24 October 2013

Endgame: Geller - Fischer, 1970 Interzonal

In my recent post on Fischer's Endgame (see that post for links to various examples on Chessgames.com), I gave extracts from 'Russians Versus Fischer' by Plisetsky and Voronkov, where several strong Soviet GMs summarized the strengths and weaknesses of Fischer's endgame play. Two of his games were referenced twice, once in the section on strengths and once in weaknesses. Let's take a look at the first of those games, the Geller - Fischer game from the 1970 Palma de Mallorca Interzonal.

The game is noteworthy for a number of reasons. In their three previous meetings -- Geller - Fischer, Havana 1965; Fischer - Geller, Monte Carlo 1967; and Fischer - Geller, Skopje 1967 -- Geller had won each time, including twice with the Black pieces in 25 moves or less.

At the time the 1970 game was played in round 12, Geller was leading the tournament with Fischer a half point behind. On the seventh move Geller offered a draw. Fischer declined 'without the slightest hesitation', according to Plisetsky and Voronkov, quoting Vasyukov. 'Geller's face showed his chagrin. He realized that his moment of weakness had caused him irreparable psychological damage.'

A few moves later, Geller went astray, lost a Pawn, and simplified into an endgame where both players had two Rooks. The remaining Pawns were arranged in a drawish 3-4 structure with fgh-Pawns opposing efgh-Pawns. Among Fischer's strengths, the Soviet GMs noted,

He plays the endgame particularly forcefully, making use of every chance to achieve his goal. Even in the simplest positions, which seem absolutely drawn, he does not give up the struggle and continues seeking the slightest opportunity to confuse his opponent. No sooner does Fischer's opponent slacken his attention for a moment than retribution is imminent.

In the current game, the players reached a position with Rook and Pawn on each side. Although Fischer had the upper hand, Geller could have used a well known drawing device where the player at a disadvantage sacrifices the Rook for the opponent's Pawn, then runs for the Queening square with the last Pawn, forcing the opponent to give up his own Rook. He missed this opportunity and lost.

Among Fischer's weaknesses, the GMs noted,

In endgames difficult to evaluate, where everything cannot be calculated, Fischer's play is not faultless. Small wonder that, say, in Rook endings, which are often difficult to evaluate, Fischer at times underestimates the latent opportunities available to his opponent.

The following diagram shows the position at adjournment, which both players had the opportunity to analyze in depth.

Geller - Fischer, Palma de Mallorca Interzonal 1970

After 40...Rb1-h1; White's next move was sealed

Geller sealed 41.Rea6, threatening to force the exchange of the Rook on f4, after which the draw is much easier. Again from 'Russians Versus Fischer',

[The game] culminated in a four-Rook ending, in which Black was one Pawn up. The subsequent battle showed that Fischer had underestimated the defensive resources of Geller, who was able to pose threats to Fischer along the seventh rank. Indeed, after the adjournment, Fischer did not give our grandmaster much trouble, although Geller's defense in the endgame was very difficult.

I analyzed the game from the point where the four-Rook ending began up to the moment of adjournment. I haven't found any position where Fischer missed an obvious maneuver. The four-Rook endgame with 4-3 Pawn structure is more complicated than the drawish two-Rook version, because the extra pair of Rooks allows to gang up on enemy Pawns and to threaten mates. It was Geller's choice to go into this endgame and his judgement appears to have been correct.

As for the adjourned position, if the Soviet GMs found a better opportunity for Black, it is not obvious what resource they found. The game continued with four Rooks for almost another 25 moves before the players swapped a pair of Rooks. Geller blundered on his 71st move and resigned two moves later.

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