In the Zone

Cyrus Lakdawala

Reviewer: John Donaldson
New In Chess
397 pages

The Dutch company New in Chess was founded in the mid-1980s and since then has published hundreds of books. Most of them are quite good, but if recent offerings are any indication an already high bar has been raised. All three of these new titles are first rate.

San Diego International Master Cyrus Lakdawala is one of the most prolific chess authors on the planet, but he never seems to have trouble finding interesting topics to write about. His latest, In the Zone, an examination of the greatest winning streaks in chess history, sees him at the top of his game as puts the peak performances of Morphy, Steinitz, Pillsbury, Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Fischer, Tal, Kasparov, Caruana and Carlsen under the microscope.

Having just completed a 600-plus page book on Fischer I was curious what new information Lakdawala could have to offer about Bobby’s famous 11-0 sweep in the 1963/64 U.S. Championship, an event covered many times before. What chess player doesn’t remember Fischer’s classics victories over Pal Benko (19.Rf6!) or Robert Byrne (the “quiet move” 21…Qd7 forcing resignation). These were but two of four victories from the tournament that Bobby included in My 60 Memorable Games. Fischer’s seven other wins, the adjourned position against Anthony Saidy possibly excepted, are not so well known.  

We quickly learn from In the Zone, that winning streaks are often helped by a little luck. In Fischer’s case his first-round encounter with Edmar Mednis could have ended the streak before it started. Lakdawala points out Fischer was on the ropes and could easily have lost his second consecutive U.S. Championship game to the Latvian American.

This was not the only game Bobby needed help in winning. Lakdawala starts his examination of the fifth-round game Reshevsky-Fischer in a position where it is hard to imagine White losing.

In the game Addison-Fischer from round 7 Black required no assistance. When I first looked at the initial diagram, I was a bit perplexed. I remembered Fischer had a phase where he answered 1.e4 with 1…e5, but I couldn’t recall him playing the Black side of the Open Ruy. 

He didn’t. This game opened 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 Na5 and after indifferent play in the opening Bobby soon had a super version of the Open Ruy. The terrific knight on e6 and mobilized queenside majority with …c5 are signs that Black is doing very well – normally the knight would be on c6 making this hard to achieve. Meanwhile White is hard-pressed to achieve activate his majority withy f2-f4.

In the Zone is filled with such insightfulness observations. Commenting on the end of Fischer-Bisguier from round 4, Lakdawala writes: “One thing many chess players don’t realize is that not only our understanding of opening theory and strategic theory have advanced. Our feel for tactics is far better than half a century ago. Why” Because we are now a society of chess puzzle junkies, with all sorts of online resources. In those days, the only tactics books around in the USA were Reinfeld’s two 1001 books. So a simple tactic like this one (Fischer’s 33.Rxd3 and 35.Qxd7), which was missed by a GM in 1963, may be easily seen by an average club-level player today.”

In the Zone is the rare book that is both instructive and entertaining and should appeal to a wide audience, primarily players rated from 1800 to 2300.