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When Bobby Fischer took on a computer

Though it is 16 years since Bobby Fischer won the world championship and subsequently retired from competitive chess, his legend will always be with us. Whenever I give a public appearance, the perennial question always asked me is, ``Whatever happened to Bobby Fischer? And how do you explain his disappearance from the game that had always totally absorbed him?'' Being a chessplayer and not a psychologist, I can do no better than to quote from world champion Gary Kasparov. In his book ``Child of Change,'' he called Fischer his boyhood idol, noting that Bobby was ``a classic case of someone who became mentally trapped inside the game, a prisoner of chess who got lost in its depths and could not find his bearings in the real world outside, a victim of obsession.'' Rumors constantly reappear about the possibility of his playing again or making public appearances, but the only published games that we know of since 1972 were against the Greenblatt program, and they were submitted by Bobby himself and published in the Computer Chess Newsletter. Bobby sent the scores of three games in which he massacred the computer. In his comments on the games, Bobby noted that the computer was very weak and that he could give it great odds and still beat it. The comment does not surprise me, as I recall that when he was US champion he once boasted to me that he could give knight odds to any woman in the world and still win.

Today's game is from that set and affords a glimpse into the golden era of gambit play as Fischer plays the king's bishop gambit against an unsuspecting opponent.

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King's Gambit

Fischer Computer 1. P-K4 P-K4 2. P-KB4 PxP 3. B-B4 (a) P-Q4 (b) 4. BxP N-KB3 (c) 5. N-QB3 B-QN5 6. N-B3 O-O (d) 7. O-O NxB (e) 8. NxN B-Q3 9. P-Q4 P-KN4 (f) 10. NxNP (g) QxN 11. P-K5 B-KR6 (h) 12. R-B2 BxKP 13. PxB P-QB3 14. BxP Q-N2 15. N-B6 ch K-R1 16. Q-R5 R-Q1 (i) 17. QxB N-R3 18. R-B3 Q-N3 19. R-QB1 K-N2 20. R-N3 R-R1 21. Q-R6, mate

A.The few times Fischer employed the King's Gambit in tournament play, he always used this bishop move, perhaps because he published a so-called bust to the more usual 3.N-KB3. It should be noted, however, that the one time Bobby had Black against that move, he lost to Boris Spassky, but that was way back in 1960, at Mar del Plata, Argentina.

B.This must be the opening ``book'' of the program; otherwise I suspect the computer could not resist playing Q-R5 ch, either here or on the next move. Both lines are given by theory as leading to positions offering equal chances.

C.Considered the simplest equalizing line.

D.A published analysis by Bilguer about a century ago, in the heyday of gambit play, gives 6.... BxN; 7.QPxB, P-B3; 8.B-B4, QxQ ch; 9.KxQ, O-O; 10.BxP,NxP; 11.R-K1, with approximate equality. Fischer may have opted for an opening permitting this line because he believes computers are ``weakies'' in the endgame, or he may have just had faith in the two bishops to yield him winning chances. In any case, it all became moot when the computer took another tack.

E.Obviously it is out of its book, as this is a very weak move which loses valuable time. Soon, in a desperate attempt to maintain material equality, Black will irremediably ruin his position. Black should have played 7.... BxN; 8.QPxB, P-B3; 9.B-B4, QxQ; 10.RxQ, NxP; 11.BxP, N-Q2, which follows a game played in 1895 between Blackburne and Pillsbury at Hastings, England. White enjoyed only a minimal advantage.

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F.With no good way of maintaining his KBP, Black commits positional suicide and gives White an opportunity to flaunt his tactical dexterity.

G.As effective as it is pleasing. Now Black has no time for a move such as 10.... P-QB3, as 11.Q-R5, menacing KR7, would end all resistance.

H.On 11.... B-K2, Bobby would probably eschew capturing the QBP but would go after the bishop with 12.BxP, Q-R5; 13.P-KN3, and the black queen can no longer guard the bishop at K2. The text, which threatens mate, merely results in another black piece soon becoming en prise.

I.Of course, Black is totally lost. It is interesting that the computer does not try to save the bishop, as it ``sees'' that 17.B-R6 will win the rook, a piece of greater value. What Fischer particularly enjoys about computers is that they always play out to the mate, a pleasure denied him by human opponents, most of whom would have long since resigned in this game.

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