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Mikhail Botvinnik vs Vasily Smyslov
USSR Absolute Championship (1941), Leningrad- Moscow URS, rd 10, Apr-06
King's Indian Defense: Kramer Variation (E70)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Feb-12-12  The Curious Emblem: 15. Rxd7+?! is questionable. The best result that White can achieve after that move is a draw, with no chances of winning unless Black blunders. White does get relatively more active pieces in play with Rxd7+, but that factor alone does not win a chess game.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Pawn and Two: <The Curious Emblem> Botvinnik's 15.Rxd7 was certainly an interesting choice.

At move 15, with White to move, we have this unusual position:

click for larger view

In the tournament book, "Soviet Chess Championship, 1941", Botvinnik indicated this position favored White, due to Black's weakness on f5.

Botvinnik played 15.Rxd7+, and stated: <"Of course! White wins only a pawn as yet for the sacrifice of the exchange, but positional superiority gives him good chances.">

Was Botvinnik's evaluation of this position correct? Fritz indicates that Botvinnik was at least partly correct. White's move 15.Rxd7+!, gained only a minimal advantage, but in comparsion to the alternatives, it was clearly White's best choice. A little later Botvinnik missed the best move sequence, and then an additional error, put him on the brink of defeat.

Fritz indicates 15.Rxd7+! was White's best choice. Here is Fritz's evaluation of White's main choices:

(-.02) (28 ply) 15.Rxd7+! Kxd7 16.Bxe5 f6, (.26) (29 ply) 17.Bd4! Ke6 18.g4 Nf4 19.h4 Ng6 20.Neg3.

(-.47) (28 ply) 15.h4 Nxg3 16.Nexg3 g4 17.Bd3 Nf6.

(-.50) (28 ply) 15.Ne3 Bc5 16.h3 Nxg3 17.Nxg3.

(-.50) (28 ply) 15.f3 Nxg3 16.Nexg3 Nf6 17.Ne3.

(-.56) (28 ply) 15.Nc3 Nxg3 16.hxg3 h5 17.f3 Nf6.

(-.51) (28 ply) 15.Kc2 Nxg3 16.Nexg3 Nf6 17.Bd3 Bc5 18.Rd2.

In summary, Botvinnik's 15.Rxd7+! was clearly White's best choice, providing a minimal advantage for him in a complex position, where Black's position appears to be the more difficult one to play.

Feb-14-12  The Curious Emblem: <Pawn and Two> <In the tournament book, "Soviet Chess Championship, 1941", Botvinnik indicated this position favored White, due to Black's weakness on f5.> But having a weakness is pretty useless without a good way to exploit it. In that position, I don't think White has a good way. But it's better than nothing, I suppose, when you compare it to what Black has on White's position.

BUT I think Botvinnik's decision, 15. Rxd7+, was actually pretty exceptional now that your Fritz has pointed out the correct evaluation. Not that many masters would have made that move. It demands accurate play on White's part. Some bravery is needed as well.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Pawn and Two: Instead of 17.Bd4!, as noted above, Botvinnik played 17.Bc3, and the game continued: (-.25) (29 ply) 17.Bc3 Ke6 18.g4 Nf4 19.Nxf4+ gxf4.

Botvinnik indicated that instead of 18.g4, he should have played 18.h4, and if then, 18...g4 19.Ned4+ Kf7 20.Be2 Rg8? 21.c5, he stated, <"...there would be no doubt of White's superiority."> This variation was pointed out to Botvinnik after the game by V. Ragozin, and G. Levenfisch also noted it in No. 6 of the special issue of '64'.

This variation, 18.h4 g4 19.Ned4+ Kf7 20.Be2, as given by Botvinnik, does lead to an advantage for White. However, 20...Rg8? was not Black's best choice. They overlooked that Black could maintain equality with: (-.13) (28 ply) 20...Nf4! 21.Bxg4 h5 22.Bf3 Nd3+ 23.Kc2 Nxf2 24.Rf1 Ng4 25.Bxg4 hxg4, (.00) (27 ply) 26.Ne2 Bxf5 27.Rxf5 Rxh4 28.Bxf6 Rh1, or (.00) (27 ply) 26.g3 Bd7 27.Ne3 Re8.

