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Mikhail Botvinnik vs Paul Keres
FIDE World Championship Tournament (1948), The Hague NED, rd 10, Mar-25
Nimzo-Indian Defense: Saemisch Variation (E28)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
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May-14-08  Wone Jone: Well now, I seem to have started quite the brouhaha. I'm a regular Pauly Walnuts around here. Sorry about that, but I was just trying to call them as I see them. As for you <Rookfile>, I really don't understand YOUR point. In the immortal words of Ric Flair, "To be the man, you gotta beat the man." In 1955 Reshevsky didn't even try.
May-14-08  RookFile: Well, it's official, Wone Jone. You don't understand. To you, beating the world champion in a 4 game set-to is a dime a dozen accomplishment. If Reshevsky was doing extremely well as an accountant in those days, he may have been making 10 thousand a year, and he felt more obligated to spend it on his family than blow it in tournaments that even guys like Bronstein said were rigged. None of this changes the fact that Reshevsky was considered the 'Champion of the Western World' in those days, and was 14 times rated the #1 player in the world, according to chessmetrics. Had Reshevsky had the kind of unlimited financial resourced that players backed by the USSR enjoyed, many experts figure he would have translated this into Champion of the World.
Premium Chessgames Member
  brankat: <RookFile> It is true that for years Reshewsky was considered >Champion of the Western World", but the "designation" didn't come even close to that of the WCC.

Although the financial independence can be very helpful in all sorts of pursuits, it by no means translates into a granted success. This applies to Reshevsky, too.

His win in a mini-match of 1955 doesn't necessarily mean Reshevsky would have won a title match. Botvinnik's overall record still remained better.

Besides, Reshevsky also had a minus score against another 1950s Champion, Smyslov. Up until mid-'50s, when Reshevsky was supposed to be at his peak, Smyslov had a +4 score.

Bronstein (a 1951 challanger) also had a plus result against Reshevsky. Bronstein beat him twice in Zurich 1953.

These are the facts, the rest is speculation.

May-15-08  Paraconti: The point is Reshevsky wasn't good enough to make a title match. He lacked preparation ability and steady temperament in an age when natural talent wasn't enough. He had a huge ego that merited a world champ, but no self-critical approach to realize he could only become one with lots of opening prep, time-management and calmness in the face of off-the-board obstacles thrown at him. Fischer overcame these, and made it all the way to the top.
May-16-08  Wone Jone: Well, it's official <Rookfile> YOU don't understand. When someone talks about "spending more time with my family", 99 times out of a 100 they're blowing smoke! Not only did Sam I Am pass up a shot at the world title, he passed up a possible trip to Amsterdam! (City Motto: A Friend With Weed is a Friend Indeed.) Put that in your bong and smoke it!
May-16-08  RookFile: Try to focus, Wone Jone. He needed to pay his own way. Unlike the Russian's he was not funded by the state. The question originally was one of chess strength in the year 1955, and you showed that you were completely unaware that Reshevsky had defeated the reigning world champion in a 4 game set to. That's all the qualifications Reshevsky needed from that year to show his strength. By the way, during that days, Reshevsky was an unbeatable match player, and defeated literally everybody in the western world worth defeating in match: Najdorf (twice), Gligoric, Horowitz, Benko, Lombdardy, and even Fischer if you count the forfeits. Throw in the Botvinnik victory, and that's an impressive resume.

What we were talking about was Reshevsky's strength, not his reasons for not playing. Try to focus on the topic at hand next time.

May-17-08  RookFile: <brankat: Besides, Reshevsky also had a minus score against another 1950s Champion, Smyslov. Up until mid-'50s, when Reshevsky was supposed to be at his peak, Smyslov had a +4 score. Bronstein (a 1951 challanger) also had a plus result against Reshevsky. Bronstein beat him twice in Zurich 1953. >

Bronstein was a strong player, but his +2 score basically came from a few games, and mainly as a result of winning both at Zurich 1953. If you read Bronstein's classic book on Zurich 1953, he makes it clear that Reshevsky could have had a draw for the asking in his games against Bronstein, but played all out for the win and lost. Later, Bronstein said before he died that Zurich 1953 was fixed, and he felt sorry for Reshevsky.

Smyslov is more interesting. They played enough games over their careers, and Smyslov emerged as a victor, 7 wins to 5, with 15 draws. How they would have done in a head to head match is only speculation. I should say the same about Botvinnik, of course: while it's my opinion that Reshevsky would have won in the 1950's, you have to give Botvinnik his due and say this is by no means certain.

