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Spassky - Byrne Candidates Quarterfinal Match

Boris Spassky4.5/6(+3 -0 =3)[games]
Robert Byrne1.5/6(+0 -3 =3)[games] Chess Event Description
Spassky - Byrne Candidates Quarterfinal (1974)

Spassky qualified for this match as the loser of the Spassky - Fischer World Championship Match (1972), while Byrne qualified from the Leningrad Interzonal (1973). The three other quarterfinals were Petrosian - Portisch Candidates Quarterfinal (1974), Korchnoi - Mecking Candidates Quarterfinal (1974) and Karpov - Polugaevsky Candidates Quarterfinal (1974). Victory would go to the player who first won three games, or to the player in the lead after 16 games. If tied at 8-8, the matches would be decided by the drawing of lots. (1) The matches were held in order to select a challenger for Robert James Fischer, the World Champion.

Spassky and Byrne had played only two games before, in the San Juan (1969) tournament, where Spassky won, and in Moscow (1971), where they drew. Byrne had followed Spassky's games from close quarters at the Fischer - Spassky match, where he worked as a reporter for New York Times. (2) Spassky's last major event was the USSR Championship (1973) (in October), and Byrne's last was the Interzonal (in June). Now the two would meet again, in San Juan (Puerto Rico), which had been selected by FIDE as the host city. Spassky arrived there on 3 January, accompanied by Clarissa (his wife), Igor Bondarevsky (second) and Boris Gromov, who was a kind of technical director. (3) Byrne came one week later, together with his wife, Bernard Zuckerman (second) and Lubomir Kavalek (unofficial second, delegation leader, and a member of the Appeals Committee of the match). (2, 3) Both Byrne and Spassky were staying at the Racquet Club (4) hotel. This was near the airport, and both players complained about the aircraft noise. (5) Bondarevsky worried about how Spassky would adapt to the climate in Puerto Rico, but it was thought that Spassky could defeat Byrne anywhere, "be it the Sahara or Greenland". (2) A controversy was reported over Byrne's selection of advisors and over the scheduling of the games. (6)

The main organizer was Narciso Rabell-Mendez, Deputy President of FIDE. (2) The official opening was on 12 January. It was attended by FIDE president Max Euwe and members of the FIDE Bureau, which at the time was holding a meeting. (2) After the ceremony, the players turned up at the Salon Theatre of the Society of Engineers, Architects and Surveyors. They tried the chairs, checked on the chess table, and tested the lights. Spassky found everything ideal. Byrne found the chess pieces were a little shiny, and said the overhead lighting could have been "a little brighter". The auditorium furnished for the match drew high praise from Ed Edmondson, Executive Director of the USCF. (7) Spassky also complimented the height and breadth of the Brazilian rosewood table, and noted that there was plenty of leg room beneath it. "I think even Fischer would be glad to play", he cracked. (7) The arbiter was Wilfried Dorazil, whose assistant Manuel Paniaguas was also medical officer of the match. (3) The winner of the match would receive 3500 USD, the loser 1500 USD. (8)

Discussing the conditions:

Game 1 started at 3:30 pm. (9) More than 75 persons watched in the auditorium. Another 200 persons jammed a nearby assembly room with closed-circuit television, and 50 more could watch a monitor in the bar of the building. Julio Kaplan analyzed the game for the spectators on a huge chessboard. (9) Spassky bravely sacrified the exchange on c3 in a Sicilian; Byrne gave the exchange back 18 moves later and the game was a fervent draw. (2) In Game 2 (also a Sicilian), Byrne held the draw, in a R vs RP ending. (2) Game 3 was "the most interesting game of the match". (2) Spassky sacrificed his queen for two pieces. This was the only victory achieved with Black in all the four quarterfinal matches. (2) In Game 4, Byrne lost while offering little resistance. (2)

Video Game 4:

Game 5 was deferred when Byrne complained he could not sleep. Paniaguas certified that the chain-smoking professor suffered from insomnia, and granted him a two-day delay, "of what is expected to become his execution". (5) Byrne said before the game that "my chances are poor, but I am not giving up". (10) The game was a fighting draw, and presented Byrne in a favourable light. (2) He used the Sicilian Keres attack, but could not break through. Game 6 marked the end. Spassky went for a bishop ending in which Byrne had the "bad" bishop. (2) The game was adjourned in a blocked position, with Spassky a pawn up. He broke through the next day, on the eve of his birthday. (2)

San Juan, Puerto Rico, 14-28 January 1974

Elo* 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 GM Spassky 2655 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 4½ 2 GM Byrne 2605 ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 0 1½

Spassky advanced to the Karpov - Spassky Candidates Semifinal (1974).

