Fanaticism And Hard Work
The Legendary Serbian GM Borislav Ivkov Shares His Memories Of Bobby Fischer
Elite Grandmaster and the first ever World Junior Chess Champion (1951), living legend Borislav Ivkov (85) played Bobby Fischer a total of ten times at classical time controls. Fischer won four games, Ivkov two, and the rest were drawn. In the early days of their rivalry “Bora” actually led 2-0 with three draws, but in 1966 Bobby won both their games at the double-round Piatigorsky Cup in Los Angeles. Yet only a year before, in the Capablanca Memorial, Ivkov had been feted in the streets of Havana as the “Hero of Cuba” – precisely because he had defeated Fischer!
By Dusan Krunic, American Chess Magazine
Please describe the first time you ever met with Fischer?
I first got to know Bobby in 1958 when he played at the Interzonal tournament in Portoroz and qualified for the Candidates tournament at the age of fifteen. I remember him as a lanky boy with an infinite love of chess, although I had formed no particular opinions about him at that time. Our first over-the-board encounter came at Mar del Plata in 1959, where he was accompanied by his mother Regina, who was actually born in Switzerland and graduated from Medical University in Moscow.
What do you remember about that first game that you played against him?
Well, we played in the last round, when Najdorf and Pachman were in the lead, half a point ahead of the two of us, and also paired against each other. Of course, they made a quick draw, whereas we played with “swords drawn”! Our game was also drawn – in the final position Bobby was a piece up but I had a dangerous passed pawn… About ten days later, we played each other again in Santiago de Chile. I won that game with the black pieces, but Regina was no longer escorting Bobby as he had got angry with her for some reason.
Fischer’s results in the period 1968-1972 show a clear superiority over his closest rivals. What do you think made him so dominant in those days – was it due to purely chess factors or those of a psychological nature, or a combination of both of these?
Already in 1961, he was a very strong player. The level of his play in Bled that year was extremely high, he beat the Soviet players 3½–½ and was literally crushing everyone in those years. He was distinguished by his fanaticism but also hard work, which I only realized later. Not only did he analyze games played by his principal rivals, but he also delved deep into the past. However I might add that during the period leading up to Fischer's conquest of the world title, the best Russian players were getting old and Boris Spassky had become exhausted by playing many tough matches in the years before Reykjavik.
From your recollections, which of his rivals did Bobby respect most?
He didn’t point to anyone in particular, but I learned from some Russian players that he had a special appreciation for Boleslavsky! Also for old masters like Lasker, Steinitz…
What would you suggest as being Fischer’s greatest contribution to chess, purely from the aspect of the game itself?
His contributions were enormous. For example, chess became headline sports news, money prizes skyrocketed, and hundreds of thousands of dollars went into world championship matches. Before Fischer, for example, Botvinnik and Smyslov played for a “dime”, as they say today, or, if I’m allowed to make a little joke, for Russian watches like “Zenit” or “Laika”. (See photos on page 54)
If Tarrasch is said to be “Praeceptor Germaniae” (the teacher of Germany), can we say that Fischer was “the Teacher of America”, of course purely in chess terms?
Well, Tarrasch perhaps might be called that, but Bobby… I don’t think so. No one could have ever learned anything at the time from Bobby… or it was just that we were not able to understand him properly.
Back in his day, Fischer talked about the “death” of classical chess. Did you agree or disagree with this viewpoint at that time? What is your present opinion on this?
I never heard Fischer ever say any such thing! True, he did advocate “Fischer chess” (Fischerandom –Ed.), but I might let it be known that it wasn’t Bobby who invented this variation of chess. Twenty years before Fischer first mentioned it, Bisguier and Benko had played a match under similar rules to Fischerandom – and Bisguier had won by 3½:½!
In 1992 a famous “World Championship re-match” took place in Sveti Stefan and Belgrade, with Fischer once again facing Spassky across the board. At that time was it the same Bobby Fischer you had known previously? What were the major changes you noticed in Bobby?
No way! The Bobby Fischer who arrived in Yugoslavia was not even a pale shadow of his former self, who I used to know pretty well back in 1972. In that re-match with Spassky, Fischer’s only brilliant play could be seen in game 1, whereas all the other games he played at the level of a solid grandmaster, but nothing more than that.
Can you please describe an experience you personally witnessed and which can be said to be characteristic of the Bobby Fischer you will always remember?
That Havana tournament in 1965 always comes to mind. With three rounds to go I was in the clear lead with an “almost guaranteed” first place. I was far ahead of the chasing pack when I knocked myself out in my game against Garcia, blundering into a self-mate in one move. Then, in the last round I lost to Robatsch, who had previously always been my “regular customer”. Eventually Smyslov overtook me on the leader board, and other players too caught up with me. But it’s not only Garcia who remained in my memory. The U.S. authorities refused to give Fischer a travel permit to come to Cuba, so he had to play by telex from New York. The extra time required for transmitting moves meant he had to play each game for something like eight hours, while the rest of us in Havana played only for about five hours. So we might say he gave us three-hour time odds every day. On the other hand, I did win my game against him, thereby becoming, believe it or not – the hero of Cuba!
Which anecdote about Bobby do you fondly remember?
These are not anecdotes, but rather examples of tabloid journalism and even pure fiction, like his alleged statement: “There isn't a woman player in the world I can't give knight-odds to and still beat.” But Bobby never said that...
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