Bobby Fischer’s Conquest of the World Chess Championship

The Psychology and Tactics of the Title Match

Reuben Fine

Reviewer: Jeremy Silman
David McKay
294 pages

This is without doubt one of the worst chess books ever written. Allow me to take time out to explain what I mean by the “worst”.” Many chess authors” crank out trash that is as meaningless as it is useless. They do this because:

* They are too weak to understand the topics they are writing about.

* They are having trouble paying their bills and, as a result, rush the job so they can get a quick check.

Reuben Fine, a World Championship contender and the author of some excellent books in the past, has no excuse for such a dog. Offering an analysis of all the games from the Spassky – Fischer match, he also presents a psychological insight into the minds of both protagonists. He fails badly in each of these objectives.

THE ANALYSIS: Here we have a record that will probably never be broken. Fine makes more analytical mistakes and false statements than any other author of any strength! Talking down to the players (and the reader), Fine combines an outmoded knowledge of the openings with hasty judgments to create some of the most memorable bits of blither to ever leave the pen of a once great player. I will just give two typical examples, but some sort of embarrassing error can be found in virtually every game!

On page 130 (game four), Dr. Fine makes an incredible comment after the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bc4 e6. Here he says, “More logical here is the fianchetto, but after 6…g6 7.Be3 Bg7 8.f3 0-0 9.Qd2 the game takes very sharp turns, which Spassky does not seem to relish.”

What Spassky did not relish was the known refutation of 6…g6, namely 7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.e5 which leads to a clear advantage for White in all lines. This has been common knowledge since the early 60s, but Fine was apparently making use of opening wisdom circa 1940.

An even funnier glitch can be found on page 245 (game seventeen). Here I was stunned to see Fine adorn Black’s first move (1.e4 d6) with a dubious mark! I suspect Yasser Seirawan might disagree.

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL INSIGHT: This section (and the whole book) is marred by a consistent problem: Dr. Fine continually belittles the accomplishments of both Fischer and Spassky by comparing them with his own results which, in his mind, are always equal or superior to the best things that Fischer and Spassky have ever done!

One example will do: After mentioning Fischer’s great feat of winning the 1963-64 U.S. Closed Championship with a perfect 11-0, Fine says, “In 1940 at Dallas, and in 1941 at St. Louis, I won every game in the U.S. Open, while in 1939 in the North American Championship in New York I scored 10.5 out of 11, qualitatively perhaps the equal of Fischer’s feat.”

This type of comment (and Fine’s insistence that he was co-champion of the World with Keres after Alekhine’s death) gives us a clear psychological insight into Dr. Fine. It paints a portrait of a man consumed with jealousy over Fischer’s success. His constant efforts to cover up his insecurities with non-stop references to his own results (he even mentions that he beat Fischer at blitz when Bobby was just a small child) is an unfortunate footnote in the chess career of a true legend of the game.

Now, after having ripped Fine’s work apart, I’m forced to disclose a dirty little secret: I love this book! His constant errors and ego-mania add so much to the humor (a rare quality in a chess book) that this book is one of the best chess reads that money can buy (I am reminded of Plan Nine From Outer Space, a movie that was so poorly done that it crossed over the line of “terrible” and became a funny classic).

If you see this book in a used bookstore, grab it and prepare for a lot of fun!