Bent Larsen had predicted that the match would be competitive. Byrne admitted that he did not play well. "I was unable to live up to the prediction of my friend Larsen, and even now, I fail to explain to myself how everything turned out so bad". (11)


1) Harry Golombek in The Times, 15 January 1974, p. 5; Tidskrift för Schack, February 1974, p. 33.
2) Bozidar Kazic in Candidates' Matches 1974 by Mikhail Botvinnik, Aleksandar Matanovic, Bozidar Kazic and Mikhail M Yudovich Sr. Belgrade 1974.
3) Lubomir Kavalek in Jaque, March 1974, No. 27, p. 7.
5) UPI report in Lodi News-Sentinel, 25 January 1974, p. 9.
6) Register-Republic, 14 January 1974, p. 1.
7) Mobile Register, 14 January 1974, p. 8.
8) Oregonian, 15 January 1974, p. 2.
9) State Times Advocate, 15 January 1974, p. 4.
10) Times-Picayune, 26 January 1974, p. 4.
11) Kavalek in Jaque, March 1974, No. 27, p. 8.

Original collections: Game Collection: WCC Index (Spassky-Byrne 1974) by User: Hesam7 and Game Collection: Spassky - Byrne Candidates Quarterfinal 1974 by User: Tabanus. *FIDE Rating List July 1973. Thanks to User: OhioChessFan for improving the English.

 page 1 of 1; 6 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. R Byrne vs Spassky ½-½441974Spassky - Byrne Candidates QuarterfinalB81 Sicilian, Scheveningen, Keres Attack
2. Spassky vs R Byrne ½-½721974Spassky - Byrne Candidates QuarterfinalB92 Sicilian, Najdorf, Opocensky Variation
3. R Byrne vs Spassky 0-1561974Spassky - Byrne Candidates QuarterfinalC95 Ruy Lopez, Closed, Breyer
4. Spassky vs R Byrne 1-0291974Spassky - Byrne Candidates QuarterfinalB93 Sicilian, Najdorf, 6.f4
5. R Byrne vs Spassky  ½-½351974Spassky - Byrne Candidates QuarterfinalB81 Sicilian, Scheveningen, Keres Attack
6. Spassky vs R Byrne 1-0591974Spassky - Byrne Candidates QuarterfinalB52 Sicilian, Canal-Sokolsky (Rossolimo) Attack
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: Just out of interest in reference to Game 6, what is a BSC ending?
Sep-05-14  Everett: BSC = Bishops of Same Color, I'm assuming.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: <Everett> Thanks. Silly me, that must be it.


Sep-05-14  Petrosianic: That's more likely than my guess: Bronze Swimming Certificate. I'd assumed Arnold Rimmer wrote it.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: The bishops in that game were indeed of the same colour, but Byrne's was the epitome of impotence.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Tabanus: I've probably stayed to long with the CG World team. BSC and BOC endings are common expressions there.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: At all events, I can think of at least one GM who did not receive a Bronze Swimming Certificate.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: "The first quarterfinal match concluded was my one-sided defeat by Boris Spassky in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Spassky was hailed as an overwhelming favourite before the match - and with good reason. The former world champion could boast an extraordinary skein of tournament successes that easily dwarfed my results. Against the claim that Boris might still be down after his loss of the world title to Bobby Fischer in Iceland, there was his commanding victory in the Soviet championship two months before he sat down to play me. In that competition, some of his best games indicated that he had recovered all of his old brilliance in attack. I could hardly be cheered up by this new triumph of his. Then too, I was very much afraid that Fischer had taught him valuable lessons in opening preparation in Reykjavik and it quickly turned out that my suspicions were correct. Against me, Boris did not stick to his known predilection against the Najdorf Sicilian, 6 B-N5, but in three the Sicilians I played he varied three times and did a perfect job of unsettling me. Actually I was unsettled a month before the match when my seconds, Bernard Zuckerman and Lubomir Kavalek, and I discovered serious flaws in the opening repertoire I had been counting on. There was no time to repair the damage sufficiently and I had to begin play in a state of nervousness brought on by a lack of confidence in my openings. Such was my desperation that I even contemplated making a radical switch to 1 N-KB3, with the idea of bypassing sharp opening variations in favor of shifting the main struggle to a calm middle game. Perhaps I should have taken that step, but I remained indecisive and let the choice die on the vine. Nothing changed my mood when the match had gotten under way, certainly not the draws in the first and second games - I was all too aware of how unreliable my opening play had been and that I had been saved in the second encounter only by Boris's inferior adjournment analysis. It has been said of Boris that he is a master of psychology in confronting his opponents with just the twist to put them at their worst and his third game is strong evidence for the point. Perhaps sensing my jittery mood, he picked the perfect moment for a surprising speculative queen sacrifice and scored his first victory. Later he was openly criticized in the Soviet press for taking such a risk, but to my mind the criticism is superficial and indicates a lack of understanding of Boris. Although a very solid player, he needs to take a flier from time to time in order to escape an incipient sterility in his thinking. Having one such adventure under his belt, he is better able to throw himself into the succeeding games. Spassky had no trouble winning game 4 against inaccurate opening play followed by a middle game blunder. The fifth game was drawn, but he won the sixth to take the match on the basis of fine adjournment analysis by his second, Igor Bondarevsky". - Robert Byrne.
Sep-07-14  Everett: < Byrne found the chess pieces "a little shiny", and said the overhead lighting "could be a little brighter". >

