You versus Bobby Fischer

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International Master Igor Khmelnitsky participated in three U.S. Chess Championships. An actuary by profession, Khmelnitsky is also a chess player, coach, and author. In this article, I highlight one of his books, Chess Exam – Matches against Chess Legends: You vs. Bobby Fischer.

Igor Khmelnitsky and US Chess Board Member Kevin Pryor (August 2021)
Igor Khmelnitsky (at left) and US Chess Board member Kevin Pryor
You vs Bobby Fisher

In August of 2021, International Master Igor Khmelnitsky won the 4th Annual John T. Irwin National Tournament of Senior State Champions, ahead of Grandmasters John Fedorowicz and Ben Finegold. As Irwin champion, Khmelnitsky earns a spot in the 2022 U.S. Senior Chess Championship. Most likely, that 2022 tournament will have a $50,000 prize fund, as did the 2021 event.

The webpage for Khmelnitsky’s book Chess Exam – Matches against Chess Legends: You vs. Bobby Fischer has a sample game online, as a PDF. Before looking at the multiple-choice answers to the sample, decide what move you would play as White.

I first calculated 20. Qxd5. If that move works, then White is winning. However, it does not work. White would lose material after 20…Qxe3+. So, I tried another forcing move, 20. Bg5, and rejected it as losing a piece. I thought to myself, “I guess I had better move my queen.” I picked 20. Qf2, as then my queen and my bishop are lined up on Black’s a7-pawn.

Khmelnitsky also asks for an evaluation of each position, giving choices such as “Nearly Equal” or “Black is Better,” etc. For this position, I picked “Nearly Equal.” Even though my opponent is Grandmaster Bobby Fischer, and I am a much weaker player than Fischer, I thought that White has well-positioned pieces and no pawn structure problems. The sample game is Max Blau versus Bobby Fischer from 1959, before Fischer was World Chess Champion. As the reader, I am pretending that I am Max Blau.

When reading through this game and the other ones in Chess Exam – Matches against Chess Legends: You vs. Bobby Fischer, I picked my evaluation and chose my move BEFORE looking at the four move choices. For many games, the multiple-choice moves echoed my own thoughts. The author knows how players think! Here are his four choices for Blau versus Fischer:

  • 20. Qe2
  • 20. Qf2
  • 20. Qxd5
  • 20. Bg5

I already rejected the last two choices. Now I had to decide if 20. Qe2, a move I had not considered, was better than my choice, 20. Qf2. Here I got a bit lazy and stuck with 20. Qf2 without calculating why it might be better. It turns out that 20. Qf2 is right, because 20. Qe2 is worse for a specific reason, 20…Re8! That move pins the bishop to the queen. Black will pile up on the e-file and win the pinned bishop.

Blau played 20. Qf2 and drew Fischer three moves later, a draw I vicariously enjoyed thanks to Khmelnitsky’s book. In my opinion, the sample game (Blau versus Fischer) is easier than the other games in the book. I got the move right in the sample game but often picked the wrong evaluation or a less-than-optimal move in the other games.

You can explore the variations using the interactive moves below:

Khmelnitsky’s book is challenging and entertaining. You don’t need a board and chessmen, just look at the diagram provided for each game. Evaluate the diagrammed position, choose a move, and compare your choice to Khmelnitsky’s four choices. Then read his evaluation of each multiple-choice answer, given with illuminating lines and good advice. Each answer key is conveniently located right after each game.

 Khmelnitsky’s book uses figurine algebraic, but translating to English algebraic his advice for the Blau versus Fischer position above is: “The threat to your queen should be addressed at once!” Agreed! And, as Khmelnitsky wrote, if you can play against Fischer, as in the games in his book, you can play against anyone.

WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on Amazon.com.

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