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Fischer's early years (1955-56)

by Hiran Banerjee - 15/05/2016

Robert James Fischer was born on the 9th of March 1943. Right from his early years it was apparent that the young American had an unparalleled feel for the game. In this article, we take you on a journey of the years 1955 and 56 where Fischer was just about to enter his teens. Here you can find a game from Bobby's first simul, his first Najdorf, and his first King's Indian. And it is almost impossible to pass over the Game of the Century against Donald Byrne without being in awe of the American's talent.

During the first seven months of 1955 Fischer played some thirty tournament games. Possibly his failure in the Junior Championship was a big blow to his ego but whatever the reason he did not compete any more that year. There have been three periods in Fischer’s career when he withdrew from competitive chess only to return a more formidable opponent. The months August to December 1955 represented his first dormant period. He hibernated an inconspicuous young player and awoke an embryo master.

The young Fischer, playing with tremendous intensity

His first event of 1956 was the Greater New York City Championship, a seven round Swiss system tournament with fifty-two players in which Bobby tied for fifth place with Jackson and Saidy, behind Lombardy and Mengarini(1st equal) and Fuerstein and McKormick(3rd Equal). He won the class B trophy and this success among strong opposition was such that when touring Cuba with the Log Cabin Chess Club the following month he was considered able enought to be invited to give a simultaneous exhibition.

Fisher’s exhibition at the Capablanca Club in Havana took place on February 26th 1956, prior to his thirteenth birthday. A photograph taken of this, his first display, shows him opening 1.e4 on all (visible) boards. The game in which he was about to move is a Sicilian Defence. The next (to his right) a Ruy Lopez, Steinitz Defence Deferred. Then another Lopez, another Sicilian, two more Ruy Lopez, a Giuoco Piano and then the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez which he was to bring into prominence in master chess a decade later in an Olympiad held less than a mile from the spot where he gave this exhibition. One more Ruy Lopez is distinguishable, but of the other boards nothing can be made out. This restricted choice of openings is unusual for a simultaneous exhibition. Normally the master will essay the whole spectrum of chess openings if only to make things less tedious for himself. But Bobby, even in an exhibition, seemed determined to prove that in chess there is only one truth and that at the very beginning this truth is 1.e4. Apart from an early eighteen-month flirtation which the Reversed King’s Indian he remained totally dedicated to the king’s pawn openings  for the next fifteen years, and at the time of his winning the World Championship in 1972. 1.e4 was still his first string.

Only one game score (so far unpublished) survives form that Havana evening and I am including it solely for historical reasons. The game itself is of no intrinsic value and is rather dull.

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1956.02.26"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Fischer, Robert James"]
[Black "Arango Casado, Jose"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B32"]
[Annotator "HCL"]
[PlyCount "96"]
[EventDate "2016.05.09"]
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nxd4 5. Qxd4 d6 6. c4 e5 7. Qd3 Nf6 8.
Nc3 Be6 9. Bg5 Be7 10. Be2 a6 11. b3 O-O 12. O-O Re8 13. Rad1 Qa5 14. Rd2 Rac8
15. Bxf6 Bxf6 16. Rfd1 Red8 17. Nd5 Bxd5 18. Qxd5 Qxd5 19. Rxd5 Be7 20. f3 g6
21. c5 $6 {A strange move. Did Fischer not notice 21...Rxc5 22. Rxc5 dxc5 23.
Rxd8+ Bxd8, when the game is a dead draw?} Kg7 $6 {What is this? Is Black
playing to win?} (21... Rxc5 22. Rxc5 dxc5 23. Rxd8+ Bxd8 $11) 22. Kf2 Rc6 23.
g3 f6 24. f4 Kf7 25. Ke1 b5 26. b4 Ke8 27. fxe5 dxc5 28. exf6 Bxf6 29. bxc5 Be7
30. Rxd8+ Bxd8 31. Rd6 Rxd6 32. cxd6 Ba5+ 33. Kd1 Bb4 34. e5 Bc3 35. e6 Be5 36.
d7+ Ke7 37. Bg4 Bc7 38. Kc2 b4 39. Kd3 Kf6 40. Kc4 a5 41. Kc5 h5 42. Bh3 g5 43.
Kc6 Bd8 44. Bg2 a4 45. Bd5 Ba5 46. Kb7 a3 47. Kc8 Ke7 48. Bc4 Bd8 1/2-1/2 

