. No one harbored doubts about it: Taimanov's Soviet colleagues dismissed him with an ironic “May the worst win!” As much as the Russian was at a good moment, Fischer was officially the second best player on the planet and few people (or anyone) believed that Taimanov could eliminate him. However, there was the possibility that playing backed by a training and analysis team formed by some of the best Masters of the USSR, Taimanov raised some resistance, at least enough to reduce the fumes to a Bobby that came preceded by that an unusual winning streak in the Interzonal of 1970. Even if the Russian was eliminated, the important thing was not to make it easy for the American, to show him that he was not untouchable, as some enthusiasts were already saying in the Western press. Since Taimanov's playing style was rather artistic, he was trained in a positional game that could be adapted to Fischer's "active positional" game. Champ Spassky, in private, disagreed with that training because it would mean subtracting from Taimanov's style some of his usual energy to accommodate him to a game that was not his and in which he could never surpass Fischer. Soviet propaganda tended to minimize the virtues of the American, but Spassky also advised Taimanov's team to “hide Fischer's true strength” so as not to discourage him before he started. So, Taimanov appeared in Vancouver full of optimism, perhaps not sure to qualify but to offer a good battle. Poor Taimanov.

Taimanov offering a recital with his first wife, also a pianist.

The first game was interesting. Taimanov sacrificed a pawn in exchange for an attack of uncertain results that he could not specify. Finally he paid for the risk he had taken and Fischer certified the first victory of the tie: 1-0. The second game was a very long fight that had to be postponed twice. All the analysis of Taimanov and his powerful team of assistants showed a clear draw, so Taimanov offered tables to Fischer during one of the resumptions. But the American, faithful to his indomitable combativeness and to the surprise of the Soviet analysts who continued to give the tie as inevitable, rejected them. In a long final puzzle with very few pieces on the board and a more than apparent theoretical draw, Fischer beat his opponent by his characteristic infallible calculation: Taimanov could not stop Bobby from crowning a pawn. What had seemed a few manual taboos became a 2-0.

Things had started crooked for the Soviet, who had had to fit two consecutive losses. That was a serious corrective already at first, but at least it had raised some fight and had not been victories given to Bobby, far from it. But there was a serious problem: Taimanov began to realize that despite all his preparation and the wise advice of the powerful team that supported him, when he sat before the board he did not know how to win Fischer, even feeling that he had an advantage in the game. But better than Taimanov himself who tells how he felt during the third game:

All my understanding of chess, all my experience and intuition about the game convinced me that my position should be winning. And even then I could not find any concrete way to victory. Having ruled out play 20. Qh3, I began to examine other ideas, but also in vain. And at this point, I must admit, I was gripped by a feeling of helplessness, of despair: “Is this Fischer invulnerable, is he bewitched in any way?” Once again I thought about 20. Qh3, once again I analyzed dozens of variations and again without success. And meanwhile the clock was still running and I started having time problems. According to the referee's report, I was thinking about the position for 72 minutes! In my 50 years of career I have never spent so much time in a single movement! And, simply, I collapsed psychologically. My energy faded, I became listless, everything lost its meaning and I ended up making the first move that came to my mind. And I lost, of course.

3-0. The punishment was beginning to be cruel. Taimanov threatened to break down before the impossibility of even getting a draw. His confidence was fading, but even so he stood up in the fourth game, in which Fischer limited himself to keeping a small advantage until the final phase, where he played with that precision of silicon he had managed to develop over the years. Taimanov felt “like Dr. Watson, who could only continue playing to contemplate the resources and imagination of the great Sherlock Holmes.” The Soviet did what he could but the few pieces of the board danced a macabre dance executed with a robotic coldness on the part of Fischer, a dance that could only lead to disaster for the Russian. Taimanov lost again; it was already the fourth consecutive loss! Something completely unheard of among Grandmasters. The beating was reached levels that went beyond humiliation.

In the fifth game, Taimanov tried to open the game further to keep Fischer away from that logical calculation that was working so well, but Bobby went back to simplifying things by exchanging pieces in order to reach one of those “computer” endings that they liked. When Taimanov proved that he was once again at a disadvantage, already practically desperate, he made a beginner's mistake that caused him to lose a tower. He had to surrender: 5-0. The sixth game showed a clearly off-centered Taimanov who did what he could despite his more than obvious state of depression. He could barely do anything against a Fischer hungry for victory. 6-0. The American had already six points out of ten, so the match ended right there: Taimanov was out of the Candidates having suffered the biggest beating experienced by a professional chess player throughout the twentieth century.

