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Robert James Fischer vs Efim Geller
"Monte Carlo Simulation" (game of the day Feb-24-2016)
Monte Carlo (1967), Monte Carlo MNC, rd 11, Apr-04
Sicilian Defense: Najdorf Variation. Poisoned Pawn Accepted (B97)  ·  0-1


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Premium Chessgames Member
  NeverAgain: An interesting game and an interesting discussion.

In early 90s Elie Agur wrote a book that focuses on examining various aspects Fischer's style - "Fischer: A Study of His Approach to Chess" (more commonly known as "Fischer: His Approach to Chess", as per front and spine; 1992, Cadogan). In chapter Tactics there is a section titled "Double-edged and Speculative Chess" (pp.197-207). More than half of this section is devoted to the Skopje loss to Geller and this game. In the next couple of posts I'll give the relevant parts, supplemented by engine evals.

Premium Chessgames Member
  NeverAgain: *** Double-edged and Speculative Chess ***

Was Fischer a poor tactician, or was he a superb one? Did he play complicated positions with ease, or could here find his way there only with great difficulty?

These questions might seem misplaced after the last chapter¹; yet, strangely enough perhaps, these two extreme views were held simultaneously by different observers.

The eminent critic, Hans Kmoch, for one, was a devout believer in Fischer's tactical gifts throughout his career. "Fischer seems to like complications. At any rate he has more than once demonstrated his fabulous ability to remain in the saddle even when the situation becomes very wild", he wrote on one occasion². And on another one: "Fischer relies on his stupendous virtuosity to find his way in any complicated position"³.

Najdorf remarked about one of Fischer's moves in his match against Petrosian, Buenos Aires 1971: "This is characteristic of Fischer's style, his courting complications"⁴.

And when reviewing Fischer's career, Paul Keres wrote about the fifteen-year old boy: "In complicated positions Bobby hardly had to be afraid of anybody"⁵.

Unless we assume that a player's talent might regress with the years for some reason, it seems a safe conjecture that for Keres, Fischer hardly had to be afraid of anybody in complicated positions up till his World Championship match with Spassky in 1972.

This view of Keres' was quite exceptional among the top Soviet grandmasters at the time. For Geller, Tal and Spassky, for instance, Fischer's Achilles heel was precisely his lack of orientation in complicated positions!

Of Fischer's 19.Qf1 in Fischer vs Geller, 1967 ("A hard move to find - it took around 45 minutes", Fischer in MSMG⁶) Spassky, annotating it in the newspaper Soviet Union Today, had written" "White is losing his head, for else he would have certainly chosen 19.e5, which offers very reasonable attacking chances"⁷.

[to be continued]

¹ section "Tactical Insight" (pp. 192-197), examining positions from Pachman vs Fischer, 1961 (15...f5) • Fischer vs Panno, 1970 (28.Be4) • Fischer vs Portisch, 1966 (14.e5) • Fischer vs Ivkov, 1970 (36.Nc5) • Fischer vs J Durao, 1966 (33.Nxa5) • Fischer vs E Jimenez Zerquera, 1966 (29.d6) • Fischer vs J H Donner, 1965 (23.b3 and 29.c5) • Doda vs Fischer, 1965 (33...Nf3)

² Chess Review, July 1962, p.220
³ Chess Review, April 1962, p.108

⁴ J.M. González, ed., "Match Final de Candidatos Fischer-Petrosian Buenos Aires 1971" (Jacque 1971), p.35. Remark to move 11 (11.Nxd5) in Fischer vs Petrosian, 1971

⁵ Paul Keres: 'Bobby Fischer -- from the opposite side of the board', in R.G. Wade and K.J. O'Connell, eds., "The Games of Robert K. Fischer" (Batsford 1979), p.323

⁶ Simon & Schuster 1969, p.364

⁷ Schach-Echo 1968/4, pp.56-57

Premium Chessgames Member
  NeverAgain: Fischer, according to this view, was apt to lose his head in 'irrational' positions, and this was most evident in his two notorious losses with the white pieces to Efim Geller in 1967. We shall soon return to the one just quoted. Let's first take a look at the earlier encounter, at Monte Carlo that year.

click for larger view

For a top grandmaster to reach this position as Black is, to say the least, quite irresponsible. One is of course entitled to play as one wishes, but what value does a game have when, after nineteen moves, a player finds himself completely at the mercy of his opponent, and can only hope to be saved by one or two side-lines, should his opponent stumble and overlook them? This, I believe, is speculative chess at its worst.

