The Game Of Last Century

A rare night.

Hoarsening roars rise. An entire nation – in microcosm – sways in joyous unison. Its standard, held aloft, bathes itself in the mid-November sky. The cold is a familiar touch and, as such, is felt less keenly.  Palms meet with soft violence to offer a syncopated, but sincere, welcome to the newly-elected President of Ireland. The poet, at home amongst the beat, spreads a smile and half-dances across the electric dirt. The Aviva Stadium, greener than the mother turf, is shooting

The legendary chess champion Bobby Fischer played the so-called ‘Game of the Century’ against Donald Byrne on October 17th, 1956, in New York City. Byrne, a former U.S. Open champion, was at this time ranked as one of the top ten players in the United States.

Fischer, meanwhile, was just 13-years-of-age and had been building a reputation as a prodigy in the city’s chess community. He devoted almost every waking hour to studying the game; consuming incredibly complex tomes on chess theory, as well as Russian magazines which examined the strategies employed by players from the game’s undoubted superpower.

In his match with Byrne, the youngster displayed a ruthless genius which would go on to make him the world’s finest player. After 16 moves, Fischer’s queen lies under attack. As the most powerful piece on the board, its loss would all but guarantee defeat. Yet, after minutes of deep thought, Fischer elects to move his knight – thus surrendering his queen to his opponent.

Pouncing on the teenager’s mistake, Byrne duly captures. From his very next move however, Fischer begins an all-out assault on his opponent’s king, as Byrne is forced to escape check after check and cannot regain his lost momentum. His queen sits stranded on the other side of the board as the black pieces close in and begin to smother.

It is an irresistible harmony of movement. Stubbornly defiant, Byrne continues to flee until he is finally mated by Fischer’s 41st move – Rc2#. His pieces are scattered, and unable to help their beleaguered monarch.
It is said that Byrne stayed seated, numbly staring at the 64 black and white squares upon which he had been so majestically bested for a short while after the game’s conclusion. The simple contrast of colours can produce a hypnotic effect. Black, white, black, white, black white…

Schweinsteiger plays a backwards pass to Reus, who finds himself wide on the left; deep inside his own half. From here, the Germans move with precise fury through the scattered Irish midfield from left – to centre – to right – to centre, before the ball is returned to the move’s original flank for Reus to add the finishing touch. The Irish players look lost. Their attack became their opponent’s so quickly that they are yet to understand quite how. Stretched across the field, they appear limp, vulnerable and divided. The crowd soon mimic them. They leave behind a vacuum. Soundless and devoid of energy; a ghost above Dublin City.

Final whistle. The Fields of Athenry has never sounded so much like hope. The Estonian players drift away unnoticed amidst the ecstatic crescendo. Irish players punt footballs into the Green Sea and people hug and dance and sing. Finally. ‘So this is how it feels?’  There are smiles, and a few tears, as the players are saluted like astronauts heading into space. New horizons.

We’re going to Poland/Ukraine.

No answers can be found, no other strategies can be called upon. Giovanni Trapattoni sits and stares. Black, white, black, white, black, white. Hypnotic. Powerless to stop the onslaught, stubborn resistance is all that’s left. When that inevitably fails; defeat.

There have never been any sophisticated tactics, but there has been organisation and luck. Now, the game has changed. The game has been changed. The prodigies are here, and they’ve seen the board with fresh eyes. Luck has deserted the old master; it may not be the last to do so.


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