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Emil Nikolic vs Robert James Fischer
Vinkovci (1968), Vinkovci YUG, rd 9, Sep-18
English Opening: Great Snake Variation (A10)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
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Premium Chessgames Member
  HeMateMe: Its a great, sublte sac by the Fish. I think an interesting forum, or a chess book to be written would be a collection of games by GMs where the piece sacrifice did not work, and the game was lost, as a result.

Possible titles:

thunder blunders, taken to the cleaners, Greed is Good, More sacrificial lambs.

Aug-12-09  Peter Nemenyi: <UnsoundHero: I'm surprised even Fischer didn't include this game in his 60 Memorables.>

MSMG only includes games played through 1967--which is to say it doesn't cover the most brilliant phase of Fischer's career at all, great book though it is.

Aug-12-09  Granny O Doul: <This is one of the finest games I've ever seen. I'm surprised even Fischer didn't include this game in his 60 Memorables> Played too late; there is nothing there from after 1967.
Sep-11-09  parisattack: <Granny O Doul: <This is one of the finest games I've ever seen. I'm surprised even Fischer didn't include this game in his 60 Memorables> >

Amazing how everything 'just fits' for Fischer here! Is the sac truly sound? does anyone know of a deep analysis of this game or is it Fritzed somewhere?

Sep-11-09  Notagm: Fischer's 60 Memorable Games only includes games up to 1967, whereas this game was played in 1968.
Nov-07-09  vanytchouck: Another interesting thing about the sacrifice Bg4 is that althought it seems now that this move is totally sound, no computer is able to find it out.

Maybe one of the seldom last tactical puzzles that engines still cannot match.

One can notice that this position is typically what computers dislike :

A closed position with every pieces on the chess board.

May-13-12  Zugzwangovich: In "Bobby Fischer's Outrageous Chess Moves", Bruce Pandolfini exclams 31...Kg6 so that Fischer's "rook can occupy the h-file". But unless I'm missing something the a8 rook has nought to do with the equation. The reason 31...Kg6 wins is that it blows away 32.Nxg4+, White's only defense to 31...Ng4. Therefore 31...Kh5 and 31...Kh7 would have been just as good as 31...Kg6. But not 31...Kg7 because of 32.Nf5+.
Jun-02-13  parisattack: Fischer annotated this game in one of his Boy's Life magazine columns, I believe.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <drukenknight: okay so what is the losing move?>

In Wade, 14.c5 is given a ?, along with the comment 'leads to the blocking of his attack'.

While I don't know as I would necessarily classify 14.c5 as the move which landed Nikolic in hot water, he needed to open lines on the queenside rather than close them, in the face of the inevitable attack on the other wing. One open file will not be enough.

Jun-13-13  alen mujaric: according to chess engine, first critical mistake was at move 23.Kg1... instead of that he should play 23.Nh3 with a 1.5 points of advantage after that move
Jun-14-13  JPi: Isn't the same? <alen mujaric> 23.Nh3 Kg7 for 34...Bxe3 35...QxN+ as 36.KxQ Rh8+ means mate. 24.Qf1 Rh8 25.Kg1 Rh7 26.Nf4 Rah8 with a solid pawn f3 h file attack looks decisive. White piece up doesn't matter much about.
Premium Chessgames Member
  harrylime: <Zugzwangovich: In "Bobby Fischer's Outrageous Chess Moves", Bruce Pandolfini exclams 31...Kg6 so that Fischer's "rook can occupy the h-file". But unless I'm missing something the a8 rook has nought to do with the equation. The reason 31...Kg6 wins is that it blows away 32.Nxg4+, White's only defense to 31...Ng4. Therefore 31...Kh5 and 31...Kh7 would have been just as good as 31...Kg6. But not 31...Kg7 because of 32.Nf5+.>

You ARE missing something.

