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TOURNAMENT STANDINGS
USSR Absolute Championship Tournament

Mikhail Botvinnik13.5/20(+9 -2 =9)[games]
Paul Keres11/20(+6 -4 =10)[games]
Vasily Smyslov10/20(+4 -4 =12)[games]
Isaac Boleslavsky9/20(+4 -6 =10)[games]
Andre Lilienthal8.5/20(+5 -8 =7)[games]
Igor Bondarevsky8/20(+3 -7 =10)[games]

Chessgames.com Chess Event Description
USSR Absolute Championship (1941)

Taking place in the cities of Leningrad and Moscow, the winner of this Match - Tournament was going to be the challenger for Alexander Alekhine's world title. The USSR Absolute Championship of 1941 was brought about by the results of the 12th USSR Championship (1940) . Following the Russo-German Non Aggression Pact of August 1939, the Soviet Union annexed the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as well as the eastern parts of Poland. This meant that players like Keres, Petrov and Mikenas were eligible to play in the 12th Soviet Championship. As Andre Lilienthal had been granted Soviet citizenship, he was eligible to compete as well.

The hall in which the 12th Championship was held had excellent acoustics so the players suffered with noise from the audience. Botvinnik, who was leading after nine rounds, felt his performance was being affected by these conditions and he ended up in shared fifth and sixth places with Boleslavsky behind Bondarevsky and Lilienthal who were joint first, Smyslov third and Keres fourth.

After receiving a letter from Botvinnik and working behind the scenes, chess organiser (and keen Botvinnik supporter) Vladimir Nikolayevich Snegiryov persuaded the authorities that a Match - Tournament of the first six place-getters would be a fairer determination of the Champion (and hence Challenger for Alyekhin), rather than the proposed winner of the Bondarevsky-Lilienthal Match play-off.

So the Match - Tournament was a twenty-round affair, with the first ten rounds held in the Tauride Palace (1) in Leningrad and last ten rounds played in the Hall Of Columns in Moscow. It started on the 23rd of March and ran until the 29th of April. Botvinnik ran out the convincing winner.

Leningrad (1-10) and Moscow (11-20), Soviet Union (Russia), 23 March - 29 April 1941

-- 1 -- -- 2 -- -- 3 -- -- 4 -- -- 5 -- -- 6 -- Points 1 Botvinnik * * * * 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 0 1 1 13.5 2 Keres 0 * * * * 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 11.0 3 Smyslov 0 0 0 0 1 * * * * 1 1 1 10.0 4 Boleslavsky 0 0 1 0 0 * * * * 1 1 1 0 0 9.0 5 Lilienthal 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 * * * * 1 1 1 8.5 6 Bondarevsky 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 * * * * 8.0

Two months after this tournament in "Operation Barbarossa" Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union and so the quest for a Soviet player to win the World Title receded into the background until after the War.

The main source for this collection was the book Championship Chess by M M Botvinnik. ISBN 1-84382-012-9.

Reference: (1) Wikipedia article: Tauride Palace. Original Collection: Game Collection: USSR Absolute Championship 1941, by User: Benzol.

