The Mikhail Botvinnik - Mark Taimanov match for the USSR Championship (1952) took place in Moscow from January 25th to February 5th, 1953 (a month before Stalin's death). At the end of the penultimate round of the championship, Taimanov was one point ahead of Botvinnik and had defeated him in their individual game. In the final round, Taimanov lost to Efim Geller. Botvinnik appeared to be held to a draw by Alexey Suetin but unexpectedly won (Suetin vs Botvinnik, 1952). By so doing he secured a sixth victory in the Soviet Championships - seventh if the USSR Absolute Championship (1941) is included.
It was especially important for Botvinnik (42) to reassert his position as the leading Soviet player. He felt his position was in jeopardy from the rising stars of Soviet chess. He was world champion, but only as the result of a tied match (Botvinnik - Bronstein World Championship Match (1951)), and he no longer dominated the top Soviet players as he had in the previous decade. Moreover, Botvinnik had played little chess between 1948 and 1951. Instead, he concentrated on his doctorate in electrical engineering and as late as the autumn of 1952 Botvinnik was still working on resolving technical problems at the Moscow Power Engineering Institute. (1) Other leading Soviet players had become doubtful that he maintained his prowess and they reported their doubts to the bureaucrats.
"My mediocre results in the previous Soviet Championship (5th in the USSR Championship (1951)) and in the Marcozy Memorial tournament (3rd equal in Budapest (1952)) resulted in my exclusion from the USSR side for the tenth Olympiad in Helsinki (a decision reached in a strange way - by a ballot of the team members of which only one vote (Isaac Boleslavsky - (1)) was cast for the World Champion). Naturally in the Twentieth USSR Championship, I wished to prove that I did not play any worse than our "Olympic Men" (David Bronstein, Paul Keres, Efim Geller, Vasily Smyslov and Boleslavsky - e. d.). (2)
Botvinnik also had a personal issue to settle with his opponent. "I felt obliged to win this match - I did not like Taimanov's behaviour during our game in the championship (which Botvinnik lost - Botvinnik vs Taimanov, 1952 - e. d.). During play I offered a draw, my opponent accepted it (it was only necessary to play to the thirtieth move), but he began playing for a win ..." (3)
Taimanov (26) was a young and rapidly emerging talent. He had won the Leningrad Championship in 1948, 1951 and 1952. He came second at the Stockholm Interzonal (1952) and became a grandmaster aged 23. He would play in Zurich Candidates (1953), coming eight equal, and would go on to become a leading Soviet Grandmaster for three decades, playing in twenty USSR Chess Championships, becoming Soviet Champion in 1956. Taimanov had great respect for his opponent, who had served as director of the Leningrad Palace of Pioneers chess club whilst Taimanov had been a pupil there.
"... in 2003 when he wrote his memoirs (Vspominaya Samykh, Samykh...), Taimanov spoke of Botvinnik as if he had been the most important figure in his life, even more than his wife (Lyubov Bruk - e. d.), who was also his long-time piano partner. "My entire chess fate is connected to the name Botvinnik" Taimanov wrote." (4)
"Botvinnik was an amazing teacher! He said: "I don't have to teach you to play chess. I have to teach you to learn". He never gave us lectures, but instead set us problems that concerned various aspects of chess: openings, endgames, middlegames. And then he would listen and take a critical interest in our thoughts. (Rossijskaja Gazeta)" (5)
"This is someone whom I deeply respected, who was my main teacher, who took me under his wing and blessed me with attention beginning from my school years. During my whole life, at critical moments, I would turn to him for chess advice." (6)
Progress of the match
Taimanov had White in the odd-numbered games.
1 2 3 4 5 6
1 Botvinnik 1 ½ ½ 1 0 ½ 3½
2 Taimanov 0 ½ ½ 0 1 ½ 2½
1 2 3 4 5 6
1 Botvinnik 1 1½ 2 3 3 3½
2 Taimanov 0 ½ 1 1 2 2½
Game 1. Taimanov, as White, lost the first game of the match. Both sides had chances, but then made mistakes during lengthy manoeuvering in a middlegame with a static pawn structure. In the end, Botvinnik outplayed Taimanov to reach a winning King and pawn ending.
Game 2. The second game was solidly played by both players. Taimanov equalized and gave his opponent an isolated Queen's pawn, but agreed to a draw on move 25. He obviously saw little reward in attempting to grind a win in such circumstances against Botvinnik.
Game 3. Botvinnik defended with his customary Dutch (Taimanov having declined to transpose into a French defence), but deviated from an earlier game Bronstein vs Botvinnik, 1951. In a complex middlegame, Taimanov pressed hard on the King-side and came very close to winning, but faltered at move 44.
44.Qc7+ would have maintained an advantage, but 44.Rxf4 as played gave Botvinnik an unnecessary counterplay. It was doubly unfortunate as Taimanov was still following his adjournment analysis, according to his notes in Shakhmaty v SSSR (№ 5, 1953). Botvinnik eventually won Taimanov's Queen for a Rook and Knight. The presence of a passed white pawn on <d6> was just sufficient for Taimanov to draw. Botvinnik seems to have concluded that this line of the Dutch was not providing him with a promising position as it then fell out of his repertoire until the very end of his career.