Fischer played <20.Bg4?>, and lost after <20...dxc4 21.Bxe6 Qd3! 22.Qe1 Be4!! 23.Bg4 Rb8 24.Bd1 Kd7 25.Rf7+ Ke6 0-1>. Geller ought to be given credit for finding this highly inventive posibility; yet objectively Black's position after move 19 should have been beyond repair, and it must have been the abundance of winning lines which led Fischer astray. It is a well-known phenomenon that when a player has to choose between a number of winning options, the chance [that] he will fail to notice a slight (yet sometimes significant) difference between one continuation and another grows in proportion to the number of those options.

In his book "The Application of Chess Theory", Geller examines three alternatives:

a) 20.Rf3, leading to an endgame which "Black can successfully defend"

b) 20.Bd1 (Lilienthal's suggestion), leading to a sharp endgame which "White should win"

c) 20.Qc2, about which Geller remarks: "After the game I pointed out this attacking possibility to Fischer"¹.

O'Kelly in Europe Echecs, gives a different version: "After the game Fischer pointed out that by playing 20.Qc2 he would have 'an easy win'"². It seems unlikely [that] Fischer failed to take note of this attacking possibility in his long think before playing his twentieth move. This move leads to a number of possible wins for White. One of them was played out over the board three months later, between Tal and Bogdanovic, at Budva 1967: <20.Qc2 e4 21.Bg4 Be7 22.Qf2 O-O-O 23.Bf4 Bd6 24.Bxe6+ Kb8 25.Qb6 Bxf4 26.Qxd8+ Ka7 27.Rb1 Qd6 28.Bxd5 Bxd5 29.Qxd6 Bxd6 30.cxd5 1-0> (Tal vs R Bogdanovic, 1967)

click for larger view

[to be continued]

¹ Pergamon Press 1984, p.246
² May 1967, p.87

Sep-15-15  fisayo123: < Fischer, according to this view, was apt to lose his head in 'irrational' positions, and this was most evident in his two notorious losses with the white pieces to Efim Geller in 1967. >

Funny how people can only site 2 or 3 examples (almost all of them in the same opening btw) to prove this silly notion. Fischer thrived in such positions. It's nothing more than a myth.

Premium Chessgames Member
  NeverAgain: Besides the three possibilities above, in which Black could barely hold his own in a single line, other moves strongly come into consideration:

a) 20.Rb1 Bc6 <20...Rb8? 21.Rb3 Qa4 22.Qb2! Bd4 23.Qb1 Qc6 24.Qxh7 wins> 21.Rb3 Qa4 22.Qc2!, and the simultaneous threats to h7 and d5 aren't easy to meet. [◦SF6 doesn't think White got anything: <22...Qa5 23.Rb1 g6=> 0.00/40◦]

b) 20.Bh5+ g6 21.Bg4 dxc4 22.Rf6!? <22.Rf7 is best met by 22...Bd5!>. White has a promising attack, but probably no forced win. [◦SF6 considers 21.Bg4 a mistake and prefers <21.Bd1 Kd7 22.Rh7+ Kc6 23.Bb3 > 1.50/40◦]

c) 20.Bf3!. This (like the previous) wasn't mentioned by Geller or other analysts. It might well be White's simplest and quickest winning process:

• c1) 20...e4 21.Bxe4!! dxe4 22.Qf4 Kd7 23.Qf7+ Kc6 <23...Kc8 24.Rd1 Kb8 25.Rb1 wins, or 23...Be7 24.Rd1+> 24.Qxe6+ Bd6 <Black can choose another end: 24...Kc7 25.Rf7+ Kb8 26.Bf4+ Ka7 27.Rxb7+! Kxb7 28.Qd7+ Kb6 29.Qc7#> 25.Qd5+ <not 25.c5?! Qd3!, complicating matters> 25...Kb6 26.Rb1+ Bb4 27.Qd6+ Ka7 28.Rxb4 and wins.

