As noted in a previous column, Yuri Averbakh has published a crisp and interesting biography of his long career as a leader in Soviet chess. For Americans and for the historical obsession with the life of Bobby Fischer, Averbakh’s work supplies some very interesting details about Fischer’s battles against the Russian domination of chess.
Especially interesting is Averbakh’s strategy in attempting to help Tigran Petrosian to fend off Fischer in the candidates’ matches that would determine the challenger to Boris Spassky. Fischer had defeated Petrosian in their short match in the contest between the USSR team and the rest of the world. He had also eliminated Averbakh’s son-in-law Mark Taimanov and the great Danish player Bent Larsen with a perfect score, and Fischer seemed to be invincible.
Petrosian and Fischer faced each other in Buenos Aires. Petrosian’s team, including Averbakh, had received a marked improvement from a Moldavian analyst of a favorite line of Fischer in the Sicilian defense. They made the fateful decision to save it and jolt Fischer later on in the match. We know now that Fischer suffered with a cold during the first part of the match, but Averbakh does not mention it. Fischer won the first game, but Petrosian crushed Fischer in the second with a prepared variation, breaking his streak of 13 straight wins. The spectators were wild with excitement, chanting “Tigran a Tiger!’’
In the third game, Petrosian had a dominant end game position but Fischer received a draw when Petrosian repeated the position three times. Petrosian seemed to protest that he intended a draw, though he seemed to be making up an excuse. The score went to 2.5-2.5. At that point, despite the conviction of some that Petrosian had stopped Fischer and could handle him, Averbakh sensed that Petrosian did not have the temperament to oppose the young Fischer. In the sixth game, Petrosian had the inferior game at adjournment, but his team thought he could create a fortress and draw. Petrosian woke up in the middle of the night to realize that Fischer perhaps had a winning line. He spent the whole night analyzing alone, but became bewildered and could not find an adequate defense. After that, Fischer simply wiped him out with three straight victories. Averbakh concludes that Fischer was the strongest player in the world.