Jul-20-13  Zugzwangovich: <harrylime> Could you explain what I'm missing? In Pandolfini's own words, after Kg6 "One idea White must now stop--and can't--is ...Ng4, supporting the Queen's entry at h2, when Nxg4 is prohibited because of...Qg2 mate." In this line the a8 rook is irrelevant.
Jul-20-13  parisattack: In his Boy's Life column (Feb 1969) Fischer writes after 24. ...Kg7! -

"My winning plan is to move Rh8, exchange rooks on h1, bring the Queen down to h3 check, then Qg2 mate."

Chess is such a simple game - if you are Bobby Fischer!

Jul-20-13  Zugzwangovich: <parisattack> Thanks for the input, but it still seems to me that after 31...Kg6 (or Kh5 or Kh7), White has no defense to Ng4 and cannot even lengthen the game with a Knight check or two.
Aug-30-13  victor antoni: eres un ejemplo para mi bobbie fisher!!!!
Aug-31-13  FISCHERboy: Amazing chess game by Fischer. Need I say more?
Nov-01-13  deathbear: It's seldom that you see several mating opportunities, such as here h1 & g2. White's King got kettled!
Feb-24-14  SpiritedReposte: Fischer playing a closed game with great skill, using the entire board. Positional and tactical good stuff.
Premium Chessgames Member
  SwitchingQuylthulg: <UnsoundHero: The sacrifice 19...Bg4 is perfectly sound. It increases black's advantage, perhaps even forces a win. White's king is in a "crimp", in a small, enclosed space. It's a sitting duck. White's fixed pawn on f2 actually prevents him from transferring some of his pieces over to help guard his king.>

Right. White should have declined the sacrifice with something like 20.Qb1, challenging Fischer to show what he has if the bishop's just left on g4; the game could have become even more interesting then.

Feb-24-14  SpiritedReposte: If declined I bet Bobby plays ...Bf3 with an awful bind on white.

It's true white can open the b file after Qb1 and maybe invade on the 7th rank though too.

Apr-23-14  drdos7: I think that although 20.Qb1 is white's best chance, I think it still loses (after some exhaustive analysis with some of the best chess engines).

I also explored 23.Nxg6 and came to the conclusion that black also wins in that scenario.

Apr-23-14  PJs Studio: Great comments guys. I have to agree with Zugzwangovich. The threat of ...Ng4 without check is too fast.

Funny what a quick game chess is , yet people who DON'T play think its slow and boring... "Go watch TV then ya barbarians!"


Premium Chessgames Member
  SwitchingQuylthulg: I burned a lot of CG's Stockfish cycles trying to 1) determine whether 20.hxg4 loses by force and 2) see how much progress engines had made (this used to be an exceptionally difficult position for engines to evaluate). Here are the results...

After 20.hxg4 hxg4:

click for larger view

<1) =0.00 (37 ply) 21.a6 Nf3+ 22.Bxf3 gxf3 23.axb7 Qxb7 24.Ng2 fxg2 25.Kxg2 Bg5 26.Rb1 Kg7 27.Rh1 Qd7 28.bxc6 Qxc6 29.Nb5 Rh8 30.Nd6 Rxh1 31.Kxh1 Rh8+ 32.Kg1 Ne8 33.Nxe8+ Qxe8 34.Ra1 Qd7 35.Qf1 Be7 36.Qg2 Rb8 37.Qf1 Rh8

2) -0.09 (37 ply) 21.Rh1 Nf3+ 22.Bxf3 gxf3 23.Nd3 exd3 24.Qxf3 Kg7 25.a6 Bg5 26.axb7 Qxb7 27.Rhb1 cxb5 28.Rxb5 Qd7 29.Rb7 Qe6 30.Kg1 Ne4 31.Nxe4 dxe4 32.d5 exf3 33.dxe6 Rxe6 34.Rd7 Kf8 35.Rbb7 Be7 36.c6 Rc8 37.Rxd3 Rcxc6 38.Rxa7 Red6 39.Rc3 Ra6 40.Rxa6 Rxa6 41.e4 Ra1+ 42.Kh2

