Chess: Fischer eschews pawn in the hand

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RETURNING to Elie Agur's new book Bobby Fischer: A Study of His Approach to Chess (Cadogan Books, pounds 12.95), there is one position where the author fails to do justice to his idol.

Fischer reached the diagram position as White in his 4th match game against Taimanov in 1971. He has two options: to protect the d-pawn with c4, or play to exchange d-pawn for e- pawn. Fischer reached a better ending with 19. Rfe1 Rxd5 20. Rxe4+ Kd8 21. Qe2 Rxd1+ 22. Qxd1+ Qd7 23. Qxd7+ Kxd7 24. Re5, yet by playing 19. c4, he could have protected his d-pawn and, with Rfe1, Re2, Rde1 and Qc2 if necessary, he would certainly have surrounded and won the e-pawn.

'Fischer considered 19. c4 all too briefly to take stock of its virtues', says Agur.

But it wasn't like that at all. Most players would indeed have chosen 19. c4 and won the e-pawn, but Fischer looked deeper. Playing in that manner, White would be unable, after taking on e4, to avoid the exchange of all four rooks on the e-file. White then has an extra passed pawn on d5, which will be solidly blockaded by a knight on d6. Black's queen and knight will be superior to White's queen and bishop, and a draw will be likely.

Fischer's continuation led to no material advantage, but a position in which his rook and bishop were superior to Black's rook and knight. Most players would prefer a pawn in the hand to a positional advantage in the endgame, but Fischer knew which gave better prospects to win.

A very high-class decision.