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Mikhail Tal vs Mikhail Botvinnik
Botvinnik - Tal World Championship Match (1960), Moscow URS, rd 3, Mar-19
Caro-Kann Defense: Two Knights Attack. Mindeno Variation Exchange Line (B11)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Sep-11-03  bunti: To the criticism of annotators at the time, Tal introduced a theoretical novetly on move 5 by capturing the bishop with the g pawn. He was attempting to create a more open game by opening the g file. However, Tal claims that he destroyed the possibility of creating an open game with 9th move of e5. He still managed to force a draw despite being down a minor piece and maintained his 1/2 point lead after the third match of World Championship.
Sep-11-03  ughaibu: Surely a half point lead is impossible?
Sep-11-03  PVS: In a match one would think so.
Sep-11-03  ughaibu: Unless it takes into account that Botvinnik would retain the title in the event of a draw?
Sep-11-03  John Doe: How about on move 35 BxN anything takes B.

Qe8(fork), Kb7; QxB

He could still get a draw between Qb4 and Qd8
And it would look better... Not an easy way out of a hard situation but more a calculated brilliancy.

Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: This game is analysed in great detail here but it'll only be there for about a month from this posting!
Feb-09-05  euripides: <offramp> thanks for highlighting this. All chess cafe articles go into the chess cafe archives - one of the best chess resouce on the web.
Feb-09-05  euripides: <offramp> Even by Dvoretsky's standards, this is a superb column.
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: <euripides> ...At first I thought his analytical input this time had been less than usual; but of course he had to check all the lines that Tal & Botvinnik gave. And he found lots of errors!
Feb-10-05  euripides: <offramp> yes, and he very interestingly discusses the fact that Tal's published analysis is less accurate than his play.
Premium Chessgames Member
  plang: The 2 Knights variation is rarely played these days. 5 gxf!? was widely criticized but it is a good example of Tals attempts to reach anti-positional positions outside of mainline theory intended to take Botvinnik outside of his confort zone. 8 h4? was based on a miscalculation anticipating 8..Ne7 9 h5; Tal recommended 8 a3 instead. 9 e5? was inconsistent with the idea of keeping the position open for the 2 bishops.; Tal felt that he was strategically lost after this move. Botvinnik recommended 9 Qd3. Botvinnik was certainly trying to avoid the complications that would have arisen after 15..Bxh4 16 Rxh4..Qxh4 17 Bg5..Qh2 18 Qb4..f6. Since passive play would have been fatal for white, Tal gambitted a pawn with 21 Nc5. Dvoretsky recommended 22..g5 followed by ..Nxf3 and ..g4 with a big advantage for black. 27..Bc5 would have been a preferable defense of f7. Botvinniks alternative, exchanging rooks, gave Tal the opportunity the opportunity to obtain queenside counterplay with 31 Qa5 which ultimately led to a perpetual check.
Sep-17-07  RookFile: In reading Tal's book on the world championship match, this was really the entire point. Yes, Tal's moves were bad, but there was an excellent practical reason behind them. The entire match, Botvinnik was try to play 'technical' kinds of games where the amount of tactical calculation was minimized. Tal quite rightly understood that he wanted to force the game into wild tactical melees if he could.
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <In reading Tal's book on the world championship match, this was really the entire point. Yes, Tal's moves were bad, but there was an excellent practical reason behind them. The entire match, Botvinnik was try to play 'technical' kinds of games where the amount of tactical calculation was minimized. Tal quite rightly understood that he wanted to force the game into wild tactical melees if he could.>

So he got a strategically lost position (in his own estimation) after nine moves on purpose? And if tactical complications were all he needed, why did Tal lose so decisively to the same opponent a year later?

Amazing the nonsense people will believe. Yes, I have Tal's match book. No, it doesn't say Tal made bad moves on purpose.

