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  WCC Overview
Tal vs Botvinnik 1961

In 1960, the chess world gained a new champion who seemed to breathe new life into the ancient game. Mikhail Tal seemed to have ushered in a new era; and perhaps he did, but his tenure as champion was soon to be nipped in the bud.

 Tal Botvinnik 1961
 Tal and Botvinnik, 1961
A chain-smoker and a heavy drinker, Tal pulsated nervous energy, pacing like a caged tiger in between moves. And as a young man with those famous fierce, hooded eyes and that imposing hooked nose, he bulldozed all before him. Until, that is, the return match with Botvinnik in 1961. "Iron Mike" sought closed positions and endgames in a very successful effort (+10 -5 =6) to make chess something other than ever-deeper plunges into unfathomable fantasy.[1]

The match took place in Moscow between March 23rd and May 20th, 1961. Tal's loss might be attributed to a health failure due to his serious kidney disorder. Tal, however, was not one to make excuses:

"I think that I lost to him, because he beat me! He was very well-prepared for the second match. Botvinnik knew my play better than I knew his." [1]
After 21 games, Mikhail Botvinnik won the match +10 -5 =6 to become the World Chess Champion for the third time.

click on a game number to replay game 123456789101112131415161718192021

FINAL SCORE:  Botvinnik 13;  Tal 8
Reference: game collection WCC Index [Tal-Botvinnik 1961]

NOTABLE GAMES   [what is this?]
    · Game #8     Tal vs Botvinnik, 1961     1-0
    · Game #7     Botvinnik vs Tal, 1961     1-0
    · Game #20     Tal vs Botvinnik, 1961     1/2-1/2


  1. Kings of Chess: 21 Player Salute by Larry Parr

 page 1 of 1; 21 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0411961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE48 Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3 O-O 5.Bd3 d5
2. Tal vs Botvinnik 1-0451961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB18 Caro-Kann, Classical
3. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0431961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE48 Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3 O-O 5.Bd3 d5
4. Tal vs Botvinnik ½-½411961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
5. Botvinnik vs Tal ½-½731961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE48 Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3 O-O 5.Bd3 d5
6. Tal vs Botvinnik ½-½251961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
7. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0331961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE24 Nimzo-Indian, Samisch
8. Tal vs Botvinnik 1-0291961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
9. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0731961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchA23 English, Bremen System, Keres Variation
10. Tal vs Botvinnik 0-1421961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
11. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0421961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchD14 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav, Exchange Variation
12. Tal vs Botvinnik 1-0411961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchC18 French, Winawer
13. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0411961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE85 King's Indian, Samisch, Orthodox Variation
14. Tal vs Botvinnik ½-½331961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
15. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0631961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE81 King's Indian, Samisch
16. Tal vs Botvinnik ½-½901961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
17. Botvinnik vs Tal 0-1831961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE80 King's Indian, Samisch Variation
18. Tal vs Botvinnik 0-1411961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
19. Botvinnik vs Tal 0-1751961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE81 King's Indian, Samisch
20. Tal vs Botvinnik ½-½1211961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
21. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0331961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE80 King's Indian, Samisch Variation
 page 1 of 1; 21 games  PGN Download 
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
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Premium Chessgames Member
  ray keene: i just love the games from this match-fifteen decisive games-amazing!!
Jun-13-11  bronkenstein: <i just love the games from this match-fifteen decisive games-amazing!!>

Ah, good old times...

Jun-13-11  DrMAL: Very humble afterword from Tal, one whose amazing career and creative contribution to chess was abruptly stifled by substance abuse.
Aug-29-11  talisman: <DrMal> very good post up until the last word.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <DrMAL: Very humble afterword from Tal, one whose amazing career and creative contribution to chess was abruptly stifled by substance abuse.>

While I can't agree more that Tal was a tremendous combinative player and wonderful ambassador for chess, to say that he was 'abruptly stifled by substance abuse' is both incorrect and irresponsible; his health, even in his youth, was never at its best, and this is well documented.

