Donald Byrne v Bobby Fischer, 1956
and fall. It was dubbed "The Game of the Century" by Hans Kmoch, the arbiter for the game,
in an article in "Chess Review". [I'm not clear whether the article was penned by Kmoch or his
comments were only mentioned in the article.]
The game is the seventh round for Bobby Fischer in the Rosenwald Memorial Invitational
Tournament (October 1956), which was sponsored by and played at the Marshall Chess Club,
New York. Fischer was 13 at the time and had received the invitation to play as a result of
winning the US Junior Championship three months earlier. The other eleven players were
considered some of the finest and highest rated players in the United States. Donald Byrne
was, at the time, the former US Open Champion (1953), and is described by Brady as a
fiercely aggressive player whose games appeared in numerous books and articles. Unlike Paul
Morphy who is said to have read very few chess books, Bobby Fischer had a voracious
appetite for chess books and chess magazines from age 7. Bobby had studied Bryne's past
games and was familiar with his style and strategies. Brady writes, "...Bobby decided to use
an atypical approach- one unusual for Byrne to face and for Bobby to try". He played the
A noncommittal move. From here, the game can develop into a number of different openings.
1. ... Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7
Fischer has opted for a defense based on "hypermodern" principles: he's inviting Byrne to
establish a classical pawn stronghold in the center, which Fischer hopes to undermine and
transform into a target. Fischer has fianchettoed his bishop, so it can attack the a1-h8
diagonal including its center squares.
4. d4 O-O
Fischer castles, concentrating on protecting his king immediately.
5. Bf4 d5
This introduces the Grünfeld Defence, an opening usually brought about with the opening
moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5.
The so-called Russian System, putting pressure on Fischer's central d5 pawn.
Fischer relinquishes his centre, but draws Byrne's queen to a square where it is a little exposed
and can be attacked.
7. Qxc4 c6 8. e4 Nbd7 9. Rd1 Nb6 10. Qc5 Bg4
At this point, Byrne's pieces are more developed, and he controls the center squares.
However, Fischer's king is well-protected, while Byrne's king is not.
Here Byrne makes a mistake - he moves the same piece twice, losing time, instead of
developing in some way. Both [Burgess, Nunn and Emms] and [Wade and O'Connell] suggest
11. Be2; this would protect the King and enable a later kingside castle. For example, the game
Flear-Morris, Dublin 1991, continued 11. Be2 Nfd7 12. Qa3 Bxf3 13. Bxf3 e5 14. dxe5 Qe8 15.
Be2 Nxe5 16. O-O and white is better.
11. ... Na4!!
Here Fischer cleverly offers up his Knight, but if Byrne takes it with Nxa4 Fischer will play
Nxe4, and Byrne then suddenly has some terrible choices:
13. Qxe7 Qa5+ 14. b4 Qxa4 15. Qxe4 Rfe8 16. Be7 Bxf3 17. gxf3 Bf8 produces a terrible pin.
13. Bxe7 Nxc5 14. Bxd8 Nxa4 15. Bg5 Bxf3 16. gxf3 Nxb2 gives Fischer an extra pawn and ruins
Byrne's pawn structure.
13. Qc1 Qa5+ Nc3 Bxf3 15.gxf3 Nxg5 gives Fischer back his piece and a better position.
[Brady writes, "The tournament referee described the electricity that
Fischer's audacious choice created: 'A murmur went through the tournament room after this
move, and the kibtzers thronged to Fischer's table as fish to a hole in the ice.'"]
12. Qa3 Nxc3 13. bxc3 Nxe4!
Fischer offers to Byrne material, in exchange for a much better position that is especially
dangerous to white: an open e-file, with white's king poorly protected.
14. Bxe7 Qb6
Byrne wisely decides to decline the offered material.
15. Bc4 Nxc3! 16. Bc5 Rfe8+ [Brady writes that at this point the clock is a factor. "Bobby had
only twenty minutes remaining on his clock to make the required forty moves."]
