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Mikhail Botvinnik vs Mikhail Tal
Botvinnik - Tal World Championship Match (1960), Moscow URS, rd 14, Apr-19
Nimzo-Indian Defense: Saemisch Variation. Accelerated (E24)  ·  1/2-1/2
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Kibitzer's Corner
Jan-14-06  talisman: Tal offers draw after move 20 b offers after move 22.Why couldn't tal draw w/this in 61? It seems the nimzo let him down in the 1st 1/2 of the re-match.
Nov-11-09
Premium Chessgames Member
  plang: This was game 14 - Tal surprised Botvinnik with 5..Ne4 and Botvinnik responded with the unambitious 6 Nh3. Botvinnik played 6 Qc2 in games 16 and 18 and 6 e3 in game 20 but all three games were drawn. Botvinnik could have complicated with 15 d5!?..Ne5 16 d6+..Kf6 but this seems to work to Black's advantage.
Nov-11-09
Premium Chessgames Member
  andrewjsacks: talisman, "Why couldn't Tal draw w/this...?" A better question is, "How in the world could Botvinnik have beaten a healthy Tal in the rematch?" And the simple answer is that there is no way he could have, his preparation reputation notwithstanding.
Nov-11-09
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: "I have never beaten a healthy opponent."

--Botvinnik.

Nov-11-09  Plato: <andrewjsacks: A better question is, "How in the world could Botvinnik have beaten a healthy Tal in the rematch?" And the simple answer is that there is no way he could have, his preparation reputation notwithstanding.>

Certainly Tal had health issues in the rematch. But I hate when people try to use this to say "there is no way" Botvinnik could have beaten a healthy Tal.

So often people assume that because Tal was the flashier player, and because they enjoy his playing style more than Botvinnik's, that Tal was also clearly the better player. This is simply not true.

Botvinnik was much better prepared -- and I include psychological preparation -- for the rematch. He had a better understanding of the kinds of positions to avoid and the types of positions that gave Tal trouble.

People who claim he would have had no chance don't realize just how strong a player Botvinnik was. In the 1940s he was clearly in his own league; he won every tournament he entered and usually by a large margin.

Compare Botvinnik's record against other elite players from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and you'll find that most of the time it compares favorably.

Compare their chessmetrics profiles:

Botvinnik is ranked as #1 in the world for 131 different months; Tal for 38 different months. Botvinnik's peak chessmetrics rating was 2885, Tal's was 2799. Botvinnik had seven 2800+ perfomances (again, according to Sonas more accurate rating system, especially since elo ratings weren't available then) and Tal had four -- this is especially significant when you consider how many more tournaments Tal participated in than Botvinnik overall.

Tal was an amazing player a great person and is certainly one of the all-time greats. But Botvinnik ranks higher as a champion and player, and to say that there is no way Botvinnik could beat a healthy Tal is hogwash. Let's also not forget that Botvinnik was already 50 years old in the rematch, around 15 years from his prime.

Nov-11-09  WhiteRook48: 6 Qd3 looks that way
Nov-12-09
Premium Chessgames Member
  andrewjsacks: Plato, I respect your opinion. However, I contend that Botvinnik is the most overrated world champion and that the rematch clause was his best friend. Look at his record in WC matches the first time he played an opponent: draw (Bronstein), draw (Smyslov), loss (Tal), loss (Petrosian). And in between these matches he played less and less often in international tournaments, avoided the Soviet Championship, and pretty much specialized in WC matches, with admitted extensive and effective preparation--but name a year after 1950 when he was actually clearly the best player in the world? I say no one can, and that when Botvinnik said he was "first among equals," he was often really second or third, for example in the middle '50s when Smyslov (in my opinion the most underrated WC) was actually number one.
Nov-12-09  Plato: <andrewjsacks> I respect your opinion as well, and I do agree that it was Smyslov who was probably the "first among equals" in the 1950s. It's debatable in any case, but I would admit that Botvinnik was not clearly the best post-1950.

As for myself, I consider Botvinnik an *underrated* World Champion in the West, for a number of reasons. I don't think he gets enough credit for the following:

1) He was a true pioneer in the openings and even with some key middlegame ideas. He did more to advance chess theory than the previous World Champions in my opinion (and in the opinion of the chess authors I've read, such as Kasparov). A great book by John Watson: "Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, Advances Since Nimzowitsch" shows how creative a player Botvinnik really was. Most of the great Soviet players from the 60s and on were brought up on his games and his teachings.

2) He played in few tournaments after becoming World Champion but he achieved a high percentage of spectacular performances from the tournaments he participated in.

3) His head-to-head record against other elite players from the older generation, his generation and even the younger generation is very impressive. And his chessmetrics ranking is very high by all measurements.

I don't argue that he rematch clause helped him, and his record from his first defenses leaves something to be desired (but by the same token, look at his record from the return matches)! Still, to win back the title at age 50 is remarkable in its own right. Botvinnik was an elite player for about three decades!

Whether he's overrated or underrated is subjective and we'll agree to disagree on that. The main thing I took exception to was the comment that Botvinnik would never beat a healthy Tal in 1961 -- I'm not saying he would have, but who knows? My money would still be on Botvinnik in that scenario, but I don't think we can say with confidence either way.

