Bobby Fischer at Thirteen: The Audacity of Genius and Youth

In 1956, at thirteen years of age, Bobby Fischer played what’s popularly considered one of the greatest games of chess ever recorded. I first came across this game when I was learning about AI engines that play high-level chess. Chess enthusiasts at all levels often study classic games to improve their own play, and some games (like this one) possess lessons that extend beyond chess into all aspects of life.

My best description of Fischer’s approach to this game is: improvisation grounded in strong fundamentals. What made the game so famous and shocking at first glance is Fischer’s sacrifice of the queen on move 17. He then wages destruction on the board in a complex and flawless display of coordination of multiple pieces, taking out piece after piece until nothing is left of Byrne’s pieces but his queen. The tragic irony is inescapable.

This game is an inspiring example of the idea that sacrificing a loss (even a big one) should not be feared as long as it is part of fundamentally sound and well-orchestrated plan. I don’t think most people would be able to give up their queen like that, no matter how confident they were in seeing the dominant strategy in the moves ahead. We are scared of the possibility, even if it is remote, that we will fail. Choosing the safer path is somehow more comforting for most of us. This is why seeing a chess game like this one moves so many people. It’s a game where a mix of genius and fearlessness leads to beautiful victory.

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