And then comes 17...Be6!! This is a very clever move by Fischer; the move that made this
game famous. Instead of trying to protect his queen, Fischer viciously counter-attacks using
his bishop and sacrifices his queen. [Brady writes, "A whisper of spectators could be heard:
'Impossible! Byrne is losing to a 13 year-old nobody!'"]
Byrne takes Fischer's offered queen, which leads to a massive loss of material, but other
moves are no better. For example, 18.Bxe6 leads to a forced smothered mate with 18...Qb5+
19.Kg1 Ne2+ 20.Kf1 Ng3+ 21.Kg1 Qf1+ 22.Rxf1 Ne2#. [Back to the clock- Brady describes the
moment as breath taking. The crowd around the Byrne-Fischer table became grew. "Bobby,
now so focused that he could hardly hear the growing murmur from the crowd, made his next
moves percussively, shooting them out like poison darts, hardly waiting for Byrne's
18. ... Bxc4+
Fischer now begins a series of discovered checks, picking up material.
19. Kg1 Ne2+ 20. Kf1 Nxd4+ 21. Kg1 Ne2+ 22. Kf1 Nc3+ 23. Kg1 axb6
Fischer's 23...axb6 takes time out to capture a piece, but it doesn't waste time because it
also threatens Byrne's queen. Byrne's queen cannot take the knight on c3, because it's
protected by Fischer's bishop on g7.
24. Qb4 Ra4
Fischer uses his pieces together nicely in concert; the knight on c3 protects the rook on a4,
which in turn protects the bishop on c4. This forces Byrne's queen away.
Byrne's queen picks up a pawn, but it's now poorly placed.
25. ... Nxd1
Fischer has taken a rook, 2 bishops, and a pawn as compensation for his queen; in short,
Fischer has gained significantly more material than he's lost. In addition, Byrne's remaining rook
is stuck on h1 and it will take precious time to free it, giving Fischer opportunity to set up
another offensive. White has the only remaining queen, but this will not be enough. Most
players would resign at this point, but Byrne plays on until mate.
26. h3 Rxa2 27. Kh2 Nxf2 28. Re1 Rxe1 29. Qd8+ Bf8 30. Nxe1 Bd5 31. Nf3 Ne4 32. Qb8 b5 33.
h4 h5 34. Ne5 Kg7. Fischer breaks the pin, allowing the bishop to attack as well.
35. Kg1 Bc5+
Now Fischer "peels away" the white king from his last defender, and begins a series of checks
that culminate in checkmate. This series of moves is interesting in the way Fischer shows how
to use various pieces together to force a checkmate.
36. Kf1 Ng3+
The knight enters the fray to force Byrne's king to the queenside.
37. Ke1 Bb4+ 38. Kd1 Bb3+ 39. Kc1 Ne2+ 40. Kb1 Nc3+ 41. Kc1 Rc2# 0-1 [Brady writes that
after five hours of play, "...Bobby lifted his rook with his trembling right hand, quietly lowered
the piece to the board and said, 'Mate'." They shook hands and a "few people applauded to
the annoyance of players whose games were still in progress...]
For background info:
Frank Brady, ENDGAME: Bobby fischer Remarkable Rise and Fall- from America's Brightest
Prodigy to the Edge of Madness, Crown Publishers, Random House, Inc, New York, 2011.
For game annotation
To play through the game and view Kibitzer's Corner see
moves that flashed from a clear sky
"The winner was at the time thirteen. The loser was an ex-champion of the U.S.
"The game is a chess comet, or, perhaps more accurately, the bursting into view of a major star.
"The winner manifests a characteristic of young Chess virtuosi, that he is quick to exploit an opponent's loss of tempo.
The opponent, who now knows better, has, nevertheless, once again lost to this prodigy."
Of Fisher's 11...N-a4:
"A phenomenon, like its maker, and flashing, if not from a clear sky, certainly not from any obvious storm-centre.
The later play in this game shows that it was more than a promising gamble; was a well-thought-out overture to a fine combative line."
"A game which illustrates beautifully the meaning of the word 'combination'.
Every piece of Fischer's co-operated for 30 moves against a disorganized defense."
moves that flashed from a clear sky