LAST weekend saw the passing of GM Robert Byrne, one of America’s best players of the postwar era, who died aged 84 in New York following a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease.
He was also a prolific and thoughtful writer on the game, and served as a longtime chess columnist for the New York Times, from 1972-2006.
Though he was a prodigy, Byrne was nonetheless a latecomer to the professional game having opted for a life of academia as a university lecturer in philosophy. But the success of Bobby Fischer brought more money into the game, and he switched to a full-time chess career in his early forties.
Byrne scored many memorable scalps, beating Fischer, David Bronstein, Vassily Smyslov, Bent Larsen and Svetozar Gligoric. After many years in Fischer’s shadow, Byrne finally became US champion in 1972 – a crucial title-win that qualified him for the 1973 Leningrad interzonal, where he scored the best result of his career, with a superb third-place finish behind Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi, who went on to become frequent world championship challengers.
Byrne’s surprising result in Leningrad saw him follow further in Fischer’s footsteps by qualifying for the world championship Candidates. He did not progress beyond the quarter-finals, however, and on his return home when asked by the press what his decisive mistake was, he philosophically replied: “Playing against [Boris] Spassky”
R Fischer - R Byrne
US Ch., 1965
French Defence, Tarrasch variation
1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nd2 Nc6 4 c3 e5 5 exd5 Qxd5 6 Ngf3 exd4 7 Bc4 Qh5 8 0–0 Nf6 9 Qe1+ Be7 10 Nxd4 0–0 11 Be2 Bg4 12 Nxc6 Bd6! 13 h3 Bxe2 14 Nd4 Bxf1 15 Qxf1 Rfe8 16 N2f3 a6 17 Bg5 Qg6 18 Rd1 Re4 19 Be3 Nd5 20 Bc1 Rae8 21 Nd2 R4e7 22 Nc4 Bf4 23 Nf3 c6 24 Nb6 Bxc1 25 Nxd5 cxd5 26 Rxc1 Re2 27 Rb1 Qc2 28 Rc1 Qxb2 29 Rb1 Qxc3 30 Rxb7 Rxa2 31 Kh2 h6 32 Qb1 Rxf2 33 Qf5 Qxf3 34 Qxf3 Rxf3 35 gxf3 Rd8 36 Rb6 d4 0–1