Chess Game of the Century

fischer27-1957In chess, The Game of the Century refers to a chess game played between Donald Byrne and 13-year-old Bobby Fischer in the Rosenwald Memorial Tournament in New York City on October 17, 1956, which Fischer won. The competition took place at the Marshall Chess Club.



1. Nf3

A noncommittal move by Byrne. From here, the game can develop into a number of different openings.

1… Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7

Fischer defends based on “hypermodern” principles, inviting Byrne to establish a classical pawn stronghold in the center, which Fischer intends to target and undermine with his fianchettoed bishop and other pieces.

4. d4 0-0

Fischer castles, bringing his king to safety. The Black move 4…d5 would have reached the Grünfeld Defence immediately. After Fischer’s 4…0-0, Byrne could have played 5.e4, whereupon 5…d6 6.Be2 e5 reaches the main line of the King’s Indian Defense.

5. Bf4 d5

The game has now transposed to the Grünfeld Defence (5…d5, ECO code D92), usually initiated by 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5.

6. Qb3

A form of the so-called Russian System (the usual move order is 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3), putting pressure on Fischer’s central d5-pawn.

6… dxc4

Fischer relinquishes his center, but draws Byrne’s queen to a square where it is a little exposed and can be attacked.

7. Qxc4 c6

Also possible is 7…Na6 (the Prins Variation), preparing …c5 to challenge White’s center.

8. e4 Nbd7

In later games, Black played the more active 8…b5 followed by 9…Qa5. An example is Bisguier vs. Benko, U.S. Championship 1963–64. Fischer’s choice is a little slow, although one would not guess that from the subsequent play.

9. Rd1 Nb6 10. Qc5

An awkward square for the queen, which leaves it exposed to a possible …Na4 or …Ne4, as Fischer brilliantly demonstrates. Since both of those squares are protected by Byrne’s knight on c3, he understandably did not appreciate the danger. 10.Qb3 would have left the queen better placed, although it would have invited further harassment with 10…Be6.

10… Bg4

Byrne’s pawns control the center squares. However, Fischer is ahead in piece development and has castled, while Byrne’s king is still in the center. These factors would not have been very significant had Byrne attended to his development on his next move.

11. Bg5?

Wanting to prevent 11…Nfd7 followed by …e5, but Byrne errs by not completing his development. Numerous authors suggest 11.Be2 instead, protecting the king and preparing kingside castling. Flear vs. Morris,Dublin 1991, continued 11.Be2 Nfd7 12.Qa3 Bxf3 13.Bxf3 e5 14.dxe5 Qe8 15.Be2 Nxe5 16.0-0 and White was slightly better.
Position after 11

11… Na4!!

“One of the most powerful moves of all time.” (Jonathan Rowson). Fischer offers an ingenious knight sacrifice. If Byrne played 12.Nxa4, Fischer would reply 12…Nxe4, leaving Byrne with some terrible choices:

  • 13.Qxe7 Qa5+ 14.b4 Qxa4 15.Qxe4 Rfe8 16.Be7 Bxf3 17.gxf3 Bf8 produces a deadly 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+ 14.Nc3 Bxf3 15.gxf3 Nxg5 regains the sacrificed piece with a better position and extra pawn;
  • 13.Qb4 Nxg5 14.Nxg5 Bxd1 15.Kxd1 Bxd4 16.Qd2 Bxf2 with a winning material advantage (Fischer).

12. Qa3 Nxc3 13. bxc3 Nxe4!

Fischer again offers material in order to open the e-file and get at White’s uncastled king.

14. Bxe7 Qb6 15. Bc4

Byrne wisely declines the offered material. If 15.Bxf8 Bxf8 16.Qb3, Fischer analyzes 16…Nxc3! 17.Qxb6 (17.Qxc3?? Bb4 wins the queen) axb6 18.Ra1 Re8+ 19.Kd2 Ne4+ 20.Kc2 Nxf2 21.Rg1 Bf5+, which he considers winning for Black. Also strong is 16…Re8 17.Qxb6 (17.Be2 Nxc3!) axb6 18.Be2 Nxc3 19.Rd2 Bb4 20.Kf1 Ne4 21.Rb2 Bc3 22.Rc2 Nd2+! 23.Kg1 (23.Nxd2 Bxe2+ 24.Kg1 Bd3! 25.Rc1 Bxd2 leaves Black with a winning material advantage) Rxe2 24.Rxc3 Nxf3+ 25.gxf3 Bh3 26.Rc1 Rxa2 leaving White absolutely paralyzed.

