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Monday, December 31, 2012

Fischer’s Perfect Score - 1963/64 US Championship

      Larry Evans once said Fischer’s weakness was overconfidence, stating that it "sometimes causes him to forget his opponents are also capable of finding good moves." Fischer’s first loss in a US Championship to Edmar Mednis had happened in the previous year’s tournament.  Evans wrote that “Fischer plays about 50 per cent stronger with White than with Black” adding "It is hard to remember when he last lost with White."  But that’s exactly what happened in a long French Defense where Fischer had White. The game had been adjourned and Mednis gradually gained the better position by the second adjournment.  Mednis said he was determined not to let Fischer get away and spent all his free time analyzing the adjourned position.  It paid off because Fischer resigned on move 73 for his first loss in four championships.
      As a result of that defeat Fischer arrived at this championship determined not to let it happen again.  This tournament was a strong one with only William Lombardy missing from the top rated players. Fischer’s rating going in was FIDE 2702.  For comparison, the other’s best ratings (either FIDE or national) were: Reshevsky 2621, Benko 2582, Evans 2602, and Robert Byrne 2550, Saidy 2490, Weinstein 2488, Bisguier 2499, Addison 2445, Mednis 2473, Donald Byrne 2634 and Steinmeyer 2425.  Those ratings may not seem too high by today’s standards, but at the time most garden variety GMs were rated 2500-2600 with a few actually below that, so it did have some pretty strong masters playing.  Based on ratings though, Fischer was still in a class by himself and was expected to win the event, but what was not expected was the way he did it.
       Fischer had been studying the game for five or six hours a day according to friends and was well prepared in the openings. Fischer surprised Evans by playing the Bishop's Gambit.  Coming out of the opening Evans thought he was doing OK; in fact as late a move 31 Evans thought he stood better but ended up resigning on move 35. Fischer also got his revenge on Edmar Mednis and Robert Byrne, who, according to Larry Evans, had been a dark horse to win. These wins were particularly satisfying because in addition to defeating Mednis, he got his first ever wins against Evans and Byrne.
      His win over Byrne was spectacular.  It was played in a private room with the moves being telephoned to the analysis room where the game was analyzed by IM James Sherwin and GM Nicolas Rossolimo.  When Fischer played his move 18, Rossolimo thought the move was absolutely incomprehensible; some even thought the wrong move had been telephoned in.  When Fischer played his move 21, Rossolimo exclaimed, "I don't understand this at all. Fischer has nothing at all for his piece."  Sherwin wasn’t so sure and they kept waiting for Byrne’s move, but it didn’t come.  Finally Byrne walked in and announced he had resigned and then proceeded to show everyone what they had been missing and that mate was unavoidable.
       After Reshevsky blundered and lost in Round 5, Fischer met one of the country’s top correspondence masters and very strong OTB player, Robert Steinmeyer of St. Louis. Steinmeyer found his N trapped at move 17 and resigned.
      After the break for Christmas, Fischer defeated William Addison and his score stood at 7-0. With four rounds to go it was becoming clear that Fischer was going to win, but the question was, “Would it be with a perfect score?”  Spectators began filling up the Henry Hudson ballroom every round to watch Fischer.
       Fischer defeated Raymond Weinstein on time but had a winning position anyway and he was now at 8-0. The next day Fischer had Black against Donald Byrne and after the game was over, he stood at 9-0. Then he defeated Pal Benko.  Benko had come to the US in 1956 as a result of the Hungarian Revolt, landing first in Cleveland, Ohio, but when Cleveland players refused to subsidize his chess career by hiring him as manager of the Cleveland Chess Center, he moved on and began making a living by winning Swiss tournament after tournament. Fischer overwhelmed Benko.  Fischer had an opportunity to sacrifice his queen on move 13 but didn’t.  The reason, according to Fischer, was because there was only one brilliancy prize in the tournament and he had already clinched it for the Robert Byrne game. After Benko resigned Fischer’s score was 10-0 with one game to go.
      Fischer was not only winning, but was making it look easy. In every game he was ahead on time - often an hour. His last round game with Black against Dr. Anthony Saidy was probably his most difficult. It was a positional battle with a nearly symmetrical position.  During the game Larry Evans ran into Saidy away from the board and told him, "Good. Show him we're not all children."
       A few days earlier Fischer hadn’t endeared himself to his fellow competitors when he announced that he would win the tournament with a perfect score.  As a result of Fischer’s prognostication, Saidy badly hoped to win and ruin things for him.
       At adjournment, after 43 moves, Saidy had lost the initiative but still had good drawing chances in an ending where he had K+B+5Ps vs. Fischer’s K+N+4Ps. Saidy’s extra P was meaningless because he was going to lose it leaving him with an obstructed B.  Saidy thought for 45 minutes, considering several defenses, but missed the drawing line and sealed a blunder.  At the resumption of play when the sealed move was revealed, Fischer smiled; he knew he was going 11-0.

Note: Several years ago I did a 36-page pdf booklet with all the games. You can download it HERE.  The games are ‘annoFritzed’ with, if I remember correctly, Fritz 5.32 at 6 seconds per move so the annotations aren’t all that great, but all the games are there which is what’s important.






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