Reshevsky did fine against other notable figure of the period, including for example Euwe, Keres, Geller, Stein, Tal, Capablanca. Reshevsky lost narrowly to Alekhine in his prime, but beat Lasker the only time they played. Of course, as already mentioned, Reshevsky was beating the likes of Gligoric and Najdorf as well. Just for fun, we'll mention that Reshevsky drew Karpov the only time they played.

Bottom line? Reshevsky was a member of the 'first among equals' club that Botvinnik talked about. If they held the world championship once a month, say, in 1955, you probably in fact would have Smyslov winning it one month, Botvinnik the next, Reshevsky the month after that, then Keres, etc.

Premium Chessgames Member
  brankat: <RookFile> Well said.

Although, IMO, Bronstein's claim about Zurich 1953 should be taken with more than just a grain of salt, I agree with the rest of Your post.

Frankly, I didn't know about the financial arrangements, other than the Russians (Soviets) being sponsored/funded by the state.

Actually, somehow I had always thought that in those days, the Interzonals and the Candidates were financed by FIDE. After all, the events were FIDE WC cycles.

May-17-08  Wone Jone: <Rook File> You can dance around the question all you want, but the fact is Sammy Reshevsky had a chance to take a shot at the title, and he didn't. If not for himself, how about doing it for his country? Did he think Art Bisguier was going to get the job done? And as for Reshevsky's 1955 match with Botvinnik; no I didn't know about it, but so what? When it really counted, SR was MIA. This, like it or not, makes him a quitter! And that's the bottom line, cause Wone Jone said so.
May-17-08  RookFile: We were talking about Reshevsky's strength, and you originally dismissed it. Lots of worthy candidates never got a shot, you can start with Pillsbury, Rubinstein, and move to Reshevsky and Keres. Thanks for admitting your ignorance of Reshevsky's victory over Botvinnik in their 4 game set to in 1955. The next step would be to play over the umpteen matches Reshevsky played and was victor. For example, I <didn't> even mention Reshevsky's match wins over Kashdan (rated #2 in the world in 1934 according to chessmetrics), Bisguier, and Byrne.
May-17-08  Wone Jone: <RookFile> First of all, I'd like to apologize for the tone of my last post. I realise it came off kind of harsh. But, <RookFile> I was angry with you because you keep missing my point. I may have made it with humor, but it should have been clear that what I doubt is not Reshevsky's skill, but his heart. Before you mentioned it I was not aware that he had skipped the 1955 Interzonal. When I looked at the list of those at Amsterdam 1956 and saw he wasn't on it, I assumed he had failed to make it. But what he actually did was much worse; he didn't even try.
May-17-08  RookFile: Believe it or not, I remember Reshevsky when I'm tempted to give up on something I'm trying to achieve in my career. It is my feeling that he went into semi-retirement at the height of his powers, and that if he had pressed on a little more, he could have been world champion. Fischer once said that Reshevsky had the opening knowledge of a class B player - think how he could have been if he studied more.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Chessical: Chessical: Reshevsky and Isaac Kashdan ("The little Capablanca") were both world class players with families to support during decades when chess in the USA simply could not provide financial security.

Kashdan is too often forgotten but according to Chesmetrics he was predominantly the number two graded player in the world between November 1932 and June 1934.

They exhibited a profound sense of responsibility and hard headiness in putting their families first over above any personal ambition and love of chess.

Premium Chessgames Member
  whiteshark: <...think how he could have been if he studied more.> Could have been true for a lot of other players. But that's all only hypothetical.
Jul-20-10  The Famous Chess Cat: I saw an article on mentioning this game as well as one other similiar to it. It's written by Eric Schiller, and the link is here:
Premium Chessgames Member
  Fusilli: Bulldozer Botvinnik!
Oct-20-13  JENTA: In 1949, Keres published a book

"Maailmameistri turniir Haag - Moskva 1948".

It was written in Estonian langauge.
(In parallel, that book or a similar book was published in Russian langauge.)

The 20. game Botvinnik - Keres was to Keres the last game to play in Hague before returning to the Soviet Union.

In his book (pp 140-141), Keres notes his following mistakes:

According to KERES:

<11... c5:d4?>
(better was 11... Nf8)

<12... Nd7-b6?>
(better was 12... Nf8 or 12... b6)

<15... Re8-e7?>
(better was 15... Rc8)

<16... Qd8-c7??>
(better was 16... Na4)

<18... Qc7-f4?>
(better was 18... Qd8)

"Without doubt, my weakest game in the tournament."