1956 was Fischer’s breakthrough year, the year that he first became nationally acclaimed and internationally reported. His first few results in 1956 were mixed but at the US Junior Championship he took first place and the prize of a portable typewriter. From Philadelphia he flew immediately to Oklahoma City, where, in the US Open Championship, he faced his toughest opposition so far. His result: tied for fourth behind Bisguier and Sherwin (1st equal) and Steinmeyer(3rd). Faithful to his beliefs, he stuck to a rigid choice of openings. As black he defended 1.d4 with the King’s Indian.

[Event "USA-ch 57th open"]
[Site "Oklahoma City"]
[Date "1956.??.??"]
[Round "12"]
[White "Donovan, Jeremiah"]
[Black "Fischer, Robert James"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E94"]
[Annotator "HCL"]
[PlyCount "80"]
[EventDate "1956.07.16"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "12"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2013.11.20"]
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 Nbd7 7. O-O e5 8. h3
c6 9. Be3 Qe7 10. Qc2 a6 11. a4 Re8 12. dxe5 dxe5 13. a5 Nh5 {Starting the
Attack} 14. Rfd1 Nf4 15. Bf1 Nf8 16. c5 N8e6 17. Na4 Ng5 18. Nxg5 Qxg5 19. Kh2
Be6 {White's complete domination of his b6 square is looking ridiculously
redundant.} 20. g3 {Accepting a sacrifice that gives Black the King side dark
squares in return for the piece. In fact White's extra piece is of no
consequence since his knight plays no further part in the game} Bh6 21. gxf4
exf4 22. Bc1 Qh4 23. Ra3 Rad8 24. Rad3 Rxd3 25. Rxd3 Bg7 {So that Be5 is
always in the air} 26. b3 f5 27. Rf3 fxe4 28. Qxe4 Bf7 29. Qc2 Re1 30. Bc4 Qg5
31. Bxf7+ Kf8 32. Rg3 fxg3+ 33. fxg3 Qxc1 34. Qxc1 Rxc1 35. Be6 Re1 36. Bc8
Re2+ 37. Kh1 Re7 38. Kg2 Ke8 39. h4 Kd8 40. Bg4 Re3 0-1


And against 1.e4 Fischer never deserted his first love.

[Event "USA-ch Juniors"]
[Site "USA"]
[Date "1956.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Grossguth, C."]
[Black "Fischer, Robert James"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B92"]
[Annotator "HCL"]
[PlyCount "58"]
[EventDate "1956.??.??"]
[EventType "game"]
[EventRounds "1"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1999.07.01"]
1. e4 c5 {Fischer's first(recorded) Sicilian.} 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6
5. Nc3 a6 {And it's a Najdorf!} 6. Be2 e5 7. Nb3 Be7 8. Be3 O-O 9. Qd2 b5 10.
f3 Be6 11. g4 $2 {Of course he should castle first.} d5 12. g5 {This only
makes things much worse. Had to try 12. exd5} d4 13. gxf6 Bxf6 14. O-O-O dxe3
15. Qxd8 Rxd8 16. Nc5 Nc6 17. Nxe6 fxe6 {The triplets are not so very
detrimental they control so many key squares} 18. Rhf1 b4 19. Na4 Nd4 20. Rxd4
Rxd4 21. Bd3 Rad8 22. Kd1 Bg5 23. Ke2 Bf4 24. h3 Rc8 25. Rd1 Rc6 26. b3 Kf7 27.
h4 Kf6 28. h5 a5 29. Nb2 Rxd3 0-1


It was not until 1957 that the Lessing J. Rosenwald Trophy Tournament officially became the US Championship, but it was already the premier event of the American chess calendar. Entry was only by invitation and limited to twelve players. Fischer was invited to participate as the current US Junior Champion, an automatic qualification for entry until the 1959/60 tournament when Robin Ault ignominiously lost every game and the rule was discreetly abandoned.

