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Robert James Fischer vs Vladimir Kovacevic
"Sweet Nothings" (game of the day Jun-18-2018)
Rovinj / Zagreb (1970), Rovinj / Zagreb YUG, rd 8, Apr-21
French Defense: Winawer Variation. Winckelmann-Riemer Gambit (C15)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
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May-19-08  KingG: <RookFile> Yes, I was thinking the same thing recently. You would think Fischer would jump at the chance to play the Poisoned Pawn variation of the Winawer, considering how successful he was with the Poisoned Pawn Variation in the Najdorf. But it has often been remarked that Fischer had a different style with Black than he did with White, and in any case he probably felt he shouldn't have to take any risks with the White pieces in order to win. Still considering his relative problems against the Winawer, I'm also surprised he didn't try it out more often.
May-20-08  Akavall: <I suppose one answer would be that he was looking for a more open sort of game. 4. e5 doesn't really fit his style either, after all.

Also, fidelity to the Sicilian Najdorf and 1. e4 aside, Fischer experimented quite a bit in the opening. He rarely seemed to play the same way against the Caro-Kann twice in a row, for example (after the 1959 Candidates, anyway). >

That seems like a good answer.

Another point is, why didn't Fischer try 3. Nd2 more? It seems that Fischer was fine with a small edge in a less complex position, and he would be more likely to get that in 3. Nd2 lines than 3. Nc3 lines.

May-20-08  RookFile: I think the answer is, Fischer loved the two bishops, and could see that he gets them by force in the Winawer.
Dec-30-08  Eyal: <Akavall: Another point is, why didn't Fischer try 3. Nd2 more? It seems that Fischer was fine with a small edge in a less complex position, and he would be more likely to get that in 3. Nd2 lines than 3. Nc3 lines.>

<RookFile: I think the answer is, Fischer loved the two bishops, and could see that he gets them by force in the Winawer.>

On the other hand, after 3.Nc3 the Winawer isn't guaranteed, and in case of 3...Nf6 Fischer always went, when he had the chance, for 4.Bg5 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Be7 6.Bxf6 (Repertoire Explorer: Robert James Fischer (white)), where it's White who quickly gives up the bishop pair. Maybe 3.Nc3 against the French suited Fischer's style better than Nd2 because it's generally the more "direct" approach, so to speak.

Dec-30-08  Eyal: <Knezh: The move i like most in this game is 12. ..h6! If 13. Bxh6, then i believe Kovacz intended 13. ..Rg4, setting white's queen offside. If Qxh6, then probably 13. ..0-0-0.>

Actually, 13.Qxh6 allows the nice winning shot 13...Ng4! 14.Bxe7 Nxh6 and the bishop is trapped (15.Bh4 Rg4; 15.Bb4 a5). Note that 10...Qe7(!), besides preventing 0-0-0, already created the threat of Ng4.

Position after 18.f3:

click for larger view

Fischer's move set the trap of 18...Nh4? 19.fxe4!! Rxg5 20.Bxg5 with more or less an equal game. Instead, Kovacevic's accurate 18...e3! wins by force. There are many nice winning lines, for example: 19.Qxe3 Nd5 20.Qe4 (Qd3/f2 Qh4; 20.Qg5 f6 21.Qg4 Ngf4) 20...Ndf4; 19.Be1 Nh4 20.Qxe3 Nxg2! 21.Kxg2 Ng4!; 19.Bc1 Nf8 20.Qxe3 Nd5 21.Qe4 (otherwise Qh4) 21...Nxc3 22.Qf4 Rxg3! followed by Nxe2 in case the rook is recaptured.

This really was an outstanding game by Kovacevic, who was still an IM at the time. One of only 6 (classical) games which Fischer lost in his peak years 70-72, and the only one lost to a player who wasn't at the very top (the other losses were to Spassky, Petrosian, and Larsen).

Jun-02-09  ewan14: Is there any support for Korchnoi's claim about Mrs Petrosian's behaviour ?
Feb-26-10  Petrosianic: Any support would probably have had to come from Tal, who never commented, as far as I know. Vlad is still alive. Has anyone asked him?

Korchnoi's failure to mention which move he meant is odd too. Someone theorized a few pages back that it was probably 18...e3, which seems as likely a choice as any, since none of Black's moves in this game seem particularly hard for an IM to find. (Of course Korchnoi never said that Vlad wouldn't have or hadn't already found it.)