Why? Aren't the pieces shiny enough?

< Although a very solid player, [Spassky] needs to take a flier from time to time in order to escape an incipient sterility in his thinking. >

I find this whole sentence to be kind of funny and sweet.

Sep-07-14  RookFile: When Byrne was at his best, he was super solid. Yet in some of his later games he played some really dynamic games, even when losing.
Sep-07-14  Everett: Spassky, after having some time to recover from this match, claims to have still felt tired going into his tilt vs Karpov.

Btw, no Karpov/Spassky '74 Candidates page yet. Still gathering material, I'm guessing.

Premium Chessgames Member
  SteinitzLives: I saw a pic from this match which showed Byrne wearing light yellow-gold coveralls. He looked like an auto or airplane mechanic.

Perhaps he was just being cautious, but it looked weird (even for a chess player).

Byrne was playing at his peak, but he seemed no match for Spassky despite Spassky being under intense pressure from the Soviet officials to not have two Americans playing for the title.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Tabanus: I think Byrne wrote a book about his match?

Or about the candidates matches? If someone has the exact reference, it can be mentioned the header.

Sep-08-14  Howard: Yes, Byrne wrote a book about the 1974 Candidates----fairly short paperback, as I recall.

You can get it online.

Sep-08-14  Petrosianic: <despite Spassky being under intense pressure from the Soviet officials to not have two Americans playing for the title.>

I doubt they were too afraid of that. With the Murderer's Row of qualifiers, Byrne, despite being at his peak, and genuinely world class, was surely the weakest of the 8 candidates, and in his mid-40's to boot. I doubt the Soviet officials gave it a second thought.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: Robert Byrne's book was titled "Anatoly Karpov : The Road To The World Chess Championship"

ISBN 0-553-02876-6 a paperback published by Bantam Books.

Premium Chessgames Member
  SteinitzLives: <Petrosinic> From a practical perspective you are right, Byrne was not a real threat to become Fischer's challenger.

However I find it hard to underestimate the Soviet Chess Federation's level of paranoia particularly after Spassky's devastating and humiliating loss of the world title, not to mention the oppressiveness level inherent in the Soviet Union at the time, that would cause such fear and paranoia.

The what-ifs of a Spassky loss to Byrne (even as unlikely as that seems) could have made the immense pressure of an already scared Soviet Chess Federation (e.g. what if Karpov can't beat Fischer either?) look at all kinds of crazy things.

Sep-09-14  Petrosianic: <However I find it hard to underestimate the Soviet Chess Federation's level of paranoia particularly after Spassky's devastating and humiliating loss of the world title,>

Maybe then, but they came across as far too unconcerned before then. They didn't seem to realize the threat Fischer posed until far too late. Even after 1970, Botvinnik was talking about how Taimanov might win the match if he prepared properly. They didn't fight very hard to keep Fischer out of the interzonal. I think they expected him to be taken out again, or take himself out. I'm not sure if they really realized the danger they were in until after the Larsen match.

Afterwards, yes. They did take things more seriously. For years the top players had made a habit of blowing off the Soviet Championship. They started to crack down more and require them to play if they wanted to be able to go abroad. But even then I don't think they were seriously afraid of Byrne going all the way.

Of course, even if he didn't go all the way. Even if Byrne beat Spassky, and then went down in the semifinals, that would have been embarrassing. not only to the Soviets, but to Fischer himself. The crowning achievement of Fischer's life was beating Spassky. For another American to turn around and do the same thing so soon would have been a bit of a comedown.

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