15… Nxc3!

Now both 16.Qxc3 Rfe8 and 16.Bxf8 Bxf8 are favorable to Black.

16. Bc5 Rfe8+ 17. Kf1

Byrne threatens Fischer’s queen; Fischer brings his rook into play, misplacing Byrne’s king. It appears that Fischer must solve his problems with his queen, whereupon White can play 18.Qxc3, with a winning material advantage.Jack Straley Battell writes that the masters observing the game considered Black’s position lost.

17… Be6!!

This stunning stratagem is the move that made this game famous. Instead of saving his queen, Fischer offers to sacrifice it. Fischer pointed out that 17…Nb5? loses to 18.Bxf7+ Kxf7 19.Qb3+ Be6 20.Ng5+ Kg8 21.Nxe6 Nxd4 22.Nxd4+ Qxb3 23.Nxb3.
Position after 17

18. Bxb6?

Byrne takes the offered queen, hoping to outplay his 13-year-old opponent in the ensuing complications. However, Fischer gets far too much for his queen, leaving Byrne with a hopeless game. The move 18.Bxe6 would have been even worse, leading to a smothered mate with 18…Qb5+ 19.Kg1 Ne2+ 20.Kf1 Ng3+ 21.Kg1 Qf1+! 22.Rxf1 Ne2#. White’s 18.Qxc3 would have been met by 18…Qxc5! and if 19.dxc5, Bxc3 and Black should win the endgame. White’s best chance may have been 18.Bd3 Nb5!, which Kmoch wrote would also result in “a win for Black in the long run”.

18… Bxc4+

Fischer now begins a ‘windmill‘ series of discovered checks, picking up material.

19. Kg1 Ne2+ 20. Kf1 Nxd4+ 21. Kg1

21.Rd3? axb6 22.Qc3 Nxf3 23.Qxc4 Re1# (Fischer).

21… Ne2+ 22. Kf1 Nc3+ 23. Kg1 axb6

Fischer captures a piece, simultaneously attacking Byrne’s queen.

24. Qb4 Ra4!

Fischer’s pieces cooperate nicely: the bishop on g7 protects the knight on c3, which protects the rook on a4, which in turn protects the bishop on c4 and forces Byrne’s queen away. Perhaps Byrne overlooked this move when analyzing 18.Bxb6, expecting instead 24…Nxd1? 25.Qxc4, which is much less clear. Otherwise, it is hard to explain why Byrne played 18.Bxb6, since Black now has a clear win.

25. Qxb6

Trying to protect his rook with 25.Qd6 loses the queen to 25…Nxd1 26.Qxd1 Rxa2 threatening 27…Ra1.

25… Nxd1

Fischer has gained a rook, two bishops, and a pawn for his sacrificed queen, leaving him ahead the equivalent, roughly, of one minor piece – an easily winning advantage in master play. White’s queen is far outmatched by Black’s pieces, which dominate the board and will soon overrun White’s position. Moreover, Byrne’s remaining rook is stuck on h1 and it will take precious time (and the loss of the pawn on f2) to free it. Byrne could have resigned here, but chose to play on until checkmate, as a courtesy to Fischer’s skill.
Position after 25

26. h3 Rxa2 27. Kh2 Nxf2 28. Re1 Rxe1 29. Qd8+ Bf8 30. Nxe1 Bd5 31. Nf3 Ne4 32. Qb8 b5

Note that every piece and pawn of Black’s is defended, leaving White’s queen with nothing to do.

33. h4 h5 34. Ne5 Kg7

Fischer breaks the pin, allowing the bishop to attack as well.

35. Kg1 Bc5+

Now Fischer uses his pieces in concert to force checkmate.

36. Kf1 Ng3+ 37. Ke1 Bb4+

Kmoch notes that with 37…Re2+ Fischer could have mated a move sooner.

38. Kd1 Bb3+ 39. Kc1 Ne2+ 40. Kb1 Nc3+ 41. Kc1 Rc2# 0–1

 Final Position

About Deepak Devanand

Seeker of knowledge
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