What would have happened if a) it did happen, and b) it had been detected, is an interesting question. Probably the worst that could have happened is that the offending spectator would be ejected from the tournament room. There was an incident in the Reshevsky-Donald Byrne match in which Reshevsky's wife shouted out that Byrne's flag was down. Reshevsky's was also, but according to the rules in force, only the player on the move (Reshevsky) could claim a time forfeit. Reshevsky's flag had fallen first, but Byrne hadn't noticed, and when he did (thanks to Mrs. R), Reshevsky was the only one who could claim. A strict reading of the rules might have resulted in Reshevsky winning and his wife being booted from the hall (big deal, the game was over), but the game was eventually declared drawn. Not sure what happened with her. These days a double flag fall would be a draw no matter whose move it was.

Feb-26-10  BarcelonaFirenze: The key point is that Fischer considered the Winawer a bad variation in positional terms, since it was supposed to weakness the king side. Although he admited he had been not lucky to prove this, he was convinced that the variation should be fought with positional grounds, as he did in Fischer - Larsen Match 1 1971 (one of my favourites Fischer's games, by the way).
Feb-26-10  Petrosianic: I don't think Fischer ever quite solved the Winawer problem, even though the Larsen game (his final encounter with it) was one of his best games. Black has a weakened Kingside. Yes, and in the Sveshnikov he has a backwards Queen Pawn, so why does anybody play that? Because Black has other compensations for the weakness, of course.

The Winawer is better than it appears to be in positional terms, and Fischer always had trouble cracking its tortoise-like shell. Probably the Tarrasch Variation (3. Nd2) suited his style better, but he only played that once, in a losing effort. Had he won that game, he might have tried it again.

Feb-27-10  AnalyzeThis: Well, he gets the two bishops and promise of dark square domination. It's a great defense for black because black creates pawn weaknesses, and has a counterattack. What surprises me is that Fischer didn't book up on the main line Qg4 and Qxg7 business. When he did play the Qg4 stuff it wasn't quite the main line. But it would seem to me that this is how you refute this opening - you use white's natural first move advantage and just keep attacking things.

Fischer did a lot crazier things than this with the black pieces. With white he tended to be more conservative.

I guess everybody has a problem opening.

Dec-12-10  YCP: Why did Fisher resign?
Dec-12-10  edbermac: <YCP: Why did Fisher resign??

Black has many threats, mainly 31...Ne2 32 Re2 Rf1 winning a piece. Also moves such as 31...Ng2 and 31...Bf3 are bad news for White.

Dec-12-10  woodthrush: <YCP>, 31... Bxf3 looks like a closer, with loss of a piece (or Q for R and B) to follow. If 31. Kd1 then 31 ... Nxe2 32. Rxe2 Bxf3 nets a pawn and the exchange.
Sep-29-11  florentine: After 18.f3...

"...Petrosian and Korchnoi, who were watching the game, spotted Fischer’s deadly intention: 18...Nh4 19.fxe4! Rxg5 20.Bxg5 and it is White who is going to win. Petrosian’s wife, famous for her radical partisanship, had followed the analysis of the two Soviet GMs. To Korchnoi’s horror she walked across to the board and whispered the lines to Kovacevic. He played 18...e3 and the disconcerted Fischer actually lost the game. It was Fischer’s only loss in the 17-round tournament, and he finished first, two points ahead of Korchnoi and Smyslov (Petrosian was half a point behind them)...."

Frederic Friedel cites this game as an actual instance of cheating at the grandmaster level:

Nov-06-11  pom nasayao: Fischer loses either by Nb7 or Bxc6
Dec-30-12  Conrad93: 4.a3! is a very strong move that presents black with many problems.

To call it inferior is just poor French understanding.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Domdaniel: <Conrad93> I've been playing the French for almost 40 years ... and I think that 4.a3 is inferior. The WRG or Winckelmann-Riemer Gambit is fine for Black - I think I've scored 100% against it.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <Dom> While 4.a3 is a sharp, dangerous alternative to the main lines, I do not believe it sets enough problems for the well-prepared Black player.

That said, in my career, I only faced it once, ironically against a French specialist, the late M Tomlinson, someone whom <RookFile> will remember. Mike did not play well in the middlegame-which I believe originated from 8....Nbd7 as well-and I won fairly easily.

Apr-07-14  RookFile: Very nice man. Showed up and was president of the Boylston club when it needed someone. Helped get it moved to a better location.
Dec-01-14  Rookiepawn: <Frederic Friedel cites this game as an actual instance of cheating at the grandmaster level:>

The story reeks. Such accusations need more proof than someone's (and someone with a vested interest like Korchnoi) telling. I think Mr Friedel shows poor professionalism by stating it as a truth.

It is remarkable how Korchnoi conveniently blames the wife of the person he probably hates more (among the many he hates / mistreats etc.). Such an accusation addressed directly against a colleague would have consequences, so the wife becomes the target of accusations impossible to prove.

Korchnoi is a player whose adventurous style I like, but he is a source of continuous ugly incidents, rants and even physical assault. It is hard to take someone like this seriously whatever he states.