The world of chess was completely petrified and the world press turned its eyes to the board. In the whole history of chess, only a similar fact had been seen: in 1876, the first official world champion Wilhem Steinitz swept Blackburn 7-0, considered one of the best players of the moment. Even in the nineteenth century and even coming from Steinitz – who basically had just invented the modern strategy, so it was far superior to its rivals – that had been considered an unbearable humiliation. But in 1971, 100 years later, it was no longer just a humiliation but it seemed simply a carnage. And a butcher shop hard to believe. There can not be so much difference between two Great Masters. And yet, it existed. Bobby Fischer had taken care of it.

Panic in the USSR

That 6-0 sounded all the alarms in Moscow. The Soviet press was quick to describe Taimanov as a pushover who had not managed to keep the guy defending the patriotic honor. The authorities began to treat him harshly, despite the fact that the status of a chess player in the USSR was similar to that of a footballer in Spain. They decided to present him as an example for the other Grand Masters: it could not be lost that way before Fischer and Taimanov was going to be punished for it. He began to be humiliated at the airport, on his return to Russia, where he saw how they searched his luggage as if he were a suspicious individual. To top it off, he was found a book by the famous dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He was banned from leaving the country and was removed from the Soviet team, which practically disabled him for high international competition. Saddened, Taimanov simply said “well, I can always play the piano again”. But he was also denied the possibility of making a living touring as a music performer. Fischer's beating was still having worse consequences than sports humiliation and in the USSR Taimanov, until then one of the national heroes, was becoming a pariah. [See additional translation notes.]

Petrosian and Spassky, both world champions, were very upset by the interference of the Kremlin's political commissaries when Fischer erased Taimanov from the boards.

The Kremlin considered the 6-0 as an unacceptable blow and the rejoicing of the Western press did not help much. The best Soviet chess players were summoned to a tense meeting at the Ministry of Sports, where they were subjected to an unpleasant rapapolvo by political commissaries. Taimanov, with his head down, was put back and half even though the other chess players insisted that he had not played as badly as the score seemed to indicate. Fischer, they said, had been simply intractable and Taimanov had competed with pride. But the political commissar did not believe it. Such a result had not been seen in 100 years of history, so Fischer could not be considered "so" good. He accused Taimanov of having very little character and his assistants had failed in his work: “The postponed games were analyzed carefully. We sent three Grand Masters to help Taimanov. All of our first-class players wrote analysis.” And even then, they had been swept away. Then, accentuating the idea that Taimanov's nerves had collapsed, he added: “Maybe instead of helpers it would have been more useful to send a doctor.” World champion Boris Spassky could not stand it anymore and jumped with a sarcastic response: “Yes, a sexologist.” The representative of the Kremlin did not like it very much: “I see, Boris Vaisilevich, that you are in a very jovial mood”.

Spassky's revolt was sincere but dangerous and that among the best Soviet chess players was one of the few who did not belong to the Communist Party apparatus, although he was not exactly a political dissenter, since politics was indifferent to him and he was very I enjoy living in the USSR, where I was a superstar. However, he was openly outraged by that forced appearance: “And when Fischer wins us over the others, will they also bring us here to question us?” He said in a very annoyed tone to the amazement of everyone present. Former champion Tigran Petrosian (who could still cross with Fischer in the Candidates) added in a low voice: “they will interrogate us, but not here” … referring sarcastically to the prisons of Siberia. The rest of the players, who had not been champions, could not take so many liberties and had to be silent. That truculent meeting was the lowest moment in the brilliant history of Soviet chess, with the Grand Masters who had dominated chess for three decades treated as a bunch of useless. Taimanov never recovered from the blow, neither psychically nor professionally. Among the rest of the Masters there was discouragement and especially fear. Spassky began to show distaste for having to defend a title that had growing political connotations. Petrosian, still a Candidate participant, had good reason to be worried if he ran into Fischer and was also overwhelmingly defeated.

Candidates: Semifinal, Fischer vs Larsen

While the Soviet Masters were being interrogated in the Kremlin, Fischer went to Denver to play the semifinal against Bent Larsen. The Dane was the best Western player after Fischer himself and the only one who had been able to win a game in the Interzonal of the previous year. Firm, energetic and not devoid of ego, Larsen went to the battle ready to create the American star all possible problems. In fact, in the first game, Larsen went on the attack looking for an initial victory that would give him confidence and undermine his opponent's, but Fischer defended himself from the attack with the precision of a watchmaker (and with the help of his endless mental file of games). This is what Bobby remembered:

Well, you should know that Larsen is a romantic. He likes unusual positions. He likes to attack you with unexpected plays. And there is something else: if Larsen wins the first games he becomes unbeatable. Acquire confidence and you can not win. But if he is defeated, he loses confidence and in a certain way he collapses. We started the first game and in the tenth movement he was already attacking me. He imagined that he would take me by surprise. But when I looked at the position I remembered that it was something that Steinitz had tried against Lasker in the match for the 1894 championship. If I had not known that position I could have spent a lot of time trying to understand it and I might even have run out tiempo. But when I saw the position, I remembered that he had analyzed once and knew that Larsen was finished. When I made the right play, Larsen knew that I knew … and lost the game.

