14 February 2011

Watch Out for 'Etc.'

For the first time in this series on 18 Memorable Games, the game Portisch - Fischer, Santa Monica 1966 presents almost no significant differences of opinion between Fischer and Kasparov. The diagrammed position is the start of the critical sequence. Fischer played 11...Qd7, which received a total of four '!'s from the three commentators. Here's what they had to say.

Portisch: 'A very unpleasant surprise. I considered only 11...Nd7 which is inferior because of 12.Bd3 Nf6 13.Qh4 with initiative. After the text I realized that I had gotten into a prepared variation and that Black has a splendid position.'

Fischer: 'The finest move in the game, far superior to the "natural" 11...Nd7 12.Bd3 Nf6 13.Qh4 with two Bishops and a beautiful development despite the doubled Pawns. Black can well afford to give up two Rooks for a Queen, as will soon become apparent. The text prepares ...Nb8-c6-a5, hitting the "weakling", as Alekhine used to call that kind of a target.'

Kasparov gave a few moves more in the same variation and paraphrased a portion of Fischer's verbal analysis.

The move 11...Qd7 set up the critical position, where Portisch had to find the antidote to a prepared variation. This is a difficult task while the clock is ticking in a real game.

Santa Monica 1966
Fischer, Robert

Portisch, Lajos
After 11.Qf3-e4(xN)

White played 12.Ba3, leading to the following comments.

Portisch: 'A difficult choice. After 12.Bd3 f5 13.Qe2 Nc6 14.O-O Rfe8! 15.f4 (or 15.Bf4) 15...Na5. White has no compensation for the doubled Pawn and he is condemned to passive defense. Therefore I decided to give up my Queen for the Rooks in a hope to save the game, which nearly succeeded.'

Fischer: 'White gets the worst of it after 12.Bd3 f5 13.Qe2 Nc6 etc. Still, this was a prudent choice.'

Kasparov: Repeats Fischer's comment ands adds, 'However, this evaluation is contested by 14.Bf4!, for example: 14...Rfe8 15.O-O Na5 16.Be5 Qc6 17.c5 Bxd3 18.Qxd3 bxc5 19.Rab1 and "Black's extra Pawn is not important" (Huebner), or 14...Ne7 15.O-O Ng6 16.Be5 c5 17.a4 Rfd8 18.a5 with equality.'

It's not immediately clear, but the evaluation 'contested' by 14.Bf4 is Fischer's comment that 'White gets the worst of it' after 12.Bd3 'etc'. Kasparov, in his variation 12.Bd3 f5 13.Qe2 Nc6 14.Bf4, omits the thematic continuation 14...Na5 (rather than 14...Ne7, which takes the Knight away from White's weak Queenside Pawns), because 15.O-O Rfe8 just transposes into his line after 14...Rfe8. This also happens to be the same line given by Portisch if we take the note 15.Bf4 and continue 15...Na5.

So who's right: Portisch ('[White] is condemned to passive defense') and Fischer ('White gets the worst of it') -or- Huebner and Kasparov? After analyzing the position for some time, I have to agree with Huebner and Kasparov. Their 16.Be5 is adequate, but 16.Rab1 looks even better. White has active play and is as much in the game as Black is. When Fischer wrote 'etc.', did he realize how much life was left in the position?

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