Bobby Fischer’s Most Famous Checkmate

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Bobby Fischer’s most famous checkmate came when he just 13 years old. The game in which the checkmate was delivered was dubbed ‘The Game of the Century’ although Fischer didn’t include it in his famous book, My 60 Memorable Games. It was included, with Fischer’s notes, in the earlier – and rarer – Bobby Fischer’s Games of Chess, which was first published in 1959.

His opponent, Donald Byrne, was still six years away from becoming an International Master at the time of ‘The Game of the Century’, but he as already a strong player. In 1953, for example, he won the United States Open Chess Championship.

In today’s episode of our ongoing ‘Checkmate Monday’ series we are turning back the clock to examine the game’s finest moments.

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Winning Chess Strategies

Star Move

We join the game just after White’s move 17 Ke1-f1, moving the king out of the check from Fischer’s rook.

Donald Byrne - Bobby FischerDonald Byrne – Bobby Fischer
Rosenwald Memorial Tournament, 1956

Black to play

The displacement of the king appears to be a minor inconvenience for Byrne, as he is attacking the queen on b6 and the knight on c3. Fischer cannot even trade the queen for an intimidating amount of material, rook and a knight, as 17 …Nxd1 18 Bxb6 axb6 19 Qb3 traps – and wins – the knight.

Yet young Fischer was already ahead of the game and he uncorked the remarkable star move 17 …Be6!!

Fischer was not a speculative player, even at the age of 13. This move is not merely an attempt to muddy the waters; the position is now winning for Black.

Unpleasant Choice

Byrne has an unpleasant choice.

Here are some sample lines:

18 Bxe6 Qb5+! and Black forces checkmate with Philidor’s Legacy. 19 Kg1 Ne2+ 20 Kf1 Ng3++ 21 Kg1 Qf1+ 22 Rxf1 Ne2 checkmate.

18 Bd3 Nb5! and Black will emerge from the complications with a  winning advantage. Even 18 …Nxd1 is very good for Black, as after 19 Bxb6 axb6 20 Qc1 (note 19 Qb3, which trapped the knight in our earlier line, now fails trivially to 19 …Bxb3) 20 …Rxa2 21 Qxd1 Rea8 White is going to be tied up in knots for the rest of the game.

18 Qxc3 Qxc5! 19 dxc5 Bxc3 and Black should win the ending.

Windmill in Action

Byrne chose the most spectacular line, accepting the queen sacrifice and granting Fischer an attractive windmill.

18 Bxb6 Bxc4+

19 Kg1

Donald Byrne - Bobby Fischer Game of the Century

Here we go…

19 …Ne2+

20 Kf1

Donald Byrne - Bobby Fischer Windmill Tactic

Fischer harvests a lot of material with his sequence of discovered checks.

20 …Nd4+

21 Kg1 Ne2+

22 Kf1 Nc3+

23 Kg1 axb6

24 Qb4 Ra4

23 Qxb6 Nxd1

Famous Chess Game

White could easily resign here with a clear conscience. However, Byrne decided to let the junior have his fun.

Fast forward a few moves and all is set for the forced checkmate.

Forcing the Checkmate

Chess Game of the Century Black to play

How quickly can you force a checkmate from here? Bobby Fischer did it in six moves.

36 …Ng3+

37 Ke1 Bb4+

38 Kd1 Bb3+

39 Kc1 Ne2+

40 Kb1 Nc3+

41 Kc1 Rc2 checkmate. 

Bobby Fischer's Most Famous Checkmate

Alas, there was a faster way to checkmate, with 37 …Re2+; well done if you found a faster way to checkmate there white king than Bobby Fischer did, back in 1956.

Was it really the Game of the Century? In the context of games played by chess prodigies, then perhaps so. Modern masters will find 17 …Be6!! very quickly and everything flows so smoothly after the key move.

Yet Bobby Fischer’s Most Famous Checkmate still makes a startling impression when seen for the first time and contains many instructive themes and ideas

Our series on checkmates will continue next Monday.

There are many more beautiful checkmate patterns in our course, The Checkmate Patterns Manual, by International Master John Bartholomew and CraftyRaf.

There is a shortened, free version of the course here.

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The Checkmate Patterns Manual

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