Nov-12-09  theagenbiteofinwit: Botvinnik did win the 1952 Soviet Championship.
Nov-12-09
Premium Chessgames Member
  andrewjsacks: Plato, it is a true pleasure to have a discourse here with someone as chess-knowledgeable and intelligent as you; I have seen, primarily, much lower at this site. Touche'! We agree on much, I think, after all. Of course Botvinnik was a truly great player, although I must stand by what I have said of him. (I could have added more about his avoiding the Soviet Championship, as well.) As for my "no way" comment that precipitated our dialogue, I probably did overstate it, I admit, and you were right to call me on that. A pleasure to dispute a bit with you, fellow lover of chess and comrade student of chess history.
Nov-12-09  Open Defence: <The main thing I took exception to was the comment that Botvinnik would never beat a healthy Tal in 1961 -- I'm not saying he would have, but who knows? My money would still be on Botvinnik in that scenario, but I don't think we can say with confidence either way.> Tal himself never made excuses of his health, he maintained that Botvinnik played better than him in the return match
Nov-13-09  AnalyzeThis: The Tal that slapped Botvinnik around in the first match was marked by the ability to calculate the daylights out of a position (even if a subvaration or two was found later that was omitted, that a human would never find). It's obvious that with Tal's diminished health, this marvelous ability was at least somewhat hampered. This allowed Botvinnik's qualities in planning and schematic thinking to shine, and become more important. Obviously, Tal wasn't going to surpass Botvinnik in those areas.
Nov-13-09  Open Defence: yes, but Tal himself wrote that Botvinnik was better prepared, for his match with Larsen Tal wrote about his health but to my knowledge he did not blame his health for the result of the 1961 match though he did hint about how Botvinnik "imposed" certain match conditions like the match was to be replayed in Moscow without Tal even being present for the "discussions"
Nov-13-09  Plato: Thanks andrewjsacks. Likewise.

<Open Defense> Though it's true that Tal never used his poor health as an excuse for his loss in 1961, I don't think we can conclude much from that. It could just be that he was humble and gracious in defeat and wanted to give full credit to Botvinnik. We can't be sure how much his health was affecting him, but it probably did make some difference (the final result just strikes me as too lopsided in Botvinnik's favor).

At the same time, Tal's simple explanation for his loss does seem to be the most important one. The Botvinnik of 1961 was much, much better prepared to meet Tal's style than the Botvinnik of 1960. Tal went into the return match with his youthful optimism, but Botvinnik went with the confidence that he had prepared every detail meticulously. Botvinnik was superb in return matches thanks to his strong sense of self-criticism and his hard work to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of his rivals, adjusting his own style/openings accordingly.

Nov-13-09  theagenbiteofinwit: Botvinnik was stronger in the second match, Tal was much weaker. I think a lot of the people who say that it was only Tal's illness that resulted in the loss do so out of frustration of being robbed the opportunity to see him compete at his best.

Personally, I think that Botvinnik would have won, although not as convincingly. When he had a year to study an opponent for a match he was an assassin. The year before the match he didn't study to play a sick Tal, he studied to play Tal at his best.

Nov-13-09
Premium Chessgames Member
  plang: <Tal himself never made excuses of his health, he maintained that Botvinnik played better than him in the return match>

Most competitors, unlike many fans, are good sportsman who appreciate the competition. They give their best effort and if it is not goos enough they congratulate their opponent.

This is a given in team sports such as baseball or football as well as individual sports such as golf.

It is only in chess where you hear saying such as "a healthy player never lost a game".

Nov-13-09
Premium Chessgames Member
  andrewjsacks: I believe that Plato is correct that it was more grace and humility than anything else that prompted Tal's comments after the return match; also, everything that has been said here regarding Botvinnik's preparation skills strikes me as accurate. In those years, of course, due to his very light tournament schedule, he was virtually completely focused on WC matches, and one could even argue that he thus held an almost unfair advantage in such matches with Smyslov and later Tal. An interesting note is that Botvinnik said, around this period, "If Tal would learn to program himself, he would be unplayable." Predictably, the comment came from a player who personally realized and then demonstrated the practical value of the most extensive and "professional" preparation, but his evaluation is little-doubt true. Alas, for us Tal stalwarts, our man was not emotionally or psychologically cut out for such an approach, health issues all aside. On a similar note, can we even begin to imagine the playing strength of a Capablanca with the work ethic of Botvinnik....?
Nov-13-09
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <On a similar note, can we even begin to imagine the playing strength of a Capablanca with the work ethic of Botvinnik....?>

Sure. Just think of Fischer 1970-1972, Kasparov for his entire career, and Botvinnik himself during the 1940s. I would add Lasker during the 1890s, but that is an idiosyncratic choice.

Apr-23-11  bronkenstein: <"I have never beaten a healthy opponent."

--Botvinnik.>

Stating the obvious ... Seems like he is trying to repair his quite damaged reputation by , atleast , admitting the obvious . But he formulated it clumsy .

The better formulation would be ˝I am NOT ABLE to beat a healthy opponent˝ , since otherwise some people might misinterpret his words as sarcasm :)

Apr-23-11
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <bronkenstein>

Actually, Botvinnik never said that as far as I know. It is usually attributed to Blackburne.

<Seems like he is trying to repair his quite damaged reputation>

Wishful thinking on your part, I'm afraid.

Apr-23-11  ughaibu: Botvinnik's comment about 'if Tal learned to program himself. . . . ' is from the late 60s.
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