Book Review: Bobby Fischer’s Conquest of the World Chess Championship by Reuben Fine

Book Review: Bobby Fischer’s Conquest of the World Chess Championship by Reuben Fine
“The psychology and tactics of the title match”
David McKay Co, November 1973

Review by James Schroeder published in 1974

For several years one of the best analysts in the world, Fine degenerated rapidly after he quit playing chess in 1952. In this book the evidence of his inanity is more pronounced and appears to be caused by his failure to become World Champion (in addition to other emotional problems which one can infer from his autobiographical writings). This book contains 92 pages of preliminary “history” and Fine’s absurd deductions about the psychological motives of Fischer, Spassky and a few other Masters. Don’t believe anything you read. Then follows 200 pages to analyze the 21 games of the match, and to give more nonsensical “reasons” for the players’ errors. Fine’s analysis of the games is very poor. In Game One he overlooks that Fischer has four distinct ways of drawing after 29 … BxKRP. The simplest begins with 37 … P-QR3! Fine grossly overestimates White’s position in Game Five and claims Spassky could have drawn with 27 Q-N1. Black’s superiority is so great at that time that the win is a matter of technique. Fine makes, and repeats several times, the ridiculous claim that: “Spassky’s preparations for the match was superb, far superior to Fischer’s. It was he who introduced the opening variations which will stick.” The exact opposite is true and Spassky was not prepared when Fischer played 1 P-QB4, or when Fischer played Alekhin’s Defense (1 P-K4 N-KB3), or when Fischer played several other openings he had not previously played. It is a serious mistake to believe that superior preparation manifests itself in the opening. QUITE THE CONTRARY. It is precisely in the middle-game and the endgame that superior preparation becomes apparent. During his career Fine was, and still is, lacking an understanding of the subjective factors in chess. Fine accuses Petrosian of “lacking imagination”, which is impossible. He confuses “imagination” with aggressive play, but defensive play can also be “imaginative”, as proven by Steinitz, Lasker, Reshevsky, Botvinnik, etc. All chess matches between equal, or nearly equal players, have been decided by subjective factors. Fischer’s superior preparation was proved by his ability to play very rapidly in the openings and the manner in which Spassky was induced to make mistakes. Many ignorant writers have referred to Spassky’s “uncharacteristic blunders”. That is exactly what proves that Fischer’s preparations were superior. If Spassky had made only characteristic mistakes he would have won the match. Spassky used far too much time in the openings and this caused him to make mistakes later, because he was short of time.

Fine writes: “Fischer was lost in eight games.” “No games of really notable stature were recorded.” WRONG. The epic games were THREE (but Fischer missed an easy win by not playing 26 … QR-QB1!), FOUR, FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, TEN, ELEVEN, THIRTEEN, FIFTEEN, EIGHTEEN, NINETEEN, TWENTY-ONE. Most of the games are great struggles and utterly fascinating.

Fine’s attempt at psychoanalysis of the players can be exposed as worthless by giving one example: “In annotating the games I was struck by two considerations: The frequency with which Fischer made dubious moves to the edge of the board, and his preferred method of counterattacking against the center from the side.” Were this not so pathetic it would be humorous. During the match I mentioned to the audience that every time Spassky was in a bad position he advanced one of his Rook-Pawns. That drew a big laugh, which is what this book is worth, lotsa laughs.

Post-script. Anatoly Karpov, World Champion 1975 – 1985 was wrongly accused by Tal, and others, of lacking in “imagination” and not being “creative”. Karpov had a generic deficiency of not being able to use Knights, or defend against attacks by Knights. He was great with Bishops and the best endgame player of his time. Given that handicap he was imaginative and creative as much as he could possibly be.

Copyright © 2006 James Schroeder Vancouver, WA

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