Bobby Fischer the Opening Model

The Never-Ending Influence of Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer
Bobby Fischer (1943-2008). Photo: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Since today is Bobby Fischer’s birthday, I felt I had to write something about him. Last year, I started this blog a bit after March 9.

He’s a controversial figure, shall we say … but there’s one thing no one can deny:

Fischer’s chess career basically ended 50 years ago — his 1992 match with Boris Spassky notwithstanding — but he is still the biggest name in American chess.

There’s much we can learn from the games of the 11th World Champion, but I’ll discuss how one of his famous victories has brought me points in my own praxis.

After all, no matter how much we study chess for pleasure, we want results!


A Nagging Problem

On one hand, I find the Pirc Defense (1.e4 d6) and related Modern Defense (1.e4 g6) to be among the trickiest openings to face. Fortunately, Black sits back for awhile and lets you choose the setup you prefer.

When trying to learn an opening, I look for models: games from master practice I can emulate. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with traps that arise in your openings.

In 2017 I needed something against the Pirc. I’ve pretty much always used the Austrian Attack (1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4), but strangely enough hadn’t chosen a model! Then Bobby Fischer came to my rescue.


When in Doubt, Steal!

Pal Benko
Pal Benko (1928-2019) in lovely Budapest. Photo: ChessBase

I rediscovered this well-known miniature Bobby Fischer won against Pal Benko in the 1963-64 U.S. Championship where the future Champ scored a clean 11-0:

Ok, now how can we use this game to fight the slithery Pirc?


You Must Memorize Sometimes!

Yes, memorize. The game above is short, but we should learn most of it. I’ll reveal what worked for me.

FIrst of all, remember this setup: f2-f4, Ng1-f3, Bf1-d3:

At this point, Black has a few choices: 6…Na6, 6…Nbd7, or 6…Bg4 (as in the game).

Note: 6…c5?! doesn’t work here: after 7.dxc5 dxc5 White has too much center. And if 7…Qa5? White can safely play 8.cxd6. [If White’s bishop was on e2 instead of d3, Black could strike with 8…Nxe4!]

A. 6…Na6

White can play 7.e5 as the game notes suggest, but I prefer 7.0-0 c5 8.d5 establishing a nice space advantage and asking Black what he plans to do with the Na6. If he wants to play …Na6-b4xd3, let him. You can consider c2xd3, after which Black will never break down your center.

If instead Black goes for something like 8…Nc7, looking at breaks with …b7-b5 and/or …e7-e6, just play 9.Qe2 and calmly centralize. If Black goes for …a7-a6 and …Ra8-b8, aiming for …b7-b5, I recommend playing a2-a4 and leaving a rook on a1 to use the a-file if it opens.

B. 6…Nbd7

This time, I think 7.e5 is best, otherwise Black will play this himself. Moreover, the second player’s pieces aren’t the most comfortable. I won a couple of games in The Right Move tournaments in the late 1990s with a quick e5-e6 thrust in similar positions, and after …fxe6, Nf3-g5. I seem to recall having my light-squared bishop on c4 in these situations, reminiscent of Velimirovic vs. Rajkovic, but my memory is hazy.

C. 6…Bg4?!

Surprisingly, I face this move most often! Well, if it’s bad enough for twice-Candidate Benko…

In a word, we’re going to clean Black’s clock.

7.h3! Bxf3 8.Qxf3

Then, Black won’t resist developing the knight with a hit on d4; your response is simple:

8…Nc6 9.Be3

Being that you’re now ready to play e4-e5, Black needs to get this move in first:


Most importantly, memorize the following sequence:

10.dxe5 dxe5 11.f5!


What Now?

In summary, your plan is a pawn storm on the kingside with g4-g5, etc. If Black doesn’t allow this by capturing on f5 immediately, a la Benko, capture with the queen and prepare a kingside attack by using the open lines/squares available to your pieces.

All in all, I recommend learning the whole 21-move game, but getting this far will give you much improved results against the Pirc.

Have you tried learning model games or fragments from the games of Bobby Fischer or other greats? Comment on your experiences!