The 1956 Rosenwald Tournament took place in New York in October. In the first round, with the black pieces against Bisguier, Fischer got a very bad opening and was wiped out, the only time that he was to lose to Bisguier in their first fifteen games!

[Event "New York Rosenwald"]
[Site "New York"]
[Date "1956.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Bisguier, Arthur Bernard"]
[Black "Fischer, Robert James"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "E78"]
[Annotator "HCL"]
[PlyCount "65"]
[EventDate "1956.10.07"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "11"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1999.07.01"]
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f4 O-O 6. Nf3 c5 7. Be2 cxd4 8. Nxd4
Nc6 9. Nc2 Bd7 {A serious mistake. After this passive move White gets a good
form of the Maroczy bind against the Sicilian Dragon.} 10. O-O Rc8 11. Be3 Na5
12. b3 a6 13. e5 dxe5 14. fxe5 Ne8 15. Nd5 Rc6 16. Nd4 Rc8 17. Nc2 Rc6 18. Ncb4
{Initiating a long, forcing sequence that wrecks Black's position.} Re6 19. Bg4
Rxe5 20. Bb6 Qc8 21. Bxd7 Qxd7 22. Bxa5 e6 23. Nd3 Rh5 24. N3f4 Rf5 25. Bb4
exd5 26. Bxf8 Bxa1 27. Qxa1 Kxf8 28. Qh8+ Ke7 29. Re1+ Kd8 30. Nxd5 Qc6 31. Qf8
Qd7 32. Rd1 Rf6 33. Qxe8+ 1-0


Another of Fischer’s losses in this event was to Reshevsky, the tournament winner. In one of the quiet variations of the King’s Indian he was out-manoeuvred and when he lost on time in a hopeless position there were ten moves still to make. But time trouble has never bothered Fischer. His forty moves have usually been made with plenty of time to spare and in recent years it has not been uncommon to see him using less than ninety of the allotted 150 minutes. This loss to Reshevsky is, in fact, one of only two known examples of Fishcer exceeding the time limit.

Standings of the Rosenwald 1956

The sensation of this Rosenwald Tournament was Bobby’s game against Donald Byrne. He offered the exchange at move thirteen and later gave up his queen to win a rook, two bishops and a pawn. The game was hailed as a masterpiece, Kmoch going so far as to call it ‘ the game of the century’.

