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Donald Byrne vs Robert James Fischer
"The Game of the Century" (game of the day Mar-09-13)
Third Rosenwald Trophy (1956)  ·  Gruenfeld Defense: Three Knights Variation. Hungarian Attack (D92)  ·  0-1
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Given 221 times; par: 76 [what's this?]

Annotations by Robert Wade.      [1 more game annotated by Wade]

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Donald Byrne vs Robert James Fischer (1956)
Cover of Chess Review, December 1956.

Kibitzer's Corner
< Earlier Kibitzing  · PAGE 56 OF 56 ·  Later Kibitzing>
Nov-06-16  Tal1949: Grabbing the queen (18. Bxb6) was certainly a disaster. The flood gates opened after that. 18. Qxc3 was still a loss but the position would not have looked so embarrassing.

Great finish by the young Bobby. Every black piece/pawn is defended and he controls every square. Wow!

Nov-12-16  MariusDaniel: Great game!Both players played real smart moves
Premium Chessgames Member
  Diademas: Seems like a taleted kid this Fischer guy. I wonder what became of him...
Premium Chessgames Member
  HeMateMe: he came back, as a politician.
Dec-01-16  MariusDaniel: This chess game is a rare gem!
Dec-14-16  DIO: Where is the banner?
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: <DIO: Where is the banner?>

It is just to the right of the board. Can you see it? It says, "You have won the chess quiz! Congratulations on winning 600 vintage chess books!!"

On the right.

Mar-22-17  Petrosianic: So, if Donald had been more like his brother, and resigned when the game was clearly hopeless, when should he have resigned this?

The King March he does at the end is clearly hopeless. It's obvious that Black has a forced mate, no matter how many moves it may take. But staying in the corner amounts to the same t hing, so, at the very least he should have resigned before 36. Kf1. That's about the time it becomes clear Black has a forced mate.

What's the earliest he might have resigned? Really, the game is hopeless the moment White takes the Queen. The only chance to hang in is something like 18. Qxc3 Qxc5 19. dxc5 Bxc3 20. Bxe6 Rxe6. Black's much better but it's still a game.

So White is definitely busted after 18. Bxb6, but that's a bit early to resign. Black could still misplay it. I would say that the moment the dust has settled, after 25... Nxd1 and Black has a Rook and two pieces for the Queen, plus a weak and undeveloped White Kingside is the <earliest> moment that White might reasonably be expected to resign.

So somewhere between Move 26 and 36 is when the resignation ought to have happened if there was going to be one.

Mar-22-17  john barleycorn: <Petrosianic: So, if Donald had been more like his brother, and resigned when the game was clearly hopeless, when should he have resigned this? ...>

Donald was playing a 13 year old Fischer. Robert played a 20 year old one. There is a difference.

Mar-22-17  Petrosianic: Another good candidate for the resignation point is before White's 28th. We've played a few moves past the "Dust Settling" moment, Black has picked up two more pawns and now has a Rook, two minors and three pawns for the Queen. There's REALLY nothing for White to play for from here out, and little chance of Black botching it.
Mar-22-17  john barleycorn: <petrosianic> there may have been several opportunities to resign earlier. My question would be what was D. Byrne after? To see his young boy stumble on his way to victory or give the kid the opportunity to mate him brillantly and produce this gem?
Premium Chessgames Member
  Sally Simpson: By all accounts Byrne played on because he knew he had taken part in something special. and very sportingly let Fischer mate him.

It's not too uncommon for a player to allow the mate if the combo leading up to it has been a cracker.

Having said that I think if Fischer had played the quicker mate

click for larger view

37...Re2+ instead of 37...Bb4+

37...Re2+ pans out to a mate on move 40. This is the forced final position.

click for larger view

I think Byrne would have resigned before that one appeared on the board.

And in the actual game if Byrne had resigned after playing his 41st move we would be left here (Black to play)

click for larger view

And we would have 55 pages of arguing which is the better checkmate. 41...Rc2# or 41...Ba3#


Also in a mid tournament pub quiz many years ago our team won because I remembered how many moves were played in 'The Game of the Century'.

If Byrne had resigned I doubt the game would have forged such a question and I would have been asked something different.

Mar-23-17  Petrosianic: <It's not too uncommon for a player to allow the mate if the combo leading up to it has been a cracker.>

The mating combination at the end is fairly pedestrian. When you've got the king trapped on the back rank by a rook that way, and minor pieces swarming around, you just know there's a mate in the air even if you don't see the exact moves right away. But that's fine. If there were no special reasons for playing to mate, where would the natural resignation point be?

The more I look at it, White's 28th move seems about right. That's where we're getting to positions where a B player would probably be able to beat a GM. After 28. Re1, which he played, it's hard to imagine anything White can do with just a Queen and Knight. Black's only possible weak point, f7, is well protected by the Bishop; there's no chance of a perpetual, no nothing.

Mar-23-17  Petrosianic: Really, the more I think about it, the more it seems that White should have just taken the Knight on Move 12.

12. Nxa4 Nxe4 13. Qb4 a5 14. Qxe7 Bxf3 15. Qxd8 Rfxd8 16. Bxd8 Bxd1 17. Nc3 Rxd8 17. Nxd1 Rxd4 18. Be2, and White is a clear pawn down, but he's far better off than he was in the game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Sally Simpson: Hi Petrosianic,

It is quotes like this I've read at various places. None ever mention at what move Donald decided to play on.

