But his record of controversies was shadowed by his meteoric rise in the 1970s. After a brief period of inactivity in 1969, he returned to play in the 1970 USSR vs Rest of the World match in Belgrade, defeating Tigran Petrosian with two wins and two draws. This left no doubt that Fischer had put his temporary rest from the competitive scene to good use.
|And with enough willpower to make a comeback|
1970 was proving to be a good year for the American genius, who was racking up a string of tournament victories. But the highlight of the year was his top placing at the 1970 Interzonal, where he finished with seven (!) consecutive wins. This qualified him for yet another Candidates Match in 1971.
We might remember from Part 2 that in response to allegations of Soviet collusion, FIDE had changed the format of the Candidates from the standard round robin to a series of 12-game knockout matches. How would Bobby fare in this new format?
Today, we will look at the 4th game of their match. If the fight between Fischer and Tal in Part 2 was a fine showcase of good bishop vs bad knight, then the following game would be a masterpiece. It is a classic example of what a monster the bishop can be in the endgame when under the command of Robert Fischer:
It is amazing how a mere piece can perform such heroic acts, taking on the enemy single-handed before being sacrificed for the greater good! Had this been a real war, the bishop no doubt would have been recommended for the Victoria Cross.
Having suffered 4 consecutive defeats, Taimanov dug in and soldiered on. He managed to gain an advantage in the 5th game, but threw it away with a horrible blunder after the adjournment:
Taimanov, Mark vs Fischer, Robert
Candidates Match 1971, Game 5
|Position after 45... Kh6|
46. Rxf6?? Qd4+ and White resigned in view of 47. Rf2 Ra1+ 48. Kh2 Qxf2 losing the rook.
Alas, what was initially thought to be a close fight turned out to be a massacre. Fischer routed Taimanov 6-0, sending the chess world into an uproar. There was no doubt the American would win, but by such a margin!? A match among the world’s best players would typically produce margins or 1, 2 or at the most 3 point differences (*World Championship 2013 cough cough*), while a total whitewash was almost unheard of.
Naturally, the Soviet authorities were not pleased with this embarrassing rout, and felt that there was no way a Russian could lose so spectacularly to an American unless some grand conspiracy was taking place. So poor Taimanov bore the brunt of the Motherland’s fury:
“The sanctions from the Soviet government were severe. I was deprived of my civil rights, my salary was taken away from me, I was prohibited from travelling abroad and censored in the press. It was unthinkable for the authorities that a Soviet grandmaster could lose in such a way to an American, without a political explanation. I therefore became the object of slander…”
|The KGB's words translated into English|
Meanwhile, Fischer was preparing to face his second opponent: Bent Larsen. We have witnessed one of Bobby’s victories over the Danish grandmaster in Part 1, but Larsen was still a formidable opponent, having dealt Fischer his only loss at the Interzonal. Nevertheless, Fischer was still the favourite, so he would likely win the match by a margin or 2, or even 3 points…
No, Fischer massacred his opponent with another 6 straight wins! Larsen attributed it to his poor form during the match, which was made worse by the hot climate at the playing venue. However, it was not sufficient to explain a second 6-0 by the American. Once might be a freak coincidence, but twice!? There was definitely something crazy about Fischer’s ability that could make this possible.
After both sides played a sharp, exciting 1st game where Fischer beat off a strong attack, the players faced a long, tougher game in the 2nd round. Larsen was making slow but steady progress in an asymmetrical rook + bishop endgame when he blundered into a strong tactical combination:
As the score made headlines around the world, the Reds realized there was no reason for a Western Imperialist to conspire with another Western Imperialist by losing all his games. So they were horribly wrong about their wacky conspiracy theories on Taimanov, and had no choice but to “forgive” him and lift all the earlier sanctions. By suffering such a stinging defeat, Larsen had unintentionally saved Taimanov from destruction by his own country!
But that was none of Fischer’s business. His next order of battle was against former world champion Tigran Petrosian. The Soviet government, alarmed over the growing power of Fischer, expressed concern on whether Petrosian could take down the American juggernaut. But despite Fischer’s performance in the earlier matches, Iron Tigran was optimistic that he could do the impossible. And he had good reason to be, having been the ex-world champion, with an extremely solid playing style that made him incredibly difficult to beat.
After starting with a loss, Petrosian won the second game, finally snapping Bobby’s winning streak. He then held out with solid draws for the next 3 rounds, but somewhere the Armenian faltered and all of a sudden Fischer found himself winning the next four games. The following is a short but interesting game where Petrosian had a passed pawn, which turned out to be more of a burden than an asset:
It is incredible how Fischer won this game through superior positional understanding, against an opponent who was himself an outstanding expert on positional play!
|Petrosian (left) vs Fischer, Candidates Match 1971|
The result of the match—6.5-2.5 in favour of Bobby—was once again a shock to the chess world. While not a clean sweep, who would imagine that a former world champion could lose 4 games in a row? After the match, Petrosian remarked: “After the sixth game Fischer really did become a genius. I on the other hand, either had a breakdown or was tired, or something else happened, but the last three games were no longer chess.” (Wiki)
Botvinnik, who was Taimanov’s second in his ill-fated match, sums up the story of Fischer’s wild Candidates journey succinctly:
"It is hard to talk about Fischer's matches. Since the time that he has been playing them, miracles have begun. His match with Taimanov was surprising, the one with Larsen even more astonishing, and the Petrosian-Fischer match was altogether staggering. In the first two matches everything was clear to the general public, but that which occurred in Buenos Aires remains a mystery even now. From the 1st to 5th games Petrosian essentially dominated, but in the remaining four he 'descended' to the level of Taimanov and Larsen...”
So there we go. After so many failed attempts, Fischer had finally secured victory in the Candidates, clearing a path for him to the 1972 World Championship. Now, only one man stands between him and the pinnacle of the world: Tenth World Champion Boris Spassky…
To be continued…
Part 1: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/02/fischers-eccentric-brilliancies-part-1.html
Part 2: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/02/fischers-eccntric-brilliancies-part-2.html
Part 3: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/03/fischers-eccentric-brilliancies-part-3.html
Part 4: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/04/fischers-eccentric-brilliancies-part-4.html
Part 5: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/05/fischers-eccentric-brilliancies-part-5.html
"My Great Predecessors" by Garry Kasparov