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Player: United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Moderator Subject: Fischer Played 1. d4!

2020-06-14 10:24:15
Fischer Played 1. d4!

Most know Fischer by his 1. e4 “best by test” - however, we must realize that he did not only play 1. e4. There is no denying the success Fischer had with 1. e4; the Sicilian open variations, especially, favored his play-style. Lots of strong chess players have great early success with their original opening repertoire only to later explore more with various other openings; they then often return to their original choices, but with gained knowledge of the alternatives. This reminds me of a quotation from Kasparov, “I used to attack because it was the only thing I knew. Now I attack because I know it works.”

In the 1972 World Championship Match, Game 6, Fischer famously shocked the world with 1. c4 and transposing into a Queen’s Gambit Declined. Naturally, no one knew what line(s) Fischer had studied up on. It was a complete surprise for everyone because Fischer was already renowned for his 1. e4 opening choice. According to my database of games, Fischer experimented with 1. Nf3, 1. c4, 1. b3, 1. b4, 1. f3, 1. f4, 1. g3 and of course 1. d4 as well. He may have even tested other moves in unrecorded off-hand games. Although very few in comparison to other openings, Fischer did literally play 1. d4 a few times (without transposition). The game here is a blitz game between Fischer and Hort in 1970. This game was played in Herceg Novi Yugoslavia. Yes, this is “just a blitz game.” What we must realize though is that Vlastimil Hort was no pushover opponent; his peak chess rating was 2510.

How does Fischer begin this game against such a strong player?

1. d4! If anyone like myself plays this move, it doesn’t even get a second thought. If Fischer plays it though: it definitely deserves an exclaim! In Fischer’s dominating chess career, he has only 3 FIDE games where he played 1. d4. Anytime he deviates to something of this rarity, it might as well be an exclaim: at the very least for the surprise value alone.

Nf6 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 cxd5 5. Bf4 e6 This is one line from the Slav Defense Exchange Variation. After 5…e6, Black doesn’t score too promisingly here. Most games are either drawn or a win for White. Perhaps Hort was shocked by 1. d4 and just decided on playing a famously draw-ish line for the hopes of getting a draw.

6. e3 Nc6 7. Bb5 Bd6 The position is fairly equal, but White’s dark-squared Bishop is developed outside of the pawn chain. Black sees this point in the game as a good opportunity to exchange Bishops because they feel that their Bishop isn’t as active (it literally just came from its own starting square). Hort follows the instructional concept of piece activity. He probably recognized Fischer’s developed Bishop on f4 as superior to his f8 (now d6) counterpart, so he seeks an exchange. Sometimes getting your piece as active isn’t so easy (or favorable), so the alternative is to trade off the opponent’s more active rival (in this case, the opposing dark-squared Bishop).

8. Bxd6 Qxd6 9. f4 This is true to Fischer’s play style. Nf3 looks like a more thematic move for this position, but Fischer seeks for familiar ground in the blitz game. Many of Fischer’s favorite lines in the Sicilian involve playing an early f4 and launching a pawn storm at the Kingside castled Black King; no doubt Fischer is playing for a similar structure here, despite opening with d4 on move one.

Bd7 Black breaks the pin on the c6 Knight and keeps options flexible for castling Queenside. In practice though, O-O-O isn’t really much of a concern because O-O still looks safer. After O-O-O, then Black’s King would be on c8 and likely requiring a tempo to get to b8 at some point. If the King stays on c8 (or gets caught not being able to castle at all), then the King may be tempting fate when lines can quickly open up around the center of the board.

10. Nf3 Ne4 With Nf3 played now, Fischer’s pawn is ahead of the Knight. We must ask ourselves: is the pawn really better on f4 than on f2 though? White’s Kingside looks more intact for O-O with the f-pawn back on f2 (negligible point if Fischer does indeed intend a Kingside pawn storm though). Another favorable thought for the pawn being on f2 is that it always has the potential for f2-f3. By playing f4 early, the e4 square becomes a hole. It is really no surprise that Hort’s very next move plonks a Knight into that weak spot in White’s camp. My guess is that Fischer knew positional concepts like square weaknesses very well, but ignored the small detail here because it is a blitz game and it was more important for him to reach a position, he was comfortable with. In this light, f4 is a good move then. It may not be objectively as good as a thematic move (like Nf3 was), but we must realize the unquantifiable value in playing a position that you like.

11. Nxe4 dxe4 12. Nd2 Qb4 Fischer’s idea is obviously rerouting the Knight to attack Black’s extended pawn on e4, but this simple idea isn’t so easy for Black to avoid. In perhaps some desperation, Black tactically defends e4 with the Queen pinning the Knight to White’s King. Black must realize that O-O to unpin is coming soon though and then how does Black hold the pawn? For instance, …f5 looks strange right after castling Kingside. These are long-term considerations (right now White’s b2 pawn and b5 Bishop are of greater concern), but even in blitz chess great players can think of long-term plans! Although …Qb4 appears to be a fine move objectively speaking, it hints that Black may be slipping. The e4 pawn is fairly tough to hold without creating another weakness. Maybe giving up e4 was best? 12. Nd2 O-O!? is my interesting thought when White’s best plan is to just castle themselves because 13. Nxe4?? blunders the Bishop to 13…Qb4+.