• c2) 20...Be7 21.cxd5 exd5 22.Bxd5 Rd8 <22...Bxg5 23.Bf7+ Kf8 24.Qxg5 is hopeless> 23.Bf7+ Kf8 24.Bb3+ Ke8 25.Qf2!, with a winning attack

• c3) 20...Bd4 21.Rb1 Bc6 <21...Ra7 22.cxd5 Bxd5 23.Bxd5 exd5 24.Qc2 Qc5 25.Qf5! is very strong> 22.cxd5 Bxd5 23.Bxd5 exd5 24.Qc2.

click for larger view

White has the following threats: <25.Qc6+, 25.Qxh7, 25.Qf5, 25.Rb7>. Black cannot attend to all of them successfully. For instance: 24...Qc5 25.Qxh7 Ra7 26.Qh5+! Kd7 27.Rc1! Qb6 <27...Bc3 28.Qh3+, while 27...Qf8 is met by 28.Qh3+ Kd6 29.Qa3+! and 27...Qa3 28.Qf7+ Kd6 29.Qf8+> 28.Qf7+ Kd6 29.Qg6+ Kd7 30.Qxg7+ Ke6 31.Qf6+ Kd7 32.Qe7#.

Another line is 24...Kd7 25.Rb7+ Ke6 26.Re7+ Qxe7 27.Bxe7 Kxe7 28.Qc7+ Kf8 29.Qd6+, winning Black's rook next.

• c4) 20...Qb4 21.Qc2! e4 22.Bh5+ g6 23.Rb1 Qa5 24.Qb2! Bc6 25.Qh8+ Kd7 <25...Bf8 26.Qf6! Bd7 27.Rf1> 26.Qg7+ Kc8 27.Bg4 Ra7 28.Bxe6+ Bd7 29.Bf4! Bb4 30.Qf8+!

To maintain that a player's carelessness when facing so many advantageous continuations is a sign of a want in his capabilities is quite far-fetched. And if one does criticise Fischer for not seeing 20.Qc2, how then should he account for Geller's overlooking 20.Rb1, 20.Bh5+, 20.Bf3 (and perhaps a number of other possibilities the position may still offer)? This, to sum it up, isn't merely a complicated position. It is, in the first place, a *won* position for White in which some lines are more complicated than others, and in which one, incidentally, is a losing line.

When so many roads lead you to Rome, choosing one that would finally sink your car in the Tiber is a matter of probabilistic accident. In everyday life we have insurance companies to deal with such accidents. In chess we have points and tables in which they are reflected. Fischer's record doesn't allow for other than probabilistic interepretations of such misfortunes.

And on to the next game.


There follows a 2½-page long examination of Fischer vs Geller, 1967 @Skopje, starting with move 20. Perhaps I'll post it to that page some time.

Premium Chessgames Member
  NeverAgain: As for this game and Elie Agur's analysis, on move 20 at d=40 Stockfish 6's top three candidates are 20.Qc2, 20.Bh5+ and 20.Bf3.

In the 20.Bf3 line SF6 considers 20...Qb4 to be the strongest reply, but - to skip the labyrinth of variations - the 20.Qc2 is the most clear-cut way to victory, to be followed by <20.Qc2 e4 21.Bh5+> improving on Tal's immediate 21.Bg4 <21...g6 22.Bg4>.

Curiously, Komodo 9 tends to underestimate White's chances throughout the game, by about half a pawn. Both engines agree that 20.Bg4, while a mistake, was not the move that lost the game - the three consecutive moves that 20.Bg4 inaugurated did:

16...Bc5 ? - the move that gave White the winning attack. <16...Ra7 17.c4 Rb1> should be about even.

20.Bg4? - only , not the end of the world

21.Be6? - this mistake makes for , it was not too late for <22.Qc2 Qd3 23.Qa4+ Qd7 24.Qxd7+ Kxd7 25.Rf7+ and 26.Bxe6 >

22.Qe1? - the final straw. <22.Bf7+ Kd7 23.Bxc4 > was the only way to stay in the game. After the text move, the engines consider Black to be a piece up.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Once: Heck! 12 pages of acrimony and flame. Let's see if we can simplify it a little. The critical position is this:

click for larger view

White is in good shape. His bishops and rook prevent black from castling. The mass of black central pawns is a worry, but he has the chance to either go around them or liquidate them. Then he can get at the black king.