 page 1 of 3; games 1-25 of 60  PGN Download
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Keres vs Bondarevsky 1-0531941USSR Absolute ChampionshipB11 Caro-Kann, Two Knights, 3...Bg4
2. Lilienthal vs Smyslov ½-½351941USSR Absolute ChampionshipE32 Nimzo-Indian, Classical
3. Smyslov vs Keres 0-1671941USSR Absolute ChampionshipC79 Ruy Lopez, Steinitz Defense Deferred
4. Botvinnik vs Lilienthal 1-0271941USSR Absolute ChampionshipE67 King's Indian, Fianchetto
5. Bondarevsky vs Smyslov  ½-½351941USSR Absolute ChampionshipE25 Nimzo-Indian, Samisch
6. Keres vs Botvinnik 0-1221941USSR Absolute ChampionshipE34 Nimzo-Indian, Classical, Noa Variation
7. Lilienthal vs Keres 1-0441941USSR Absolute ChampionshipE19 Queen's Indian, Old Main line, 9.Qxc3
8. Boleslavsky vs Smyslov  ½-½421941USSR Absolute ChampionshipC79 Ruy Lopez, Steinitz Defense Deferred
9. Botvinnik vs Bondarevsky 0-1891941USSR Absolute ChampionshipD55 Queen's Gambit Declined
10. Botvinnik vs Boleslavsky 1-0491941USSR Absolute ChampionshipC07 French, Tarrasch
11. Smyslov vs Botvinnik 0-1421941USSR Absolute ChampionshipC19 French, Winawer, Advance
12. Bondarevsky vs Lilienthal  0-1831941USSR Absolute ChampionshipD30 Queen's Gambit Declined
13. Keres vs Boleslavsky ½-½311941USSR Absolute ChampionshipC19 French, Winawer, Advance
14. Smyslov vs Lilienthal 1-0371941USSR Absolute ChampionshipC43 Petrov, Modern Attack
15. Bondarevsky vs Keres ½-½421941USSR Absolute ChampionshipD12 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav
16. Boleslavsky vs Botvinnik ½-½231941USSR Absolute ChampionshipC15 French, Winawer
17. Lilienthal vs Botvinnik  ½-½321941USSR Absolute ChampionshipC82 Ruy Lopez, Open
18. Bondarevsky vs Boleslavsky 1-0771941USSR Absolute ChampionshipC19 French, Winawer, Advance
19. Keres vs Smyslov 1-0651941USSR Absolute ChampionshipE32 Nimzo-Indian, Classical
20. Lilienthal vs Boleslavsky 0-1501941USSR Absolute ChampionshipC15 French, Winawer
21. Boleslavsky vs Lilienthal 1-0171941USSR Absolute ChampionshipC40 King's Knight Opening
22. Botvinnik vs Keres  ½-½411941USSR Absolute ChampionshipD27 Queen's Gambit Accepted, Classical
23. Smyslov vs Bondarevsky ½-½1141941USSR Absolute ChampionshipA13 English
24. Keres vs Lilienthal 1-0941941USSR Absolute ChampionshipC86 Ruy Lopez, Worrall Attack
25. Smyslov vs Boleslavsky 1-0331941USSR Absolute ChampionshipC11 French
 page 1 of 3; games 1-25 of 60  PGN Download
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Kibitzer's Corner
May-07-13
Premium Chessgames Member
  GrahamClayton: In order to avoid the problems of spectator noise, Snegiryov had members of the police standing in the aisles, and one spectator was removed due to over exuberance.
Jun-10-13  Everett: How true is this statement? <After receiving a letter from Botvinnik and working behind the scenes chess organiser (and keen Botvinnik supporter) Vladimir Nikolayevich Snegiryov persuaded the authorities that a Match - Tournament of the first six place-getters would be a fairer determination of the Champion (and hence Challenger for Alyekhin), rather than the proposed winner of the Bondarevsky-Lilienthal Match play-off.>
Jun-10-13
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <Everett>

I will say what I understand to be true, and what I am not sure about.

Botvinnik definitely wrote to Snegiryov -- he said so in one of his memoirs.

Snegiryov definitely worked to bring about the Match-Tournament.

I don't know whether there definitely would have been a playoff match between Bondarevsky and Lilienthal if there had been no match tournament. I know that when Botvinnik and Taimanov tied for first in the 20th championship in 1952, there was a playoff match. But there were other ties that the Soviets didn't bother to break, e.g. the 9th championship in 1934-35 (Rabinovich and Levenfish).

I don't understand the phrase in parentheses <(and hence Challenger to Alekhine)>. I doubt it ever occurred to anyone that Bondarevsky or Lilienthal, the co-winners of the 12th championship in 1940, were challengers to Alekhine. Bondarevsky, at least, was unknown outside the USSR at the time. Nor do I know of any rule or understanding that the winner of the USSR championship was automatically the Soviet candidate for the world title. Botvinnik didn't compete in the 9th championship in '34-'35, but if you'd asked anyone who the leading Soviet challenger was in 1936, I'm pretty confident I can guess the answer...and it isn't Rabinovich or Levenfish.

Botvinnik certainly strengthened his claim to a WC match by winning the Absolute Championship, though.

<Benzol> did the collection, and he is a very knowledgeable guy, so maybe he can speak further.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USSR_C...

I know people here have been pulling together complete collections for all the Soviet championships, but I don't know of an index. There is a list of Soviet champions in the Wikipedia article.

Jun-10-13
Premium Chessgames Member
  Phony Benoni: <keypusher>: Game Collection: USSR Championship Tournament Index

Though this badly needs to be updated with links to the tournament pages which have been created.

By the way, I've also compiled collections listing all the players in the Soviet Championshis, e.g., Game Collection: USSR Championship Player Index (A-E).

Jun-10-13  Everett: <keypusher> thanks. In any case, it would be weird that the Soviet Championship would be the de facto qualifier for the WC challenger, since Fine and Reshevsky were around, and had some claims to at least compete for the spot. The text needs clarification.
Jun-10-13  RookFile: To say nothing of Euwe.
Jun-11-13
Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: Since I wrote the introduction to this tournament I guess I better explain why I wrote what I did.

