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The American opened with the white pieces in game 10, playing his trademark, P-K4. He is the world's strongest player with white in the Ruy Lopez, and Spassky is one of the best defenders with black against it. The result was a game that kept onlookers immobilized with its tension and depth. It was as exciting a chess game as one was ever likely to see, yet it was not thrilling in the sense of daring and dynamic movement. Both sides were in cramped and congested positions, with little action promised. But with every move both sides evoked some visible hazard.
It was characteristic of Spassky's play throughout the match that whenever Fischer introduced some innovation, even a relatively tame or unthreatening one, Spassky reacted with extreme caution. In game 10, for the first time in the match, Fischer deliberated longer than Spassky over the opening moves. At move 10 Spassky was ahead of Fischer on time, but six moves later the situation was reversed. At Fischer's 16th move, B-N2, Spassky seemed suddenly paralyzed, spending 50 minutes on his next two moves. Why did the champion seem so indecisive? Larsen said his preparation for the match was inadequate, a singular observation considering that Spassky spent eight months training with a team of experts for anything Fischer might throw at him. No. said Yugoslav Grand Master Svetozar Gligoric, Spassky was prepared, but in a limited area. Fischer played openings that Spassky and his team could not have dreamed he would play. Fischer has a wide knowledge of openings, a broader spectrum than Spassky. He simply had not played them frequently before and had become identified, above everything else, as a king's pawn player. Spassky's preparation was profound, but it was largely wasted. He had prepared for a different Fischer than the one he met.
When the 10th game was adjourned after 40 moves Spassky had a rook, a bishop and four pawns, including two passed pawns on the queen's side. Fischer had three-king-side pawns and two rooks. "Anybody who does not see that Spassky has a lost game," said Grand Master Al Horowitz with a meaningful glance, "does not know anything about chess." When play was resumed the next day Spassky wriggled through another 16 moves before resigning—his pawns decimated, his rook threatened, his king exposed. Fischer had seemed to put himself out of reach.
But Sunday's 11th game gave the Russian flickering life. Fischer, with the black pieces, repeated a thrust he had tried successfully in game 7—snatching a poisoned pawn with his queen early in the game. This time Spassky was prepared, and on move 25 he pounced, capturing Fischer's queen and winning the game. The challenger resigned on move 31, the earliest Fischer surrender in two years of tournament play.
Did the victory imply a reversal? To the contrary, said U.S. Grand Master Larry Evans. "With the three-point lead Fischer could have chosen a conservative, closed game. Instead, he played ultra-aggressively. The game is great for Spassky's self-respect. But in the match as a whole Fischer's advantage is still overwhelming."
A part of Fischer's strength was certainly surprise. Not that the Russians underestimated him; on the contrary, they overestimated the depth and complexity of his play and frequently overreacted to his innovations, even when they were of no particular consequence. But every game was a shock. The openings were those Fischer did not regularly play, and he adjusted himself quickly to the innovations that Spassky and his team had prepared. Fischer never gave Spassky a second chance. The Russian was shattered by every mistake, while Fischer seemed to absorb most variations Spassky threw at him with an instant, pragmatic adjustment on the board.
Another part of Fischer's strength is that he habitually thinks of his Russian opponents as part of a group, not as individuals. In the past 14 years he has played 105 tournament and match games with the top-ranking Russians, winning 37, losing 21 and drawing 47. But 15 of the lost games were in two Candidates Tournaments at Bled in 1959, when he was 16, and at Curacao in 1962, when he was 19. In Curacao he became convinced that the five Russian entries (of eight in the tournament) were conspiring, drawing their games with one another and concentrating their attacks on players from the rest of the world.
In the last five years he has played 45 games with the best of Russia's great players, and has won 24, drawn 16 and lost only five. "The top Russian players are very nearly equal in ability." he said just before the Spassky match. "They are very solid, and generally well-informed. They're all of them always in practice. They're well honed. But they're not great talents. They're not particularly original, though the Russian style in general is pretty interesting. They play basically straight professional chess and are interested chiefly in their relative standings with each other. If they can win a match by drawing 10 games in a row and then winning one, that is great chess in their book.
"You play chess in Russia because it is an intellectual thing, and the Russian chess players have to be better than those from the rest of the world. Or the Russian chess books and magazines have to pretend that they are to prove the superiority of their system. That's the thing about the Russian players. They don't always love the game. It's work, a job to them. It's like a nine-to-five job. They have to be prodded. The system takes away, something."
When Bobby Fischer was six years old someone told him that to be a successful chess player he would have to work within such a system. Fischer declined. "I don't know what that would have done to me," he says. "I don't think the lack of such training held me back. See, I love the game."