From here, silicon recommends 20. Qc2, 20. Bh5+ or 20. Bf3 with advantage to white.

Fischer chooses 20. Bg4 which initially seems to win but this is a miscalculation. Black builds a shield over the centre with 20...dc 21. Bxe6 Qd3 22. Qe1 Be4

click for larger view

The black king is still stuck in the centre, but white can't get at him. The black central mass of pieces do a great job at holding the position.

To sum up - Fischer had a strong attack brewing against the uncastled black king but didn't find the most accurate continuation.

It happens. It's one game. It doesn't tell us anything about the relative playing strength of Fischer or Geller.

Premium Chessgames Member
  thegoodanarchist: In the same year, 1967, Geller also defeated Fischer with the Black pieces at Skopje:

Fischer vs Geller, 1967

Two wins with Black against Fischer in the same year is quite a feather in ones cap.

Premium Chessgames Member
  thegoodanarchist: < offramp: <Nov-28-05 ughaibu: That would explain why My 60 Memorable Games is full of such unenlightening remarks as "with a bind".>

No one seems to know what that enigmatic phrase meant. It has not been used in a chess book since 1969.>

Coincidentally, that's the last time we had that spirit here.

Feb-24-16  Sally Simpson: thegoodanarchist:

"It [bind] has not been used in a chess book since 1969."

It does seem to have dropped out of circulation, (forgiving of course the 'The Maroczy Bind').

Reshevsky uses it in his notes to Game 11 in his book on Fischer - Spassky '72.

Mark Weeks explains all the 'binds' in M60MG's.

BTW. I did a search on here for 'bind' and the first two pages revealed there are 15 post by Chris Owen using 'bind' in just the first two pages. (check it for yourself). He is trying to tell us something.

Premium Chessgames Member
  thegoodanarchist: <(check it for yourself)>

<Sally> I put Chris Owen on ignore. Not due to dislike, but because his posts are so long.

Instead of checking it myself, I will just take your word for it.

Feb-24-16  Sally Simpson: Hi thegoodanarchist,

Another interesting statistic.

Those of us that read Chris's post have had a dramatic increase in our ELO rating and understanding of the game.


I think Lombardy uses 'bind' in his 'Snatched Opportunities' (printed after 1972 - do not have it to hand ATM) but he may have been just repeating something he wrote in the 60's.

Fischer & Evans sometimes quote Lombardy in M60MG's from his 60's chess column.

I recall looking at all of this when discussing the terms 'with a bind' and 'with a pull' a while back.

Premium Chessgames Member
  AylerKupp: What a shame that the trite title "Monte Carlo Simulation" was chosen for this magnificent game. Geller's title for it, "On the edge of the abyss" in his "The Application of Chess Theory", is so much more appropriate. Oh well. I guess triteness and irrelevance triumph over appropriateness, relevance, and one of the participant's own choice.
Premium Chessgames Member
  kevin86: Geller plays the poisoned pawn vs Fischer and wins! Need I say more?
Premium Chessgames Member
  thegoodanarchist: <Sally Simpson:>

You are taking the comments of <offramp> far too seriously :)

Premium Chessgames Member
  mjmorri: Unfortunately, I find myself in a bind during most of my games.
Premium Chessgames Member
  TheFocus: I find myself in a blind during most of my games.

I can't see any good moves when I play.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <fisayo123: < Fischer, according to this view, was apt to lose his head in 'irrational' positions, and this was most evident in his two notorious losses with the white pieces to Efim Geller in 1967. >

Funny how people can only site 2 or 3 examples (almost all of them in the same opening btw) to prove this silly notion. Fischer thrived in such positions. It's nothing more than a myth.>

The fact that there are so few such games to cite is a testimony to Fischer's greatness.