In his comments, Keres does not mention the zeitnot. However, ususally he says if this is the case.

Premium Chessgames Member
  WCC Editing Project:

Video analysis of this game by <Kingscrusher>:

Premium Chessgames Member
  SpaceRunner: Stalin should have warned the other players against getting to much points against Botvinnik i this tournament. Indeed there is a lot of allegations from players involved that the sovjet state was interferring with the chess tournaments. This has also been stated from tortsnoj,Fischer,Spasskij etc.. When you look at this game you may ask yourself how on earth Keres could play that weak ??? Loosing tempi in the start of the game and falling for a kind of club player combination?? Indeed Keres poor performance against Botvinnik in the five games is outstanding four of five games lost! Perhaps Stalin didn't like Smyslov!!
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <SpaceRunner: Stalin should have warned the other players against getting to much points against Botvinnik i this tournament. Indeed there is a lot of allegations from players involved that the sovjet state was interferring with the chess tournaments. This has also been stated from tortsnoj,Fischer,Spasskij etc.. When you look at this game you may ask yourself how on earth Keres could play that weak ??? Loosing tempi in the start of the game and falling for a kind of club player combination?? Indeed Keres poor performance against Botvinnik in the five games is outstanding four of five games lost! Perhaps Stalin didn't like Smyslov!!>

Oh, good. This post again. Scroll down the page for other examples of <how on earth could X play that weak??>.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <keypusher>

<When [Reshevsky and Botvinnik] met in the first cycle, it was Reshevsky who was in first place. As I said above, he got a very good game with Black, but blundered in time pressure and lost. But his blunder can't be explained by overreaching, since he was leading and Botvinnik and Keres hadn't even played.>

I was wrong about the standings, Reshevsky and Botvinnik met in the fourth round of the first cycle. Going in to that round, Keres had two wins and a loss, and Reshevsky and Botvinnik each had a win, a draw, and a bye. So depending on how you treat byes, Keres was in first or there was a three way tie. If you wanted to be catty, you could say Reshevsky was leading because he hadn't played Euwe yet...

Still don't think you can explain the game via overreaching by Reshevsky, though.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part I

Keres wrote an introduction to each round. Here is what he said in his discussion of Round 10.

<The most interesting game in the final round of the second cycle was the one between Botvinnik and Keres. Because in the event of a win by Keres, Botvinnik’s lead would be caught up by the end of the Hague-part of the tournament. Black played an original line in the Nimzo-Indian Defence, thus preventing Botvinnik from choosing his favorite variation. But in the middlegame Black incorrectly started to generate activity on the queenside, and thereby opened up a strong diagonal for White’s dark-squared bishop. After this, White threatened to initiate a strong kingside attack. In the case of resourceful defence, Black would still have obtained adequate defensive chances, but on the 16th move he made a blunder that allowed White’s rook to come into play with the win of a tempo, and Black subsequently faced a devastating attack. With a beautiful rook sacrifice, Botvinnik created a mating net around the enemy king, whereupon Black resigned on the 23rd move.>

Notes to the game

After 4.e2-e3

<Botvinnik exclusively employs this modest way, which grandmaster Rubinstein recommended, of playing against the Nimzo-Indian Defence, and he has achieved very good results with this line. The advantage with this system of development is that White abstains from unnecessary complications in favor of a solid position where Black is forced to play quite accurately and carefully to keep the balance.>


<Here Black has a wide variety of systems of development that give rise to very different types of positions. The text-move is one of the more elastic, and Black keeps the choice open regarding his further plan of campaign.>

5.a2-a3 Bb4xc3+ 6.b2xc3 Rf8-e8

<6….d5 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Bd3 followed by Ne2 is a standard continuation, and thus generally known. Therefore Black tries to develop along new paths. Also interesting is the idea to play 6….c5 followed by …b6, …Nc6, …Ba6 and …Ne8, which was utilized by Reshevsky against Botvinnik some rounds later. With this method of play, Black commences an attack against White’s pawn weakness on c4 and at the same time …Ne8 protects his kingside against eventual attacks.>

click for larger view


<White can no longer utilize the normal system of development by 7.Bd3, as it would be met by 7….e5 8.Ne2 e4 9.Bc2 b6 and Black gains strong pressure against the c4-pawn. With the text-move White chooses another move order, but it likewise fails to bring him any success.>

