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Retreat To The First Rank ... And Win! Print E-mail
By ICCM Bart Gibbons   
December 1, 2011
The following is bonus material from an article appearing in the December issue of Chess Life, available now to USCF Members here.

The position below is from an offhand game between GMs Reuben Fine (White) and Bobby Fischer in 1963, played at the Manhattan Chess Club in New York. Not only is the game of historical interest, but it featured a shocking series of mistakes and missed opportunities. As the theme of this article is retreating to the first rank and winning, we’ll see how the game ended, then we’ll take a look at the drama of the preceding moves.

After 28. Qd8+

FEN-r2Q2k1/pp3rpp/2p2p2/2B5/3R1P2/Pq6/1P4PP/5n1K b - -
Fine has just played 28. Qd8+, perhaps believing he would win in a blaze of glory by a queen sacrifice, anticipating 28. ... Rxd8 29. Rxd8+ Rf8 30. Rxf8 mate.  However, Fischer did not capture Fine’s queen. Instead, he simply retreated his rook from f7 to f8. Black’s two rooks work together perfectly on the first rank, guarding each other, and attacking White’s queen.  As White is a rook down and has no checkmate, he resigned immediately (If 29. Bxf8, then it’s safe for Black to take White’s queen).

Now let’s rewind the game a bit, with Fischer to make his 23rd move. Black has won a pawn, and he could keep a solid advantage by moving his attacked rook with the natural choice ... Rfd8.  Instead, Fischer played 23. ... Rf7? This is a weak move for several reasons. First of all, it takes away the only escape square for the king, creating back-row mate possibilities. Secondly, it does not contest the center like ... 23. Rfd8 would have. Finally, it breaks the communication between Black’s rooks.

After 23. Qg4

FEN-r4rk1/pp4pp/2p2p2/2B5/2n1qPQ1/P7/1P4PP/3R1RK1 b - -
Play continued with 24. Rd4 (A strong forcing move. Black is fortunate that he’s not lost) 24. ... Qe3+ 25. Kh1, and now Fischer went astray with 25. ... Qb3?? Faced with the threat of 26. Rd8+ winning Black’s queen on e3, Black moves his queen away and guards the knight at the same time. Yet this natural move loses by force! Fischer overlooked the diabolical resource 25. ... b6!!. If White would proceed to win the queen with 26. Rd8+, Black could play ... Rxd8 27. Bxe3 Nxe3, forking White’s queen and rook! If then 28. Qe2 Nxf1 29. Qxf1 Rfd7, and Black is winning outright. Therefore White’s best response after 25. ... b6 is 26. Rxc4 bxc5, with a draw as the most likely outcome.

Hold on, we’re not done with the drama yet! It is now White’s turn to miss a surprising winning possibility.
After 25. ... Qb3

 FEN- r5k1/pp3rpp/2p2p2/2B5/2nR1PQ1/Pq6/1P4PP/5R1K w - - 0 1

GM Fine, who was one of the top players in the world in the 1930s and 1940s, continued with 26. Qe6??, allowing Black to simplify with ... Nd2.

Show Solution

It’s fascinating to me that both players did not realize the strength of this retreat, which illustrates the challenges even strong players face in considering and evaluating moves that retreat to the first rank. It would have been interesting if Dr. Fine himself conducted such a study, as he was a psychologist. One of his books was titled The Psychology of the Chess Player.

From the diagram, the game concluded with 26. Qe6 Nd2 27. Qd6 Nxf1 28. Qd8+ Rf8, White resigned.

Fine and Fischer never played in a tournament, but they did play other casual games, one of which is included in Fischer’s book My 60 Memorable Games (#44). The introductory notes to that game (by GM Larry Evans), tell us that Fine nearly held his own with Fischer in the seven or eight offhand games they played at Dr. Fine’s New York home. While the score of some of those games, I sure wish we had them all.

Login as a member to read the December issue of Chess Life Magazine online, including a piece by IM Irina Krush on the K vs. Q match at the Saint Louis Chess Club.