Mednis discussed the distinction between Fischer's prowess in clear attacking setups, and the fact that he was known to lose his way in the type of sharp, but murky play required in such lines as the Velimirovic (qv his defeat in Fischer vs Larsen, 1970) and the labyrinth that is the opening choice of this game. These games <did> take place and are, so far as I know, no myth.

All this is no diminution of Fischer's brilliance, but merely points up that even as a mature grandmaster, he was merely a human being, therefore not free of failings.

Feb-24-16  BobbyLev: I am going to hazard a much less sophisticated "Chance the Gardener" type of analysis. Fischer was the clear winner of the tournament. This game was in the last round. Not sure if, by this point in the tournament, there was a combination of other outcomes of the four games in Round 11 where Fischer would not have won. If this is true, then maybe he was just working an etude. Not to take anything away from Geller. And that could certainly comport with the headology and complications that Fischer undeniably like to court. What say you?
Feb-25-16  Sally Simpson: Hi BobbyLev,

Only Smyslov could have caught Fischer in the last round. Smyslov agreed a 10 move draw with Gligoric.

Smyslov vs Gligoric, 1967

Geller mentions Fischer himself went to confirm a draw had been agreed and with first place guaranteed Fischer came back to the board and the fun began.

His view is that if Smyslov had not agreed a 10 move draw Fischer may have approached the game in a more cautious manner.

Even Geller is coming up with an excuse for Fischer losing!

Geller explains in his 'Application of Chess Theory' it's fully understandable Fischer went astray as the win is very complicated to work out OTB.

Fischer himself said never makes excuses for losing, nobody is interested. My view is his judgement was correct but he bit off more than he could chew OTB.

The excuse he had already won the tournament and relaxed does not hold water considering the times Fischer had been in that position before and played for a win. Remember the 11-0.

Geller played the better chess and won.

Feb-25-16  Sally Simpson: Hi BobbyLev, (again)

Forgot to add.

Smyslov agreeing a 10 mover v Gligoric possibly expected Fischer to do the same making him sole second.

He must have been horrified to see Fischer mixing it with Geller of all people when there was no need to.

I like Geller. His 'Apllication of Chess Theory' is a really good book.

In his section on playing World Champions (current, future and Ex) his joke advice when playing one is never forget who you are playing so you can raise your game and then forget who you are playing so you do not become overawed.

I also noticed he also mentions he has a plus score v most World Champions citing 10-7 v Smyslov.

His minus score v Spassky 9 - 6 he adds that 6 of those losses came from his two Candidates matches with Spassky. (like match results don't count - he says he has a plus v Spassky in tournament games.).

Three of his wins v Smyslov were from his 1965 candidates match and one win (the only win in the match) came from his 1955 USSR Championship play-off match.

These match wins must have slipped his mind.

Premium Chessgames Member
  AylerKupp: <<Sally Simpson> Remember the 11-0 win.>

Yes, but in the 1963/1964 US Chess Championship Fischer was trying to make history, and that motivation was lacking in this tournament. Granted, he might have been motivated to finish undefeated, but that's not quite the same thing. Again, who knows what was going on in Fischer's mind?

Feb-26-16  Howard: Has anyone mentioned that according to Charles Sullivan, 19...h6 would probably have held the position.

Right now, I'm too tired to wade through 12 pages of commentary.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <TheFocus....I can't see any good moves when I play.>

Don't I know it.

Mar-28-17  Sally Simpson: Found some more background on this game.

Gligoric and Smyslov agreed a draw just as Fischer played his 10th move.

click for larger view

Fischer was now sure of first place even if he lost.

Now according to CHESS July 1967 Gligoric writing in the June 1967 Chess Review:

"The consensus of opinion among all the masters is that Fischer, now certain of first place even if he lost, probably concealed the best play he had ready in this variation.

In the Interzonal at Stockholm 1962, he wasted precious innovations against weaker players. He registered a record score but by the time the Candidates Tournament at Curacao came along a few months later, had not had time to work out many more.

The last round at Monte Carlo may be an indication he has learnt his lesson."

I have all the Chess Reviews but have lent them out to a researcher, did Gligoric really write that or have CHESS added a comment from 'In the Interzonal at Stockholm 1962...' bit.

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