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Alexander Kotov vs Vasily Smyslov
Zuerich Candidates (1953), Zuerich SUI, rd 21, Oct-07
English Opening: Agincourt Defense. King's Knight (A11)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Apr-16-03  Rookpawn: Smyslov placed first in the 1953 Zurich tournament. Out of twenty-eight games, this one was the only one he lost!
Apr-17-03  ughaibu: Was Nd5 just a blunder?
May-09-04  Jim Bartle: Bronstein after 19...Nd5: "Is it possible that Smyslov actually thought he was winning the pinned white knight? Kotov, unable to believe his eyes, spent forty minutes in thought before taking off the knight with his rook." So I guess yes, it was a blunder. More Bronstein: "Smyslov had seen 21. Rxd7, of course; what he probably had not seen was that 21...Bxb2 is met by 22. Rxd8."
Dec-26-04  Whitehat1963: Nice game that features the opening of the day.
Jan-10-05  suenteus po 147: I hate to disappoint the kibitzers for this page, but Bronstein's notation in his book support this game: Kotov vs Smyslov, 1953 as the actual game played. Maybe these kibitzes could be moved to that page?
Nov-12-05  suenteus po 147: This game is Smyslov's only loss from the 1953 Candidates Tournament that decided him as challenger for Botvinnik in '54. His opponent is Alexander Kotov, a GM I know only as co-author to "Art of the Middlegame" along with Keres. I understand Kotov had a pretty good interzonal to qualify for this tournament.
Jul-27-11  ari0: Bronstein's comments go on - Smyslov's Nd5 could be much improved by 20. ...Rxc3
Premium Chessgames Member
  WCC Editing Project:

Courtesy of <Edward Winter>, here is an interesting, albeit second hand, report by <Kotov> on this game:

<3639. An admission

From page 242 of Official Chess Handbook by K. Harkness (New York, 1967):

‘So far as the complaints of collusion among Soviet players are concerned, it is undoubtedly true that the Soviet contestants in FIDE tournaments, especially in the early competitions, have played as a team and not as individuals. Alexander Kotov admits this in his Memoirs of a Chessplayer, published in the USSR in 1960. He apologizes for his victories over Smyslov in 1933 [sic] and Botvinnik at Groningen in 1946, and hopes he will be forgiven, since he made up for these lapses by defeating Reshevsky and Euwe respectively in these tournaments.’

<<<The reference to Smyslov evidently concerned the 1953 Candidates’ tournament,>>> but can a reader send us the exact text (ideally in both Russian and English) of Kotov’s admission?>

Premium Chessgames Member
  WCC Editing Project:

Just in case the "admission" reported here is not totally clear, <Kotov> is not apologizing to "posterity" for any unethical participation in collusion.

Rather, he is apologizing to the Soviet Chess Section for not colluding, for daring to break ranks and defeat <Smyslov> in this game.

Jan-24-14  ughaibu: Of his sixteen decisive games in this tournament, seven were played against Soviet opponents.
Jan-24-14  ughaibu: The highest proportion of decisive games against Soviets was played by Keres and Szabo. Both played twelve decisive games, nine of which were against Soviet players.
Premium Chessgames Member
  WCC Editing Project: <ughaibu>

Excellent posts, thank you.

<Kotov> certainly seemed not to be afraid of anyone on or off the board eh? 8 wins and 8 losses, and of those, 7 decisive tussles were against his fellow Soviets. No matter who he played it seems he was going for the throat every time out.

<Rashid Nezhmetdinov> reports that <Kotov> was hired by the KGB to "oversee" Bucharest (1954). Maybe <Kotov> had enough "svazi" or friends in high places so that he wasn't really afraid of "breaking ranks," if there was indeed an attempt by Soviet chess authorities to pressure their players into colluding.

The <Edward Winter> chessnote certainly doesn't prove that there was such pressure to collude.

You know I actually have the <Kotov> book referred to in the Chessnote, but it would take me a long time to try to track down the alleged statement by <Kotov>, since the book is in Russian.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: The curious thing is that I recall reading in Brady's biography that after Sports Illustrated ran Fischer's "The Russians Have Fixed World Chess," Kotov published a rebuttal, citing in particular his victories over Botvinnik at Groeningen and Smyslov at Zurich. I think Brady said something like "though unsurprising, [the rebuttal] was at least buttressed by facts."

It would be nice to see both what Kotov wrote in 1960 and in response to Fischer.

Jan-24-14  dunamisvpm: GM Kotov is a good chess book author. As far as I am concerned, his book, "Think like a grandmaster" helped me understand chess better.
Premium Chessgames Member
  WCC Editing Project: <keypusher> I too would like to see what Kotov wrote about that.

There's a flip side to this "Lion of Zurich" <Kotov> who wouldn't "play ball" with the Soviet chess authorities, if that is in fact what the Soviet players were being asked to do in the first place.

