Members · Prefs · Laboratory · Collections · Openings · Endgames · Sacrifices · History · Search Kibitzing · Kibitzer's Café · Chessforums · Tournament Index · Players · Kibitzing

Chessgames premium membership fee will increase to $39 per year effective June 15, 2023. Enroll Now!

Botvinnik - Ragozin Match

Mikhail Botvinnik8.5/12(+5 -0 =7)[games]
Viacheslav Ragozin3.5/12(+0 -5 =7)[games] Chess Event Description
Botvinnik - Ragozin (1940)

This match, held in May 1940 in Leningrad, was integral to Botvinnik's preparations to be recognized as the principal Soviet player. He would succeed in achieving this and would receive the support necessary to contest a world championship match with Alexander Alekhine.


Mikhail Botvinnik was seen as the up-and-coming Soviet player. He had been Soviet champion three times, in 1931, 1933 and 1939. He had shared first place in the extremely strong Nottingham (1936) with Jose Raul Capablanca, and come 3rd at the strongest tournament yet to be held, AVRO (1938). Whilst he defeated Alekhine and Capablanca he was placed behind the emerging and younger Estonian Paul Keres and American Reuben Fine.

To the surprise of the Soviet authorities, Botvinnik then decided to concentrate on his doctorate in electrical engineering (rather than chess). He did not play in the URS-ch10 (1937) and the 48-year-old Grigory Levenfish became Soviet champion. Levenfish had also shared the USSR Championship (1934/35) with Ilya Rabinovich, another championship in which Botvinnik had not participated.

The apparat wanted a representative of the new generation of "Soviet Man" who would show the superiority of their culture to represent the Soviet Union internationally. Botvinnik (who was born in 1911) had won the USSR Championship (1933) and was a contender for this position. The Soviet authorities consequently decided to clarify the situation by organizing a match with the pre-revolutionary Levenfish - Botvinnik - Levenfish (1937). This 13-game match ended in a tie (+5 -5 =3), so resolving nothing. Botvinnik's claim to first place was in danger of losing momentum, but the decision was made to send him rather than Levenfish to represent the Soviet Union at AVRO (1938). Botvinnik came third in an exceptionally strong field, a point behind Fine and Keres. This was an endorsement that he would be supported as the next challenger for Alekhine's world championship crown. Botvinnik stated that he had received a telegram from Vyacheslav Molotov (who at the time was Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars from 1930 to 1941, and effectively second in the political hierarchy to Stalin). "If you decide to challenge the chess player Alekhine to a match, we wish you complete success. The rest is not too difficult to provide". (1)

Botvinnik won the 11th USSR Championship final which took place in April in Leningrad from 15th April to 16th May 1939. Even so, Snegiryov, the chairman of the Physical Culture Committee, remained cautious and slow in approaching Alekhine to arrange a match. Snegiryov had to negotiate the political minefield of a Soviet player consorting with a political renegade - the exiled aristocrat Alekhine. The possibility of defeat was politically intolerable, and probably deadly. (2) But by summer 1939, prolonged negotiations finally led to an agreement to play a match, half in Moscow and half in London. Botvinnik was given the resources to prepare thoroughly. "In the summer of 1939, the Council of People's Commissars awarded me a stipend of 1,000 rubles a month - an exceptional act ..." (3).

In May 1940, Chessmetrics estimates Botvinnik (aged 28) to have been the strongest active player in the world. Alekhine was fourth behind Reuben Fine and Samuel Reshevsky This match, played in May 1940 in Moscow, was integral to his state-sponsored preparation for a world championship match.


Viacheslav Ragozin achieved an 8th equal place in the extremely strong Moscow (1935) and had won the Leningrad Championship in 1936. He would come second in the URS-ch10 (1937) with Alexander Konstantinopolsky behind Grigory Levenfish. He was given a rare opportunity to represent the Soviet Union at Semmering/Baden (1937), but his result, equal 6th, was disappointing. In May 1940, Chessmetrics estimates Ragozin (aged 31) to have been the 20th strongest active player in the world:

Ragozin was a regular training partner and second for Botvinnik. They had played training matches in 1938 and 1939, and had analyzed 30 games of the USSR Championship (1939) for the tournament book. Along with Salomon Flohr, Ragozin would be Botvinnik's second at the FIDE World Championship Tournament (1948) and the Botvinnik - Bronstein World Championship Match (1951). In 1950, FIDE awarded him the Grandmaster title.

