Fischer and You

First, I’d like to say how happy I am to be back contributing to The Chess Improver, and thank Nigel for having me. In January I took a job that was estimated to take 80 hours per week for about three months, and asked Nigel for a hiatus, which he graciously granted. Unfortunately the job turned out to involve large “philosophical differences” with the principal and with a great sigh of relief I made a speedy departure.

As a result, I recently had more time for thought, reading and even playing some chess. One of the books I read was Frank Brady’s Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall–from America’s Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness. I think we can all agree not to use the subtitle again; however, Endgame is a well-written biography of Fischer that will be fascinating to many chess players, despite the fact that there is no chess, as such (no game scores or cross tables), in the book. Brady, who knew Fischer personally and spent considerable time with him in the 1950s and 60s, previously published a biography of Fischer (revised 1973) titled Profile of a Prodigy that does contain more than 80 annotated games and might be worth your time. In the newer book (2011) Brady does a commendable job exploring the events and psychology of Fischer’s unusual path through life.

I consider Robert J. Fischer to be the “greatest” chess player in history, based on his overall results, his unprecedented domination of the chess world for a period of years (20 straight wins over Grandmasters, the 6-0 match defeats of Larsen and Taimanov, the domination of Spassky at Reykjavik), the 11-0 U.S. Championship score, and not least his bringing chess to the notice of the entire world in a way never seen before, or since.

“This is all very well,” you might be asking by now, “but what does it have to do with chess improvement?

Well, in addition to the above accomplishments Fischer also made what I see as the greatest leap forward in chess strength in the shortest time in history, One of the most illuminating moments of reading the book for me was this (p. 140):

A fair estimate is that Bobby played one thousand games a year between the ages of nine and eleven, and twelve thousand a year between the ages of eleven and thirteen, most of them speed games.

Twelve thousand games a year, for three years! Fischer’s mother allowed him from age eleven to play chess into the night at the home of his mentor Jack Collins, or in New York’s master-filled clubs, six or seven nights a week. Consolidating this vast experience, he went from a -2 score in the FM/IM strength Rosenwald Tournament in 1956 at age 13, to a +3 and qualification as a World Champion Candidate just over two years later at the Portoroz Interzonal, certainly one of the greatest leaps forward in chess history.

Of course, there was also intense study of openings, endgames and master games old and new during this period, but I must believe that the sheer volume of play, mostly against strong opposition, during these years when the brain so quickly absorbs information had a great deal to do with Fischer’s extraordinary progress.

Tim Hanke recently posted here on How Much should You Play? and as Tim wrote, “Are you playing enough games?”. Having had very little opportunity to play for several months, I decided to experiment with my own version of the “Fischer Method” and played over 300 online blitz games in a period of a week. I’ll share my results, observations and conclusions about this attempt at chess improvement next week; in the meantime, here is a game of Bobby Fischer’s to enjoy, from the cusp of his stunning transition from strong amateur to Grandmaster:

Robert Pearson