Contrast his fight at all costs attitude at <Zurich 1953> with his apparent tournament strategy at the <Saltsjöbaden/Stockholm 1952> Interzonal, which he won handily.

Game Collection: Interzonals 1952: Stockholm

<"A noteworthy circumstance in the Saltsjoebaden affair was the <<<pacific attitude of the Russian players toward one another.>>> All games among them were drawn! Kotov, for example, who fell with fury upon most of his non-Russian rivals, was content to play the shortest possible 'grandmaster draws' with his compatriots: vs. Auerbach, 20 moves; vs. Geller, 15 moves; vs. Petrosian, 15 moves; vs. Taimanov, 17 moves. Since Kotov proved to be the class of the tournament, a sterner attitude on his part toward the other Russians might well have enabled an 'outsider' to squeeze into the charmed circle of qualifiers.">

-"Chess Review" Vol.20, No.11 (Nov 1952), p.323

Dec-08-16  BUNA: <WCC Editing Project>

Concerning the assertion that Kotov in his memoirs "admitted teamplay" and "hoped for forgiveness". Here is what he actually wrote.

"The only loss in the Zurich tournament Smyslov received from the autor of this book.

Smyslow was leading at the time [round 21 of 30; BUNA]. I was somewhere in the middle of the tournament table. Immediately behind Smyslov Reshevsky was trailing [by half a point]. The reader will understand my situation: Once again, like in Groningen, I stood on the path of a compatriot, who was on his way to achieve the highest title, while I almost wasn’t improving my own tournament situation. I wholly understood the absurdity of the situation, knew that my compatriots, who were rooting for Smyslov, wouldn’t cheer me for this win against the Moscovian. It should be enough to mention, that in the evening, when I rang up Moscow, my wife asked me: What are you doing there? I am getting phone calls from chess enthusiasts who are swearing at you.

But there was nothing I could do. That’s sport! Privately I was hoping to lessen the damage done by me, because I had to play another game with Smyslov’s contender Reshevsky. And it happened. By exploiting Reshevsky’s inaccuracies I was able to beat him. The story of Groningen repeated itself."

from Kotov: Zapiski shakhmatista 1960, page 187

You can find the digital version of the book here:

Put your "Official Chess Handbook by K. Harkness" in the bin.

Premium Chessgames Member
  plang: Thhis game was not included in Kotov's book of his best games. Both players approached the opening avoiding mainline theory as a new position was reached after 4..g6. Black would have had a good position had he played 19..Ne5. Kotov spent 40 minutes on 20 Rxd5. 20..Bxd5 21 Nxd5..Rxc2 22 Nxe7+ (had Black overlooked that this was a check?) 22..Kf8 23 Bxg7+..Kxg7 24 Bd1 or 24 Nd4 would also have been losing for Black. Black still would have been OK had he played 20..Rxc3. This game in the 21st round (out of 28) dropped Smyslov into a tie with Reshevsky for first place.
Jun-09-18  whiteshark: "The game in which Smyslov lost his undefeated status was <in fact going in his favor until he committed two successive errors - the second truly inexplicable> - after which Kotov, who had been able to equalize the game, found it only a question of routine technique to capitalize on his material and positional advantage."

- Miguel Najdorf in his tournament book

Jun-09-18  whiteshark: Above from round 21 intro.

<19...Nd5?> and <20...Bxc3??> from the annotations.


Premium Chessgames Member
  FSR: Najdorf's tournament book, as well as the Russian version of Bronstein's tournament book, show Smyslov playing 1...c6 rather than 1...e6. Correction slip submitted.
Dec-30-19  Olavi: So do Ståhlberg's tournament book, Schach-Echo and a 1954 Soviet bulletin. It's also logical, Smyslov being a well known Schlechter-Grünfeldian.
Premium Chessgames Member
  FSR: Thanks, <olavi>. I completely agree. It's also hard to imagine a player of Smyslov's aesthetic sensibilities playing 1...e6 and 4...g6. Playable but ugly.
Jan-11-20  Olavi: <FSR> I'd add that the e6+g6 version is not impossible. Botvinnik played that way a couple of times against the more modest white set ups and that was of course known to Smyslov, eg Sokolsky vs Botvinnik, 1938 Gligoric vs Botvinnik, 1947
Premium Chessgames Member
  moronovich: <FSR: Thanks, <olavi>. I completely agree. It's also hard to imagine a player of Smyslov's aesthetic sensibilities playing 1...e6 and 4...g6. Playable but ugly.>

But when it is ugly and it works,it is a beauty in my book.

I´ll go with team Anand whose mantra is :"When it works,it works".

Jan-12-20  Olavi: …and as it happens, Caruana - So yesterday features the e6-g6 double...

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