The position after 5.a3 is not particularly common (141 examples in the database) and Keres’ continuation is vanishingly rare. But Shredder shares Keres’ positive evaluation of his novel idea. Tolush and his pupil Spassky both tried 7.Bd3 e5 8.Ne2 e4 9.Bb1 and won wild and woolly games:

Tolush vs Byvshev, 1952

Spassky vs G Uusi, 1958

But Shredder thought Black was more than OK in the opening in both cases. It also agrees with Keres that he is doing fine (at first) against Botvinnik’s more modest continuation.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part II

7….e6-e5 8.Ne2-g3 d7-d6

<Another interesting continuation for Black was 8….d5, in an attempt to open the position and utilize his small edge in development. Also 8….e4 9.Be2 b6 followed by ….Bb7 and taking control over the e4-point merited consideration.>

Shredder’s favorite is 8….b6. After running for hours it comes up with 9.f3 Nc6 10.e4 Ba6 and evaluates the position at +0.09. After Keres’ suggestion 8….d5 it plays 9.Be2 dxc4 10.Bxc4 Be6 11.Bxe6 Rxe6 12.0-0 Nc6 13.Bb2 Na5 14.Qe2 exd4 15.cxd4 c6 16.Bc3 Nd5 17.Bxa5 Qxa5 18.Rfb1 +0.22. After the text-move it continues 9.f3 b6 10.e4 Nc6 11.Be3 Na5 12.Bd3 d5, 0.00. After Botvinnik’s 9.Be2 Shredder thinks Black is infinitesimally better.

You’re not likely to see 4.e3 0-0 5.a3 — this is the only time Botvinnik played it in a serious game — but if you do, Keres’ idea looks pretty good. Unfortunately, Keres doesn’t make another good move for the rest of the game….


<This restrained bishop development is likewise forced; 9.Bd3 would enable Black to win a tempo by 9….e4. Owing to the modest development of White’s pieces, Blackk hardly has any opening problems.>


<Without any kind of need, Black chooses a relatively passive way of development and thus lets his adversary get away from many problems. The normal continuation 9….c5 10.0-0 Nc6 exerts pressure against the d4-pawn and thus obstructs the e3-e4 advance. Also 9….Nc6 10.0-0 Na5 deserved attention, when Black plans to take advantage against the c4-pawn.>

As we’ve seen, Shredder likes …b6, …Nc6, and …Ba6. It thinks White is a little better after 9…c5 10.0-0 Nc6 11.d5 and e3-e4, about the same as it feels about 9….Nb8-d7.

10.0-0 c7-c5

<Suddenly Black shows activity again, and tries to generate a risky attack against the c4-pawn. This opens up the position and thus noticeably increases the power of White’s bishop pair. If Black did not want to play 10….e4 (11.f3 b6 12.fxe4 Bb7) at this point and thus eliminate the tension in the centre, then he could proceed with either 10….b6 or 10….Nf8. This would yield him a solid position without weaknesses where White would not find it so easy to utilize his pawn centre.>

11.f2-f3 c5xd4?

<With this exchange Black hopes to gain sufficient counterplay against the c4-pawn, but this plan is inacccurate and puts Black in great difficulties when the position opens up. After the natural move 11….Nf8 Black’s position would be thoroughly good, because the e3-e4 advance would always be risky for White owing to the reply …Ne6, taking control of the squares f4 and d4.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: 12.c3xd4 Nd7-b6?

<Black proceeds with his inaccurate plan and quickly becomes worse. The correct continuation was still 12….Nf8, and despite the previous exchange would have given Black a satisfactory position.

12….b6 would also have been stronger than the text-move. It is surprising that Black puts his knight on b6, where it is very badly placed and subsequently does not let Black coordinate his pieces.>

13.Bc1-b2 e5xd4

<Black has nothing better, since White simply threatened to play e3-e4 followed by f3-f4 with a strong attack. For example: 13….Be6 14.d5 Bc8 15.f4 and Black’s position is on the brink of collapse.> In Keres’ line Shredder keeps oscillating between 15….Bd7 and 15….Nbd7, with an evaluation of about +0.5. Incidentally, Shredder thought 13.e4 was stronger than Botvinnik’s move.

click for larger view


<Naturally not 14.exd4 d5 and Black suddenly has an excellent position; Black would also be given some counterplay after 14.Qxd4 Na4 15.Bc1 Qb6 as well as after 14.Bxd4 d5 15.c5 Nc4. After the strong text-move, Black’s position is already very difficult and it is unlikely that he still has the possibility to equalize, even in the case of the best defence.>

14….Bc8-e6 15.Ra1-c1

<Naturally not 15.Qxd4 Na4 16.Bc1 Qb6 and Black can defend himself quite well in the endgame. The text-move opens up the a1-square for the bishop, so that White no longer has to calculate about the threat of ….Na4.>


<It is amazing how many weak moves Black is able to make in such a short time span. With the text-move he later plans to play ….Ne8, but this whole idea is completely useless.