In the game, at move 20, Fritz preferred 20.Be2 Kf7 21.Rd1 Be6, (-.08) (28 ply) 20.c5 Kf7 21.b4 b5, or (-.08) (28 ply) 20.b4 c5 21.b5 Kf7, with about an equal evaluation.

Instead, after 20.Bd3 was played, Smyslov could have gained an edge with: (-.42) (29 ply) 20...Kf7 21.e5 Bc5 22.Rf1 Bxf5 23.gxf5 fxe5 24.Bxe5. Smyslov's reply, 20...a5, put the position back to near equal: (-.12) (29 ply) 20...a5 21.Bd2 h5.

At move 23, a critical error was made.

click for larger view

In this position, Botvinnik noted that his 23.exf6? was an error, allowing Black to obtain the advantage. He recommended instead, 23.Rf1 or 23.f3.

Fritz indicates that 23.Nd6+! was best: (.00) (28 ply) 23.Nd6+! Bxd6 24.exd6 Bxg4 25. c5 Rhg8 26.Bc4+ Be6 27.Bxe6+ Kxe6.

Fritz's 2nd choice is: (-.23) (28 ply) 23.f3 bxf5 24.Bxf5 fxe5 25.Bxe5 Be3+ 26.Kc2 Rhd8 27.Bc3.

After the game continuation, 23.exf6? Bxf5 24.Bxf5 Bxf2, (-.87) (28 ply) 25.Rf1 Bh4 26.Bd3 Rhf8, Smyslov had a definite advantage.

Feb-14-12  The Curious Emblem: <Pawn and Two> So White didn't have a good way to exploit the weakness on f5 (he couldn't get the position at least above +0.75). Got it.

I want to hear what YOU think of the positions, though, instead of what an engine thinks.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Pawn and Two: <The Curious Emblem> White did not have a way to gain a clear advantage after 15.Rxd7+!, but this move, as you have noted, was a masterpiece of play by Botvinnik.

Not only was this White's only move to prevent a disadvantage, but after 15.Rxd7+! Kxd7 16.Bxe5 f6 17.Bc3 Ke6, White seems to be on the verge of winning. If he then played Ragozin's move 18.h4, Black has only one move to save his game.

After 18.h4, Black's only saving move is 18...g4!, and then after 19.Ned4+ Kf7 20.Be2 Nf4!, keeps the game near equal.

After Botvinnik's error 23.exf6?, Smyslov was able to simplify the position to obtain winning chances. The ending that followed must have been extremely difficult for both players.

Feb-15-12  drukenknight: off hand I am not sure what is wrong w/ 19 Ned4+ the chess lab pc shows some interesting lines arising from that.
Feb-15-12  drukenknight: I plugged Ned4+ into the chess lab pc and seems to indicate white has slight advantage (.78) after 11 moves

19 Ned4+ Kf7
20. h4 c5
21. Nb5 Bxf5
22. gxf5 Be7
23. e5 fxe5
24. Bxe5 Rhd8
25. Kc2 a6
26. Nc7 Rac8
27. hxg5 Bxg5
28. Ne6 Rd2+
29. Kxd2 Nxe6+
30. Kc3

Of course this could very likely be improved upon but there is a lot of play left in the position..

Feb-16-12  The Curious Emblem: <Pawn and Two: After Botvinnik's error 23.exf6?, Smyslov was able to simplify the position to obtain winning chances. The ending that followed must have been extremely difficult for both players.> Yes. White's knight on f5 was the strongest piece that's putting the most grip on Black's position. After 23... Bxf5, White's grip loosened a little too much and made the imbalance in exchange more in Black's favor.
Feb-16-12  drukenknight: ok so where does smyslov miss a chance for a win?

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