[Event "New York Rosenwald"]
[Site "New York"]
[Date "1956.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Byrne, Donald"]
[Black "Fischer, Robert James"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D97"]
[Annotator "Shipov,S"]
[PlyCount "82"]
[EventDate "1956.10.07"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "11"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1999.07.01"]
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. d4 O-O 5. Bf4 d5 6. Qb3 (6. e3) (6. Rc1 $5)
6... dxc4 7. Qxc4 c6 8. e4 Nbd7 (8... Bg4 9. Be2 Nfd7 10. Rd1 Bxf3 11. Bxf3 e5
12. dxe5 Bxe5 13. Bxe5 Nxe5 14. Rxd8 Nxc4 15. Rxf8+ Kxf8 16. Be2 $1 Nb6 (16...
Nxb2 17. Kd2 b5 $8 18. Rb1 Nc4+ 19. Bxc4 bxc4 20. Rb4 $16) 17. Kd2 $14 {
Dydyshko,V-Dorfman,J/Minsk/1986/1:0/57/}) (8... b5 $1 9. Qb3 Qa5 {/\ b4/} 10.
Bd3 Be6 11. Qd1 c5 $5 $132) 9. Rd1 Nb6 10. Qc5 Bg4 11. Bg5 $2 (11. Be2 Nfd7 12.
Qa3 Bxf3 13. Bxf3 e5 14. dxe5 Qe8 15. Be2 Nxe5 16. O-O $14 {Flear,G-Morris,P/
Dublin/1991/1:0/46/}) 11... Na4 $3 12. Qa3 (12. Nxa4 Nxe4 13. Qc1 (13. Qxe7
Qa5+ 14. b4 Qxa4 15. Qxe4 Rfe8 16. Be7 Bxf3 17. gxf3 Bf8 $19) 13... Qa5+ 14.
Nc3 Bxf3 15. gxf3 Nxg5 $17) 12... Nxc3 13. bxc3 Nxe4 14. Bxe7 Qb6 $17 {@/} 15.
Bc4 (15. Bxf8 Bxf8 16. Qb3 Nxc3 $1 $17) 15... Nxc3 $1 16. Bc5 (16. Qxc3 Rfe8
17. Bxf7+ (17. Qe3 Qc7 $19) 17... Kxf7 18. Ng5+ Kxe7 19. O-O Bxd1 20. Rxd1 Qb5
$19) 16... Rfe8+ 17. Kf1 Be6 $3 (17... Nb5 $2 18. Bxf7+ $1 Kxf7 (18... Kh8 19.
Bxb6 Nxa3 20. Bxe8 $16) 19. Qb3+ Be6 20. Ng5+ $18) 18. Bxb6 (18. Bxe6 Qb5+ 19.
Kg1 Ne2+ 20. Kf1 Ng3+ 21. Kg1 Qf1+ $1 22. Rxf1 Ne2#) (18. Qxc3 Qxc5 $1 19. dxc5
Bxc3 20. Bxe6 Rxe6 $19) (18. Bd3 Nb5 $17) 18... Bxc4+ 19. Kg1 Ne2+ 20. Kf1
Nxd4+ 21. Kg1 (21. Rd3 axb6 22. Qc3 Nxf3 $19) 21... Ne2+ 22. Kf1 Nc3+ 23. Kg1
axb6 24. Qb4 Ra4 25. Qxb6 Nxd1 $19 26. h3 Rxa2 27. Kh2 Nxf2 28. Re1 Rxe1 29.
Qd8+ Bf8 30. Nxe1 Bd5 31. Nf3 Ne4 32. Qb8 b5 33. h4 h5 34. Ne5 Kg7 35. Kg1 Bc5+
36. Kf1 Ng3+ 37. Ke1 Bb4+ (37... Bb3 $5) 38. Kd1 Bb3+ 39. Kc1 Ne2+ 40. Kb1 Nc3+
41. Kc1 Rc2# {mate} 0-1


The original Byrne - Fischer score-sheet in Bobby's handwriting

When first published in the Soviet Union this game was accompanied by derision of the profuse publicity that it had brought the thirteen-year-old. Fischer said, ’They showed the game and they said “ He’s a very fine, talented young player but all this publicity that he’s getting is sure to damage to his character.” And then, sure enough, from then on, they started attacking my character. They had never even met me or knew anything about me. And this kind of attitude really turned me off.’

Thus began Fischer’s antipathy towards the Soviet Chess hierarchy and its methods, a feeling that was later to grow into a combination of contempt and hatred.


This article has been constructed from IM David Levy's book on How Fischer plays Chess.

Pictures from the ChessBase article published in 2006.


About the Author

Born in the city of Kolkata in 2001, Hiran Banerjee was introduced to the game of chess by his grandfather at the age of 8. His interest in chess kept increasing with age and currently he has an Elo of 1450. He aims to become a grandmaster. Besides playing, Hiran is fond of writing articles which keeps his updated with the chess world. He maintains his own blog.

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