10 October 2013

Fischer's Middlegame : Defending an Attack

After writing the posts on Fischer's Middlegame and Fischer's Middlegame : Isolating Pieces, I wasn't convinced that I had understood the concept behind 'isolating his opponent's pieces from the battlefield'. Fortunately, the Soviet authors of 'Fischer's play: An analysis' (see that first 'Middlegame' post for references and links) provided a second example of the mysterious technique.

Unlike the well known Portisch - Fischer game seen in 'Isolating Pieces', the 1967 Maric - Fischer game is almost unknown, at least judging by the number of references on the web. This meant that I was on my own to locate the relevant positions. After some analysis, I decided that the position in the diagram is a key part of the critical sequence.

White has sacrificed a Pawn for a do-or-die attack on Black's King. All of White's pieces are aimed at the Black King. If the attack doesn't work, White will be off-balance for the next phase, struggling with a Pawn down.

White continued with 26.Qg4, attacking the Rook on c8 and making way for the h-Pawn. The game continued 25...f5 27.Qg5 Qxd4 28.h4 f4 29.Rg4, when Fischer unleashed a nice combination with 29...Rc5 30.Qxf4 Rxf4 31.Rgxf4 Rf5. This led to simplification into a Rook and opposite colored Bishop endgame, where Black retained the extra Pawn. Along with the passed, connected center Pawns, it was enough to win.

Maric - Fischer, Skopje 1967

After 25...Ra8-c8

Nice play by Fischer, isn't it? So I thought until I examined the variation with an engine. Instead of 29.Rg4, White has 29.Qg4!, attacking the Rook a second time and avoiding Fischer's combination. Fischer could have strengthed the variation a few moves earlier with 27...Qc4, forcing the Rook from the f-file before capturing the d-Pawn. In our time it's easy to criticize top players of yesteryear based on engine analysis, just as in former times it was easy to praise their play uncritically. Had the machine suggestions been played, the game would still have been a hard fight.

The game illustrates another characteristic of Fischer's play. After Maric's irregular first move 1.f4, Fischer continued 1...Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.d3 Bg7 4.e4 O-O. He often used the King's Indian formation as Black against unorthodox openings. The idea is simple : play the first five moves without much thought, then see what the opponent has cooked up in the same time.

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