Review: Another Fischer Book!?

fischermovebymoveBobby Fischer is the player we’re somehow both fascinated by and tired of hearing about at the same time. Between Pawn Sacrifice, a Hollywood blockbuster about the genius’ rise to World Champion and fall into madness; Searching for Bobby Fischer, the movie about American chess culture’s obsession with Fischer after he disappeared; My 60 Memorable Games, one of the greatest chess books of all time written by Fischer himself; and the endless number of volumes telling his story and studying his playing style, Bobby Fischer is the most written about chess player of all time. My first reaction to Fischer: Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala, was one of anticipation. Fischer is one of my  favorite players to study. His games are masterpieces. And his eccentric life story has always provided an interesting background to his unparalleled accomplishments. My second thought was: In the midst of the many, many books I’ve already seen about Fischer, could this one offer new material? The answer turns out to be a resounding yes. Lakdawala offers a fresh perspective and a decent amount of previously unseen material. He finds a good balance between Fischer’s classic games (in case this is your first step into the world of Fischer) and lesser-known games (for those like me who already own several tomes). Additionally, the energy with which Lakdawala writes about Fischer shows his genuine fascination with Fischer’s games and story: “Bobby Fischer, like Ali, grew bigger than his sport, and he bent our perceptions on how well a human can play chess.” Lakdawala’s enthusiasm makes the book absorbing. I found myself curious of Lakdawala’s point of view of even Fischer’s most well-known games.

Lakdawala’s Unique Writing Style

Lakdawala often personifies the chess pieces, telling a story through them. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “White’s once wealthy queen now finds herself cutting out 25%-off coupons for macaroni and cheese.”
  • “The obnoxious knight is the petulant child who screams and throws tantrums until he gets what he wants.”
  • "The e-pawn warbles a happy tune in celebration of its new-found freedom."
  • "'My husband’s greatest ability is his talent to consistently disappoint all those who depend on him,' remarks Black’s queen."

This style is going to be hit-or-miss according to personal taste, but I like the attempt to give the games significance beyond variations and principles.

The Greatest Ever?

Lakdawala doesn’t attempt to write any biographical material in the traditional sense, but he introduces Fischer by focusing on a few key points, including:

  • His 6-0 Match victories on the road to the World Championship
  • Fischer’s playing style connection to Jose Capablanca
  • Was Fischer the greatest player of all time?

To address the “greatest ever” question, Lakdawala shares a discussion between several titled players and prominent chess writers, categorizing the greatest players by specific abilities. Fischer was considered one of the best in 9 out of the 13 categories:

  • Attack
  • Defence & counterattack
  • Strategic understanding
  • Intuition
  • Tactics
  • Feel for the initiative
  • Opening research
  • Endgame technique
  • Peak strength

Lakdawala ends the discussion by noting that: “I can’t say that Fischer was the best chess player of all time, but I do know that his games have almost become the standard by which other great players are judged.”

Move by Move: Question & Answer Style

Years ago, when I played through the games of My 60 Memorable Games, I’d cover the moves with a sheet of paper, analyze the position, make a guess and then compare it to Fischer’s move and thoughts. By actively participating, I felt more engrossed in the games and remembered more of the ideas. It gave me the opportunity to compare my thought process during a game to Fischer’s. The Move by Move question and answer platform makes it easier to carry out this kind of active learning. The book is full of exercises and questions to guess Fischer’s moves, ideas, and alternate variations.

Bobby Fischer vs. Uzi Geller (1968)

White to move.

Exercise (combination alert): A variety of motivations, which combined, can be produce a plan which is at cross purposes with our intent. With his last move, Black was too intent on his own plan, oblivious to Fischer’s coming trick. How did White seize the initiative? Show Solution

 Deflection/Discovered Attack.

Show Solution

[pgn][Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "1968.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Fischer, Bobby"] [Black "Geller, Uzi"] [Result "*"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "5rk1/2qnbppp/b1r1p3/pp1pP3/3p1B1P/3P2P1/PPP1QPBN/2R1R1K1 w - - 0 17"] [PlyCount "5"] [SourceDate "2015.11.12"]17. Bxd5 $1 {"The tone of the game shifts abruptly, from a whisper to a shriek. "} exd5 18. e6 Qd8 19. exd7 *[/pgn]

Often, Lakdawala tries to put himself in the reader’s perspective, posing their likely questions about a move and answering them clearly and thoroughly. Continuing his discussion of Fischer-Geller (1968), Lakdawala poses this question about the move 17. Bxd5!

Question: Isn’t this a purchase of a luxury which costs more than its worth? It seems to me that White’s plan entails grave risk on the light squares, with few other compensating qualities. What about the fact that White gave away his powerful light-squared bishop? Answer: White regains the piece favorably, for the following reasons:

  1. White’s central counter disorganized Black’s queenside initiative.
  2. White’s central counter chronically weakened the d4 isolani, as well as generates potential to take d5 in an ending.
  3. Surprisingly, Black is unable to exploit White’s light-square holes on the kingside, mainly because his d5-pawn gums up his a6-bishop’s access to the kingside.

Lakdawala’s focus on verbal explanations and principles instead of variations will suit most readers.

My Favorite Game of All Time

To finish, here’s an exercise from my favorite game of all time, Fischer’s “Immortal Game”.

Robert Byrne vs. Bobby Fischer (U.S. Championship 1963 - possible variation)

Black to move. 

Exercise (combination alert): Find the move both Byrne and Fischer saw, but everyone else missed.

Show Solution

[pgn] [White "Byrne, Robert"] [Black "Fischer, Bobby"] [Result "*"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r3r1k1/pb3pbp/1p4p1/8/3N4/BPN3Pq/P4Q1P/R2R2K1 b - - 0 23"] [PlyCount "3"]23... Re1+ $3 24. Rxe1 Bxd4 *[/pgn]

Bobby Fischer is a challenge to write about because anyone who takes on the task is competing against hundreds of others throughout history to write something fresh, yet accurate. Lakdawala proves up the challenge. Whether it’s your first Fischer book or your tenth, Fischer: Move by Move is worth a read.  


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Actually this is the one Fischer book I will buy. I never cared much for people's Uncle Remus storytelling. I think the reason for that was that it seemed mostly negative. A person who is interesting in negative qualities about a persona lacks empathy. This book bypasses what we already know it seems, from the review. I've also flipped through some of Lakdawala's previous contributions in the "move by move" series and I liked some of what I saw. I am a little disappointed if "new material" is given just to pique interest, but I'll give it a go. When American players think of Fischer they have a reasonable expectation of "quality". I am sure they have an expectation of avoiding the "I already knew that" material, but we should appreciate, a "fresh look and insight" into the player "I consider to be the best of his generation"(Kasparov shares that opinion, so I'm in good company).

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

First sentence rewrite: "Bobby Fischer is the player we’re tired of hearing about." Fixed it for you.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm reading Endgame now...fascinating! If you're curious about Bobby's life, not just his games, I highly recommend it!

In reply to by JR (not verified)

Im reading Endgame as well and it is impressively thorough!

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