It was necessary to proceed along the paths of the initial plan and play 15….Rc8 16.Qxd4 and now not 16….Rc6 17.f4 Qc7? 18.Nh5!, but 16….Na4 17.Ba1 Nc5 and Black has at least placed one of his pieces in a favourable position. In this case Black would still have prospects of defending his battered position; however, now White’s attack achieves a dangerous strength.>

After 15….Rc8 16.Qxd4

16.Qd1xd4 Qd8-c7??

<With this move Black crowns his series of mistakes and loses the game within a few moves. The initially planned 16….Ne8 was also bad in view of the maneuver 17.Nh5 f6 18.Nf4 and White takes control of the important d5-square, but 16….Na4 (Also 16….Rc7 17.Rfd1 Qc8 comes into consideration.) 17.Ba1 Nc5 still offered Black chances of a stubborn resistance.

With the text-move Black intends to play an eventual …Qc5, but he completely forgets about the possibility of 17.c4-c5 and now ends up in a lost position.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part IV


<Naturally White utilizes the chance to open up new lines with gain of tempo. Black now falls under a mating attack.>

Interestingly, Shredder prefers 17.f4 Qc5 18.Qxc5 19.dxc5 and now either 20.Bxf6 gxf6 21.Nh5 f5 22.Nf6+ or 20.e5 Ne8 21.f5 Bd7 22.Bg4 seem to provide White with a winning positional advantage. But 17.c5 is also obviously quite strong.

17….d6xc5 18.Rc1xc5 Qc7-f4?

<Black could still put up some resistance by 18….Qd8, since the endgame after 19.Qxd8+ Rxd8 20.Bxf6 gxf6 21.Nh5 Rd2 gives him adequate counterplay and on 19.Qe3 there could follow Nfd7 and Black’s defensive resources are by no means over yet. After the text-move Black loses by force.>

Shredder rates White about a pawn up after 18….Qd8 19.Qb4 Ne8 20.f4, which is certainly a better score than it gives the game continuation.


A huge improvement is 19.Bb5, clearing e2 for the knight, hitting the d7 square (where a knight could support the knight on f6) and threatening to bring the rook to g5. Black has no defense, e.g.. 19….a6 20.Ne2 Qb8 21.Rg5 threatening both Qxf6 and Rxg7, or 19….Bd7 20.Nf5 Bxf5 21.Rxf5 Qh4 22.Bc1 h6 23.Be3 Rd7 24.Qb2, etc.; or 19.Nbd7 20.Ne2 Qb8 21.Rg5 Qf8 22.Bxd7


<Or 19….Rd7 20.Qb4 Qb8 21.Bb5 Rd8 22.Bg5 and Black can resign.>

After 22…..Nbd7 Black need not do anything so drastic. Stronger than 21.Bb5 in Keres’ line is 21.f4 or 21.Be3, but Black needn’t resign after that move either. Botvinnik definitely gave Black a chance to stay alive with 19.Bc1, but Keres did not take advantage.

20.Rc5-g5 Nb6-d7

<Losing on the spot, but 20…Ne8 21.Nh5 f6 22.Nxf6+ Nxf6 23.Qxf6 could only prolong the final result, and no longer change it.>

click for larger view


<This beautiful sacrifice, which is easily seen, is the simplest road to victory. Black can no longer escape from the mating net.>

21….Kg8xg7 22.Ng3-h5+ Kg7-g6

<Or 22…..Kh8 23.Bg5, or also 22….Kf8 23.Nxf6, and Black has no defense.>


<23.f4 would also have won, but the text-move is quicker.>

<Black resigned.

Definitely my weakest game of the tournament. However, Botvinnik vigorously utilized the chances he was offered, and convincingly demonstrated the power of the bishop pair in an open position.>

Not much to say except that Keres played terribly. Badly enough to prove a fix? Of course not; but very few games are bad enough for that.

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