3) -0.39 (36 ply) 21.Nxg6 fxg6 22.Rh1 Nf3+ 23.Bxf3 gxf3 24.Kg1 Bf8 25.Qf1 Rab8 26.Qh3 Qxh3 27.Rxh3 Rec8 28.Kf1 Kf7 29.Be1 Bg7 30.Rb1 Ke6 31.Rh4 Kd7 32.Rh1 Ke7 33.Rh4 Ke6 34.Rh3 Kf7 35.Rh1 g5 36.a6 bxa6 37.bxc6 Rxb1 38.Nxb1 Rxc6 39.Nc3 Ke6>

21.Rh1?, despite being played in the game and evaluating only at -0.09 after 1 hour, is probably bad. Black needs to ignore the knight offer 23.Nd3 and instead play 23...Kg7 at once:

click for larger view

<1) +0.43 (32 ply) 24.bxc6 Ng4+ 25.Kg1 bxc6 26.Ne5 Nxe5 27.dxe5 Qe6 28.Na4 Rh8 29.Bc3 Bf4 30.Rxh8 Rxh8 31.Qf1 Bxe5 32.Bxe5+ Qxe5 33.Qa1 Kf6 34.Rb1 Qxa1 35.Rxa1 Rb8 36.Nb6 Ke7 37.Rd1 f6 38.Kf1 Kd8 39.Nc4 Kd7 40.Nd6 Ke6 41.Ra1 Rb2 42.a6 Kd7 43.Nb7 Rc2 44.Rb1 Ke6 45.Na5 Rxc5 46.Nb3 Rc3 47.Nd4+ Kd6

2) -4.07 (32 ply) 24.Kg1 Rh8 25.Ne5 Qf5 26.Rh4 Bg5 27.Nxf3 exf3 28.e4 Nxe4 29.Nxe4 Bxh4 30.Nd6 Qg4 31.Rb3 Bxg3 32.Qxf3 Bh2+ 33.Kf1 Qg1+ 34.Ke2 Bxd6 35.cxd6 Rh1 36.Kd3 Qf1+ 37.Qe2 Rh3+ 38.Be3 Qa1 39.Qc2 Qxa5 40.Qc3 Qa2 41.Rb2 Qa1 42.bxc6 bxc6 43.Kc2 Qa4+ 44.Qb3 Qxb3+ 45.Rxb3 Rd8 46.Bf4 Rxb3 47.Kxb3 a5 48.Ka3

3) -4.35 (32 ply) 24.Ne5 Qf5 25.Kg1 Rh8 26.Nxe4 dxe4 27.Nxf7 Kxf7 28.bxc6 bxc6 29.Rb7+ Kg8 30.Qb3+ Nd5 31.Qb2 Bg7 32.Rb8+ Rxb8 33.Qxb8+ Bf8 34.Rxh8+ Kxh8 35.Qb1 Qh3 36.Qf1 Qh5 37.Qa1 Nf6 38.d5 Bg7 39.Bc3 Qh3 40.Qf1 Qxf1+ 41.Kxf1 Nxd5 42.Bd4 Bxd4 43.exd4 Nc7 44.Ke1 Ne6 45.Kd2 Nxd4>

The +0.43 sounds good for White, but 27...Bg5! (I don't think White has significant improvements before that) and things suddenly get very ugly:

click for larger view

<1) -2.10 (39 ply) 28.Ne2 Rh8 29.Rxh8 Rxh8 30.e6 fxe2 31.Bc3+ Bf6 32.Bxf6+ Kxf6 33.Rxe2 fxe6 34.Qf1 Qh7 35.Qg2 Qe7 36.Rc2 Qb7 37.Qf1 Qb5 38.Qxb5 cxb5 39.c6 Ke7 40.c7 Rc8 41.Rc5 Kd6 42.Rxb5 Rxc7 43.Rb2 Rc1+ 44.Kg2 Ra1 45.Rb5 e5 46.f4 Kc6 47.Rb8 d4 48.fxe5 d3 49.Rd8 Rxa5 50.Rd6+ Kc7 51.Rxg6 Rd5 52.Rd6 Rxe5 53.Rd4 a5 54.Kf1 Kb6

