Classic Game – Fischer – Spassky WCh 1972 – Game 5 – Nimzo-Indian

The wall holds!

This is another decisive game from the Fischer - Spassky 1972 match.

In game 5, Fischer opens as black against 1. d4 with the Nimzo Indian, exchanging off his dark squared bishop to eliminate white's powerful knight on c3.

Whilst this gives white the two bishops, he is completely unable to utilise them once the pawn wall is up!

Fischer's wall stopped Spassky's Bishops in their tracks!

The Game

[Event "World Championship 28th - Game 5"] [Site "Reykjavik"] [Date "1972.07.20"] [Round "5"] [White "Spassky, Boris V"] [Black "Fischer, Robert James"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E41"] [WhiteElo "2660"] [BlackElo "2785"] [PlyCount "54"] [EventDate "1972.07.11"] [EventType "match"] [EventRounds "21"] [EventCountry "ISL"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 {The Nimzo-Indian. Black undermines white's control of the centre. The Knight on c3 covers the vital squares, e4 and d5 - this pin ensures white doesn't get a free hand in developing a strong pawn centre - some concession will be made.} 4. Nf3 c5 {Another strike at the centre - this adds a strong imbalance and ensures black will either have some central control or white will block his own pieces in} 5. e3 Nc6 {Continuing to put pressure on d4} 6. Bd3 Bxc3+ {A voluntary exchange but it's sound, although not necessary yet. Perhaps the idea of 7. Bd2 meant Fischer wasn't keen on a future a3 line where any c3 exchange would do nothing to hurt the white pawn structure} 7. bxc3 d6 (7...cxd4 8. cxd4 {favours white in a big way. Fischer intends to lock the centre down to ensure white's bishops don't get into the game.}) 8. e4 e5!! {this is the move that does it. White is stuck between a rock and a hard place} 9. d5 (9. dxe5? dxe5! {and that white bishop looks ridiculous, the centre is gone and black has all the play - for example Be6, Na5 ideas to hit c4 and a future knight on f4. White's attack is very hard to co-ordinate}) (9. dxc5 dxc5 {is the same position}) Ne7 10. Nh4 h6 {a really interesting move - this weakens g6 which is ok, since e4 blocks Bd3 and prevents Bg5} 11. f4 {Spassky is obviously keen to open the position so his bishops can get active} Ng6! {stunner. Voluntarily allowing his pawn structure to be broken up but again, white cannot exploit it!} 12. Nxg6 fxg6 13. fxe5 dxe5 14. Be3 b6 {it's strange how the bishops look like they should cause damage but those central pawns are like a drain blockage} 15. O-O O-O 16. a4 a5 17. Rb1 Bd7 18. Rb2 Rb8 19. Rbf2 Qe7 20. Bc2 g5 {a nice finesse, preventing any kingside expansion} 21. Bd2 Qe8 22. Be1 Qg6 23. Qd3 Nh5 {after a lot of careful movement, black is now ready to exchange the heavy artillery} 24. Rxf8+ Rxf8 25. Rxf8+ Kxf8 26. Bd1 Nf4 {a lovely square to end up on} 27. Qc2 Bxa4 {A marvellous tactic to end with - Spassky resigned here - the threat?} 28.Qxa4 {and white loses as the g2 pawn cannot be defended without giving up mate on e1}(28. Qb1 Bxd1 29. Qxd1 Qxe4 {is also a bloodbath}) Qxe4 0-1

Key Lessons from the Game?

We would like to focus on three particular ideas from this game which are quite instructive:
  1. Long-term decisions
  2. Bishops against knights
  3. Opening the position at the right time

Long term decisions

Often in chess, some moves will dramatically alter the flavour of the game, particularly where they create an obvious imbalance.

Bishops and knights are worth more or less the same but exchanging off a bishop for a knight meant black had less control of the dark squares and needed a closed position.

Notice how Fischer never allowed the centre to be opened up and how the c1-Bishop never got into the game. His knights however were very powerful.

Bishop v Knight

After Bxc3, white was left lumbered with doubled c pawns and an unhappy c1 bishop. Key moves which maintained an advantage were:
  • After 8...e5, most of all white's pawn structure would either be completely shattered after 9. dxe5 or 9. dxc5 or he would be faced with an ugly blockage.
  • Black maintained optimal control and only exchanged after 23...Nh5, when all his pieces were optimised behind the Iron Curtain
  • 26...Nf4 getting the knight to hit a lot of weak defensive squares. Note how 20...g5 also gives the knight Ng6 in case it's ever pushed back

Opening the position at the right time

Another game where Fischer's handling of the closed position was superb. As a result he transformed his pieces behind the line to their best squares before allowing the exchanges on f8.
  • Bishop on d7 hitting a4
  • Rooks on b8 and f8 supporting key files and one another
  • Queen on g6, eyeing up e4 and able to support future attacks on h3 and re-route to e8 when needed to add extra pressure to a4
This put the score at 2.5 - 2.5

Other Games from the 1972 World Championships

Please see Game 6 , if you've enjoyed this article.