Here's Yermolinsky' sensible comment on the Tal-Botvinnik matches and the nonsense that has been written about them:

<It was a golden age of chess journalism with all those writings about 'an ultimate clash' between 'iron logic', represented by Botvinnik, and 'diabolical tactical trickery', as shown by Tal. It appealed well to the generally well-educated masses of chess fans in the Soviet Union, who needed a little poetic flavour - describing a chess game as an intellectual duel - to keep fuelling their interest in sparsely played World Championship Matches between Soviet grandmasters. Their sympathies were more or less evenly spread between the two players. Even some 15 years later, the Botvinnik-Tal controversy didn't seem to be dying out. Indeed, it represented a mystery: the first match saw Botvinnik losing by 4 points, and the next year he came back, winning by an even larger margin. Serious books had been written on the subject, with in-depth analysis of the players' respective styles done by the best chess journalists the Soviet Union ever produced.

I considered myself a good enough chess-player to form my own opinion on the subject. Surely I wasn't going to take any crap from sportswriters, and one day I sat down to look at the games myself. Luckily, the books also contained the game scores from both matches. I thought of something along the lines of tracking the widely announced differences between the players' styles. I expected to see wild attacks and numerous sacrifices from Tal in one game, and deep strategic plans relentlessly implemented by Botvinnik in another. Before I could do any deep analysis I was disappointed. The difference in style didn't show as much as I expected!

Tal, the tactician, was well aware of the positional principles listed in the books. Botvinnik, the strategist, went for tactical solutions very often. The two bashed at each other any way they could, with Tal winning the most in the first match, and Botvinnik getting the better of it in the return match. I couldn't see where the difference between them lay, except for Tal being the aggressor early and more often. Go figure. I began to suspect that I, along with thousands of others, had been led to believe in something that didn't exist.

Or maybe, such thing as style of play does exist, but on some higher level of the decision-making process that is lurking in the background only to surface in critical moments of a battle. I, at my superficial glance, of course wasn't able to detect it. The truth is, a chess-player's main objective is to find good moves, and the last thing he should worry about is attaching them to his (or, worse, someone else's) theoretical beliefs. In retrospect it's nice to attribute your success to superior 'understanding' or 'class', but it doesn't relieve chess-players from sweating it out on every move. While it's possible to distinguish between positional and combinative play, I wouldn't put one ahead of the other, and here I disagree with the great maestro Mikhail Botvinnik.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  plang: In this game 5 exf is an example of Tal playing an unusual move to try and create a position that Botvinnik was unconfortable. 8 h4 and 9 e5 were just errors that had nothing to do with "pschological warfare". He did a good job of creating complications later but was still fortunate to salvage 1/2 a point.
Mar-25-08  Eyal: Dvoretsky's article on the game mentioned in some of the posts above is really excellent - the permanent link to it is He contrasts both players' analyses of the game, adding several enlightening comments and observations of his own. Here are couple of examples:

Position after 15.Qd2

click for larger view

Botvinnik: <Tempting Black into the line 15...Bxh4 16.Rxh4 Qxh4 17.Bg5 Qh2 18.Qb4. When you are playing Tal, looking at such lines is just a waste of time. Even if objectively poor, these lines would favor him subjectively. Black therefore chooses the prosaic transfer of the knight to a strong position at f5.>

Dvoretsky: <The World Champion's logic is understandable, but not indisputable. Such players as Viktor Korchnoi and Lev Polugaevsky – outstanding calculators themselves – did not believe Tal's calculations, tested them, and sometimes found mistakes, which they then successfully exploited. Not accidentally, both players had terrific plus scores against him.>

Tal: <Curious variations might arise after 15...Bxh4. White could then play either 16. Bh6, threatening Bf1-h3-g4, with a more pleasant position than the one he gets in the game (one of his weaknesses has disappeared, in any case); or he could decide upon the very sharp 16.Rxh4 Qxh4 17.Bg5 Qh2 [Dvoretsky: on 17...Nxe5?, Tal gives 18.Bxh4 Nxf3+ 19.Ke2 Nxd2 20.Kxd2, with active White pieces; but instead White just wins by! Qxa4 19.b3)] 18.Qb4 f6 19.Qxb7 Rb8 (19...0-0 20.Bh6) 20.Qxc6 fg, and now not 21.Qxe6+ Kd8 22.Nc5 Nhf6!, as given by Tigran Petrosian, but the immediate 21.Nc5! 0-0 22. Nxd7, with a very sharp game, perhaps not unfavorable to White.>

