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Mikhail Botvinnik vs Mikhail Tal
"No Trouble at Tal" (game of the day Oct-26-2008)
Tal - Botvinnik World Championship Rematch (1961), Moscow URS, rd 7, Mar-29
Nimzo-Indian Defense: Saemisch Variation. Accelerated (E24)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
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Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: A quote by Botvinnik from Genna Sosonko's book Russian Silouettes.

"He was ill, you say? But he was ill all his life. And what in fact happened? Romanov called me to say that the match was to be postponed - Tal was ill. Is there an official doctor's statement? What doctor's statement? He says, he is ill. 'But there is a rule', I said, 'there must be a certificate'. We began shouting at each other. In the evening Romanov phoned me to say that the match was on. He had called Tal in Riga, to say that he should be officially examined, and Tal had refused. 'In general, after their matches with me, Bronstein, Smyslov and Tal no longer showed their former strength. I am to blame for this, since it was I who unclosed them, and then everyone understood how to play against them."

Jun-29-09  Everett: After '48, Botvinnik was only able to beat up those who had already proven they can embarrass him at the chess-board. Smyslov and Tal were not ambitious, and had done what they came to do. His accomplishments up to '48 are impressive... afterwards he rode the system to his benefit, albeit brilliantly.
Jun-29-09  Everett: <Benzol>
Thanks for that quote. In my eyes, Botvinnik's sentiments embarrass him. Here is someone who is getting a 2nd chance in every WC match, and he talks about "certificates" proving illness.

His chess is often great, but his politics and use of placement in the "system" were truly disgusting, and he is no role model of mine.

Tal, also, did himself no favors. Everyone says he had poor health, but he also is reported to have smoked and drank heavily. Seems he could be implicated in his own health. I find it remarkable that many chalk Tal's health to "bad luck," when humans time and again have proven to make their own.

Jun-29-09  ounos: I don't understand 11. ...c6. 11. Qd7 is developing, unpinning, and simplifying (alright, perhaps this last part didn't appeal to Tal). I really don't see any significant problem for Black. Do I miss something?
Jun-29-09  Everett: <Bronstein, Smyslov and Tal no longer showed their former strength> Because they couldn't use the system to keep their title, or to get second chances. Botvinnik himself didn't have to win it twice. The more I read of Botvinnik, the less respect I have of his opinions, and the more Bronstein's scathing writings about him, and the system that supported him, make sense.

Finally Botvinnik never had to win a match to become champion. At least Karpov had to defeat Korchnoi over 24 games in '74.

Jun-30-09  visayanbraindoctor: <Everett> Botvinnik was probably the best tournament player in the world around 1944 to 1948. He would have had good chances of winning any tournament (even assuming that Keres was not throwing away games to him, but that's another story). The 1948 World Championship Event happened to be a tournament. And so Botvinnik won.

<Finally Botvinnik never had to win a match to become champion.> I am interested in the numerous observations about this that I have read. Botvinnik for some reason was a poor match player. He lost more matches against top players than he won, and lost more games in those matches than he won. In spite of his marvelous tournament performances in the 1940s that bespeak of his greatness as a chessplayer, there is reason to believe that had the World Championship Event in 1948 been a series of matches, Botvinnik would have been in real trouble.

Jun-30-09  AnalyzeThis: <ounos: I don't understand 11. ...c6. 11. Qd7 is developing, unpinning, and simplifying (alright, perhaps this last part didn't appeal to Tal). I really don't see any significant problem for Black. Do I miss something? >

Qd7 is fine. I think you've got it right, Tal figured it was best to keep the queens on vs. Botvinnik.

Jun-30-09  Tessie Tura: Tal, also, did himself no favors. <Everyone says he had poor health, but he also is reported to have smoked and drank heavily. Seems he could be implicated in his own health. I find it remarkable that many chalk Tal's health to "bad luck," when humans time and again have proven to make their own.>

It seems to have been a combination of both. Apparently Talís health was a matter of concern for his family when he was still a child and there was a lot of hovering, maybe too much. The smoking and drinking didnít help, of course. Itís possible Tal came to the conclusion early on that he wasnít going to make old bones no matter what he did and decided to enjoy his vices while he could.

Jun-30-09  talisman: inherited disease. kidney. his hand and foot. inherited.......smoking and drinking...not inherited.
Jul-01-09  Everett: <talisman> About "inherited disease" you may wish to check out "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration" by Weston A. Price. It can be found free on-line. What some consider "genetic" others consider "generational malnutrition," and our (and previous generations) choices with nutrition and lifestyle hold off, reverse, or fast-forward such conditions.

