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Chess – The Musical – is back!

Among his many skills and interests, Sir Tim Rice is a keen chessplayer. After his early successes as a lyricist teaming up with Andrew Lloyd Webber for musicals like Evita, he drew up plans for an old idea of his in which the Cold War was acted out over a chessboard, much as the Fischer-Spassky match of 1972 had been. In 1982 he approached his regular tunesmith partner with the idea, but by then Lloyd Webber was unable to help, being fully committed with his own project, Cats. It was suggested to him that as Abba was at that moment in the act of breaking up, the two Bs in that particular partnership, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, might be looking for fresh opportunities. They jumped at the chance, and Chess -The Musical was born.

Notoriously difficult to stage, especially trying to cater for different audiences as it toured the world, but the songs quickly became all-time classics. Its latest incarnation opened recently at the London Coliseum to excellent reviews.

While the sociopathic Fischer-based  character was largely retained, Spassky was just too nice a gentleman to be a sparky on-stage persona, and it was thought to be loosely based on someone like Victor Korchnoi.

In this latest production, this character is played by Michael Ball, former pupil at Plymouth College.

Here’s a game from that epic 1972 encounter. Fischer had virtually given his opponent a 2 point start, but Spassky hadn’t won any of the next 8 games and was 6½– 3½ down. Here is Game 11, in which the Russian knows he has to come up with something special.

White: B. V. Spassky. Black R. J. Fischer Sicilian Defence [B97]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd2 Qxb2 Fischer went for the Poisoned Pawn variation for a second time in the match, but Spassky had done some homework on it.  9.Nb3 Qa3 10.Bxf6 gxf6 This was one “improvement”, as it breaks up Black’s kingside pawns and makes it difficult for him to castle there. 11.Be2 h5 Denying White’s bishop that square.  12.0–0 Nc6 13.Kh1 Avoiding a possible check later. 13…Bd7 14.Nb1! A remarkable idea, intended to keep Black’s queen trapped in a cage of her own making. 14…Qb4 If 14…Qb2 15.a3 followed by Nc3 & Ra2 trapping the queen. 15.Qe3 Denying b6 as an escape route. 15…d5 16.exd5 Ne7 17.c4 Nf5 18.Qd3 h4? 19.Bg4! Nd6? 20.N1d2 f5 21.a3 Qb6 22.c5 Qb5? 23.Qc3! Now White has threats to rook & knight while a4 wins the queen. There’s no way out., but Fischer plays on anyway 23…fxg4 24.a4 h3 25.axb5 hxg2+ 26.Kxg2 Rh3 27.Qf6 Nf5 28.c6 Bc8 29.dxe6 fxe6 30.Rfe1 Be7 31.Rxe6 Rh8 1-0. Spassky’s best game so far played, but it was not enough in the long run.

The answer to last week’s position was 1.Qxf5+ KxQ 2. Bd3 mate, as the king has nowhere to go.

Here is your chance to beat Spassky. He is all set to mate with Qxa3#, but it’s not his move. Is there anything you, as, White, can do about it?

White to play against Spassky

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