Kindred’s Special: Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik

“You will never become an Alekhine if the variations control you and not the other way around.”

Mikhail M. Botvinnik, born August 17, 1911 and died May 5, 1995, had the spirit of chess within him like no other before him and only time will tell if any will equal or surpass his skill and contributions to advance the game with influence on so many. Born near St. Petersburg, Russia he learned to play at age 12 with misgivings by his mother when he spent much time with chess study and play. His rapid progress by age 16 led in 1927 to his participation in the 5th USSR Championship where he shared 5th place and exceeded the master norm by 2 1/2 points. Sometime during this period he began to explore and establish his own mark on the game like no other. His style was of a deep strategy in openings and psychological preparation with emphasis on a scientific approach to dissecting opening, middle and endgame play. By trade he had attained a degree in electrical engineering and even made contributions during the war in that field but the world will always remember him for his professionalism in chess and his belief that chess helped people to solve problems in their everyday lives. He called chess an inexact problem where discovering and solving such tasks necessitated that one should limit the scale of the problem, to avoid getting bogged down and only then could one hope to solve it satisfactorily. He said that chess reflects objective reality and what a person thinks. Every problem should be reduced to manageable analysis and thought.

A very interesting literary work published by Everyman Chess is GARRY KASPAROV ON MY GREAT PREDECESSORS, PART ll that covers Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov and Tal. If you love chess, this book and series is essential to a complete chess library.

Choosing two games featuring examples of Botvinnik’s play that are less known and provide excellent instructional value is a task in itself. I hope my effort will reward you with value to study the following games and that you may learn as much from them as I have preparing the topic of this column.

                  I.B.M. International Amsterdam Tournament, July 1966

                      L. Szabo  (White)  vs  Mikhail M. Botvinnik  (Black)

                                 Sicilian Defense, Dragon Variation

1.c4  c5  2.Nc3  g6  3.Nf3  Bg7 4.d4  cxd4  5.Nxd4  Nc6  6.Nc2  d6 7.e4

What do we see from these moves? The opening has transposed with this move e4 into a type of Maroczy Bind but there is a very important difference from the usual position which is that Black has yet to deploy the Knight on g8. Another thought is that 4.d4 was okay, good, bad? Why? White might have also played 4.e3 with 5.d4 having defense of the e-pawn with option to recapture using the pawn. MB now employs a strategic decision to strike at the center by f5.

7…Nh6  8.h4  f5

Szabo launches what he believes to be a golden opportunity to attack up the h-file trying to show the Knight to the side as inaccurate since h5 seems a strong threat now. MB follows the principle that a flank attack should be best met by a central action.

9.h5  fxe4  10.hxg6  hxg6  11.Nxe4  Bf5  12.Nc3

Szabo appears to want to keep d5 under pressure but a possible alternative here 12.Ng3 might be considered. The Knight returning to c3 seems to give Black pieces a spatial surge.  Note my sq/ct here is 15/9 in Black’s favor with his next move.

12…Qa5 13.Bd2  Qe5+ 14.Ne3

Both Be2 or Be3 would be met by Black’s next.

14…0-0-0  15.Qa4

White finds himself in a virtual Zugswang where whatever course he follows is doomed. For example, 15.Qe2 Nd4, or; 15.Be2 Ng4 is ugly.

15…Ng4  16.Rxh8  Rxh8 17.Qb5

Trying to exchange Queens to alleviate some of the pressure and attack.

17…Qf4  18.Ncd1

On 18.Ned1  Qh2 is overpowering. Work out the play after this.

18…Nd4  19.Qa5  Rh1  20.Rc1  Ne5

Ouch. The Knight threatens mate on d3.

21.Qc7+ Kxc7  22.Nd5+ Kd7  23.Nxf4 g5

The Knight cannot move because of Nd3 mate.

24.Bc3  gxf4 25.Bxd4  Nd3+  26.Kd2  Nxc1  27.Bxg7  Rxf1  28.Kxc1 Bd3

White resigns. 0-1.

                                                           ***

Spanish champion Arturo Pomar, a former child prodigy, falls under the spell of Botvinnik from the same tournament. It is instructional to see the manner in which GM Botvinnik dispatches his opponent.

        Mikhail M. Botvinnik  (White)      vs      Arturo Pomar   (Black)

                                  Slav Defense (Exchange variation)

1.c4  c6  2.Nc3  d5  3.cxd5  cxd5  4.d4  Nf6  5.Nf3  Nc6 6.Bf4  Bf5 7.e3  e6

Symetrical play that tends to favor the lst player. Black would do better to play 7…a6 inorder to prevent Bb5 ala my sq/ct theory of guarding squares from occupation by the opponent. MB jumps on the opportunity without hesitation. Again, one is reminded of the principle of compound development espoused by Capablanca in his primer CHESS FUNDAMENTALS. It is worth noting that Botvinnik had made a careful study of Capa’s games, style and probably read his book too. Unknowingly, he follows the ideas put down in my principles of square count with his coming Ne5.

