Monday, April 15, 2013

Robert Byrne, 1928-2013: Grandmaster, Journalist and Philosophy Professor

Robert Byrne, the 1972 U.S. Chess Champion who wrote the New York Times' chess column from 1972-2006, passed away on April 12. Byrne earned the Grandmaster title in 1964 after finishing third in the Candidates Tournament. He represented the United States in nine Chess Olympiads from 1952-76, capturing seven medals--including a team gold medal in the 1976 Haifa Olympiad while playing on the first board. Byrne defeated Bobby Fischer in their individual encounter in the 1965 U.S. Championship but Fischer rallied to win the event; Fischer won each of the eight U.S. Championships that he entered but because he disagreed with the format of the tournament he stopped participating, which is why Byrne reigned as U.S. Champion in 1972 while Fischer simultaneously reigned as the World Chess Champion.

Byrne worked full-time for many years as a philosophy professor at Indiana University and thus he was a part-time player during much of his chess career, which makes his chess successes all the more remarkable.

In this video, International Master Andrew Martin annotates Byrne's 1971 win against Soviet International Master Yuri Balashov, who later became a Grandmaster:

Byrne's younger brother Donald, who passed away in 1976, was an English professor at Penn State and an International Master, though in the chess world he is most famous for being on the losing end of 13 year old Fischer's brilliant Queen sacrifice in the Game of the Century.