21 February 2012

Fischer on the 'Rubbish' Defense

A recent post, Kenny Rogoff as You've Never Seen Him, points the way to a Boys' Life column by Bobby Fischer where the eight-time U.S. champion annotated a game by Rogoff. Played in the last round of the U.S. Junior (Invitational) against Steven Spencer of New York City, it clinched the title for Rogoff.

Rogoff: Fischer actually wrote an article about one of my games from the 1969 U.S. Junior championship, one of the very few times he ever chose to write about someone else’s games.

That alone makes Fischer's notes worthy of study. Already after the initial moves 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7, I learned something new.

Fischer: The Pirc defense, also called the 'Rubbish' or 'Rat' defense because of the cramped but fighting game it gives Black.

The game continued 3.Nc3 c6 4.Nf3. Here Fischer gave a relatively detailed analysis of the alternative 4.Bc4. Why spend this effort on the fourth move? Due to Black's having avoided ...Nf6, the game has already branched off into less charted territory, which Fischer obviously thought was important. After the further 4...d5 5.h3, White's fifth is the sort of move that sometimes gets a '?'. Fischer gave it a '!'.

Fischer: Ordinarily you should avoid unprovoked Rook Pawn moves because there's something more important to do. In this position, though, it's justified because ...Bg4 would have been very strong for Black, pinning White's Knight and putting pressure on his d-Pawn indirectly.

Now the players continued 5...dxe4 6.Nxe4 Nd7 7.Bc4 Ngf6 8.Nxf6+ Nxf6 9.O-O O-O, reaching the diagrammed position.

Here comes the sort of brief comment that we see so rarely in notes by top players, but that can be so useful to the improving club player.

Fischer: Now White's advantage is that he has a Pawn in the center -- which means more space -- plus both his Bishops have good diagonals. [...] Black's pieces, on the other hand, have little scope.

'More space, good diagonals, little scope', got it? Again, after 10.c3 Qc7 11.Qe2 b6 12.Bg5,

Fischer: Notice how slowly Ken builds up his position. Before he takes any decisive action he brings all his pieces out to their most active posts.

And again, after 12...b5,

Fischer: This move, besides being inconsistent (because he could have moved here last move -- in one move!), slightly weakens Black's square on c5, creating a 'hole' on that square, which could be very helpful to White later on. You may notice how much I emphasize this business of 'holes' or weak squares. That's because it's so important. It has been correctly said that 'Pawns are the soul of chess'. It is also a truism that Pawns cannot move backwards, and a thoughtless Pawn move can ruin an otherwise good position.

A much better plan would have been 12...Bb7 followed by 13...c5 as soon as possible, hitting back at White's key center Pawn.

After a few more comments admiring Rogoff's attack and combination that led to a win in 20 moves, Fischer finished his column with 'Now for some tips that I think will be useful to you.'

  • 'Don't "turn off" your mind when it's your opponent's turn to move. Use this time to think ahead to your next possible move. And when he does move, always ask yourself, "Why did he make this particular move?" before you do anything else.

  • 'Try to control an open file with your Rooks, especially when there is only one open file.

  • 'Don't give up in the middle of the game if you don't think you're doing well -- or even if you're in big trouble. There's always the chance that you'll have a flash of brilliance or that your opponent might slip up. Chess is a kaleidoscope -- it's ever changing -- and opportunities suddenly appear.

  • 'Don't be discouraged if you are Black and think that you're automatically going to lose. With Black you have the advantage of not having to show your hand first, and you can play a defense of your own choosing -- preferably one you're familiar with.

  • 'When you have free time, study the game of chess. A good book to look at is Larry Evans's Beginner to Expert (Lee Publications). In it, Evans shows you the basic moves. He explains the various forces that decide chess games, and shows how to win in the end games. He provides a lot of one- and two-move checkmate puzzles to sharpen your finishing-off techniques. One particularly interesting part of the book is when he replays one of his games and explains what was going on in his head at each move. He also provides an interesting glossary of chess terms.'

All very good advice, but that last paragraph made me wonder, as had another parenthetical sentence in the note after my diagram above, where I replaced it with '[...]':-

Fischer?: (And once again remember the four important elements to keep in mind before making any move are space, force or material, time, and Pawn structure.)

This is a classic example of Evans' didactic technique. Who really wrote those Boys' Life columns -- Fischer or Evans or both?

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