Bobby Fischer moved a pawn two squares and shocked the chess world.
It was game 6 of the 1972 world chess championship, American challenger & eccentric genius Bobby Fischer vs defending champion, Russian Boris Spassky. Tensions between the nations were rising. There was more than the world chess championship at stake.
As his first move, Bobby played c4 (English opening, Queen’s Gambit), instead of his favorite & strongest start – e4 (King pawn). Bobby had been the strongest proponent of the e4 start his whole life. But tied at 2.5 – 2.5 points in the world-championship, he made a starting move he had made only two times in his life. Moreover, the English opening favored the Russian style of positional play.
It worked. Spassky, was stunned and unprepared. Bobby played beautifully and went on to win the “game of the century”. He also dealt a psychological blow to the very talented Boris Spassky – beating him in his own style. Bobby went on to win the world championship.
Here is a scene from Edward Zwick’s 2014 movie “Pawn Sacrifice” that highlights game 6 (courtesy YouTube):
I think all of us have our e4 moves. A standard predictable play we are almost pre-programmed to make. It is not a bad move. It is a good solid move that has worked for us in the past – our first response to a competitive threat, starting move in a negotiation and opening style in a meeting.
The game of the century made me realize that winning at the highest levels requires more than great skill, it requires a combination of intelligence and courage. Intelligence to push the boundaries of second-order thinking. Not only what should I do but also what should I do considering how my opponent will react to it. Not only the impact of the move in this game, but also the long-term impact of the move. And courage to take risks that may back-fire, even when your standard repertoire is strong.
My 6-year old son is learning chess and I have had the joy of re-learning more about the eccentric genius of Bobby Fischer. His legacy to the world goes beyond chess. One of his most beautiful gifts is opting for the c4 opening in game 6 of the 1972 world-championship. And, then playing a highly elegant positional squeeze punctuated with a clinical kingside attack.
Bobby Fischer makes us all think deeply about, “what is my e4 move”? And, how can I re-invent it to win at the highest levels?