Dec-01-14  TheFocus: <Akavall> <Another point is, why didn't Fischer try 3. Nd2 more?>

Well, didn't Robert Byrne tear bobby apart when he tried 3.Nd2?

A loss like that could dampen your desire to play that again.

Feb-24-15  Cmrlec: There is a nice show on Croatian national television called Sahovski komentar (Chess Commentary). Few days ago, Vladimir Kovacevic gave a commentary of this game and the events surrounding it, especially the Cold War folklore (for none of you who speak an obscure Slav language, it is available at:; the episode was broadcasted on 02/22/2015). Although in his 70s, Kovacevic was still very excited about his most famous victory in which he chose to play French defense, like Uhlmann few days before.

First, he described Fischer as a gentleman who perhaps overconfidently entered the game with a lesser player. In what was, in Kovacevic’s words, a battle of David vs. Goliath, Fischer did not go for a draw or tempted Kovacevic with a draw-offer in the early phase, but played actively until the position was lost. Then he shook the young opponent’s hand, said ‘Very good,’ signed the score sheet, and left. Kovacevic has not even managed to sign his own sheet, when Petrosian, excited with Fischer’s defeat, took it from his hands and enthusiastically exclaimed: ‘For Moscow, for Moscow!’ Second, Kovacevic described 10. Qe7 as the key move, speaking of it in terms of religious epiphany: he was in a dark tunnel, and then saw light. Everything fell into its place, and it was downhill for Fischer after that. Third, Kovacevic gave his view of the ticklish moment after Fischer’s 18. f3 with a tactically astute idea of queen sacrifice. He said that he was nervous, not believing he could defeat Fischer. For that reason, he walked around the room. Zealous Rona Petrosian indeed approached him before his move, and said something he claimed he did not understand as he did not speak Russian and was completely concentrated on the game. Kovacevic insisted that he found the right move on his own, sensing that Fischer, obviously not being a patzer, set up a final trap that could save him. The now old grandmaster insisted that only afterwards he realized it was a warning of some kind, and he could not negate that Soviet players had dishonorable intentions.

I see three rough options to interpret this story. First, it is completely true and disenchants one of the miniscule Cold War chess legends. Second, the fact that he was approached, influenced the game – if only subconsciously, making him more alert. He has to compensate psychologically, as his most famous victory is somehow tainted although the outcome was not affected. Thus a bit forced discourse: I did not understand, it did not influence the game, they were dishonest, but I was clean. Third, he really understood what was said to him, perhaps some of the scenario was set up before, and the outcome would have been different if he was not approached.

I would personally go with the first option. In what was a touching and sentimental account, I’ve seen an excited old guy with trembling voice, remembering his glory days, somewhat like Bouboulina from Zorba the Greek. It was his authentic ‘I f.... Brad’ moment.

May-11-15  zanzibar: Shows up as game #24 in Lombardy's 1972 <Modern Chess Opening Traps> - where Lombardy breaks from the usual to identify the source of the game, even if slight obliquely...

<The setting is the Tournament of Peace, Zagreb, YUG, 1970. In an earlier round Bobby Fischer had <brilliantly> up-ended GM Wolfgang Uhlmann, but the experts questioned Bobby's opening analysis. Vladimir Kovacevic of YUG has gone to the drawing boards and found the flaw in the line. Thereafter, the gods had decreed that the great Bobby was to be enmeshed in his own web! >

Rather pedestrian explanation with no hint of controversy.

* * * * *

As for notation, both normal algebraic and descriptive suffer from disambiguity. Maybe descriptive does a little more, but it would be a question of degree only.

Of course, ambiguity can be avoided in both systems if one is willing to notation both squares involved in a move:

One advantage that descriptive notation has, is that it respects the symmetry of the board. So, whereas we can substitute "back rank" for 1st rank, we still use descriptive notation when talking about the 4th rank, etc.

* * * * *

As for 4.a3, didn't I see some blitz game notes by Fischer where he seems to indicate he's following Alekhine's idea by playing this?

Feb-26-18  Allanur: According to Victor Korchnoi's book "Chess is my life" page 71, Fischer set up a trap for Kovacevic in this game, Tigran Petrosian, Tigran's wife and Victor Korchnoi was watching the game and Korchnoi loudly said "How interesting" after realizing Fischer's trap. He explained that if Kovacevic trap Fischer's queen he may lose. Petrosian's wife said she will inform Kovacevic. When Fischer was thinking for his move, she went to Kovacevic and englightened him.
Feb-26-18  sudoplatov: At the time, I heard that some of the Russians thought that Uhlmann's analysis wasn't good in this line and that a better line would give Fischer trouble. They and Kovacevic prepared the day before and Kovacevic sprung 10...Qe7 on Fischer. The only good way to beat one of the greats is to have a good opening then play well thereafter.
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