"Fischer was winning the game decisively and Byrne asked some of the other players if it would be a good "tip of the hat" to Fischer's superb play to let young Fischer play the game to a checkmate instead of Byrne resigning, which would normally happen between masters.

When the other players agreed, Byrne played the game out until Fischer checkmated him. "

Premium Chessgames Member
  saffuna: I think Byrne could easily have indicated he was just playing to mate by his body language, which is likely what he did.
Mar-24-17  Petrosianic: Well, that raises a question right there. Generally it's considered rude to play on in such a position. If Byrne decided to keep playing, in order to improve the game's aesthetic qualities, did he TELL Fischer that he was doing this? Or did he allow Fischer to think he was being rude until the game was over? Or did they both just intuitively realize what was happening? You say he talked to the other players about it, but did Fischer know?
Mar-24-17  Petrosianic: <It is quotes like this I've read at various places. None ever mention at what move Donald decided to play on.>

Really, I'm not asking about Byrne in particular. I'm saying that if this were a normal game, with no special reason to keep playing, at what point would you expect the average player to resign it?

Premium Chessgames Member
  Sally Simpson: Hi Petrosianic,

Probably just before the mate move 38 or 39.

But there again there is no rule saying when you must resign and rudeness does not really come into it.

Without knowing all the background details you cannot look at the bare score of a game and say one player was being rude for playing on.

This game finished on move 41. If this were just a normal game and we never knew anything about it then time trouble could have been a factor and they played on in inertia.

I have never been insulted by a player playing on. If you start thinking like that then your mind is not on the game and you are setting yourself for a blunder.

Just enjoy the win and wrap it up as neat as you can. That way you won't screw it up. I think people are too easily insulted if someone playing on in a lost position offends them. Indeed in some cases (not here of course) the player may not even realise their position is resignable.

At the home and casual level some think it is actually impolite to resign.

Premium Chessgames Member
  maxi: What an amazing photo. From the limited view of the board one can see that Bobby had just played 16. ... Rfe8+. His very thin arms, typical of a 13-year old, stand out. And then there is that marvelous conception at the board in front of him.
Premium Chessgames Member
  OhioChessFan: I'd say after 25...Nxd1, the game was over. I'll cut Byrne some slack for looking at a 13 year old opponent and wondering if he might swindle a perpetual. But the next two moves, White loses a Pawn each time, so the material advantage is even greater. Before his 28th move, White has QRNPP vs RRBBNPPPPP, poor King safety, and no prayer of a perpetual. I think every move after this was a bit insulting. Once his King is in a mating net, it's much like the legendary AJ game where he played on against a GM with a bare King until mated. My thoughts on when the average GM would have resigned:

After 25...Nxd1 30%
After 27...Nxf2 60% more
After 35...Bc5+ 5% more
After 36...Ng3+ Every other GM except Byrne

Premium Chessgames Member
  maxi: Accounts have it Donald Byrne was a nice fellow. As <Sally Simpson> wrote, possibly he realized he was in the middle of something special and played his role.
Mar-25-17  ZonszeinP: You have to have a special and unique brain to play like this And at only 13
Premium Chessgames Member
  Sally Simpson: Hi Ohio,

<My thoughts on when the average GM would have resigned:

After 25...Nxd1 30%
After 27...Nxf2 60% more
After 35...Bc5+ 5% more
After 36...Ng3+

Every other GM except Byrne.>

You may need to do it all again with different percentages.

Donald Byrne was never a GM and he did not get his IM title till 1962 six years after this game was played.


Don't run around throwing your hands up in despair, stamping your feet and gnashing your teeth when someone does not resign when you think they should. You are not playing the game, you are not involved, you are a mere spectator.

The losing player will resign when they want to and if their choice is to let it go to checkmate then so be it.

The fact in doing so it is sometimes a nod of apprehension from one player to another seems to beyond them.

From Tim Krabbé in a piece entitled:

Rude Resignations

"In tennis, players will applaud brilliant shots by the opponent.

In chess, such gallant behaviour is practically non-existent.

In item 238 of this Diary, I praised IM Sipke Ernst for allowing Carlsen's beautiful epaulette mate. (Carlsen vs S Ernst, 2004)

Today, Martin van Essen sent me two examples from one (the 4th) round in the Amber tournament where top players did not applaud their opponent's brilliant play by allowing their nice mates.

He gives Svidler vs F Vallejo Pons, 2004 and Topalov vs Bareev, 2004

Among top players, only Short does this occasionally. It should be chess etiquette at all levels."

Tim then mentions this game.

"Dan Heisman sent me an interesting note to this item. He remembers his old chess coach Donald Byrne, "well-known for his gentlemanly behaviour", telling him the story of his loss to Fischer in their celebrated 'Game of the Century' in 1956.

Later, Donald Byrne was sometimes criticized for playing on too long in that game. ['criticized!' here he is getting pelted with rocks.]

But it was actually the opposite, as he told Heisman 35 years ago.

"First of all, you have to remember that in 1956 no one knew that Bobby Fischer was going to become Bobby Fischer! He was just a very promising 13-year-old kid who played a great game against me.

When it got to the position where I was lost, I asked some of the other competitors if it might be a nice thing to let the kid mate me, as a kind of tribute to the fine game he played. They said, ‘Sure, why not?’ and so I did."

The numbers we should be looking at is what percentage of GM's would do that? I'm thinking very few.

Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: Both Byrne brothers were very nice people, but an eerie Proclaimerish quality forever haunted them.
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