8…Bb4  9.Ne5  Qa5

Pomar aggressively seeks counterplay and cancels out a possible 10.Nxc6 because of Qxb5!

10.Bxc6+ bxc6  11.0-0

As I have often mentioned, one should always calculate the need to safeguard the King and castle out of the center. Also, see my next note.

11…Bxc3+  12.bxc3  Rc8

Not good at all is 12…Qxc3 because of 13.Qa4 gaining both space by harrassing the Queen and to win back material which is the pawn on c6. It was necessary to foresee this prior to castling.

13.c4  0-0

A misjudgment of strategy. Black should have made room for his Bishop by 13…h6 inorder to preserve it from capture. Pomar hopes to entice the next turn by White in hopes that it will prove weakening the King’s position. It is worth noting that pawn moves around a castled King often does cause problems in that sector but Botvinnik has looked deeper into the position.

14.g4!  Bg6  15.c5!!

This excellent move just about completely cuts off any practical Q-side counterplay or effective central activity due to the placement of Black’s heavy units. It stops Black’s striking with …c5 himself to gain such a chance. Also, a careful examination illustrates Botvinnik’s understanding of this move showing up the weaknessess in the dark squares within Black’s camp. It is hard to find a plan for Black here but maybe a waiting move like ..Kh8 to open a square for the Knight to retreat where it might hit e7 and h6 defensively as well as f6. Black’s next seems a folly because the Knight is his only active piece.

15…Ne4?  16.f3  Nd2

And not, 16…Nc3? because of the pin by Qd2 while also guarding his own camp. The Knight move now lets the Rook improve its own position.

17.Rf2!  Nc4 18.Nxc4 dxc4

So what has occurred? Black has taken 3-turns of the Knight only to see it exchanged and that exchange has left a weak pawn on c4. Meanwhile, MB has improved the position of his Rook and the pawn on f3 chasing the Knight now will allow him to execute a timely e4 to open lines. Remember, pawns need to be exchanged to open lines especially for Rooks.

19.Bd6  Rfe8  20.e4 f5  21.Qc2  fxe4

A worse position often causes additional problems to solve. Here, Black is exchanging pawns which opens the f-file and White is in a great position to take advantage of that.

22.fxe4  Qa3  23.Re1!

A neat prophylactic Nimzowitsch move that simply guards the e-file squares.

23…Qh3  24.Rg2  Rcd8  25.Rg3  Qh6  26.Qxc4  Qd2

Pomar tries to put up resistance but only his Queen is able to penetrate into the White camp. White now says: “Want to exchange Queens?”

27.Qc3  Qxa2  28.Rg2 Qa6

Forced because after Qa4 she is trapped. Do you see how White wins it?

29.h4  Rd7  30.h5  Bf7  31.Ra1  Qc8  32.Qf3  Qd8  33.g5 g6

A sorry necessity but the threat of 34.g6 must be met.

34.h6  e5

Another forced move to stop Qf4 and Qe5.

35.Bxe5  Rb7  36.Qf4  a5  37.Rf2  Bb3

Botvinnik concludes the game with a cute series of pawn moves used to block defense of attacked squares in the King’s home.

38.d5!  cxd5  39.c6  Ra7  40.c7!  Qe7  41.Bd6

Black resigns due to either 41..Qxd6 42.Qf7+ or 41…Qe6 42.Qf8+ leads to mate.

                                                    ***

Botvinnik lived and practiced his art much of his life where computers, let alone chess computers or the skillful programs we see, had not even been considered and often it was the pencil, pen, writing tablet, or  typewriter and old fashioned printing press and reporters that existed with considerable delay in making news readily available to the participants or the public-at- large. Prize funds were worth not much more than meeting expenses with patrons donating to attract visiting masters. Professional players earned a living by writing articles for magazines or newspapers, playing for stakes that usually amounted to paying cab fare or a snack and giving lessons to aspiring newcomers or those with hope in their hearts to better understand the game. The American clubs during the depression years were hangouts for chess hustlers who hustled for bread money or to help pay the rent.

One has to wonder why, under such conditions. did chess survive and the answer has to be that it’s aesthetic beauty, geometric patterns and mysteries that have never been solved entirely thereby exiting all interest could not occur. For once bitten by the chess bug, a victim was brought under its spell and the hope, the desire, the challenge of the fight where each game might present to the devotee such a game that uplifted the spirit to new highs and to return again and again to do battle just to hope to play the best game ever. Then, too, there is the attraction of odd fellows and gals who congregate in the chess social fabric. Because certainly it takes a person with a certain disposition toward sincere interest in problem setting, evaluation and solving that draws people with inquiring minds to its bosom.

The great players of the past never die because their histories, their contributions–writings, games and competitions will live as long as the spirit exists for the human race to aspire to things beautiful.

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