During the 1938 AVRO tournament Botvinnik had sort an audience with Alyekhin to get his conditions and agreement about a match for the World title. Botvinnik had taken Flohr with him as a witness and Botvinnik and Alyekhin eventually reached a 'gentlemens agreement' about it. Botvinnik then went back to the USSR to get official approval and financial backing. This was eventually forthcoming but took time to bring about.

In his book "Half a Century of Chess" Botvinnik on page 108 writes :

"The 1940 Championship was a particularly strong one, in which Keres, Smyslov, Boleslavsky, Lilienthal and others participated for the first time. In spite of a loss in the first round to Bondarevsky, I took the lead in the 10th round, but then I played badly, lost three more games and as a result shared 5th - 6th place, as I had done thirteen years earlier, when I first played in the final of the USSR Championship. By that time a decision had already been taken regarding my match for the World Championship with Alekhine. But now, in view of the participation of Keres in the tournament and after Bondarevsky and Lilienthal had finished ahead of all the other competitors, it was decided in the Spring of 1941 to hold a match-tournament for the title of "Absolute USSR Champion". A contest of the six top prize winners of the Championship playing four rounds should have answered the question as to who of the Soviet masters (Keres or Botvinnik, or perhaps neither of them) would play Alekhine for the World title."

And in his book "Achieving the Aim" he wrote :

"Obviously the main interest was in the participation of Keres. Who in the changed circumstances should represent the USSR in the fight for the world championship against Alekhine? The tournament failed to give an answer. After 9 rounds I was in the lead but then my nerves started to play up, the surroundings were not very propitious for creative concentration - in such conditions I felt helpless. Bondarevsky and Lilienthal shared first place, Smyslov was third, Keres fourth, and I shared fifth-sixth place with Boleslavsky. A match was announced between the two winners for the title of Soviet Champion. Until December I could not bring myself to touch the chess pieces, so unpleasant was the aftertaste from the tournament, from the unhealthy din (just as if you were at a football stadium), from the scornful attitude to the creative side of chess. In December I started examining one variation of the Nimzo-Indian and I felt that it was coming back to me. At the same time I sent a letter to Snegiryov where I was ironic about the fact the champion was to be the winner of the Bondarevsky-Lilienthal match (both were fine players but did not have any great achievements to their name) while Keres and Botvinnik already had such great achievements in international tournaments. Snegiryov himself realised that this match had no significance for the rivalry with Alekhine. He understood my hint and set to work - as always quietly and energetically. I do not know how he managed to convince the authorities, he never revealed this, but about two months later came an announcement about the setting up of the title of 'Absolute'Champion of the USSR and the running of a match-tournament of the six winners in the championship in four rounds. The sense which Snegiryov gave the concept 'Absolute' was clear. It was the Absolute Champion of the USSR who would play the match with Alekhine."

Jun-11-13
Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: It seems to me that the Soviet authorities thought the 1940 USSR Champion would be either Keres or Botvinnik. Their performances, however, cast doubts as to who should represent the USSR. I don't think the Soviets regarded Reshevsky or Fine as a serious threat at that time whilst Euwe had been beaten in match play by Keres in 1939-40.
Jun-11-13
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <Benzol>

Thanks. So I guess it would be fair to say that Botvinnik regarded the Absolute Championship as deciding between him and Keres (who definitely was a contender, as they say) who should be the "Soviet candidate" to get a match with Alekhine. It also seems fair to say that he did not think the 12th Championship was relevant to that determination, though I am sure it did his reputation some minor damage.

Also, it's clear that there would have been a Bondarevsky-Lilienthal match if not for the Absolute Championship.

<In December I started examining one variation of the Nimzo-Indian and I felt that it was coming back to me. >

Hmmm...

Keres vs Botvinnik, 1941

Jun-11-13  Everett: Everett: <Until December I could not bring myself to touch the chess pieces, so unpleasant was the aftertaste from the tournament, from the unhealthy din (just as if you were at a football stadium), <from the scornful attitude to the creative side of chess.>>

Funny, this sounds like something Bronstein would say.

Thanks for the history <Benzol>. Very helpful, and confirms Botvinnik's reputation as a consummate back-room manipulator.

This sentence seems to be especially telling: <(both were fine players but did not have any great achievements to their name)> Well, they actually won the 1940 Soviet Championship. Not only that, they beat out Keres, Smyslov, and Botvinnik to place first, each of them personally defeating Botvinnik. But, ya know, no great achievement. Classic.

Jun-11-13
Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: I've said elsewhere that I thought Botvinnik was a sly old fox. The literary style of "Achieving the Aim" perhaps isn't the easiest but it is interesting in its content. If you get the chance to read it I urge you to do so.

