Who is the greatest chess player of all time? Some say Garry Kasparov, many say Magnus Carlsen, but a lot of people would strongly argue that Bobby Fischer tops the list. The game we are about to explore is a driving force behind this sentiment many chess enthusiasts share.
While The Immortal Game highlights the brilliance of Adolf Anderssen, who had the White pieces in that unforgettable game, the chess Game of the Century featured a 13-year old Bobby Fischer put on an astonishing performance involving beautiful sacrifices with the Black pieces!
Game of the Century: Fischer vs. Byrne
In the books of chess history, few games have left as indelible a mark as the legendary “Game of the Century” played between a young Bobby Fischer and Donald Byrne in 1956. This iconic encounter is celebrated for its extraordinary brilliance, even by Fischer’s precocious standards.
In this article, we will delve into the details of this historic game, explaining the key moves as well as the enduring legacy of the Game of the Century.
The Rising Star: Bobby Fischer
At the time of this game, Bobby Fischer was just 13 years old but already displaying prodigious talent and an insatiable thirst for chess knowledge. Born in 1943 in Chicago, Fischer had already earned a reputation as one of America’s most promising chess players. His deep analytical skills and unwavering dedication to the game set him apart from his peers.
The Experienced Adversary: Donald Byrne
Donald Byrne was an American professor, an International Master, and an accomplished chess player. He was definitely no stranger to the competitive chess arena.
A fixture in the New York chess scene, Byrne was well-respected for his strategic acumen and depth of understanding. He was a member of the powerful Byrne family of chess players, known for their contributions to American chess.
The Iconic Game Unfolds
The Game of the Century was played during the 1956 Rosenwald Trophy tournament in New York City, and it became an instant sensation in the chess world. Fasten your seat belt, sit back, and enjoy the ride.
Byrne starts the game with Nf3, which is a flexible move that does not commit any pawns in the center. Fischer responds with Nf6, equalizing the flexibility. After 10 moves, the position was as follows:
We can see that White is yet to develop the light-squared bishop, and therefore did not castle yet. On the other hand, Fischer’s king is nice and safe, all his minor pieces are in the game, and the black-squared bishop is placed on a powerful diagonal.
At this point, it would make perfect sense for Byrne to play Be2 and castle short. However, he chooses to play Bg5, a move which does not accomplish much while his king is still in the center, desperately waiting to be hidden. Fischer responds with the first brilliant move of the game, Na4:
The key idea is to remove White’s defense of the e4 square: If White plays Nxa4, Black would play Nxe4 which would fork the queen and bishop. This would deal a big blow to White’s coordination and eventually win material for Black. So, instead of taking the knight, White plays Qa3. At this point, Black trades knights, and then proceeds to take the pawn on e4. This is a great position for Black, because whenever your opponent’s king is still in the center, it’s a great idea to rip it open and blast through:
White then plays Bxe7, attempting to fork Black’s queen and rook. Fischer responds with Qb6, moving his queen to safety and creating more threats. Here, Black actually cannot take the rook, because once White takes back with the bishop, it would be attacking White’s queen and can eventually pin it to the king and win it:
14. Bxe7 Qb6
15. Bxf8 Bxf8
16. Qb3 Nxc3
17. Qxc3 Bb4
To avoid this, White finally develops the light-squared bishop to c4 in hopes of castling, but Black responds with Nxc3! This frees the e-file so the rook can move to e8 and pin White’s bishop on e7:
If White takes the knight on c3, there would be no saving the bishop pin. Instead, White plays Bc5, moving it away from the e-file and simultaneously attacking Black’s queen. Black moves the f rook to e8, checking White’s king:
After White plays Kf1, Fischer delivers the second brilliant move of the game with Be6, which leaves his queen for dead!
Here, White has a few options:
(1) If he captures the bishop on e6, Black will have a smothered mate after the following moves:
18. Bxe6 Qb5+
19. Kg1 Ne2+
20. Kf1 Ng3+
21. Kg1 Qf1+
22. Rxf1 Ne2#
(2) If he takes the knight on c3, Black can take the bishop on c5 utilizing the fact that the White pawn on d4 would be pinned to the queen by the bishop on g7:
Therefore, the third and most logical solution would be to take Black’s queen, right? Byrne does just that. Fischer picks up the bishop on c4 with check:
After White moves the king to g1, Black has a beautiful tactic called a windmill, which is a series of checks that allows him to pick up material along the way:
19. Kg1 Ne2+
20. Kf1 Nxd4+
21. Kg1 Ne2+
22. Kf1 Nc3+
23. Kg1 axb6
At this point, Black has two bishops and two pawns for a queen, which is not necessarily great. But if you have a keen eye, you must have noticed that Black is completely winning – White’s queen and rook are both under attack, and it’s just not possible to save them both. If White retreats the queen to c1 trying to protect the rook, Black can play Ne2+, forking the king and queen.
Instead, White plays Qb4, desperately trying to attack the bishop on b5. Black responds with Ra4, attacking the queen and forcing it to move. White plays Qb6, saving the queen and picking up a pawn on the way. Black takes the rook on d1.
Here, the game was pretty much over. Not only does Fischer have a big material lead, but the Black pieces are way more active and the White rook on h1 is completely frozen. Nonetheless, the game continues for a little while and Black delivers the following checkmate:
Legacy of the Game of the Century
The Game of the Century left its mark on the world of chess, and its legacy endures:
- Chess Immortality: Fischer’s remarkable play in this game secured his status as a chess prodigy and an eventual world champion. The game itself became synonymous with brilliance in chess.
- Influence on Future Generations: The “Game of the Century” continues to inspire chess players of all ages. Fischer’s audacious sacrifices and precise calculations remain a source of study and admiration.
- Emphasis on Creativity: This game underscores the creative and daring aspects of chess, reminding players that sometimes the most audacious moves lead to the most memorable victories.
In conclusion, the Game of the Century between Bobby Fischer and Donald Byrne stands as one of the most iconic and celebrated chess games in history. Fischer’s audacious sacrifices and masterful play captured the imagination of the chess world and continue to inspire generations of players. This game remains a shining example of the limitless possibilities and enduring beauty of the royal game of chess.
Is this your favorite chess game of all time? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to have a chat with you.