Progress of the match

At first glance, Botvinnik dominated the match. He was never behind and scored five wins to none. The score does not reflect that Ragozin could have been two games up at the beginning of the match. In games 1, 2 and 9, Ragozin had winning positions, but each time he dissipated his advantage. Ragozin also suffered knockouts from poorly played openings (on both sides of the Gruenfeld Defence) in Games 3 and 8. Capablanca's observation from 1935 seemed to still apply: "In certain games Ragozin played with great vigour, but at critical moments he makes mistakes." (4)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 Botvinnik ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 ½ ½ 8½ Ragozin ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 0 0 ½ ½ 3½

Progressive score:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 Botvinnik ½ 1 2 2½ 3½ 4 4½ 5½ 6½ 7½ 8 8½ Ragozin ½ 1 1 1½ 1½ 2 2½ 2½ 2½ 2½ 3 3½

Botvinnik scored 4.5/6 with the White pieces and 4/6 with the Black pieces. Ragozin scored 1.5/6 with the White pieces and 2/6 with the Black pieces.

The games

Game 1. This was a hard-fought start to the match. Ragozin outplayed Botvinnik in the middle game, but hesitation frittered his advantage away and a draw ensued.

click for larger view

With 35...h4! Ragozin could have broken through advantageously on the king-side with his rooks (35...h4 36.Rg1 Rh8 37.Kd3 hxg3 38.hxg3 Rdh7 39.Ba3 Rh1)

Game 2. For the second time, Ragozin outplayed Botvinnik, but once again he could not convert his advantage into a win. Botvinnik's pieces were pinned down as Ragozin built up pressure against his opponent's king on the queenside.

click for larger view

31.Ra5! would have been best. As in Game 1, the quality of Ragozin's play towards the time control deteriorated and he lost a piece for two pawns. Thus instead of Ragozin being two games up, the match score remained tied.

Game 3. Botvinnik hit his stride with an efficient win straight out of the opening. Playing against a variation of the Gruenfeld Defence with which he was not familiar (Grunfeld (D94)), Ragozin quickly went wrong by playing

click for larger view

12...c5? Ragozin allowed Botvinnik to establish a strong pawn on <d6> which crippled his opponent's game. After three games, he had a one-point advantage. (5)

Game 4. Botvinnik defended with a Nimzo-Indian Defence. Ragozin played the solid Classical variation, traded pieces, and neither player secured an advantage. The game was drawn without incident in 27 moves.

Game 5. Botvinnik employed the English Opening for the first time in the match. Botvinnik played dynamically, and offered his <e> pawn as a sacrifice for a King's side attack. Ragozin's king's defences were compromised and his position quickly disintegrated. Botvinnik was now two games up in the match. (6)

Game 6. This was the first <e> pawn opening of the match, albeit arrived at by transposition from a <d> pawn opening into the closed Tarrasch variation of the French Defence (French, Tarrasch (C05)). Ragozin was unable to use his space advantage to create an attack. It is interesting to compare his handling of the White pieces with Botvinnik's own Botvinnik vs Petrov, 1940 at the later Twelfth Soviet Chess Championship (September 5th to October 3rd, 1940).

Game 7. Botvinnik opened with <e4> for the first time in the match. He played a slow Ruy Lopez with an early <d6>. Both players were accurate and careful; Ragozin neutralizing Botvinnik's slow advance to secure a draw.

Game 8. Despite having the White pieces against his opponent's Gruenfeld defence, Ragozin was soon in trouble and he was never able to recover the game. (7) By playing

click for larger view

9.Qa4?!, Ragozin allowed the manoeuver 9...Ne4! and 10...Bxc3! This game was the start of a three-game run of wins in which Botvinnik put the match result beyond doubt.

Game 9. Botvinnik played the English opening, and Ragozin replied with a Dutch set up which equalized. Botvinnik allowed his opponent to seize the initiative in the centre and on the queenside. If Ragozin had taken the exchange rather than the <d> pawn, later analysis suggests that he would have had a winning position (43...Nxe2 44.Qe2 Rfe8 45.e6 Qd6+ 46.f4 (46. Kg2 Rxe6!) 46...Qxf4+ 47. Kh1 c4, or 44...Qxh4 45. e6 Qf4+ 46. Kg1 Rd6). After

click for larger view

After 43...Nxd5 44.f4! Botvinnik's pieces became active. Ragozin still had some advantage, but blundered it away and lost.