1-0. Larsen's attempt to dislodge Fischer (usually a good tactic might have worked as Bobby himself admitted later) ran into the solid theoretical background American. In the second game Larsen not melted, and returned to fight: Got a seemingly advantageous position by putting the Fischer lady in distress. At least a draw seemed assured and thought Larsen also had a good chance of finding a victory. But the strength calculation Fischer prevailed. Larsen not matched with the exact play, Bobby simply take the time, turning the tables and reaching the end of game with two pawns. 2-0. Like against Taimanov, it was obvious that Fischer had become able to squeeze the smallest favorable circumstance seemingly foolproof thanks to its computing capacity. Larsen, who had started two games convinced taking the initiative decisively, had reaped two defeats. It was trembling: “After the second game, I knew the match was lost.”

In the third game Larsen returned to the charge and employed a line of play that had carefully prepared at your home analysis. It was a plan designed in advance to break Bobby. But once again the plan collided with the overwhelming logic of Fischer, who just bring the game to an end again with few parts where I had –for variar– a pawn. Danish saw that his ploy had failed and surrendered. That was already a crushing 3-0 beginning to remember the beating suffered by Taimanov impossible. The public event saw Larsen from his seat somberly, completely demoralized by the seeming invulnerability of his rival. People began to wonder if it was possible that Fischer repeated the 6-0 with a different victim.

Fischer and Larsen in the initial draw for the knockout.

What was going wrong? Larsen, rather than simply playing by his true style, had carefully prepared their strategies to get a game “anti-Fischer”. Just as he had tried Taimanov. And in the first moments of the games it seemed to get some advantage ... but then, again and again, that advantage was derailed by the US with patience and precision. Bobby answered every attempt by the Danish with frightening concision and efficiency. Without fanfare or surprising combinations. And poor Bent Larsen did not know what to do.

In the fourth game, Larsen varied a little plan of action and played more in his usual style, which infantry advancing his pawns to pressure Fischer on the queenside. Despite this terrible pressure, Bobby reacted with cold calculation capacity that had been applied throughout the tournament and counteracted doing the same but on the kingside. When Larsen had wanted to realize his king and locked Fischer had planted a poisonous horse at the gates of his castle. Nono had only endured the swift attack but had counterattacked even faster. His final combination basically destroyed all possible hope of Danish. 4-0. The public could not help but be amazed by the overwhelming march of pity for Fischer and Larsen appeared increasingly more sunk in misery,predicting that could be another donut as demeaning Taimanov. But despite the debacle and trying to avoid a marker to zero, Larsen returned to do battle in the fifth game. He was determined to get at least the point of honor. But Fischer was playing like a machine and Danish had lost much of its initial energy; Bobby exchanged without thinking one of its towers (most valuable) by a bishop Larsen, provided that their pawns from seizing the queenside. That could not be answered by Larsen, which extended the game desperately searching for a ray of light that never came. 5-0. The sixth game brought nothing new: once again the pieces of Fischer seemed to dominate the board at will. They moved as connected by invisible threads, slowly bringing the position to where suited them.Larsen and had no ideas about how to counter that, or practically mental energy to invent new solutions. He lost again, this time without putting up much resistance.

Another 6-0.

The world of chess did not give credit. A result that had only occurred once in the history of chess 100 years ago and that had always been considered an anomalous anecdote of a more primitive chess, had just been repeated twice in a row! At the hands of the same player! There were no qualifiers to summarize that feat because it was simply impossible to admit. And yet, it had happened. The press around the world tried to explain the puzzle: how was it possible that their rivals, two masters of the world elite, so different from each other and both at their best, could not have obtained a single draw and would have fallen from the same way losing all the games? Bobby Fischer, who was already a famous character before the Candidates of 1971, saw how those two consecutive beatings put him at the epicenter of world news. He began to consider the Albert Einstein of his time and people wanted to know more about him, about his life and his way of thinking. More and more he was depicted as the man who could dynamite Soviet rule in world chess, which suddenly became a propagandistic obsession on both sides of the Atlantic.