To the point, many would consider smoking and drinking as NOT the thing to do when someone has organ issues. This was Tal's choice, and this can serve as a lesson and/or as an object of pity. I find it interesting that many do the latter with no indication of Tal's own role in it.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <visayanbraindoctor> I don't agree that Botvinnik was an inferior match player. The one match result of Botvinnik's that strikes me as very bad is the draw with Levenfish in 1937. But he had the occasional inferior tournament performance in those years too, e.g. Hastings 1934 (his first venture abroad) and the Soviet championship in 1940.

He certainly underperformed his ratings against Bronstein in 1951 (after a three-year sabbatical from chess) but on the other hand chessmetrics sees his demolition of Tal in this match as one of the greatest match performances of all time. The 1940s aside, he had occasional bouts of inconsistency, in tournaments and matches alike.

From 1941 through 1948 he dominated chess the way Lasker did in the late 1890s or Alekhine did in the early 1930s -- he won every event he played in, generally by large margins, and had a plus score against almost every leading master he faced. Generally between 1945 and 1948 chessmetrics rates him 80-110 points higher than anyone else, which is the kind of lead Capablanca had in 1921 and just shy of the lead Fischer had in 1971. It just so happened that he played no set matches in those years. But I see no reason why Botvinnik's dominance would not have been expressed as clearly in matches as it was in tournaments. Indeed two of his greatest successes (the Absolute Championship in 1941 and the world championship in 1948) were match-tournaments.

Jul-01-09  Everett: Match tournaments are not comparable to head to head matches, psychologically.

Match strength for Botvinnik before '51 is mere speculation. From '51-'63, only the favorable system saved him from embarrassment.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <Everett: Match tournaments are not comparable to head to head matches, psychologically.>

Why not? They are different formats, of course, but I think strong tournaments and strong matches both put intense pressure on competitors.

<Match strength for Botvinnik before '51 is mere speculation. From '51-'63, only the favorable system saved him from embarrassment.>

With respect, Everett, I think your dislike for Botvinnik is warping your judgment. Match strength for Botvinnik is not mere speculation, because in our experience tournament play as dominant as Botvinnik's in the 1940s is accompanied by strong match play as well. See, e.g. Lasker in the 1890s (blowout wins against Mieses, Blackburne, Bird, Showalter, 10-5 and 10-2 wins over Steinitz), Capablanca 1919-1922 (+5-0=0 over Kostic, +4-0=10 over Lasker) Alekhine 1929-1934 (two easy wins over Bogoljobov), Fischer 1970-1972 (6-0 wins over Larsen and Taimanov, dominant wins over Petrosian and Spassky). Of course we can't say for sure that Botvinnik would have been a dominant match player in the 1940s, but it is far from "mere speculation" to infer that he would have been.

And what is this "embarrassment" you speak of? Without the rematch clause Botvinnik would have been dethroned in 1957 by Smyslov (though he possibly could have been thrown into a three-way match tournament in the early 1950s -- see some old Petrosianic posts for details). He would have lost the title in his late 40s after nine years. Many a GM would love to be "embarrassed" in that fashion. I wouldn't count him out in subsequent Candidates events, either, if he chose to participate.

Jul-01-09  Everett: I disagree with nearly every point.

I dislike Botvinnik only to the degree that he benefitted greatly from favoritism and fancied himself superior in his day.

Botvinnik showed himself to be psychologically vulnerable in head to head match play. The pressure is different than any tournament format one can mention. There is no evidence that shows he would not have such issues in the '40s.

Many of the matches you mention for Lasker, Capa, Alekhine, etc were not against the best players of their day. That was the nature of the times, but it also weakens your argument. I would also consider Fischer's run much more impressive if he met and defeated Korchnoi, someone who was still hungry for the title, unlike Petrosian and Spassky, and also topnotch strength, unlike Larsen and Taimanov.

One point you did get right is that he would not be embarassed for long. He would have left the scene after two draws and a loss in his only three matches as WC, thus confirming that, at least in his later years, he showed no superority in match play.

Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: Kibbitzers,

This general discussion about the players, while interesting, would be more appropriate for the match page Tal-Botvinnik World Championship Return Match (1961) or the Botvinnik page Mikhail Botvinnik.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <beatgiant> <Everett> Yep, sorry, I'll respond on Botvinnik page.
Dec-08-09  duplex: The same ilness followed Tal throughout his entire career until his dead..What a shame..
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Looked at this game with Shredder and was puzzled by something. Quoting Tal again:

<What was characteristic was the following: prior to the return match I had never before adopted this system, and it could have been expected to have some surprise value, since in our preparation the possibility of the Saemisch Variation had been taken into account. However, White's tenth and eleventh moves (undoubtedly planned beforehand by Botvinnik) showed that my opponent had studied not only everything that thad already occurred, but everything that might occur.>

First thing that I think on reading this is how generous Tal is. If what happened to Tal here had happened to Botvinnik (or Kasparov) he would have concluded that someone had leaked his prep.

Second thing is I don't understand what's so great about Botvinnik's 10th and 11th moves. Why didn't Tal play 11....Qd7 (as ounos already asked)? 12.Qxd7+ (forced, right?) Nbxd7 looks dead equal. What am I missing? Does anyone know why Tal didn't play 11....Qd7?

Shredder thinks Tal is quite lost after 19....0-0-0, incidentally.

Position after 20.....Rhe8.

click for larger view

20....Rhe8 looks like a trap with a hole in it: 21.Bxf6 Rxe1+ 22.Kxe1 Qa1+ 23.Qd1 Qxc3+ and ...Rxd4 is messy, but 21.Nxf6 Rxe1+ 22.Bxe1! (or 22.Kxe1 Qa1+ 23.Qd1 Qxc3+ 24.Kf1) 22....Nxf6 23.Qf5+ Nd7 24.Rxh6 is good for White.

But Botvinnik does even better with 21.Kf2! Nxe4+ 22.fxe4 f6 23.Ra1 with a crushing attack.

After 31....bxc3 32.Bc5+ mate is forced.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Botvinnik claimed an advantage for White after 11....Qd7 12.Qxd7+ Nbxd7 13.Bh4 dxe4 14.Re1 or 13.Bxf6 Nxf6 14.e5 but Kasparov in OMGP II disputes this, giving:

13.Bh4?! dxe4 14.Re1 0-0 15.fxe4 b5 16.Nf3 Rfe8 17.Nd2 Re6 18.Kf2 Rae8=

13.Bxf6 Nxf6 14.e5 Ng8! 15.Ne2 Ne7 16.Nf4 Kd7=

Kasparov still thinks White would have had some advantage in the second line after 14.Re1! Kd7 15.Nh3 Rae8 16.e5 Ng8 17.Nf4 Ne7 18.g4.

Shredder doesn't like Kasparov's last move, preferring 18.Kf2. In any case, 11....Qd7 was <undoubtedly the best defence>. (Kasparov).

Earlier Tal was apparently expecting the previously played 10.e5 Ng8 11.Ne2 Qd7 followed by ...Nc6 and ...0-0-0.

Premium Chessgames Member
  zydeco: 11....c6 is a mistake.

I like 17....g4 much better than 17....gxh4. If 18.fxg4 Nbd7 19.Ng3 0-0-0 and in comparison to the game white doesn't have the h-file or h4 for the bishop.

14....Qe7 initiates an odd plan. It seems more natural to play 14....0-0 or ....Kf8, although black is probably worse there too.

Maybe black had viable defensive chances with 19....Kf8 -- the king seems safer on the kingside.

16.Qc2 is a good move by Botvinnik -- 16.Qb3 looks obvious and hangs onto the pawn but the queen is better on c2. 16....a5 followed by ....a4 and ....Qxa3 could lead to almost the same thing but with the a-pawn advanced. Tal almost certainly should have resisted temptation and played to complete development with 16....Nbd7.

Feb-24-16  Ulhumbrus: Tal may have underestimated Botvinnik if he thought that he could afford to play the match despite being ill.
Feb-28-16  Joker2048: It's beautiful play by Botvinnik...
Nice trick.
Mar-30-18  Toribio3: The walking king of Tal has no escape. Botvinnik showed his tactical brutality!
Apr-23-18  Saniyat24: Mikhail Botvinnik is like William Wordsworth, while Mikhail Tal can be compared with John Keats...! While one is reserved, grandfatherly the other one is melodious, sweet and romantic...!
Apr-23-18  Retireborn: Viktor Korchnoi is like John Donne, perhaps.
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