2) -2.49 (38 ply) 28.e6 Qxe6 29.Ne2 fxe2 30.Bc3+ Bf6 31.Bxf6+ Qxf6 32.Rxe2 Rh8 33.Rxh8 Rxh8 34.Qb1 Qf3 35.Qb2+ f6 36.Qb7+ Kh6 37.Qc7 Rh7 38.Qf4+ Qxf4 39.gxf4 Rb7 40.a6 Rb5 41.Kg2 Rxc5 42.Kg3 Ra5 43.f3 f5 44.fxe4 dxe4 45.Rh2+ Kg7 46.Rd2 Rxa6 47.Kf2 Ra5 48.Rd7+ Kh6 49.Rc7 Ra6 50.Kg3 Ra3 51.Kf2 Ra2+ 52.Ke1 a5 53.Rxc6 a4 54.Ra6

3) -2.56 (38 ply) 28.Nxe4 dxe4 29.Qc2 Rh8 30.Rxh8 Rxh8 31.e6 Qxe6 32.Bc3+ Kh6 33.Qb1 Rd8 34.Qf1 Bf6 35.Rd2 Rxd2 36.Bxd2 Qf5 37.Bb4 Qd5 38.Qh3+ Kg7 39.Qf1 Qh5 40.Qc4 Qh3 41.Qf1 Qe6 42.Qe1 Qb3 43.Qd2 Qc4 44.Qe1 Be5 45.Qd2 Kh6 46.Qe1 Bf6 47.Qd2 Qe6 48.Qe1 Qh3 49.Qf1 Qf5 50.a6 Qd5 51.Qh3+ Kg7 52.Qf1 Qa2>

This change in evals shows that this is a very difficult position for engines even today, despite the progress they have made. The one place in this line where White might be able to improve is with 23.Nxg6!? (and then 23...fxg6 24.Kg1) instead of 23.Nd3; <drdos7> said above that 23.Nxg6 is a win for Black, but without giving lines. If he was right then 21.Rh1 is almost certainly losing.

(continued in next post)

Premium Chessgames Member
  SwitchingQuylthulg: <21.a6!> seems better. I tried to improve on Stockfish's line (21...Nf3+ 22.Bxf3 gxf3 23.axb7 Qxb7 24.Ng2 fxg2) with 24...Qd7, but it seems White can still draw with accurate play:

click for larger view

<1) =0.00 (35 ply) 25.Nh4 Qg4 26.Rh1 Bg5 27.Kg1 Kg7 28.Qf1 Rh8 29.Qh3 Rxh4 30.Qxg4 Rxh1+ 31.Kxh1 Nxg4 32.Kg1 Rb8 33.Ra2 cxb5 34.Nxd5 Rh8 35.c6 Rh2 36.Be1 Rg2+ 37.Kh1 Rh2+ 38.Kg1

2) -0.56 (35 ply) 25.Rh1 Bg5 26.Qf1 Ng4+ 27.Kg1 fxg2 28.Kxg2 Kg7 29.bxc6 Qf5 30.f4 exf3+ 31.Qxf3 Nxe3+ 32.Bxe3 Qxf3+ 33.Kxf3 Rxe3+ 34.Kg4 Rxc3 35.Kxg5 Re8 36.Kg4 Re4+ 37.Kh3 Rxd4 38.Rb7 Rxc5 39.Rf1 Rxc6 40.Rfxf7+ Kh6 41.Rxa7 Kg5 42.Ra5 Rd6 43.Rf2 Rf6 44.Re2 Kf5 45.g4+ Kf4 46.Rf2+ Kg5 47.Rxf6 Kxf6 48.Ra6+ Kf7 49.Rd6 g5 50.Kg3 Ke7