Sep-08-11  I play the Fred: <perfidious>, this is a classic manifestation of the <MAL-AJ> discussion paradigm; I was going to make this same point, but I anticipated two likely outcomes:

1) No discussion of the matter thanks to the IGNORE list

2) No discussion of the matter thanks to the good doctor's apparent belief that a difference of opinion is a challenge to one's manhood, an act of trolling

I don't want to disagree with <DrMAL> for the sheer sport of it, but I don't care to just let things go when I don't agree, either - I will say that there is something to what he says. <perfidious>, You are correct that Tal suffered from poor health his whole life, but I would agree with <DrMAL> to the extent that Tal didn't do himself any favors with his frequent drinking and smoking.

I guess Tal understood that he wouldn't live too long and decided to enjoy himself as much as he could.

Sep-08-11  ughaibu: Tal was 55 when he died, "abruptly stifled" is nonsense.
Sep-08-11  I play the Fred: <My contention was merely that it was irresponsible to imply that he came to a sudden end due to all this.>

Oh, absolutely. I guess my reason for posting what I posted was just to show that I'm not here to antagonize, but to discuss. If it gets back to <DrMAL> and he cares to respond, that would be a nice step in the right direction. He doesn't have to agree with me, nor does he have to like me. I hope he examined the link that I cited as being a good, healthy, normal discussion. But if he wants to stay on the <AJ> side of the street, so be it.

<When I played a set of rapid games with Tal in 1988>

I <hate> you. :D

Sep-08-11  Petrosianic: When you play rapid chess with Tal, it's even more rapid than usual.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <I play the Fred: <When I played a set of rapid games with Tal in 1988>

I <hate> you. :D>

I have my moments too, lol.

<Petrosianic: When you play rapid chess with Tal, it's even more rapid than usual.>

They were all at 5-2, so that was indeed the case.

Just days before, he'd taken Vaganian 3.5-.5 in the world blitz final at St John's, so I don't suspect he'd have had much trouble with me straight up.

Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: If this match had been the first to 6 wins (like in 1927, 1978, 1981 and others) then it would have ended at game 11 - shorter than Anand-Gelfand World Chess Championship (2012)!
Aug-05-12  teddysalad: 21 games with only 6 draws. Even 3 of the draws went over 70 moves. Imagine how popular chess would be today with opponents playing to win like this instead of bailing out *cough* Anand-Gelfand *cough* at the earliest discreet opportunity.
Apr-15-13  Shelter417: I do like Botvinnik and think he's under-appreciated these days, but this match was a huge loss for chess simply because it denied us Tal-Patrosian in 1963 (I presume Botvinnik would have refused to fight his way back through the Candidates). How great would that match have been? The greatest positional player of the era versus the greatest tactician...
Apr-15-13  Petrosianic: Botvinnik is under-appreciated because he was so seldmon in action in the 50's and 60's. He's the mountain that someone else was always trying to climb. His own heyday, the 1940's, isn't as well remembered.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: Of no other player in the following event (other than possibly Keres) would one speak of equal fifth in USSR Championship (1940) as a relative failure, such was Botvinnik's stature already in 1940.

For Botvinnik, the remainder of the decade was progress from one success to another, culminating in his title win.

No question as to who the greatest player was in the forties.

Apr-15-13  Petrosianic: It was more than just modesty. It would have been extremely uncomfortable if Alekhine had become available just at that moment, and Botvinnik had been told "Gee, we'd like to give you the title shot, but Lilienthal is Soviet Champion. Comrade Krylenko thinks it should go to him... What's that? Comrade Krylenko has been purged? Well, whoever replaced him thinks the shot should go to Lilienthal."

That's why Botvinnik pulled strings to get the Absolute Championship arranged next year, to settle once and for all the question of which Soviet player got to challenge Alekhine.

Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: Behold Tal's score with black in the first 15 games.

He had 8 blacks in those fifteen games, scoring a less-than-sparkling +0 -7 =1.

Mar-30-14  zanzibar: By the way, the footnote link is stale. Who wrote this page, or rather, who maintains it?