Dvoretsky: <Objectively, the whole line still favors Black: he obtains a clear advantage by continuing 19...0-0! 20.Bh6 (20.Qxd7 fg 21.Qxe6+ Kh8 ) 20...Rfd8 21.Qxc6, and now either 21...Kh8 22.Qxe6 fe , or 21...Ng7 22.Bxg7 (22.ef Rac8 23.Qa6 Qxh6 ) 22...Kxg7 .>

Mar-25-08  Eyal: Position after 31.Qa5:

click for larger view

Tal: <Black can't get his queen back in time, since the a7-pawn is loose. On 31...Kb7, White sacrifices his bishop by 32.Bxb5 cb 33.Qxb5+ Kc7 (or 33...Ka8 34.Qc6+ draws) 34.Bd2, and White's threats have suddenly become too dangerous. [Dvoretsky: Well, not *too* dangerous: after 34...Qxe5 (and a few other moves as well), White still has to give perpetual check.]

After 31...Kb8, the bishop sacrifice no longer works, since Black can meet 32.Bxb5 with the intermediate move 32...Bd8. 32.Bxf5, intending to answer with 33.Be3, doesn't work either: Black refutes the attack by 32...Qh1+ 33.Ka2 Qxf3 34.Be3 d4! 35.Bxd4 Qd5+, maintaining great winning chances.

However, White could first insert the moves 32.a4 b4, and now, 33.Bxf5 would be very strong: on 33...Qh1+ 34.Ka2 Qxf3 35.Be3 d4 36.Bxd4, the d5 square is now controlled by White's queen. [There follows some analysis of 32…Qh1+ instead of b4 in this line] One may conclude that White’s attack is quite sufficient to draw.>

Botvinnik: <Here, Black would have won by 31...Kb8 32.Bxf5 (32.Bxb5 Bd8) 32...Qh1+ 33.Ka2 Qxf3 34.Be3 d4 (35.Bxd4 Qd5+). Unfortunately, I missed the move 34...d4 in time-pressure (it was pointed out later by Petrosian).

True, Tal later tried to show that White still obtains a draw by playing 32.a4, instead of 32.Bxf5. But, without trying to cast doubt on the multiplicity of complex variations he presented, we note that Black can avoid all this sophistry, and just force a favorable endgame by 32...Qd8! 33.Qxd8+ (33.Qa6 Qb6) 33...Bxd8 34.ab Nd4 35.bc Nxf3, with threats of 36...Bc7 and 36...Nd4.>

Dvoretsky: <Nevertheless, White did have a clear path to the draw, which went unnoticed by the grandmasters. After 31...Kb8!? 32.Bxf5! Qh1+ 33.Ka2 Qxf3, White must play, not 34.Be3?, but 34.Bd2!!, and when Black takes the bishop with his pawn, 35.Bb4!, with perpetual check (and if he takes the bishop with the queen, 35.Be3!).>

Aug-13-08  myschkin: . . .


"The annotators unanimously condemned this move. The argument is not whether a chess player employs an absolutely untried opening subtlety, not knowing even one theoretical variation. It is probable that any popular chess book will tell you that similar pawn doublings are disadvantageous in that one must not weaken the kingside so early in the opening, etc., etc. In this case, it seems to me, in spite of the purely psychological pluses (an absolutely new position completely devoid of any possibility that Black might have done any home "grinding") the move 5 gxf3 has some positional basis: first of all it strengthens White's center, and second of all it opens the g-file along which he might be able to create pressure in the future. If Black immediately tries to refute this move and plays the straightforward 5...e5, then the following factor comes into effect: in the open game the strength of the pair of Bishops especially the light-squared one (not having an opponent) sharply increases . . . Botvinnik, correctly evaluating the position, decided to give the game a closed character. In the normal course of a game this would lead to approximately equal chances."


