Match, Game 2

Donald Byrne vs. Sammy Reshevsky

New York - 1957

One of the bigger disputes in American chess history. In the first game of this match, Byrne's flag had fallen, and Reshevsky offered a draw, not noticing this fact. Byrne accepted, and the draw stood, because Reshevsky hadn't claimed the flag-fall before the game ended.

In this, the 2nd game, Byrne's flag fell again, and again Reshevsky didn't notice. Then Reshevsky's flag fell too. Neither player noticed. However, Mrs. Reshevsky, sitting in the audience, remembering that the important point was to claim the game... claimed it herself!

Aside from the illegality of a spectator calling a flag fall, Byrne pointed out that under the rules then in force, only the player on the move could claim a time forfeit. Since it was his move, he claimed the game himself.

An appeals committee was organized, which Byrne objected to, on the grounds that it was impromptu and not provided for in the match rules. The Committee came up with the concept of "ocular evidence", i.e. the only way it was known that the flag was down was by seeing it, and eyewitness testimony is notoriously fallible. [I don't pretend to understand this concept. Since all flag falls are determined by visual evidence, it would seem that discarding the concept would make it impossible for anyone to claim any time forfeit, ever. I'm still looking for more documentation from this match that might explain things better. -- GC]

According to Morton Siegel, "The committee substituted its concept of justice for adherence to the rules", and declared the game a draw. By the time this dispute was settled, two more games had been played, both draws, and Byrne walked out of the match. He was later persuaded to return, but ended up losing by a 7-3 score.

For another instance in which the rules were bent on Reshevsky's behalf, check out the 1942 Reshevsky-Denker dispute.