by Bobby Fischer
Batsford 2008 edition, 384 pp., £14.99
It's Fischer as white to play here against Reshevsky, from the 1962-3 USA Championship:
Quite why Fischer's next is my favourite move from a book full of such memorable moments, I don't know.
After all, there is much to choose from. In games such as number 14 v Keres, 53 v Portisch and 57 v Larsen, Fischer's annotations conjure a sense of that remarkable thing: the superiority of his judgment and intuition over that of such nearly-great opponents. Then there are the victories on the white side of the Closed Lopez, where Fischer seems totally at home, smoothly commanding the whole of the board with such subtle strokes, his position seemingly-effortlessly improving to inevitable victory. Not to mention the black defences of hypermodern kingside openings, such as the King's Indian and Grunfeld, where my amateur eyes look at his lack of space and the invading enemy pieces and fear terrible things, but where an untrembling Fischer perceives only ghosts, which he invites into his position only to waft away.
And of course it's not just the games themselves that are memorable, but the variations provided by Fischer in the notes too.
Originally these were praised for their painstaking completeness, but in today's computer-era they come across more as a mixture of the indicative, fantastical and only sometimes-exhaustive. Indicative particularly in endgames, exhaustive particularly in exciting tactical finales. Take the position to the right, to be found in the notes to Fine's 14...Qxh4 in game 44. Fischer gives 17.Qh6 a !! and analyzes 17...gxh6 to a lovely win, and indeed it's a wonderful move and sequence. Except after 17...Be7! the computer's evaluation initially dives from +- to close to equal; further analysis suggests however that black can at best escape to a close-to-lost endgame. Meanwhile, the undramatic and unanalysed by Fischer 17.d6! wins material without much fuss.
This is an example of another attraction to the 2008 edition which (algebraic-notation aside) is mostly unchanged from the original: even amateurs such as myself can use the computer to hunt for improvements and mistakes, to update the analysis. On which note, I can also recommend Mark Weeks' serieson the 18 Memorable Games that are analysed both in Fischer's book and Kasparov's Great Predecessors book about Fischer, in which Mark fruitfully compares their annotations and judgements with Rybka at his side.
Perhaps future publications of historic chess books should follow the lead here for this very reason, allowing classics to stand as-was, reprinting them as artefacts, partly for historical intrigue - and partly to facilitate a second life of analytical correction and addition online. And perhaps they could even go further and enhance the memorabilia value of such works, say by including extras such as photographs. I should also mention here that the minor updates in this Batsford edition have received criticism from Edward Winter at the bottom of this interesting article. And for those with a particularly strong interest in textual felicity and technical accuracy, I found two errors in this edition. In the position to the left, Pilnik's 39.Rxf7 is given incorrectly as "39.Rcxf7" - but 39.Rfxf7 is illegal, because the f-rook is pinned. The second, similar error occurs in the note to Pilnik's resignation.
What else? Fischer's writing style is certainly entertaining. There are pithy one-liners such as his annotation to 1.e4 in the final game of this collection: "I have never opened with the d-pawn - on principle." There's quizzical remarks - and quirky terminology, such as describing one particular blunder as "a terrible boner". And sometimes the juxtaposition of his analysis with those he quotes is particularly sharp; in game 39 his straight-to-the-point comments contrast remarkably with elaborate, long-winded and perhaps even self-indulgent analysis.
And of course there's the much-debated specialness of Fischer himself. Not just the style of his play - intangible? universal?, or the superiority of his judgements at the board - but also displayed in the book also is his astonishing work-ethic, competitiveness, drive. I should add that it's a popular reflex nowadays to explain any sort of exceptionalism or personal difficulty in terms of a medical or psychological condition: and in Fischer's case this usually calls for a mention of Asperger's syndrome. Maybe, maybe not; but to me at least, nothing in this book indicates this to be the case. Instead the picture emerges of a competitive, talented, hard-working, individualistic and psychologically-sharp chess player.
In his Preface, Fischer says he has tried to be "candid and precise in [his] elucidations in the hope that they would offer insights into chess that will lead to fuller understanding and better play." His book still offers more beside this, and if you're not sure why 30.Rh4! is such a good move in the diagram at the top of this review, then I recommend Fischer's memorable work as a guide to why.