I suppose the achievements Botvinnik referred to were his own at Moscow 1935, Nottingham 1936 and Moscow 1936 and Keres' at Bad Neuheium 1936 (where he shared 1st place with Alyekhin) and AVRO 1938. Anyway, I hope the introduction to this tournament is a little clearer now.

Jun-14-13  Tatumart: Thanks for this site info. Benzol. I like the old saying "Do you love and pursue truth for it's own sake?" the Absolute '41 does remind me of a recent event. Remember Garry agreeing to play the Kramnik-Shirov match winner for the world title? Most likely Garry would have won a match with Alexei but guess Garry wanted to play it 'safe'. (Did Shirov lose out on a rather large sum of $ due to his not playing the championship as had been agreed?)
Jun-14-13
Premium Chessgames Member
  Gejewe: It is interesting to compare Botvinnik's description with Lilienthal's memoirs ("Schach war mein Leben", 1988). On page 134 Lilienthal writes that after waiting for some time there was a message that both he and Bondarevsky got a gold medal and the title of national champion. While he was doing simuls in the Ural, the day he was trying to set uo a world record in Sverdlovsk against 201 opponents, a telegram arrived. From Snegiryov, ordering him to return to Moscow immediately to play the socalled Absolute Championship of the Soviet Union. Lilienthal recalls it was like he was hit on the head, that it was a bitter experience. He did not count on such a tournament with players he had just beaten and was fully unprepared for it. One player however, had all the time and invested all the energy to prepare for this event. While others (all five or am I overreacting ? ) did not get the opportunity and were kind of ambushed into this tournament. Botvinnik was a great chessplayer, one of the greatest of all times. But he does not seem to have been reluctant of changing the rules to "achieve the aim" if things did not go his way !
Jun-14-13
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <gejewe>

<One player however, had all the time and invested all the energy to prepare for this event. While others (all five or am I overreacting ? ) did not get the opportunity and were kind of ambushed into this tournament.>

Note, though, that Botvinnik said quite clearly that he found out about the Absolute Championship at the same time and in the same way as everyone else.

<I do not know how he managed to convince the authorities, he never revealed this, but about two months later came an announcement about the setting up of the title of 'Absolute'Champion of the USSR and the running of a match-tournament of the six winners in the championship in four rounds.>

Aug-01-13  Tatumart: Can't remember which tournament in the West that Bronstein, if you believe him :), was pulled aside at one point and 'asked' to either draw or lose his next game. When David complained he was told... do you think we come here to play chess? Ah, the Soviets. Fischer taught us many things with his crazy thinking and his take on the 'Russians' as he would say was spot on. Did Botvinnik work the system? Hmmm
Apr-05-14
Premium Chessgames Member
  WCC Editing Project:

On the strength of his result in this tournament and his previous 3d place in the USSR Championship (1940), Vasily Smyslov was awarded the title of Soviet Grandmaster.

##################

<Source>

Vasily Smyslov, "My Best Games of Chess (1935-1957)" P.H. Clarke ed., transl. (Routledge and Kegan Paul 1958), pp. xi-xxvii

Nov-30-14
Premium Chessgames Member
  visayanbraindoctor: Regardless of the manner by which this tournament was organized, it's probable that the Soviet authorities wanted the state's unofficial face of Soviet chess, Botvinnik, to win, so as to make it 'easier' for Alekhine to choose a Challenger. If so, the other players would probably have known. If there is any one tournament in which external pressure was exerted on the participants, this would have been it, far more likely I believe than in the 1948 World Championship Tournament.
Dec-01-14
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <keypusher....I know that when Botvinnik and Taimanov tied for first in the 20th championship in 1952, there was a playoff match.>

Such matches were also held in the aftermath of the triple tie in 1956 and following Petrosian and Polugaevsky's joint win in 1969.

<....But there were other ties that the Soviets didn't bother to break, e.g. the 9th championship in 1934-35 (Rabinovich and Levenfish).>

In 1988, Kasparov and Karpov shared first, but no playoff was ever held--believe the world champion did not wish to play a match outside the WC cycle with his 'eternal opponent'.

As an aside, in 1968 (I think), Petrosian and Bronstein shared first in the Moscow championship, but Iron Tigran would not agree to a match to break the tie.

Oct-20-17  Straclonoor: <Such matches were also held in the aftermath of the triple tie in 1956 and following Petrosian and Polugaevsky's joint win in 1969.>

Last time this kind of matches was in 1987, when Belyavsky and Salov shared 1st place in USSR Championship. Belyavsky won match 3:1 (+2,=2)

Oct-20-17  Olavi: And Polugaevsky beat Zaitsev for the title in 1968.
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