The unfortunate Bent Larsen was never the same after that 6-0. Such humiliation completely undermined his professional self-confidence, as had happened with Mark Taimanov. But the Larsen debacle, at least, had a positive effect: in the USSR they could see that Taimanov might have competed with honor. It is not that Taimanov had been a “weak” or a “coward”. It was simply that Fischer was destroying the rivals in a way that had never been seen in the five centuries of history of that sport. That served the least so that, over time, the punishments on Taimanov would soften even slightly.

Candidates: Final, Fischer vs Petrosian

While the world was arguing with amazement the two consecutive 6-0, Fischer traveled to Buenos Aires to face former world champion Tigran Petrosian, probably the toughest player in the world and leathery. It was the end of the Candidates. The winner would face Boris Spassky for the world title the following year.

Petrosian's ultra-defensive style got rid of many rivals: he was the king of draws and although he used to get relatively few victories for his high level of play, it was no less true that his chess catenaccio made it very, very difficult for anyone to beat him. departure to him. For example, in the semifinal Petrosian had signed nine tables in ten games against the combative Victor Korchnoi and a single victory had sufficed to eliminate his fiery opponent. But now Petrosian would face Fischer, who came from placing two consecutive 6-0, something that had never been seen and that surely will never be seen between Grand Masters.

The grueling Petrosian he came very prepared his duel with Fischer, but even that saved him from suffering a sovereign beating.

Petrosian had trained extensively for the tie, thoroughly studying Fischer's seemingly predictable style with the help of masters such as Yuri Averbach. In the first game he proposed a theoretical novelty in the opening, prepared “at home” and suggested precisely by Averbach, with the idea of ​​surprising Bobby and taking him out of his comfort zone. Indeed, the maneuver baffled Fischer. Bobby spent more time than expected thinking about his moves. He found himself playing defensively while Petrosian took the initiative, something that was not planned. Just at that moment there was a blackout and the room was dark: Petrosian left the table, but Bobby continued sitting thinking in the middle of the darkness. At the Russians' protest, Fischer allowed his watch – which the referee had stopped – to keep running. He did not want to lose his state of concentration and remained seated there until the light returned, although by then it had consumed enough time. When the game could be resumed normally, however, it was found that his musings had worked. It refuted the plans of the Soviet and his assistants, arriving at a final of departure in which Petrosian could not avoid that Fischer crowned a pawn. 1-0. Bobby had won again despite the fact that the clever planning of the Russians had created many headaches. Of course, the rumors ran saying that, after the defeat, the woman of Petrosian was so angry with the previous analyzes of Averbach that ended up undertaking it to bag with him.

But curious anecdotes aside, Fischer had already moved ahead and everyone wondered if repeated with great Petrosian, nothing less than a former world champion, what he had done with Taimanov and Larsen.

But Petrosian was a very tough player, made of another dough, and he was not willing to join the sad 6-0 club. In the second game, Fischer overestimated his own defensive capabilities and left his king uncovered; He also avoided exchanging checkers to simplify the game. All this was used by his rival, who against almost all odds won the game and took the second point. 1-1. Thus, Petrosian put an end to a string of 20 consecutive victories (without any draw!) Bobby Fischer against Grand Masters, a streak that had begun in the Interzonal. A streak that had never happened before and that can almost certainly be said to never happen again. Kasparov, for example, says that it is completely impossible to ever repeat it. By then, the fact that Fischer took a point loss – something normal for any player, even the best – had become great news. Fischer had lost a game! His aura of invincibility had reached such a point.

Everyone wondered what his reaction would be. But in the third game it became clear again that Petrosian's previous preparation was paying off and that the Russian had reached the end of playing accurately and had a chance to win again. But Fischer wanted to avoid problems and (for once!) Forced some tables by repetition of movements that Petrosian had gone unnoticed. Thus, Fischer forced to end in a draw and avoided having to keep defending against what seemed a solid plan of the contricante. Both players shared the point and were still matched in the match: 1'5-1'5. In the fourth game, Fischer used a defense – the “dragon variant” – that Spassky had already used against Petrosian to wrest a draw from him in the past. Petrosian saw that the game was not going anywhere, disdained to look for new ways that would lead him to a victory and agreed to sign tables after only 20 moves. 2-2. In the fifth game, things started to look like what could have been expected before the playoffs began: Fischer developing his pieces more actively than Petrosian, and Petrosian building a defensive wall around his king. But neither of them obtained a decisive advantage and the third consecutive tie was produced, which was much more in line with what used to happen between Grand Masters. 2'5-2'5.