3) -3.30 (34 ply) 25.Ne2 Kg7 26.Ng1 Rh8 27.Nxf3 exf3 28.Qxf3 Bxe3+ 29.Nh4 Bxd2 30.Rxd2 g5 31.bxc6 Qxc6 32.Rg1 Rae8 33.Re2 Rxe2 34.Qxe2 gxh4 35.Qe5 hxg3+ 36.Kxg3 Kf8 37.Re1 Rh6 38.Kf3 a5 39.Qb8+ Ne8 40.Qd8 Re6 41.Rxe6 Qxe6 42.Qxa5 Qe4+ 43.Kg3 Qxd4 44.Qa3 Qe5+ 45.Kg2 Qe4+ 46.Qf3 Ke7 47.Kg3 Nf6 48.Qxe4+ Nxe4+ 49.Kf4 Nxc5 50.Ke5 Nd3+ 51.Kxd5>

I couldn't find an improvement for Black here. The other natural try for Black is 21...Kg7 22.axb7 Qxb7 instead of the immediate 21...Nf3+, but it doesn't look as if that's a win either:

click for larger view

<1) =0.00 (36 ply) 23.Rh1 Nf3+ 24.Bxf3 gxf3 25.Nh3 Rh8 26.Kg1 g5 27.b6 Kg6 28.Na4 Bg7 29.bxa7 Qa6 30.Nb6 Rxa7 31.Rb3 Qa1 32.Rb1 Qa6 33.Rb2 Qa1 34.Rb1

2) =0.00 (36 ply) 23.bxc6 Qxb2 24.Ncxd5 Nf3+ 25.Bxf3 Nxd5 26.Nxd5 exf3 27.Bc3 Qa2 28.Nc7 Rh8 29.d5+ f6 30.Bxf6+ Kxf6 31.Qd4+ Kf7 32.Kg1 Qe2 33.Qxg4 Bxe3 34.Qe6+ Kg7 35.Qe7+ Kg8 36.Qe6+ Kg7

3) =0.00 (35 ply) 23.Nxe4 Ngxe4 24.Nd3 cxb5 25.Ba5 Qc8 26.Rxb5 Rh8 27.Kg1 Nxg3 28.fxg3 Rb8 29.Rxb8 Bxe3+ 30.Rf2 Qxb8 31.Bd2 Bxd4 32.Qa4 Bxf2+ 33.Kxf2 Rh5 34.Qd4 Rf5+ 35.Kg1 Qb1+ 36.Be1 Qc2 37.Ne5 Qb1 38.Nd3>

I am not quite convinced by 23.Rh1, but I couldn't find any improvements for Black in the 23.bxc6 or 23.Nxe4 lines.

The general theme after 21.a6 is that White tries to distract Black on the queenside while simultaneously looking for a way to give back the piece. Knight maneuvers aimed at Nxf3, or less often Nxe4, appear in almost every line, if not in the mainline then in side variations; and having to stop them or take the sting out of them restricts what Black can do. (24.Ng2 in the 21.a6 Nf3+ line, for example, aims for Nh4xf3 or Ne1xf3, taking out the key fawn pawn on f3; and the idea behind 24...Qd7 is to hurry to its defence.) White is also hoping for counterplay in the center, even at the cost of material, as can be seen most clearly in the 23.bxc6 and 23.Nxe4 lines after 21.a6 Kg7.

In such a complicated position it would be very premature to claim any kind of final conclusion; but the impression I got was that 21.a6! draws, and that 21.Rh1 was the losing move unless 23.Nxg6 would have worked after all.

As for whether White could have successfully avoided the complications with 20.Qb1: Stockfish does think it's playable (and suggests 20...Bf5 21.Qd1 as best play, leading to a repetition of the position after 19.a5...); but Black still has many ways to try to complicate things; e.g. 20...Nf3+ 21.Bxf3 exf3, with a super-sharp position where Stockfish gives =0.00 but a deeper analysis might be needed again.

In any case, after either 20.Qb1 or 21.a6, Nikolić's problems would have been by no means over; he would have had to play many extremely accurate moves to hold the draw.

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