13. Qb3 Qa5 White offers a Queen trade and Black declines while maintaining the Knight pin to hold e4. Clearly, Black had no intention of simplifying the position when 13. Qb3 Qxb3 14. Nxb3 accomplishes little and Black still wonders how to hold onto e4. Although not best play, a sample line that shows practical play advantage to White may follow: 13. Qb3 Qxb3 14. Nxb3 O-O 15. Nc5 Be8 16. Nxe4 and White wins the e4 pawn.

14. Qa4?! Qxa4 Perhaps overestimating White’s chances without Queens on the board, Fischer insists on exchanging Queens and this time it is accepted. The problem with exchanging Queens now (even just one move later) is that Black will simplify too much and then be able to play …f5 and secure to e4 pawn. Notice how just one move later changes everything because Black didn’t have time for …f5 the first time Queen trades were offered. 13. Qb3 Qxb3 14. Nxb3 O-O 15. Nc5 f5?? And of course, White would grab the Bishop hanging on d7.

15. Bxa4 Nb4 16. Bxd7+ Kxd7 As warned, Black now simplified more than White wanted and will get to play …f5 to secure the e4 pawn with a drawish position. 17. Nxe4?? Overlooks the fork with …Nc2+.

17. Ke2 f5 Black gets off the hook with an equal position once e4 is secured. Correct was not 14. Qa4?! but instead 14. a4! to hold the Bishop and keep pieces on the board to make the e4 pawn more challenging to secure. Even here, White’s advantage is only slight: this was Fischer’s best fighting move though; I have no reason to believe he wouldn’t find 14. a4! in a longer time control game.

18. Nc4 Rhc8 19. Rhc1 Nd3 Now the e4 pawn is a thorn in White’s side, not Black’s side! Trying to exchange Knights is virtually forced now because Black’s Knight is clearly more annoying than White’s Knight.

20. Ne5+ Nxe5 In the same way that Hort offered the Bishop trade on move 7 (with 7…Bd6), Fischer offers the Knight trade here. The reasoning is essentially the same, acknowledging their piece counterpart as more active than their own, so they seek (or virtually force) an “even” trade. Many beginners exchange “even” pieces without much thought, but this is a mistake. Not all pieces and pawns of “equal value” are actually equal! Pieces and pawns grow in value by becoming active and taking roles (like defending a square or attacking a piece). Next time your opponent offers an “equal” exchange: you should ask yourself, “which piece is currently more active - their piece or mine?” I have no intention of letting my opponent take one of my active pieces for one of their lesser active ones and neither should you without a fight! It is perhaps this fighting element in chess that Fischer loved.

21. dxe5 Rxc1 22. Rxc1 Rc8 23. Rxc8 Rxc8 Lots of simplification is virtually forced from the fallout from 14. Qa4?! as this is move 23 and we are still simplifying! With each exchange of material, in this position, we get closer and closer to reaching an inevitable draw.

24. Kd2 Kd7 25. Kc3 Kc6 Both sides instructively advance their Kings up the board in the endgame. Weaker computer evaluations will often recommend a small pawn push in these scenarios, but this is seldom correct. The side with the more active King, in pawn endgames, usually has the better winning chances; this is especially true if one side allows the enemy King to infiltrate - the infiltrating King usually wins.

26. Kc4 b6 27. a4 a6 28. b4 b5+ 29. axb5+ axb5+ 30. Kd4 Kb6 Hort’s King move keeps diagonal opposition and stalls pushing pawns. The position was drawish for some time now: as noted earlier, perhaps Hort was playing for a draw when Fischer surprised him with 1. d4! as Hort’s chosen exchange slav opening choice is notoriously prone to a draw game result.

31. h3 g6 32. g4 h5 33. gxh5 gxh5 34. h4 Kc6 35. Kc3 Here the blitz game was agreed to a draw. Neither side will be given the chance for their King to infiltrate. Kings will simply shuffle indefinitely. For example: 35. Kc3 Kb6 36. Kd4 Kc6 and it is clear that the position is drawn.

It seems that Fischer’s slight winning chances were consolidated by the line of exchanges following 14. Qa4?! when 14. a4! appears to be an improvement. Why is this game important? Fischer (if anyone) had the better winning chances out of the opening and Fischer almost never played 1. d4 in chess! This is just another reason everyone should experiment with various openings. Fischer played an opening he seldom ever played and still managed to draw a strong player (in fact, Fischer had the better winning chances in the entire game). We should follow in Fischer’s footsteps and learn to experiment with different openings. Even if you never (or seldom) play them, you will be a better-rounded chess player who will be able to adapt easier and you will be much tougher to play against. Preparation for an opponent is also significantly easier if you know the limited opening repertoire they possess; we want to know many openings and we want our opponent to know this so they don’t know what to expect!

Experiment with openings and find your own chess style. Remember that even 1. e4 “best by test” Fischer played 1. d4!
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1United  abbyknotChessHere Moderator2020-06-16 05:22:55
Excellent article! :-)