The tie was showing two things: one, that Petrosian's previous training had served to steal Fischer's initiative from the game, something the American was not used to. Two, Fischer – generally reluctant to sign easy boards – was content with draws … but managed to neutralize Petrosian's attempts to put him in uncomfortable games. Petrosian was giving his best and things were starting to end in a draw, not in victories of the Soviet. He had won a game, yes, but he did not seem able to materialize a second victory even if he played according to plans specifically designed to annoy the American.

Fischer, despite having lost a point, seemed increasingly comfortable in the tie. He had already got used to the idea of giving up the initiative, so he decided to use that circumstance for his own benefit. In the sixth game he dedicated himself precisely to that: to be more patient than Petrosian himself, the well-known king of patience. They both embarked on a positional dance that seemed to threaten to last forever … and it was Petrosian who ended up making plays “out of plan” to speed things up, when he had always been the player who waited while the others tried to attack him. In that game Fischer was more Petrosian than Petrosian himself and ended up defeating the “Tiger” with his own weapons. The American was placed again ahead: 3'5-2'5.

The seventh game showed that Fischer had indeed overcome his initial concerns and was playing with full confidence again, without seeking refuge from the draw. He gave a master class of “counter-intuitive” tactical choices that baffled Petrosian: handing a “good” horse over for a “bad” bishop or allowing the existence of a dangerous Petrosian past pawn to get a good position from his peers in return pieces. Thus, with so many surprising decisions, he took the game to a final phase that on paper could seem lost if one counted the pieces, because Petrosian had material superiority and that normally is decisive. But that was on paper. On the board, Fischer had it won because his pieces, even in numerical inferiority, were much more active and were placed with much more intention. That was Fischer's famous magical harmony working again at full capacity. All his pieces did something useful. All were in place. Everyone could move to even better places. Petrosian surrendered to the inevitable. 4'5-2'5.

In the eighth game a new demonstration of the positional power of Fischer was produced: both rivals began to exchange pieces and when Petrosian wanted to realize he had a pawn passed against him and a checkmate web in the distance. He had to surrender again because there was no way to save the situation. Third consecutive Fischer victory and 5'5-2'5 on the scoreboard. He only needed one more victory to eliminate his rival. The ninth game went through similar channels, only that Petrosian tried to prolong his agony desperately when Fischer again surpassed all his plans. There was nothing to do. Bobby finally won and finished the tie. That was not a 6-0, but it could also be considered a humiliating beating: 6'5-2'5, including a 4-0 run in the last four games. Petrosian's preparation and combativeness had obtained the modest result of an isolated victory, but had ended up coming completely down as soon as his diabolical rival shook off the surprise and began to play with his usual self-sufficiency. No, it had not been a 6-0, but Petrosian had also been torn apart by that human crusher named Bobby Fischer.

Fischer, in all 31 Candidates games (including nine against a recent world champion!) Had only lost one and three draws. That is: I had let 2.5 points escape … of 31 possible points! You could not even find a rational explanation for that and Bobby seemed effectively invincible. Some spoke of the “Fischer syndrome” that afflicted their rivals. Others thought that the new Einstein had reached its fullness and nothing could stop it. Some, few and more astute, believed that Fischer was playing a new chess, a revolutionary style that over looked like others but that, in reality, was tinged with his own personality and his new ideas. That Fischer, in short, was inventing something new.

His only obstacle to overcome to be considered the best without doubt was Boris Spassky. The world champion I had never won before. But the exploits of Fischer in the Candidates were of such magnitude that everybody spoke of Fischer, Fischer, Fischer … and even the figure of the defending champion seemed to be eclipsed by the growing brightness of the new aspirant. Life magazine dedicated a famous cover: “The mortal player”, highlighting it as the brightest intelligence of his generation. Bobby himself claimed that he would beat Spassky. The Russian thought the opposite, but after the superhuman demonstrations of the American in 1971, he seemed to be the only individual in the USSR who was not openly anguished by the anthological qualitative leap of the genius of Brooklyn.

Chess had become front-page material in newspapers. Fischer and Spassky were going to face each other in Iceland the following year and everyone considered the Championship as a materialization of the Cold War itself. Since there could be no nuclear war – unless the leaders of both countries went crazy – there would be chess games to settle the honor of the two opposing superpowers. Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky were going to play in the middle of a unique media attention in History and pressure levels to which two competitors in any sport had never been subjected. Fischer, with zero wins over Spassky throughout his career, would have to defend the honor of his country and the entire Western bloc. And those who knew him did not stop wondering how he would react with such weight on his back.

And to begin with, he gave them a surprise of his own, giving the impression that he did not want to go to the Championship. Once again, as in the old days, his presence at a key point in history hung on a trembling thread.