Sep-08-09  kooley782: I really believe that 25. ...0-0-0 was the drawing move for Black here. White's plan is to attack on the h-file with this rook, but Botvinnik wisely removes his king from the center and White cannot make progress through the h-file. Good strategic play by both sides.
Jun-06-14  zydeco: A few more notes from Tal:

He played 8.h4 anticipating 'gambit play' with 9.a3 Bxc3+ 10.bxc3 dxe4 11.fxe4 Nxe4 12.Qf3 Qa5 13.Rh3 N7f6 14.h5 0-0-0 15.h6 gxh6 16.Be5 Ng5 17.Qxf6 Nxh3 18.Kd2 Ng5 19.Bd3 but felt 'a cold shiver go down his spine' with 19.....Qxe5 killing white's initiative. As Dvoretsky writes, "this is typical Tal: a long and completely unnecessary variation".....since black has several different ways of preserving an advantage (15.....g5 and 18.....Nxf2).

Tal is generally very complimentary about how Botvinnik played the middle game, but thinks Botvinnik could have secured his advantage with 27.....Bc5 followed by .....Rd7 and with 27.....Rf8 he begins to get passive.

Tal writes that he badly wanted to sacrifice his rook with 30.Rxf7 Qe8 31.Qa5 Qxf7 32.Qxa7 threatening 33.a4 but rejected it because of 32.....Rh7 33.a4 Bd8 34.Qa8+ Kd7 35.axb5 Ke8 36.bxc6 Qa7

Tal doesn't say it exactly but he seems to think it's a lucky break that white has such a sudden and strong attack after 31.Qa5.

White could also give black more chances to go wrong with 37.Ba6+ Kxa6 38.Qc6+ Ka5 39.c3 when black needs to find 39....Qe2 to prevent 40.b4+ and and white draws with 40.Qc7+ Kb5 41.Qb7+ Ka5 42.Qc7+. But Tal chooses the easier route to perpetual check with 37.Qc6+.

May-10-23  Sally Simpson: Not much more to add to the above after going over this game.

3.gxf3 did not me make shudder. I went with Tal's reasoning right away. Also knowing an active Rook early doors can wallop an opponents active minor piece. If you can out number the minor pieces in the early part of the game then good things can happen.

As Tal admits the doubled f-pawn did not fit well with 9.e5 and Botvinnik hit on the drawback of the double pawn (the f5 square) with the maneuver g6 Ng7 and Nf5.

Tal said he nearly spent the rest of his available time here...

click for larger view

...on 37.Ba6+ Kxa6 38.Qc6+ Ka5 39.c3. (He spent 7 minutes rejecting it. )

Black can stop the mate by pinning the b2 pawn (39...Qe2) and then Black can take the perpetual. But having pulled this game out of the fire he decided not ' tempt fate.' which hints he saw the move 39...Qe2 but was not too sure with the clock ticking very close to move 40 if he still had the perpetual. (tempting fate) Else I think he may have gone that way.

The gist of Tal's pre-game and in-game notes suggest he would use moves and openings that might upset Botvinnik. (Tal calls this being 'mischievous.')

Not reckless moves but take him on in openings where Botvinnik felt safe and if given the choice go for double-edged activity where Tal felt he was the stronger player. This can backfire as Botvinnik was no slouch if it got messy but Tal thrived on dog dinner positions and Botvinnik, if given the choice, tended to avoid them.

Drawing two pieces down may have riled Botvinnik enough to do something rash in a later game and fitted in with the match plan. I can imagine the look on Botvinnik's face being forced to play the easy to spot 39...Qe2 and the wide grin from Tal.

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