Game 10. Ragozin played a Ruy Lopez and Botvinnik defended with a mainline Chigorin closed defence (Ruy Lopez, Closed, Chigorin, (C99)). This line was not part of his regular repertoire, but he went on to use it in the next USSR Championship (Smyslov vs Botvinnik, 1940). Botvinnik showed his ability to both calculate long and accurately in taking Ragozin's <a> pawn to reach a winning endgame. (8)

click for larger view

Game 11. Ragozin defended with a Slav defence with which he initially equalized. Botvinnik's play in this game was extremely accurate and he had some advantage when a draw was agreed on move 29.

Game 12. The final game, with Ragozin having the white pieces, was another Gruenfeld defence. It was quickly drawn, with both players missing an opportunity for an advantage.


(1) Botvinnik's complete games 1957-1970 and Selected Writings (Part 3), pp. 55-56.
(2) Ibid, pp. 55-56.
(3) Ibid, p. 69.
(4) From the Russian bulletin of the event (special issue of 64), No. 20, 13 June 1936. Quoted in Edward Winter, Capablanca: a compendium 1888-1942, p. 275.
(5) This game is Game 65 in Botvinnik: One Hundred Selected Games.
(6) This game is Game 66 in Botvinnik: One Hundred Selected Games.
(7) This game is Game 67 in Botvinnik: One Hundred Selected Games.
(8) This game is Game 68 in Botvinnik: One Hundred Selected Games.

This text and original research by User: Chessical

 page 1 of 1; 12 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Ragozin vs Botvinnik 0-1401940Botvinnik - RagozinC99 Ruy Lopez, Closed, Chigorin,
2. Ragozin vs Botvinnik ½-½211940Botvinnik - RagozinD85 Grunfeld
3. Ragozin vs Botvinnik 0-1411940Botvinnik - RagozinD83 Grunfeld, Grunfeld Gambit
4. Botvinnik vs Ragozin ½-½291940Botvinnik - RagozinD19 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav, Dutch
5. Botvinnik vs Ragozin ½-½501940Botvinnik - RagozinD19 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav, Dutch
6. Botvinnik vs Ragozin ½-½401940Botvinnik - RagozinC77 Ruy Lopez
7. Botvinnik vs Ragozin 1-0321940Botvinnik - RagozinA28 English
8. Botvinnik vs Ragozin 1-0571940Botvinnik - RagozinA90 Dutch
9. Botvinnik vs Ragozin 1-0321940Botvinnik - RagozinD94 Grunfeld
10. Ragozin vs Botvinnik ½-½501940Botvinnik - RagozinE34 Nimzo-Indian, Classical, Noa Variation
11. Ragozin vs Botvinnik ½-½271940Botvinnik - RagozinE33 Nimzo-Indian, Classical
12. Ragozin vs Botvinnik ½-½331940Botvinnik - RagozinC05 French, Tarrasch
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: I suppose some people like Botvinnik.
I ALSO don't particular like Ragozin.
Botwinnik was a bit of a nerdy Finnish/Russky.
Stalin was 5' 4" the old freak. Swinging on the back porch, jumping off a log.

In Moscow they called Ragozin, "Raggy", and Botvinnik was called "Botty".

This is the "Botty-Raggy" match. That was what they called it in "63".

NOTE: Create an account today to post replies and access other powerful features which are available only to registered users. Becoming a member is free, anonymous, and takes less than 1 minute! If you already have a username, then simply login login under your username now to join the discussion.

Please observe our posting guidelines:

  1. No obscene, racist, sexist, or profane language.
  2. No spamming, advertising, duplicate, or gibberish posts.
  3. No vitriolic or systematic personal attacks against other members.
  4. Nothing in violation of United States law.
  5. No cyberstalking or malicious posting of negative or private information (doxing/doxxing) of members.
  6. No trolling.
  7. The use of "sock puppet" accounts to circumvent disciplinary action taken by moderators, create a false impression of consensus or support, or stage conversations, is prohibited.
  8. Do not degrade Chessgames or any of it's staff/volunteers.

Please try to maintain a semblance of civility at all times.

Blow the Whistle

See something that violates our rules? Blow the whistle and inform a moderator.

NOTE: Please keep all discussion on-topic. This forum is for this specific tournament only. To discuss chess or this site in general, visit the Kibitzer's Café.

Messages posted by Chessgames members do not necessarily represent the views of, its employees, or sponsors.
All moderator actions taken are ultimately at the sole discretion of the administration.

Spot an error? Please suggest your correction and help us eliminate database mistakes!

Copyright 2001-2023, Chessgames Services LLC