I think "Kings of Chess: 21 Player Salute" was written by Larry Parr (a respected former editor of Chess Life). My understanding is that it was written by Parr for - the latter of late another casualty of entropy.

You can find old archived pages which link to the cover page of the article. But since that originally linked to a series of articles the archived versions can't be navigated. Alas.

Did I mention that I think all these history articles should be timestamped - with both the "creation date", and the "last modified date"?

PS - Did Parr ever finish the series? My forensics suggest he only got as far as Spassky (leaving Fischer/Karpov/Kasparov/Khalifman).

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: One of the curious themes of the match is Tal grabbing pawns and then living to regret it, viz. games 7, 9, 11, 13, and 21.
Jun-07-15  Kinghunt: Did Botvinnik really have the nickname "Iron Mike"?
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <Kinghunt> They were probably thinking of this guy.

Actually Larry Parr and Lev Alburt claim Botvinnik was known as "Iron Mike," but I kind of doubt it.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Troller: In Danish Botvinnik's common nickname translates to <The Iron Logician>. I just checked and found it back in a publication from 1955 (reissue 1963, the one I checked).
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: From a press conference at the end of the match:

<How would you evaluate Tal's play in the match, and his play in general, bearing in mind the difference in playing style between you and Tal?>

<<Some are of the opinion that if you lose to someone, you should criticize your opponent, whereas if you win, you should praise him. I think it is always better to say one and the same thing. I am in a "difficult" position, since after I had lost to Tal I did not say anything. Perhaps now too I shouldn't say anything. Nevertheless, I will risk doing so. The fact that Tal is a player of great talent is known to all. No confirmation from me is needed. If one talks about the deficiencies in his play, I think that they are also known.

Firstly. he is a somewhat one-sided player. When the play is of a more or less open nature and there is mainly a battle between the pieces, then Tal probably has no equals. It is commonly thought that he calculates variations very well. This is indeed so. But on its own this would be insufficient. He knows how to play these positions, and therefore he can economise on his strength in the calculation of variations.

In other positions he "feels" much weaker. More calculation does not help. In such positions one can play quite calmly against him. In the match, therefore, of course, aimed to create such positions, and therefore it was very difficult for Tal to play.

Then, it seems to me, his defiicieny is that he works little. Previously he worked more, prepared better, and developed opening systems. If one looks at his play during the past two years, nothing new is evident, he has not managed to create any new, original variations. He tried playing the variation with e4-e5 in the Caro-Kann Defence. This variation is really not so threatening, and also it is not enough to prepare only one such variation for such a match. This, of course, gave me the opportunity on each occasion to prepare something new for him and all the time to vary. This made my work easier during the games.

Chess of the last few years differs from the chess of earlier times in that players have learned to study chess well, and to prepare well for the moment when they sit down at the board and play a game. If Tal had been well prepared, if he had spent a lot of time, if he had spent a lot of time on the study of typical positions, then, of course, his great talent would have made him significantly more dangerous than now, when, in my opinon, he is simply not working much. No second can work for a player; the player must himself work.>>

Nov-30-15  cg999: Botvinnik does prove one thing
- a well prepared opening can make a win even if it is always the same (on caro-kann)
Nov-30-15  gabriel25: From old times that pople dont remember.

At that time Russia, then the Soviet Union was very interested in the propaganda value of Chess, an intelectual game, that you dont need money or complicated equipment to be good at it, the very thing for the common man.

That they put plenty of money in it was more than clear, they had most of the diferent countries FIDE representatives in their payroll, or if they were comunists so much better.

It seems Botwinnik was the very base on which the the whole chess program was based and from this far away one can guess that politically he was also well connected.

It was better to show the world that no only one Russian was good at chess, but in Russia there were many good players.

No doubt they could prevail upon B to allow some candidate get in for a couple of years because it was good for the Soviet Union, but only a couple.

Perhaps it was all done frienly or they had to apply the systems they used on Korchnoi in his match with Karpov, there they used the daughter, but there are many ways , you cannt have a car, your apartment is ilegal and you have to move far away etc, etc.

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